It’s the end of a long day, and you finally have some time to write! But then you get on Facebook, the neighbor’s dog declares war on a squirrel, and you keep remembering little chores you forgot to finish yesterday. These distractions stunt your word count, limit the depth of your story, and stymie your progress. The good news is, you can beat the distractions.
Prepare Your Space
Many writers brag about writing anywhere the mood strikes them. That is wonderful, but that doesn’t work for all of us, and it isn’t a sign that you are a lesser writer if you can’t write fine prose in the middle of a busy coffee shop. If you struggle with focus, then you need to control your space.
Begin by identifying and removing distractions. The suggestion column on YouTube is my personal nemesis, and I find it helps me focus if I shut down unnecessary tabs and/or all my internet browsers before I get started. Headphones combat physical noise and wandering thoughts. Film soundtracks work wonders for many writers I know, simultaneously stoking their muse and pushing out the distractions. Ambient sounds also work very well. Check out free websites like ASoftMurmur.com. They offer customizable rain sounds, babbling brooks, muted coffee shop buzz, and other sounds to help you mentally transport yourself.
Write During Writing Time
This point has two important elements. First of all, you need a set writing time. Depending on your schedule, this might not be the same time every day, or even the same length of time every day. Still, you need to use time to your advantage. When you sit down to write, set an alarm on your phone. How long can you write tonight? Thirty minutes? An hour? Ten minutes? These are all fine. Just be sure to set that alarm. It sets writing time apart from spare time, internet-wandering time, pondering time, and research time.
Secondly, control your distractive urges to wander off by making lists. Suddenly remember that you need to make cupcakes for your kid’s birthday at school? Jot it down. Need more paper towels? Jot it down. Want to research that political debate? Jot it down. Do not stray from your word processor or notebook, though. Keep the random thoughts to the side, where they belong. You will have plenty of time to address them later. Ideally, keep a second list for writing issues. Need to research storefronts in 1870’s St. Louis? Jot it down. Need more introspection before the big conflict? Jot it down. Get the distractions out of your head and on paper. You won’t worry about forgetting them, and they won’t nibble away at your concentration.
Reflect on Your Progress
Just as writing takes practice, so does focus. At the end of your writing session, take some notes on your performance. Did you get distracted? If so, what pulled your attention away from your work? Was the distraction preventable, or did the fire alarm decide to sing you the song of its people? Most importantly, figure out what works. Focus needs positive tools in order to stick, not just an absence of distraction. Does your music work? Are the soundtracks distracting you? Maybe you transformed your distraction list into your to-do list for the week. Whatever the issue, you can solve it by identifying it.
What is your greatest distraction? How can you conquer it? Once you figure out the problem, you’ve already taken the first step towards solving it. So, get busy! Your story is waiting.