Managing Distractions as a Writer

Do not disturb


by Richard Risemberg


I recently saw an ad for the Freewrite, a “distraction-free” portable word processor–that is, one with no Internet capability. I immediately recognized it as something inspired by the old Alphasmart Neo, but hipsterized a bit with an e-ink screen and a bit morte of a Dieter Rams styling. I knew about the Neo because my friend Kent Peterson collects writing devices of all types, from fountain pens to typewriters to vintage word processors to actual contemporary computers, and he feels particularly drawn to the minimalist ethos of the Neo. Not to mention that they are available used for less than twenty bucks online sometimes.

The idea, of course, is that the Internet is always lurking round the boundaries of your mind, ready to grab your attention in its velvet jaws and drag it away from your story. Email, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, all just out of sight and ready to leap out!

So, this being what we call America, someone makes something that you can buy (online, of course) to keep you distracted from ads, blurbs, and the various come-ons of the commons.

Save your money. You’re already equipped with powerful software that will keep you focused on your tasks. It’s not something you can buy, either; it is nothing less than living firmware, refined by the hidden processes of evolution and the more blatant ones of culture over millennia. The brand-name? “Self-Discipline.” It needs but an act of will to initiate the program.

There is a learning curve, though, as any Zen master will tell you. But you won’t have to sit cross-legged staring at a wall to learn how it works. One thing that helps is to stay hungry. Literally. So here’s a plan….

Establish a routine. Yes, even if this is contrary to your self-image as a free spirit moving with the flow of the moment. The flow of the moment is fine if you’re not trying to write a novel. If you are, you need to work. So choose a time of day when your brain runs well and dedicate it to your writing. If you need quiet, early morning is best; if you like a cocoon of social noises, evening in a coffeehouse might do. (Just be sure you’ll be someplace where folks will leave you alone. After all, the original social network is the village square, where everyone gathers to talk.) Choose a time, and keep it sacred. That is when you write

Make a vow. You are writing on your laptop or desktop, many of whose features are bugs when you are trying to get work done. Do not check your email during this time, do not glance at your browser, leave your smartassphone in another room. Be faithful to your work for at least an hour.

Stay hungry. Your ancestors walked miles each day in search of fruits and tubers. They didn’t eat till they put in the time. You shouldn’t either. If you’re a morning writer, no breakfast till you’ve hit your word count; if an evening writer, no dinner, or no drink, ditto. Starvation’s bad for writers, but hunger is good. And it means you have a reward waiting for you when you’re done, one that directly addresses one of life’s most fundamental motivations. This keeps your writing real, and helps you actually get it done.

Exceptions? Aside from emergencies, only one: fact-checking. Verifying a quote or a historical reference,; looking up a word in the Oxford to insure your character might actually have used it, given their age and background; checking whether such and such a plant or animal lives where you plot says they ought to. Aside from that sort of thing, if you don’t smell smoke and no one’s having a heart attack or pointing a gun at you, stick to your word processing program and keep the story going.

These “three weird tricks that the Internet doesn’t want you to know” will do it for you. Or will let you do it for your audience.

You’ve got it in you. You were born with it. Sit down and write.



Guest post contributed by Richard Risemberg. Richard was dragged to Los Angeles as a child, and has been working there in a number of vernacular occupations since his teens while writing poetry, articles, essays, and fiction, and editing online ‘zines. He’s survived long enough to become either a respected elder or a tedious old fart, depending on your point of view, and is still at it. You can learn about his own novels at Crow Tree Books.


Do not disturb

12 thoughts on “Managing Distractions as a Writer

  1. I actually invested in an alphasmart neo when I was a younger (naive) huamn. The transfer from the neo to Microsoft word processor took so long I abandoned the device forevermore and learned to turn off my laptop Wifi during writing times. Problem solved. Staying hungry has also done the trick for me. Great tips! Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have a blog on Positive Energy, as my goal is to motivate people to live life to the fullest, but even I myself have stumbled a bit. I have a lot of lapses in my writing due to the hustle and bustle of life, but also one thing I have discovered about myself for the last few years is that I can be extremely selfish, even when my intent is to be selfless, the selfishness is still lurking in me sometimes. Anyway, Thank you for sharing this. I enjoyed reading it, and have learned from it a bit for sure. Good luck, and God Bless you the rest of the way my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This might work for some people, but I average 3k words a day because I don’t try to block out all distractions. I write in front of the tv with social media tabs open on my browser. My writing brain works fine with distractions. For anyone who can’t create with frequent interruptions and external noise, this might be great. But anyone who averages a high word count with lots of noise should keep at it.
    I also constantly eat while writing.

    Writing doesn’t have to be so fancy.

    It isn’t a chore. It’s fun! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve vowed to write 30K words this month for CampNaNo and a firm goal with accountability to my cabin mates means I am half-way through my word count a fews days ahead of schedule. It’s a great way to get the words on the page – commit! Thank you for sharing this post.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I still use an Alphasmart. It’s small, lightweight, and slips easily inside my handbag. I average a word count of 4K per session and have never had an issue with transfer rate. Writing takes discipline regardless of choice of device, but that Freewrite price tag? No. Just no. 😏


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