By Lisa Edwards
Some days when I sit down to write, the distractions around me take over, and my ability to focus goes out the window – literally.
The sun shining through the window catches my eye, and I suddenly feel an immediate need to be outside soaking it in. In New England, we cherish warm, sunny days, as they are few and far between, and we don’t like to miss them.
Most days, though, it is the abundance of information floating around on the Internet that keeps me from being able to stay focused on the task at hand. From breaking news and not-so-breaking news to cute animal videos and heartwarming and inspirational human stories, it sure is tough to keep my eyes on whatever I was originally doing.
What was I doing again?
And then there’s that annoying display advertising that pops up everywhere without my permission, reminding me that I was looking for a pair of sneakers yesterday. It sometimes feels as if the universe is trying extremely hard to keep me from writing. I find myself asking, “Why can’t you just let me write?!”
When I take a moment to breathe deeply and shut my eyes, I realize that there is no one stopping me from writing except for me. Since I’m fairly positive this happens to a lot of writers out there; I’ve come up with some tips that help me focus when I really want or need to get some writing done.
1. Shut the music and television off.
I always think that turning on the radio will help me get into the mood to write, but it always ends up distracting me instead. If I hear one of my favorite songs, I’ll start singing along, and then my mind starts drifting away from what I’m trying to do – write.
To keep my mind from wandering off to distant places, I do best with music that has no words, or keeping the radio off altogether. I keep motivated by telling myself I can listen to all the music I want after I’m done writing.
The same thing goes for television. Now, some people may claim to do better with background noise, but I would recommend a fan or sounds of the ocean rather than television or radio. And unless you absolutely need your phone with you, I wouldn’t recommend having it on your desk. It is just another temptation.
2. Eat before you write.
Writing on an empty stomach is not advised. Trust me – I’ve tried it. I have sat down to write numerous times, knowing full well that the hunger is going to strike. Being hungry makes me even more susceptible to distractions, when all I really need is a sandwich. I’ll write one sentence, and then my brain gets foggy and I forget what the subject of my piece is. Or, I’ll decide that my subject isn’t interesting enough, when, in fact, the only thing that’s wrong with my subject is that it is not going to fill my stomach.
If you’re a snacker, then bring a few snacks (preferably healthy ones) to your desk or writing spot, so you aren’t constantly getting up to find something else to eat. Whatever your hunger problem is, solve it and get on with your writing, or it will linger and distract you throughout the process.
3. Take a nap before you write.
I realize that not everyone has the luxury of taking naps whenever they choose. I certainly don’t. However, trying to complete a writing assignment when you’re exhausted is a recipe for failure. When there just aren’t enough hours in the day to sleep as much as you’d like, even a 10-15 minute snooze can help.
Allowing yourself to shut your eyes for a few minutes before you begin will help you to start fresh. Just make sure you have an alarm clock handy or someone to wake you up, just in case.
4. Surf the Internet before you begin writing.
While this sounds like a strange piece of advice, but hear me out. The Internet is often what distracts me while I’m writing. I need a short break, so I’ll start looking at my Twitter feed and reading interesting articles. Then I find something on Facebook that grabs my attention, and suddenly my break has become an hour-long surfing session that hasn’t allowed my brain to rest at all.
Take a few minutes before you begin writing to surf the Internet for interesting articles and bookmark them for later. Scroll through your social media feeds and write down anything you must look at after you’ve finished writing.
Then take a deep breath and start your project.
The Internet will still be full of stuff to be consumed by at a later time.
And who knows, maybe your need to fill your head with pictures, videos and information won’t even be there after you’re done writing, and you will have saved yourself a bunch of wasted time.
5. Don’t try to multi-task.
People who say they are good at multi-tasking are big fat liars. We all have multiple projects we have to complete in a specific period, but we can only do one at a time. Sometimes I have to remind myself of that.
Try to set aside a good chunk of time for each project, and put the other things you’re working on aside during that time.
If your brain is focusing on too many things at once, then nothing is getting your full attention. If you can fully complete one project at a time, I highly recommend it.
If you have to leave final edits, proofreading and adding images to a later time slot, then so be it, but try to get the meat of each writing project done one at a time. That way your head will be a lot clearer when you move on to the next item on your to-do list.
These are just a few of the things that plague my mind when I’m trying to write, but I could go on forever listing all the little things that I sometimes allow to distract me while I’m writing.
The key word here is “allow”. You are the only one who can control whether you get distracted or not. The key tactic is to plan ahead and get all of the little things that might keep you from writing done or out of the way before you sit down (or stand) to write. The fewer excuses you have, the better!