Focus on the Process, Not the Product

I recently listened to the audiobook version of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and I heard a line that made me sit up a little straighter. When I heard the line, I had been in the shower after a long day, letting the hot water relax my muscles and my mind. I had been doing what I often find myself doing, visualizing my life once I graduate college and move to Boston, where I will strengthen my writing career and becoming a famous, influential writer and have a wonderful life far from the South and required college courses.

It’s one of my favorite fantasies.

Well, anyway, I was soaking in the shower, my phone resting on the folded towel by the lip of the shower, when I heard Cameron, who had been narrating a passage discussing the creative practice, say, “You will discover the joy of practicing your creativity. The process, not the product, will become your focus.”

Usually, when I have an audiobook playing while I’m in the shower, I’m only partly listening; the motivational lessons and lyrical language serve more as a way to soothe my mind while the hot water does the same for my body. I work two jobs and go to school full-time. There’s a lot in me that needs soothing.

But this time, I perked up, and that line looped through my head even while Cameron continued her narration. I had been doing just the opposite of what she suggested: I had been focusing on what my writing would look like when I was done with it. I had been dreaming of the rewards, while my writing life had started shrinking in my day-to-day life.

Sure, I wrote a few pages of my thoughts in the morning, and I developed ideas for future pieces and ways to edit drafts. But I had neglected the process of serious creation. The writing I did create was never anything that had the intention or even the chance of reaching other people.

So, since hearing that line, I have tried to focus more on the process and less on the end result. I’ll never get to that result if I don’t engage with the process anyway. Now, I am working on a new short story, and I keep reminding myself to find joy in the act of putting words together, of creating surprising and interesting images, of telling stories that illuminate the different ways we, as humans, live in this world.

Doing this work is a privilege, something that I should take seriously, but it is also something that needs to be a source of joy and pleasure in my life, even it if sometimes makes me want to jump out of my second-floor dorm window.

I’m much less interested in the product of that particular process.

Cultivating a Habit of Reading (Bathtub Optional)

(photo via photolizer.com)

Books and water don’t typically go together, but for me it’s a match made in solitude.

With my ADHD, reading for uninterrupted periods of time can be both frustrating and frightening all at once. Where I used to sit for hours with a book open in my lap, I now spend a lot more time feeling guilty for how my disorder impacts my reading life. So, finding a place that can cut me off from most other forms of stimuli (my phone, Netflix, video games), is difficult and a blessing when I do.

One of those places happens to be the bathtub, a spot that does what any good reading spot does.

Find Your Calm

One of the most important things when working on cultivating a habit of reading is to seek out times when you feel calm and safe. Trying to read when you’re upset or out of it can put extra pressure on you. And when you live with a disorder like ADHD, that kind of pressure can worsen symptoms that hinder a person’s ability to read or fully enjoy reading. Symptoms like:

  • Distraction
  • Lack of emotional impulse control
  • Sense of acute frustration and guilt

For some, reading is a way to escape some of those negative feelings, but for many others, it can foster those same feelings. So finding a place or time that provokes a sense of calm and relaxation can be key to having a rewarding reading session. For me, a hot bath helps soothe my negative symptoms and any other issues that cloud my ability to focus on reading.

Find Your Time

Even if it’s only a few minutes, any amount of time spent reading when you want to do so is time well spent. When you want to read and feel like you’re wasting limited time it can make you shut down entirely. Then you feel like you can’t do anything at all except feel guilty about not doing anything. And the vicious cycle goes on and on, biting its own tail.

Some people say that you just have “make yourself” do it, and then you’ll be fine. But it’s not that easy for everyone, and ignoring that fact does nothing for the people who want to read and feel huge amounts of shame when they can’t.

One way to explain that inability to make yourself do something is with the term Executive Function Disorder, a disorder that boils down to wanting to do something but being unable to do that thing. For instance, most of my nights and mornings involve me wanting to go to bed or get up, knowing what I need to do, and then struggling to actually do those things for long periods of time. It all seems like too many steps that, when my brain processes them, overwhelm me to the point where I just sit there in silence, berating myself for not doing what I need to do.

