Writing requires focus.
At any given time, our minds are like a crowded airport terminal. Thoughts come and go. They arrive from many destinations and depart almost too quickly for us to notice.
Our job as writers is to describe our thoughts coherently. It’s like following one person through a crowded, noisy airport terminal. We’re distracted by other thoughts - planes arriving and departing full of passengers every minute, every second.
How can we train or focus and give ourselves the best chance of following our thoughts without getting lost in a sea of noise? In this article, I offer 10 tips for eliminating distractions while writing.
How to Eliminate Distractions While Writing
Create a Dedicated Writing Space
As I shared in the article Five Painless Ways to Make Writing a Fun Daily Habit, building an environment conducive to writing is key.
Choose a quiet, clutter-free area for your writing sessions. If that doesn’t exist in your home (as someone who has young kids can attest) you may have to travel to a local cafe or library to find such a place. Make it a place that you can regularly access. Ideally, a place with a door.
If you need to carve out a space within your home, we’ll go over how to set clear boundaries.
Set Specific Writing Times
One of those boundaries with other members is your household is to set a “write time for me.” Establish a regular routine with as little as 10-15 minutes to sit down and do your daily writing. While many writers prefer first thing in the morning, there are those like fantasy writer Brandon Sanderson who burn the midnight oil to find peace and quiet. Sanderson developed this habit while working the graveyard shift at a hotel front desk.
Turn Off Digital Distractions
Digital devices are so intrusive these days. The more wi-fi enabled “smart” devices you own, the more bings, bongs, and notifications to bother you. During your writing time, silence your phone. Put it face down across the room so you aren’t tempted to look at it. Unplug Alexa if you need to.
If you write on a computer, you could turn off the access to the internet while you work. Or, you could…
Here’s where pen and paper can still offer a method of writing that is completely 100% free of messages, notifications, and other interruptions that can derail a train of thought. Being able to concentrate and let your thoughts flow freely from the subconscious is especially important in writing the first rough draft. Next time you need to write a 1,000 word article, try doing it handwritten first. Then, transpose the writing to your computer for the edited second draft.
Use Focus Apps
But, lets be real, most of us do need to use a computer to edit and make our writing suitable for publication, whether it be on a blog or in a book. Despite the fact that computers are generally sources of distractions galore, they can also help you focus using website blockers (like StayFocused for Google Chrome and LeechBlock for Firefox) and music apps (like Spotify) to help you get in the zone without any of the tempting diversions.
Set Clear Goals
Having clear goals can also help you focus and eliminate distractions. What is today’s writing session about? Do you have a word count to reach? What are you building towards? What is your reason for wanting to write in the first place?
If you need help setting well-defined “SMART” goals, check out last week’s post to get started.
Boundaries can be hard to set, especially if you are a caregiver and have a demanding schedule. It’s hard but not impossible. And, you might feel it’s hard to justify. But, just because you’re not a New York Times bestselling author doesn’t mean you aren’t worthy of some self-care time spent writing.
If you have a consistent schedule and set your boundaries, you should minimize any interruptions. Use e-mail auto replies and text auto-responders during your writing time to gently remind others you’ll get back to them at a later time if they should try to reach you.
Even if you have a quiet area of your home (or office) dedicated to writing, there could be plenty of auditory distractions that assail your ears as you work. To neutralize the sonic disturbances, use noise cancelling headphones or play music (or white noise) in your earbuds. Just make sure not to have your back to the door, as you don’t want people sneaking up on you and scaring you out of your skin.
Take Regular Breaks
Focus and concentration can only last so long. Especially at first, your brain is not equipped to handle a marathon writing session. If you’re writing for longer than a half hour, make sure to take regular breaks. Use the Pomodoro Technique by setting a timer for 25 minutes, taking a 5-minute break after the alarm sounds. Repeat as necessary.
Organize Your Tools and Resources
Chefs have a practice called “mise en place” which translates to “set up.” This is the habit of having everything you need to create the dish at your cooking station. Writers can follow this concept as well. Make sure you have all your notes, references, a filled fountain pen, a hot beverage, anything you need to do the task at hand. If you can leave your writing space neatly organized with all your resources at the ready, it will be easier to jump into the next day’s work.
We often think that becoming a better writer is an issue of developing skills, expanding our influences, and learning a robust vocabulary. I think, if we can listen clearly to the voices that want to speak to us on the page, the better our writing will be. By eliminating distractions, we can be a better listener, and thus, a better writer.