Training your brain to shift focus

Illustration of person dragging @ up hill
Sergio Roberto Bichara/

For me, the most difficult part of being a writer is not the writing itself. That’s something I enjoy more than almost anything in life.

No, the most difficult thing is keeping my eyes off my email whenever I’m waiting to hear back from someone. Without fail–whether I’ve sent off my manuscript for feedback or entered it in a contest–I start checking my email for a response Way Too Early.

Seriously, you should’ve seen me on March 25 last year when the Golden Heart finalists were being announced. I kept checking my phone and refreshing the announcement page. Basically, I acted like a complete saddo.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who glances at my email thirty times in a minute, just to make sure I haven’t missed something. Here are some of the ways I try to manage my mania.

1. Always have another project to work on.

Whether it’s the next chapter or the next novel, I make sure I have a big enough challenge to refocus my brain. It’s got to be something I’m excited about. If it’s a boring work project, I’ll keep telling myself, “I read a whole page of that spreadsheet. I should reward myself with a look at my email.” Then I get even more depressed that I haven’t heard anything.

2. Make plans for the day you expect an announcement to be made.

My problem is that I work at a computer all day long. Pretty difficult to avoid having a tab open that says how many new emails I’ve received. But I can purposely plan meetings (yes, that’s how far I have to go to shift my attention) or go out with a friend after work if I know an exciting announcement will be made on a certain day.

You should see my work schedule for the Golden Heart finalist result day. Meeting-tastic.

3. Avoid infecting others with your mania.

I know my gut instinct is to email a contest coordinator if they haven’t sent out results on the day they say they’re going to. But I also know, as a professional person who gets 100 emails a day, how mind-gouging it is to get chase-up emails sometimes even before a deadline has passed. So I hold off.

At my day job, I write about major disasters. I feel like I have a pretty good handle on what signals the end of the world and what doesn’t. Not hearing about something I’m excited about is not the end of the world.

Do you struggle to keep yourself from checking your email when you’re expecting news about a submission? How do you cope? Any advice is welcome!


  1. Waiting is THE hardest part of the writing biz. And no matter how long I tell myself something is going to take, it usually takes longer. I’m a hopeless email checker. Had to laugh at the spreadsheet comment because I so do that. “I’ve edited three paragraphs of this )(*& physics article. I can check email.” Then I look at Twitter. Then I check email again, because something else might have come in when I was looking at Twitter. Hopeless.

    1. Okay, at least I don’t have to face physics articles, Suz. I’d be constantly checking my email if that was the alternative. And I’m glad you’re often on Twitter. Means we can chat. Maybe not so productive, but still often useful.

  2. Having spent almost 3 months waiting to hear from my agent on a new proposal (who was waiting to hear from the editor), I know what you’re talking about. If I’m serious about working on something, I’ll turn off my email program so I don’t see that little blue flag in the task bar. But the other day, when 2 of my books were featured at Daily Cheap Reads, I confess to getting very little done while checking the sales stats way too often.

    Terry’s Place
    Romance with a Twist–of Mystery

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