How to Eliminate Writing Distractions
Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. But he refused to keep one in his study. It’s true. He feared it would distract him from his work.
The ability to focus on his scientific work enabled him to create other inventions to help humankind, including the Audiometer which allowed doctors to detect hearing problems, the metal detector, and the Photophone, which transmitted speech on a beam of light.
Small distractions are a big barrier to completing books or blog posts. Let’s look at the five small things you can do to eliminate distractions to get giant results.
1. Schedule Your Writing Time
People can never find the time to write because they do not schedule a time to write. For example, some busy writers get up and write from 5 AM to 6:30 AM. They don’t make excuses; they get up and write. Many look forward to it. It’s great to start the day with a prayer time and writing session.
One of the most important indicators that God is not calling you to be a writer is if you are an excuse-maker. You find reasons not to write. You let things get in your way. You have no sense of priorities.
I urge you to set a writing time that enables you to write each day. A writing session may only be an hour or two, but it must be consistent, not haphazard. No, I don’t mean a time to sit and stare at a blank page. I mean a period when you write productively.
Another option is to set a daily word count goal. If you write 1,667 words each day, you’ll have a 50,000-word first draft in 30 days. The word-count method is my personal preference. I write a minimum of 2,000 words every day and often write up to 5,000 words per day. Normally, the 2,000 takes me about 90-minutes depending on the project. Speed and quality go together.
2. Have a Dedicated Writing Area
Your writing area need not be large, but it must have good lighting and ventilation. It is helpful if it is a tidy place, so there is nothing to draw your attention away from your writing. I once wrote a book in a rented garage. It was the only place where I could find solitude at the time. There was a mouse in that garage, and it bedeviled me.
It’s a plus if you can keep your computer and other writing materials in one place. It can become a barrier if you must set things up for each writing session.
I have always said there is one major requirement for a dedicated writing area. That is, it must be a space with a door. And your family must know that they are in danger if they knock on the door or try to open it during your writing session.
When my kids were young, I had a “blood or fire” policy. I cared deeply for their well-being, but they knew that during my writing time, there were only two reasons to interrupt me. One was if someone was bleeding. The other if there was a fire.
They took this boundary-setting seriously, although they broke it a time or two. Like the day a policeman came to the door seeking information about a bank robbery I witnessed the day before. The kids knocked on my door then, and I’m glad they did.
But do you see what I’m saying? You need to take your writing seriously and let those around you know they should take it seriously too.
3. Thou Shalt Not Chase Rabbits
It is a cardinal rule, and a sin in some religions, that you do not do research and write at the same time. You do your research first and then focus on writing. If you stop to do research as you write, you will inevitably end up chasing rabbits.
That’s when you stop writing and use Google to look up the date the Declaration of Independence was signed, a fact crucial to your story. Then, mysteriously, twenty minutes later find yourself on Amazon looking at training bras for your daughter. How does the human mind make such leaps? It is hard to know, but such time-wasters will occur every day if you’re not careful.
The best course of action is to not search for anything while you are writing. Need a fact? Make a note in your manuscript and do your search before your next writing session. You must begin to think of your writing sessions as sacred times, and not pollute them by worshiping at the false altar of the rabbit god.
Some writers use software that blocks them from chasing rabbits during their writing sessions. One such tool is Blocksite, a free Google Chrome browser extension. Other writers use a word processor like WriteMonkey that enables them to block everything on their screen except what they are writing. Other apps also have these full-screen distraction-free modes. For Microsoft Word, it is Alt + V + U (most versions). For Scrivener it is F11.
4. Don’t Dilute Your Focus
You text while driving, don’t you? Of course you don’t! That takes your focus off the road and may cause an accident. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), about 3,000 people die each year from texting and other distracted driving.
There’s a lesson here for Christian writers. Don’t have your cellphone with you in your writing room. Its only function there is to draw you away from your work.
Many writers, particularly younger ones, think they need music to help them focus. Or perhaps a TV in the background. That idea goes against brain science. When you are writing, you want to focus, and music steals part of that focus. Your brain considers it a distraction.
In that sense, music is like negative self-talk. As you write, you criticize your work, and maybe even stop to self-edit, and that is detrimental to your progress. You want to write with speed, and get it all down in a first draft. Only after you completely finish do you go back and do revisions. Editing is another stage of the process that comes after revision.
Can music help your creativity? There are studies that report that stirring music, like classical music, can trigger your creativity. You can come up with more ideas, and more divergent ideas while listening to music. Music will trigger your cognitive functions. You want to listen to music to get ideas, but you want to eliminate that distraction when you put words on the page. Writing requires concentration, not a mind singing along subliminally to the lyrics.
If you intend to focus, use noise-canceling headphones or use cheap earplugs. To get and stay in a writing groove, you need the sound of silence so you can hear your own thoughts and write them down.
5. Anticipate Your Distracting Body
If you are going to concentrate on your writing, you need to make sure your body does not make distracting demands on you during your writing session.
That means you need to use the potty before you start your writing session, of course.
It also means that you need to have a favorite snack in your writing room, along with your beverage of choice. When writers lose concentration, the first thing they think of is wandering off to the kitchen and foraging for food or drink. It is better to pause for a few moments at your desk and pop a few snacks into your mouth while contemplating the next sentence you intend to write.
Eliminate writing distractions if you intend to succeed as a writer. That means you need to have an action plan that enables you to retain your full concentration during your scheduled writing sessions. Without actively combating distractions, you will fall victim to them.