5 Ways to be a Productive Writer in a World of Distraction

Imagine yourself in this scene…

You settle in to write in your perfect spot. It might be a cozy, perfectly arranged office that you love - or maybe your spacious deck overlooking the ocean.

It's quiet, comfortable, and distraction-free. You're so focused that the ideas flow effortlessly as you easily churn out page after page.

The hours fly by as if they were seconds, and before you know it… you're finished!

Your perfect distraction-free environment has allowed you to create the best piece you've ever written.

Thrilled with an incredible day’s work, you decide it's time to quit and celebrate with some well-earned rest and relaxation - so you mount your winged unicorn with your best friend the magical elf and fly off into the sunset.

Wait. What’s that?

Unicorns and magical elves don't exist?

Yeah, I know. And for most of us, neither does distraction-free writing.

It's gone the way of the Dodo Bird: Extinct.

And if it's not exactly extinct, it for sure deserves a spot on the endangered species list.

Take 2 minutes to watch the video below and see what I mean…

In real life, you can't control what the rest of the world chooses to do when you need to write.

  • The kids are going to play, yell, and argue
  • The dogs are going to run around the house, bark, and jump up into your lap
  • The people you live with are going to interrupt
  • Friends and family will drop by unannounced
  • The neighbors will throw parties, mow their lawn, and have loud men with jackhammers come over to fix their driveway

You just can't tell life to, “Shhhhh” and expect it to comply.

Why then is there so much information out there about how to write distraction-free? Because it's an ideal - not reality. And ideals are much easier to talk about than real life. They're perfect scenarios.

My life isn’t a perfect scenario, and I'll bet yours isn’t either.

So how about we tackle real life head-on and talk about what you can do to be a productive writer when distractions are unavoidable?

Don't Fight the Chaos - Go With the Flow

When you need to write, but the world around you gets hectic, what do you normally do? If you’re like most people (and you’re being honest with yourself), you might just fold up the tent and call it a day.

And why not? It seems pretty logical that if you can’t concentrate or work without constant interruptions - maybe you should wait until things are calmer and more quiet. Why not wait until tomorrow?

Well, there are a couple of reasons not to just put it off until tomorrow.

First, there’s no guarantee that tomorrow is going to be any less noisy, hectic, or distracting than today.

And second - you probably won’t do it tomorrow. That’s called procrastination as you well know, and it’s a habit you don’t want to encourage.

Consider all the things you’ve put off until tomorrow over the years. How many of them got done when tomorrow came?

Personally, if I followed through with all my plans for “tomorrow”, my car would be cleaner, my yard would look amazing, and I’d be in a hell of a lot better shape!

If you wait for the day when you’re in the mood to write to intersect with the day when conditions are perfect for distraction-free writing, you could be in for a very long wait.

Nope. Tomorrow isn’t usually a good plan. Get your writing done when you’re thinking about it and you're motivated to get it done.

“But”, you say, “when things get chaotic and loud, I can’t focus and it’s hard to maintain a consistent stream of thought.” I totally agree.

If you’re writing the “meat” of your piece, important dialogue, or trying to do a final edit, the distractions are going to wreck havoc. Those are parts of the writing process that require extreme focus.

No matter how hard you fight to maintain your focus while trying to perform these elements of the writing process, the chaos is going to trip you up.

So don’t do those things. Stop fighting against an opponent who you know is going to pummel you.

Instead, what if you stopped fighting and, like a martial arts expert, you used your opponent’s power (distractions) to your benefit?

How Distractions Can Actually Help Your Process

There’s a lot of research indicating that creativity and chaos may be much more like friends than enemies. To read more on the subject, I highly recommend you read one of my favorite books ever, The Medici Effect by Frans Johansson.

It seems that innovation and creativity peak when we do things that are different and outside of our “normal” routines. Great ideas come from thrusting ourselves into new disciplines and odd environments and paying attention to the intersections those combinations of new things create for us.

That means that when you need to be productive and get some writing done, but your environment is full of distractions, you can use it to your advantage and focus on some of your more creativity-related writing tasks.

How to be a Productive Writer When Life Hits the Fan

We already know that doing an important final edit or writing the “meat” of your piece probably aren’t the best choices when distractions are buzzing all around you.

But you can use those distractions to your advantage.

Here are 5 ways to productively move your writing forward no matter what crazy loudness your day throws at you.

1. Don’t Ignore the Chaos
I mentioned this one before, but it bears repeating. If you can’t avoid distraction… well, then… stop trying to avoid the unavoidable. It’s exhausting. And impossible.

Instead, accept that it’s there and focus on what you CAN get done, not what you can’t.

2. Siphon New Ideas From the Distractions
As long as you’re stuck with distractions, you might as well use them to your advantage. As writers, we spend a lot of time taking things out of our brains and putting them onto the page.

Why not use all the crazy action in your hectic day to refill your tank? If you have to live amidst distraction, use it to observe, get ideas, and fill your creative tank.

Listen to the noise, write down interesting things you see and words that you hear. Watch the distraction unfold… and mine it for new ideas! You might just come up with some incredible dialogue or a mind-blowing plot twist.

3. If You Can’t Write - Outline
Outlining is another writing task that you can tackle when your concentration isn’t optimal.

Sometimes when you write, your own mind becomes your worst enemy because you overthink and second-guess yourself. One of the advantages of a day of distraction is that it doesn't allow you to go that deeply into your own thoughts. The perfect mindset you need to step back just far enough to work on outlines.

Map out your next blog post or your next chapter. Keep it simple. Use bullets so you can easily edit and change the order around. You could even create a storyboard. Look at things from a distance and create an excellent map for yourself when you can concentrate more and really dig into the work.

4. Don’t Edit - Polish
We can all agree that “crazy day” isn’t the best time to do a final edit on an important piece. But it might surprise you to know that it is a great time to polish work you’ve already written.

As odd as that sounds, keep in mind that your day of distraction allows you to see your work through they eyes of most of your readers. How so?

Most of the time when we read, we’re distracted. When do you read books? On a bus, on a plane, while your spouse has the TV on, or during a lunch break at work.

When do people read blog posts? While tweeting, checking email, on breaks, at red lights on their phones (don’t do it while moving!), and all sorts of other distracting scenarios.

Scanning and polishing your own work while distracted can tell you a lot. Is it interesting? Is it too “flowery” to hold attention? Will it pull your reader in and keep them reading despite their distractions?

You'll find that being somewhat "detached" will give you a new perspective on your piece. When you find rough spots, smooth them out or make note of them. Then, when your environment allows, do your final edits.

5. Research and Fact-Check
When you can only work on your writing for minutes at a time, another great way to be productive is to do research and fact-check. Google things, do your research, find quotes, and double-check your facts. Save your research and links in your software of choice like Evernote.

Set Yourself Up For Writing Success

The thing to remember is that when life gets loud and distractions are plentiful - you’re NOT helpless. You have a choice.

What we think of as serious “sit down and bang this out” writing may not be possible at times like these, but there’s plenty of actions you can take to move your writing forward.

And when you take that action, not only will you be more productive during your period of distraction, but you’ll also be laying a great foundation and setting yourself up for success when you’re able to have a more focused writing session.

Now, I want to hear from you...

What do you do when your environment is full of distractions? Share your thoughts and tips in the comments.

About the Author

Gary Korisko is Write to Done's Associate Editor, a professional copywriter, and also writes about Becoming Someone Worth Following on his blog, Reboot Authentic.


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