by Meg Dowell
Are you an easily distracted writer? I could make this post very short and sweet and tell you to get off the internet and just write already, but that doesn’t always solve your problem. I’ve greatly improved my ability to concentrate over the past few months, which has made me much more productive and satisfied with my work. Here are a few strategies that might help you focus and get more writing done.
Write in intervals
You’re going to get distracted — sometimes, there’s no way to avoid it. If you’re having trouble getting into a flow state, it might be better to use your inability to focus to your advantage. Try writing for 30 minutes straight without looking away from your screen. Set a timer so you don’t have to keep glancing at the time. Once 30 minutes hits, one of two things will happen. You’ll either stop writing and allow yourself to be distracted for 10 minutes or so, or you’ll keep writing, your temptation to do something else having disappeared.
Write what’s most interesting to you right now
I never write fiction in chronological order. If I have to step away from writing in the middle of a scene, it’s almost impossible for me to go back to it later with the same enthusiasm straightaway. If there’s a string of dialogue or an important plot point at the front of my mind, I write it, no matter where it appears in the story. Some days, you just have to write what you want, and skip over what you’re not in the mood for. You’ll concentrate much better when you’re fully invested in a scene or topic.
Pick a place and stay there
I’m all for a healthy change of scenery from one writing session to the next, but I can’t start writing in one place, pack up and move somewhere else, and continue on as if nothing’s changed. If that sounds a lot like you, make sure you’ve blocked out a block of writing time that doesn’t require getting up and moving somewhere else. I find it’s much easier to completely immerse myself in what I’m writing if I have the luxury of forgetting where I am and what time it is.
Designate your writing time as writing time only
If I really need to focus on writing something in the next few hours, and I’m able to, I completely eliminate all distractions from my immediate surroundings. I block certain websites I know I’ll be tempted to check, I put my phone upside down on my desk, I have a giant glass of water (and maybe a snack) within reach, I close my door, and I write. I don’t answer messages or emails (unless I’m working and someone pings me on Slack) — I completely isolate myself from the world for a designated chunk of time. And I live with three other people and a very needy cat. If I can do it, you can, too. If you have to, get up earlier or stay up later than everyone else to get that alone time you need.
Choose background noise, or silence
There are two kinds of writers: those who depend on background noise to concentrate, and those who will shave off your eyebrows while you’re sleeping if you so much as sneeze in their presence mid-creative burst. Figure out which one of these you are (I’m the latter) and make sure you’re in the right environment while you’re writing. Sometimes, light background noise like rain can help even those who hate interruptions. Everyone’s different. If you can’t stand noise but need to write in public, invest in a pair of noise-canceling headphones. My Beats are a lifesaver.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.