Develop Laser Focus
Episode #4 of the course How to build a strong writing habit by Frank McKinley
Welcome to Lesson 4!
Want to become a great writer fast?
You’ve already taken the first step if you did the exercise in Lesson 3. You sat down. You poured your heart out on paper or laptop. You let good and bad words come, freely.
Do that every day and you’re on your way to being a writing master!
How to Practice
When I was in middle school, I tried out for all the sports.
Not one coach picked me.
What’s worse is I went to a really small school.
The truth is I really wasn’t very good at most sports. But then my dad bought me a basketball goal.
After school every day, I shot baskets. I didn’t care about making the team anymore. I just wanted to master making shots.
I took shots from everywhere. In front. From the sides. I even took shots from behind the backboard.
When I mastered all that, I started leaning backwards and hurling the ball over my head.
Take Risks in Practice
When you write, challenge yourself in every way you can think of. Keep at it until you master your approach. Then try something else tomorrow.
• Make a list of questions your topic raises and answer them all.
• Imagine the impossible was really possible and write how that would work out.
• Take the opposing side and write a defense that would sway the toughest court.
Stick to One Topic until You’re Sick of It
The best way to grow is to stick to one big topic. Dig through to the other side of the earth. Spread out along that path if you want.
Sticking to one topic will make you an expert, just like practicing basketball every day for years will help you score from anywhere on the court.
If you practice a different sport every day of the week, you’ll never master any of them.
Create a Focused Writing Environment
Turn off every possible distraction you can when you sit down to write.
• Social media
• Phone notifications
• Interruptions from housemates
Don’t worry. You’ll only do this while you’re writing. If you can shut out the world, you’ll open up a new one as you write.
Set a timer, too. My favorite schedule is the Pomodoro Method. Instead of one marathon session, you’ll conduct a series of working sprints.
• Set a timer for 25 minutes of work.
• Take a 5-minute break.
• Work 25 more minutes
• Take another 5-minute break
• On the fourth break, extend it to 15 minutes
You’ll be amazed at how productive you are.
The Benefits of Laser Focus
One of my favorite paper mentors, Fred Smith, Sr., once said, “There is no growth in the comfort zone.”
That’s true. So take risks. Stretch your mind. Try different angles. Lock yourself away while you work.
Taking risks may not be comfortable. Being alone may bother you, too. But the investment you make developing your focus will build a writing habit that lasts the rest of your life.
And when you do share your work, it will be your best effort.
Do This Now
Try the Pomodoro Method for an hour this week. If you have more time, great! Your goal is to develop the ability to work for 25 minutes without worrying about what’s happening anywhere else.
In our next lesson, we’ll see how perfectionism kills our writing – and learn strategies to keep that from happening.
See you there!
The Elements of Style by William Strunk JR. and E.B. White
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