What Does Deep Focus Sound Like to You?

What Does Deep Focus Sound Like to You?

I’ve been tracking my word counts for 8 years now. I first started tracking how many words I wrote, edited or outlined in order to prove to myself how much work I actually finish in a day, week or month. At the time I struggled with the idea that I was wasting time by trying to write, even though I wanted it to become my full-time job.

I didn’t anticipate that my word counts would steadily increase with each year I tracked them. While I used to struggle to write 3,000 words in an entire day, I now regularly write 3,000 words in each of my two daily writing work slots four times a week.

The tracking certainly helped me realize how much more I fit into a day than I used to. And how much easier I slide into writing mode and get out of my own way to get my work done. But it isn’t the sole key to my success – perseverance is a large contributor.

At some point during the heavy pandemic lockdown, I noticed something. My word counts didn’t falter. My averages still added up the way I expected at the end of each month. But it took much longer to write those words than it should have. My lunch hour pushed later, and I didn’t finish work until well into the evening.

There was a lot going on in the world at the time, so it isn’t surprising I would be distracted. Especially with my husband working from home, often in the very next room, also struggling not to let the world distract him from his new and unfamiliar work environment. I waded through the mire like everyone else, eager for the day things would return to normal.

What is Normal Really?

Except things never exactly returned to normal. My husband returned to working in the class room. My home office settled back into its regular quiet rhythm. The world didn’t exactly settle down, but I learned how to filter out the noise.

Yet my productivity still came in fits and spurts. If I could focus long enough to get started, I could get a great deal of work done. But stopping became a curse, because it meant finding a way to start again.

This was when I discovered the Pomodoro Technique. I had heard of it before, of course. My husband had even suggested it several times. I was hesitant to try it, however, because I worried the timer would make me panic.

Not only was that not the case, I find I consistently keep working when the timer has finished. (I keep the buzzer silent so it won’t disrupt a thought while I’m on a roll.)

My focus issues didn’t disappear overnight when I started using Pomodoro. I still struggle with letting my breaks linger too long. And some days (like the day I wrote this blog post), I still struggle to get started. There are a lot of factors. How I feel is a big one. If I’m tired or under the weather, focus is harder to find. But even on good days, even when I’m motivated to get my work done, the siren call of procrastination draws my attention.

The timer isn’t enough on its own. It’s a great tool. But for me, it works best when I pair it with other focus and productivity tools.

Soundtracks of My Life

Music has always played a role in my writing. I used to always have music playing in the background. As time went on, I relied more and more on music, and soothing sounds, to help me find focus.

Somewhere along the way, I started making soundtracks for my individual projects. I don’t think this will come as a shock to anyone – lots of writers do this. When I need to get into a specific character’s mindset, or when I need inspiration for a specific scene, I load up the associated song and start from there.

A significant portion of Dream Things True was written while listening to Kamelot’s III Ways to Epica album. And I listened to an impressive amount of Iron Savior while I was writing the first draft of the Celestial Serenade.

At some point along the way, however, songs with lyrics became too distracting to play while I’m writing. (Which makes me a little sad.) In order to slip into the deepest levels of focus, I need to eliminate anything that might pull me in the other direction.

But I still use my project soundtracks for inspiration. Often I play them in the background while I’m outlining a new book or updating my world building details. If there’s a song that’s perfect for the scene or character I’m about to write, I still listen to the song before I start for the day.

I don’t have as much time to devote to the development of these playlists as I’d like. But I have cultivated quite a collection of music for the Celestial Serenade on Spotify. And recently I started collecting a list for the Aruvalia Chronicles (though it’s still a bit in disarray). For anyone who’s wondering, Domerin’s playlist is up to 9 hours and counting.

Epic Music for Epic Scenes

When I realized that music with lyrics was slowing me down, I developed a second set of playlists. Music specifically for writing. A friend turned me on to a Youtube channel that collected epic background music. Much of this was specifically designed for movie trailers.

It turns out there are entire bands that write just this type of music – short epics for use as video backing. 2 Steps from Hell became my band of choice for writing epic space battles during work on the Celestial Serenade. I also listened to a lot of Blue Man group – the driving beat tend to keep me peppy and motivated. The gents over at 2 Cellos also release a lot of epic cello covers of popular music which has gotten me through many a rough day’s writing.

I can’t remember where or when anymore, but I once read an article explaining that video game music is designed to help you focus. It makes sense. If you’re going to be repeating the same activity over and over for hours on end, it would be counterproductive if the music distracted you or drove you away.

I don’t know if there’s a specific science behind this, but I have listened to plenty of game soundtracks while writing. Two of my favorites are the soundtracks to Furi and Hades. (In fact they’re amazing even outside of focus enhancement.) (There are a few songs with lyrics in the Hades soundtrack, just as a heads up. But the rest make a great background for focus.)

The Creative Power of Rain

I can’t remember when I switched from music to white noise while writing. I think I might have realized I was spending about as much time making writing sound tracks as writing. Because that happens from time to time. Also, there’s always a switch at some point between songs, a break or a gap that it’s impossible not to be aware of. And that gap can be jolting if you’re trying to get so deep into focus that you don’t notice anything else going on around you.

White noise is constant and uniform. That’s what allows it to fade so easily into the background. That said, really good white noise can be hard to find. Some white noise generators or videos loop the same sounds over and over. That creates the same gap you experience between the switching of tracks. Plus if you listen to a loop, you’re oddly aware of the fact that you’re listening to the same sound over and over.

That’s why I love myNoise so much. Each of the generators on the site is carefully crafted so that the sounds feel constant and shift without creating a distinctive loop. On top of that, you can calibrate the various aspects of the sounds to your liking. PLUS you can calibrate the site to your specific hearing, to really make various aspects of the sounds pop.

I started out by playing rain noises over other music to bridge the gap in focus. (My favorite is Tin Roof Rain, though Rain on a Tent is also top notch!) Eventually I realized you could layer generators on myNoise, and this lead to my current method of focus enhancement. I have a set of generators for each project. Aruvalia Chronicles is Tin Roof Rain paired with Telecaster Licks (in case anyone wonders). Everyone’s Child pairs Tin Roof Rain with a new generator called Conquistadors.

Eventually, I’d love to create generator pairings for each of my characters so that I can snap into a certain headset based on the atmosphere of the background music. But there are so many generators to sort through, that it might take awhile. For now, I’m happy to have a specific sound atmosphere for each project. Once I have my white noise in my ears, my brain knows it’s time to get the fingers moving!

What does focus sound like for you?

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