On Writing And Attention Span.
How vain it is to sit down and write when you have not stood up to live.
The above quote by Thoreau in his vote of confidence for writers like me who decided to take on the craft a little late in life always inspires me. I can tap into my wealth of experience and produce stories for the rest of my life if only I can find the time and put pen to paper.
A friend once asked, “Cmoni where do you get all these posts you write?”
“From my head” was my sarcastic reply.
“Of course, I know it’s from your head but how do you come up with the ideas?”.
Oh, that? “Bros I read a lot”.
“You, Cmoni, read a lot? How do you have time to read when you are on social media arguing with us every day?”.
“Hahahaha bros I de read o, I don’t only read but I also study. Have you forgotten I just completed a diploma recently? It was one full academic year of blended learning. But I get where you are coming from so I will tell you, but not now. I will put it down in writing so as to answer your question practically”.
So here goes.
I read a lot. And I read everything and everywhere. I read the news, social media commentary, books and mags. I often read the dailies first when I walk into the library. I listen to audiobooks and podcasts even more. When I jog I play music but when I walk I listen to texts. I read in the loo, bus, train and plane.
Still, in addition to regular reading, a good writer should be a good observer. I’ve always known this but following two writers (Julia Cameron & Natalie Goldberg) who markedly influenced my creative journey reinforced this belief. So oftentimes when I walk along the River Lee banks, I deliberately observe. I can stop for minutes to watch a dog play fetch with its owner or take time to feed the ducks and admire their silky white plumes.
On one occasion I noticed an otter which was displaying its swimming skills didn’t have whiskers or perhaps I wasn’t close enough to see it clearly. A lady that had been watching with me was equally unsure and said;
“It could as well be a beaver”.
“Well, it is possible but I believe beavers are usually larger than this” I replied.
That brief incident prompted a simple google search to distinguish between the two furry creatures. Among other things I was amazed to learn that otters are mainly carnivores while beavers are herbivores. If I develop this experience and add the discoveries made I could have a full story of over 1000 words.
If I want to write about a trending or particular topic, all I need to do is follow the argument and in a matter of hours I will come up with an article. I learned this doing my master’s degree in media studies. Australian writer Caitlin Johnstone did not only become prolific by deploying this tactic but has effectively carved a reputation and built a buxom audience.
Despite knowing all these, I neither read nor write as much as I should or I’m capable of doing. I rarely concentrate and do deep reading except on weekends and for academic work. I also don’t write regularly as I keep pledging to do.
But wait! Of course, I write daily and most of us write daily too. Yes, we chat, reply to emails and churn out thousands of words arguing over frivolous sociopolitical issues. If you add up the number of words we type daily you could have a book each month. Unfortunately, this form of writing is usually not effective. It is the by-product of the internet era where almost everything can be done through screen devices.
This dependence on these tools of our age impacts our attention span and it would seem there’s no escape from this as technology proliferates even more. By way of definition, attention span is simply the amount of time spent concentrating on a task before becoming distracted. While distractibility occurs when attention is uncontrollably diverted to another activity or sensation. Thus focus becomes a problem. And I’m neither alone in this struggle nor am I the only one who is searching for a solution.
So a few nights ago when I plugged on my earphones to savour my daily free blink from Blinkist I was treated to Attention Span, a book by @GloriaMark_PhD. It was so interesting that I listened twice. It is not as if I haven’t read books around this subject matter. I have studied minimalism, decluttering, mindset and all that but none has been this specific. That is why I am practically bouncing off the walls on this one.
So I have just renewed my audible subscription to read the entire book and I promise to dissect and digest the contents as we progress in our Success Journey series. But let’s start with this YouTube interview.
Thanks for reading and see you next week.