Five years ago, I had a stroke. It changed my life, as you might expect, but it changed in lots of unexpectedly good ways too. I learned a lot about focus, which applies in lots of areas, including my writing. I hope it helps you too.
We all do multi-tasking most of the time. Using the computer in front of the TV, texting while walking, checking emails while having lunch with friends. Even those of us not online all the time are often not concentrating on what we’re doing.
After my stroke some of my muscles no longer work automatically. You wouldn’t believe how many separate actions it takes to walk one step! Bend the knee, lift the foot, raise the toe, swing the leg, heel down first – and you have to watch your balance. If I thought about anything else, my leg failed to work properly. But if I focussed long enough, it eventually became easier. Now I can walk and talk at the same time!
Sometimes we need to cut all the distractions and really focus on one thing at a time.
Set small goals.
You may have a big goal with a long timescale but that can get daunting.
My stroke took away the use of my whole right side. When I came out of hospital I could walk only a few steps with help, and was very weak. I wanted to be able to walk again. When I first began walking outside I used to count the gates of the terraced houses on our street. The first time, I managed 3 gates out and 3 back. My goal was always to walk to one more gate and then back. A neighbour who lived 19 houses down the street promised me cake if I could walk to her house. Then I walked to the end of the street, and next, round the block. Now I walk the half-mile into town and round the shops .
Set small intermediate goals that you can achieve in a day or a week. That way you will have little successes to encourage you on the way.
Work at a problem until you solve it or work around it.
Because the use of my right arm never returned, I was constantly frustrated with the number of things for which you need two hands.
I taught myself to write left-handed but can’t hold the paper still. If I’m out, I either ask someone to hold the paper, or I get out my purse and use it to weight down the sheet. Some things I use my teeth to hold, sometimes my feet. Need to open a bottle of pop? Hold it between your feet and twist the cap with your good hand. Hand-washed clothes need wringing out? Roll them in a towel, put it on the floor, and walk up and down on it!
When I’m stuck with a situation in my novel, I think about it from every angle, sometimes for days, until eventually I can see the way through.
Always be on the look-out for tools.
Some problems you can’t resolve by yourself, but maybe there’s a tool that will help.
I can’t do much housework one-handed, but I tried washing up. Then I found a round brush with suckers on the bottom so it stands up in the washing-up bowl, and I can wash all my mugs and glasses easily.
I was losing track of my novel until I worked out how to use a spreadsheet to keep track of my characters. I wrote about it here. I think it’s a neat idea.
There’s so much advice on the web, maybe there’s a tool or a method that will help you plan your novel or organise your work.
Giving up is not an option.
If you stop trying, you’ll never know how far you could have gone.
There are people who give up after a stroke, and sit in a chair all day watching TV. They never go anywhere unless someone takes them out, they rely on carers to do things for them. I couldn’t face a life like that. I found a determination and persistence that I never had before, but it wasn’t easy. I still sometimes cry with frustration, but my focus doesn’t change.
If your goal is really important to you, you will find a way, and not give up. Now, where’s that unfinished novel?...