Writing’s a balancing act. Your ego must inspire rather than breed defensiveness or despair. You need to consider audience, but never to the point where you can’t evaluate the actual prose. The goal is composing freely, but with sufficient awareness of quality that you needn’t discard every word later on. You want to revise rigorously, yet with exhilaration. Otherwise you stifle what can be an electrifying process.
All this demands impartial assessment. How can you accomplish that while wondering whether you’ll land an agent, what’s in those emails binging in the background, or if you’ll ever compose another sentence as good—or bad—as the previous one.
Good writing balances knowledge of craft with creative implementation of that knowledge. The novelist must consider tension, emotion, pace, characterization, detail, and language. Change just one thing on that incomplete list, and you’ve altered something else. Add a transition, and now you’ve repeated a word. Surely writing is complicated enough without your mind wandering while you diagnose and revise.
Writing time is less a matter of the time spent than the time spent with high quality of attention. You can’t attain that when focused on yourself instead of your novel:
Go to the pine if you want to learn about the pine, or to the bamboo if you want to learn about the bamboo. And in doing so, you must leave your subjective preoccupation with yourself. Otherwise you impose yourself on the object and you do not learn. – Basho
If this sounds a lot like mindfulness, could be because that’s what it is. Mindfulness. This word evokes powerful reactions. Most people view it as either a practice to follow, or “Oh no. Not that stuff.”
But mindfulness is simply consciousness or calm awareness of the present moment. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is
the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.
Of course you can achieve concentration in a variety of ways. It doesn’t matter which you choose. Once you do, though, you’ll
- Read what’s on the page, not what you hope is there.
- Encounter your words objectively, so you can revise them effectively.
- Examine your work with neither too much nor little confidence.
- Scrutinize every sentence, rather than only the best or weakest parts.
- Eliminate real-world distractions.
Tip: The best writers balance quality of concentration with quality of invention.