Wandering Minds Want to Know

I’m considering a new writing project, a non-fiction with the tentative title of Focus: life skills for the organizationally challenged.

My least-loved quirk is my inability to orally complete a thought.  It drives DH to drink.  At least that’s his excuse when he’s sipping a Chevas and water on the rocks. 

Alas, this innate ability to lose track of my own words in casual conversation is not endearing, it is frustrating for both DH and myself.  However, yesterday I took my loss of focus to a new level.  I only made half the bed.  Somewhere between tucking in my side of the blanket and the making my way to DH’s side I got side-tracked.  Never to return.

“Did you take a nap today?”  DH’s question made me snort.  As if.  I certainly would have made the bed to hide the evidence.

“Have a friend over?”  Yeah right.  Again, check out the hiding of evidence from above.

“Are you mad at me?”  Sheesh, I would have done far worse than leave his half of the bed unmade–like paint a frowny face on the back window of his truck with squirt cheese or decorate the front yard tree with the contents of his sock and undie drawer–depending on just how mad I might be.

Needless to say, I sheepishly had to admit that I simply “forgot” to finish my task.  I know, it sounds bad and I’ve been wracking my brains to figure out why I am so inept at focusing.  After all, I can focus quite competently during a major project.  I can speak in front of people without leaving them hanging and begging for scotch.  I can even complete most tasks without getting side tracked.  It’s the little things, the daily things, the repetitive things that fluster my brain.

Here’s my conclusion: I can focus as tenaciously as a pit bull when it’s required.  However, simple tasks that I don’t need to think about to complete leave room for more fanciful things.  And since I have a huge imagination, four kids and a geriatric dog, there is no shortage of fanciful things to attract my attention.

I have learned to clean my house toilet by toilet, floor by floor, mirror by mirror.  This keeps me focused.  I have established a system of putting EVERY misplaced item on the kitchen counter as I come across them.  I no longer put them away in mid-clean, because there is no bigger distraction to me than trying to squeeze a book on a book shelf and realizing the shelf needs straightened to get rid of the stuffed animal that goes in the toy box that’s filled with clothes that go in the drawer in place of the Halloween costume that should be in a box in the storage room next to the Christmas light that are really on the gun cabinet along with the dust bunnies from the dryer that seep out of the cracked vent hose that…


This is why I focus on one thing at a time–in life and during edits.  Sure I drop the misspelled words, the lack-luster descriptions or the wrong punctuation on my counter when I run across them, but I don’t ever try to put them away until it’s their turn.  Highlights and side notes litter my manuscripts with each pass.  Yet in the end, every word is put in it’s righful place and the manuscript is clean from once upon a time to the end.

I have learned to excell at focusing on big projects–such as a weekly whole house clean.  And in the end, all the beds are made, the rugs shook out and the windows sparkling floors mopped. 

Now if only I could figure out a way to focus on the hum-drum, DH wouldn’t need to check his bed for a status update on our relationship…

How do you stay focused when your mind prefers to wander? 

For writers, which part of the writing process requires more deliberate focus for you?  How do you maintain control?  Share your tips with others.

12 responses to “Wandering Minds Want to Know

  1. I laughed out loud in so many places while I read your post…you remind me of me. If we don’t keep a sense of humor about these things, we’re in trouble.

    I’ve been known to walk around the house chanting, “Focus on dusting, focus on dusting.” Or sit at my computer thinking, “revisions, revisions, revisions.” I have to remind myself to focus on the task at hand, or I’m off cleaning the oven instead of dusting or reading blog posts instead of revising my manuscript.

    Great post, Cat.

    • Patricia,

      Maybe it’s a matter of great minds thinking alike! It is so nice to know I’m not the only one who would lose track of my own feet. I’ll have to try the chanting next time I need extra focus. Wonder what DH will think?

      “Make the bed. Make the whole bed.”

  2. I like to keep my work in a state of “organized disorder” meaning that I too have notes everywhere, multiple copies and versions floating around, and a bunch of half-finished work.
    The only thing that seems to keep me in focus is the actual writing. I’ve been trying to take a revision course which focuses a lot on organization, but I just couldn’t keep up with all the note-taking demands. So now I’m just going to focus on writing and re-writing and only taking notes on what’s important. Sort of mixing things together so it’s not all analysis or all writing.

    • Andrew,

      I have the same multiple versions floating around along with notes and half finished projects. If you’re not familiar with Ms. Bookish (Belle) you should really check out her blog post (last week) on Agatha Christie’s notebooks. It made me feel as if I had succeeded in some small way and that maybe, just maybe, my disorganization would some day be worthwhile.

  3. At least you made half the bed. HE didn’t make any of it! 🙂

    • Sadly, the rule in our house is “the last one out makes the bed.” Since he’d been working out at 5:20am, that kind of made my lazy behind in charge of smoothing the covers!

  4. I just pretend to think that household tasks like bed-making are really unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Then when I don’t finish them, I appear to be a rebel or at least have my mind on more important things. When I do finish, I get lots of praise and thanks. It’s the manufactured victory train, Cat. Ride it.

    • Barbara,

      I wish I could latch onto this solution. However, I used to provide child care in our home for 12 years–and 12 kids. During that time, the house was virtually spotless. Little did I know I was creating an atmosphere of manufactured loss! If ever there was a time for housework to suffer, then should have been it.

  5. I loved this post! For a minute I thought you might be my twin. 🙂 I often don’t complete sentences because my thoughts, ideas, and comments run through my head faster than I can get them out of my mouth. *sigh* I try to slow it down now. I try. (This quirk helps with writing though because I can type faster than I talk.)

    • TK,

      Your quirk sounds like a Godsend. You must be able to whip out a manuscript in no time. I type fairly fast, but not anywhere near as fast as my mind comes up with ideas. I find myself literally saying “hey wait, hold on to that thought” but by the time my fingers get there, two more thoughts have replaced it.

  6. I use the couch to pile misplaced items – one pile for each family member – they get to put their own away 🙂

    I tend to focus on one thing each time I’m reading the ms. For instance now, I’m working on repetition. I tend to restate the same thing twice – need to tidy that up a bit!

    • Jemi,

      I’m fairly certain my little boys would push the misplaced items into the cushion cracks rather than put them away : )

      Editing is easier in stages, I think. Although it can make the editing process longer, I can do a more thorough job when I focus on different things each time. If you need to cut words, you’re in good shape with the repetition issue. And it’s satisfying to watch sentences and paragraphs shrink into compact ideas.

      I do so love editing.

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