Thursday, January 5, 2017

Finding Writing Focus After a Distracted Year

by Lynn H Blackburn @LynnHBlackburn

It’s a new year and if you’re anything like me, what worked in 2014 and 2015 did not work so well in 2016. You’d love to be more productive in 2017.

I know for myself, I have to find a better way to do things or I’m going to be in really big trouble. This realization has been growing for a few months and it hit hard during the holidays.

So I did what I usually do when I want to learn something.

I went to the library.

I picked up a book called Deep Work by Cal Newport and I’m not going to sugarcoat this…it isn’t for everyone. Some people will not like his suggestions. Some people will not like the way he digs into the science and the metrics and the business-side of things. (Personally? My little nerdy, engineering, geeky self loved it.)

But with a subtitle like, “Rules for focused success in a distracted world” you can bet that it IS for a lot of people, including a lot of writers.

I know—knew before I read Deep Work—that something is going on in my brain that makes it very hard for me to concentrate on anything—good or bad, easy or hard—for more than a little while before I need a distraction of some sort.

And here’s the thing—I don’t have time for that mess. When I get time to write, I need to be able to write. I don’t have time for quizzes about which Harry Potter character I am (there’s a hint for you in this post) or how OCD I am (I bet you can guess that one, too) but that doesn’t mean I won’t catch myself burning up precious creative time with junk like that.

Don’t get me wrong—there’s nothing inherently wrong with a Facebook quiz and that obituary for Leia Organa was brilliant—but what is wrong is when I feel almost helpless to stop myself from frittering away valuable time on something that is virtually meaningless.

I can’t be the only one who feels like her brain has turned on her. (Right?)

Maybe you’d like to finally finish that manuscript. Or maybe you’d like to finally be consistent with your newsletters or blogs.

Or, gulp, maybe you’d like to do a better job of staying away from those things you know are not helping you reach your goals, whether it’s too much time on Facebook or too much time with Netflix.

If any of this resonates with you, you might want to pick up a copy of Deep Work. The author is an MIT graduate who is now a professor of Computer Science at Georgetown, so, yeah, he’s pretty smart. But don’t worry. The writing is clear and not overly professorial. The material, even the science behind his theories, is quite accessible.

He begins the introduction to Deep Work by defining what he means by deep work, how that compares to shallow work, and then he clearly states the goals for the book. In Part 1, he strives to convince the reader that deep work is valuable. In Part 2, the goal is to teach you methods you can use to train your brain and change the way you work.

I found Part 1 fascinating. He uses case studies and anecdotes to illustrate how deep work is important but scarce in many of today’s business settings and what happens when people take risks and make deep work an important part of their work day. He also has a chapter on why deep work is philosophically, psychologically, and neurologically valuable. I realize it might sound dry, but it isn’t. He makes a strong case.

Part 2 is the part I’ll be re-reading in the next few weeks. Part 2 is the rules. And I can promise you this—you aren’t going to like some of them. I don’t like some of them, and I doubt I will actually implement several of them. However, this isn’t the time to throw out the entire premise because there are a few things you might not agree with.

For example, he has a chapter called “Quit Social Media.” I almost didn’t read the book because of that one chapter title and I’m so glad I didn’t let that stop me. While he is definitely on the anti-social media side of things, he isn’t saying you have to quit all social media forever. (Whew!)

Most of the suggestions and directives in Part 2 have the potential to drastically change all aspects of the way I work—the way I homeschool my boys, the way I write my books, even the way I spend my evenings. They get at the “why” and the emotion of how we use the internet, social media, etc. I found the insights both disturbing and enlightening.

One chapter is called “Embrace Boredom” and as I read it I couldn’t help but think of a hundred ways to apply the principles to my writing life. If you’re on the fence about this book, grab it from the library and read that one chapter. Even if that’s the only chapter you read, it could change the way you write and work for the better.

I don’t know about you, but I need things to be different in 2017. I’m hoping by “going deep” I’ll be able to makes some measurable progress toward my goals and dreams.

How about you? Does this sound interesting? Do you find it tricky to “go deep” and stay there? Do you even want to? Let’s talk about it in the comments!

Don’t forget to join the conversation!


Lynn Huggins Blackburn believes in the power of stories, especially those that remind us that true love exists, a gift from the Truest Love. She’s passionate about CrossFit, coffee, and chocolate (don’t make her choose) and experimenting with recipes that feed both body and soul. She lives in South Carolina with her true love, Brian, and their three children. Her first book, Covert Justice, won the 2016 Selah Award for Mystery and Suspense and the 2016 Carol Award for Short Novel. You can follow her real life happily ever after on FacebookTwitterPinterest, Instagram, and at


  1. Lynn, your book reviews never leave me guessing as to whether or not I'll read it. Thanks for the heads up on the questionable sections for Deep Work. I may have given up on this one too soon if not for your review.

  2. Thanks, Cathy! It's funny you say that because someone recommended it to me - who said it wasn't a perfect fit for her, but still well worth reading - and that encouraged me to stay with it. Can't wait to hear what you think!

  3. Thanks, Lynn. Need to hone my ability to concentrate and focus on being more productive. Pinned & shared.

    1. Thank you so much! I hope some of these techniques are helpful!

  4. Thanks for the review. Probably not a book I would ordinarily seek out, but you make it sound interesting (and helpful!).