The steps with reading are decidedly fewer than those required to get me into bed, but they can still put me off of the task. So I’ve found a way to kind of trick myself into going through with it. Preparing a hot bath is easy for me because my brain has connected the steps to preparing it with a sense of happiness and peace, so getting that set up is no problem. And once I’m in the bath, I really only have option for occupying my time: to read. So now I’m calm and isolated and left with a book that I simply have to open and read. And since I’ve done this enough times, reading is a reflex once I’m in the water.

For a lot of us book-lovers, reading can be one of the most rewarding and frustrating things we do. And for even more of us, it’s just one more thing that has to be maneuvered so we can do the other things that cause us frustration. So, by navigating certain avenues surrounding the act of reading, we can move toward cultivating a more rewarding and consistent habit of reading.

The Benefits and Liberation of Audiobooks

Audiobooks don’t count as really reading. I’m sure we’ve all heard that line at least once in our literary lives. At the very least, we’ve heard some variation on the old opposition to the rise of audiobooks in the literary community. People who favor audiobooks over physical books are characterized as lazy and cheaters. They’re people who don’t want to do the real work of reading the book they listen to. And I don’t imagine it would be hard to figure out why typically it’s young women and teenage girls who are shown listening to audiobooks (I mean, women and girls can’t be serious readers like the philosophical, high-brow men can, right?). But audiobooks are not a symbol of laziness in the reading community, rather they are actually things that unify people through books and make stories more accessible to people otherwise prevented from engaging with those stories.

Learning Disabilities and Neurodevelopmental Disorders

     As someone who loves books but deals with ADHD every day of my life, physically reading a book can be a real trial. I am not alone in the frustration and mental exhaustion that reading can often bring. People all over the world live with various disorders and disabilities and the issue of illiteracy that prevent them from enjoying books in the same way as neurotypical and abled people.

ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia, and other disabilities leave readers with intense exhaustion and frustration when they try and sometimes fail to comprehend the words on the pages in front of them. And in a society that debases and oppresses those people, a sense of shame and guilt comes close at hand with that frustration. For people who love books and stories, those feelings can be multiplied because something you’re passionate about should be easy to do right?

In those cases, audiobooks act as tools for people who need them. Listening to readings of books and stories are ways for them to cut out some of that exhaustion and frustration. And when they don’t deal with exhaustion and frustration they are better able to engage with the story, which is the goal of writers isn’t it? To engage our readers with the stories we’ve presented to them.

Working Class Readers and a Lack of Leisure Time

     The vast majority of people in America are working class, meaning they spend most of their time at work or recovering from work. Even more people perform service jobs or manual labor, leaving them both mentally and physically exhausted. This exhaustion makes it difficult to even want to read, let alone focus on the words on the page. And when you work long hours, free time and the money to spend on physical books is hard to come by.

So audiobooks step in to help the listener relax and not worry so much about physically engaging with the text. Instead, they can focus on the actual content while letting their bodies relax and recharge. Stories have always been a way to revitalize the body and the mind, so why shouldn’t audiobooks be of infinite use to people who are constantly in need of a way to get themselves through each work day?

Audiobooks as Coping Tools and Comforters

     For people who have memories of being read to as children, the act simply being told a story is soothing to the soul. And for others it can be a tool to cope with anxiety and other disorders. It can even work as a way to lull someone to sleep who suffers with insomnia.

Personally, I go to sleep nearly every night with an audiobook playing by my bed. I always try to pick a narrator with an attractive voice, so I will not be distracted by unpleasant noise when I try to sleep. When I lie there, hoping sleep will come quickly, listening to an audiobook gives me something to focus on while not requiring a great deal of mental and/or physical effort. So I am certain that there are other book lovers out there who feel the need to defend audiobooks for what they do for them daily.

We need to erase the stigma and make audiobooks more widely accessible. Audiobooks are not lazy or cheating but ways to accommodate those who are not so privileged that reading is something they can do every day or at all. Neuroatypical, disabled, working class, and illiterate book lovers are out there and are not simply outliers that can or should be disregarded in favor of pleasing the majority. Audiobooks are liberating. Audiobooks are blessings. Audiobooks are, in fact, real books.