Photo courtesy of Mayr
- “Writing is a fairly lonely business unless you invite people in to watch you do it, which is often distracting and then you have to ask them to leave.” – Marc Lawrence
One of the biggest challenges for any writer, especially these days, is the temptation of the Internet, the pull of your favorite distractions, and — if you work at home — the siren’s call of the couch.
If you want to get writing done (hence the title of this site), you need to learn to clear your writing time of any distractions.
At this moment, I can proudly say that I’m writing this post distraction-free. And I can also say that it’s without a doubt the best way to write.
Good writing requires focus.
Those four words will make a huge difference to your writing if you’ve been having problems so far.
Sure, it’s fun to be able to check email, have the TV on in the background, and begin the endless chain of browsing that begins with a simple statement like, “Maybe I’ll just look that up on Wikipedia.” Or Google, or wherever you like to look things up.
But that fun comes at a cost: your writing. So, my recommendation is to make a choice: do you want the distractions, or do you want to write?
If you want to write, here’s how to do it without distractions.
1. Do your research first. Get this part out of the way, so that when you’re ready to write, you have everything you need. If you do research as you write, you’ll constantly be flipping back and forth. And when you do research, you’re most likely pulled in different directions as you find new things that catch your attention. So do your research, and have that ready before you start your writing. If, during the actual writing, you think of other things you need to look up, make a note of it at the bottom of your document (or on paper) and move on. You can always fill in the blanks later.
2. Turn off the Internet. Seriously. I know we love it, we need it, we couldn’t work without it. But if you’ve done your research, you don’t need the Internet to write. Really.
At this moment, I’m writing with no Internet. I’ve already collected the links I want to share for this post, and now I’ve shut down my browser and I’m focusing completely on writing. When I’m done writing the text, I’ll paste it into WordPress and format it, but right now it’s all about the text.
If shutting down your browser isn’t enough, actually disconnect the cable or unplug your modem. It’s just temporary, but it makes a big difference. Another great method is to write on a laptop, and go somewhere where there’s no wi-fi.
3. Use Writeroom. Writeroom if you’re on a Mac, or some other similar software (Writer.app is another good Mac writing program, and DarkRoom works well for the PC — I’ve used all three and love them).
Basically, these programs are for writing text, and nothing else. They block out the rest of your computer with a black (or otherwise faded) background, so that you have the text … and that’s all. They aren’t chock-full of features like Microsoft Word or OpenOffice. You write in full-screen mode, with no distractions.
4. Shut down everything else. Got other programs running? Shut them down if possible. Not just your browser, but your mail program, RSS reader, games, graphics program, anything. Sure, if you’re using one of the minimalist writing programs mentioned above, they’ll be blocked from view, but trust me, it’s still too much of a temptation to press a few keys and switch over to another app. Shutting everything down is a smart move.
5. Turn off the TV. Actually, I’m not a fan of any background noise, with the possible exception of music. I don’t usually work with music, but I know that it can help a lot of writers. The thing is, if you play around with your music a lot, it’s just another distraction. If you can create the perfect playlist real quick, then forget about it, that’s fine. But if you find yourself opening your favorite player to look for a new song, you should probably do without it. Television is almost never a good thing for a writer.
6. Clear your desk. I like visual clutter to be completely removed, so that it’s not even a subconscious distraction. I write with basically nothing on my desk, no papers, nothing. Maybe a glass of water to keep me hydrated. Maybe a pen and pad if needed. Otherwise, clear it all out. Instead of spending time sorting through your papers, just collect them all in a pile and put them in a drawer somewhere. You can sort through them later. Same thing with pens and nick knacks and other clutter — toss them in a drawer and sort them out later (here’s how to clear your desk when you have more time).
7. Shut off all phones and notifications. That’s right — unplug the phone and turn off the cell phone. You don’t need to be talking while you’re writing. And turn off your email notification, because you don’t need to know the second an email hits your inbox. That puts your writing at the mercy of whoever feels like emailing you at the moment. Make writing your priority if it’s important to you.
8. Let people know you’re in DND mode. Set a certain time of the day as your writing time, ideally, and let everyone know you’re not to be disturbed. Or put on headphones and let people know that you’re in writing mode. If you work at home, shut yourself in your home office and tell the family that it’s writing time, and you shouldn’t be bothered. By telling people, explicitly, that you can’t be disturbed, you prevent distractions from cropping up.
9. Just write. The most important step, of course. If you’ve cleared everything away, and you’ve turned everything off, and you’re in writing mode, you gotta just start writing. Just start typing. It’ll come. Stop fooling around with the computer, or checking on things, or looking for things … just stop doing everything else, and just write.
10. Take breaks. Of course, it’s hard to write uninterrupted for hours at a time. I recommend breaks every 15-20 minutes, or 30 at the most. It allows you to stretch, get the blood circulating, and think about what to write next. Move around. Take a walk. Get a drink of water. Take 5 minutes, then get back to writing.
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