Hot on the heels of James Scott Bell’s great post yesterday on the top ten events of the highly successful writer, I want to add to this by highlighting the downside of the digital age – its impact on both writers’ and readers’ ability to stay focused.
For writers, digital distractions are everywhere. At the moment my personal bugbear is my inability to wean myself off mindlessly checking the internet whenever I lose steam in my writing – the result? At least ten minutes of Daily Mail, Facebook and Gmail distraction resulting in – you guessed it, a complete loss of focus. Over the last week I’ve been paying greater attention to my writing habits (or lack thereof) and have realized that checking the internet has become a sort of ‘default’ setting whenever I’m stuck on a sentence or unsure of a passage of dialogue. I worry that my brain has lost the ability to focus for more than an hour at a time without craving some sort of distraction when the going gets tough. The answer to my problem is clearly weaning myself off the distraction itself but I’m surprised at how difficult this has become. I know I’m going to have to retrain my brain somehow as well as impose much stricter limits on succumbing to these distractions. My fear is that my ability to focus for long periods of time is already slipping away from me (can you hear the screams?…)
As readers, digital distractions allow ourselves to fulfill our craving for something new and more interesting whenever our focus wavers. Recently, I’ve found it is much harder to keep my focus on a book when my interest starts to wane. Whereas in the past I would plough on for a bit, hoping that a book would regain my interest, I now find myself turning to digital distractions much quicker than I ever would have put a book down before.
I’m sure lack of focus has always been an issue for writers and readers, but I do feel that the increasing levels of digital ‘noise’ that surrounds us is making it much harder (at least for me) to keep the level of sharp focus I need on my writing. It certainly makes me less efficient and productive – although, thankfully, I still manage to pull off bursts of fear-induced focus which means I am completing my writing projects on time. I just feel that I need to develop techniques to sharpen my focus, increase my attention span, and spurn the digital ‘siren’ call that is all too easy to heed.
So what about you – do you find the digital world is making you lose focus? Have you developed strategies to overcome this while writing (or reading). Although disconnection is always an option for periods of time, it’s hard for this to be a permanent ‘default’ setting when so much of our world revolves around digital communications. So…any and all ideas on the best way to retrain my brain to maintain focus will be gratefully accepted…