If you are like me you might sit down with every intention of writing for an hour, but at the end of the hour find you only have 250 words of actual novel written and one thousand words of Facebook comments, Tweets, and text messages. Or perhaps you start writing but get lured into watching that fascinating special on the conjoined dwarf redneck pageant model playing on TLC. In order to maximize your writing productivity, focus is necessary. Here are some ways to bring your attention back to the task and make the most of your writing time.
1. Have a Set Writing Time & Goals
Having a set writing time is incredibly helpful for staying focused. If you always write from 6 to 7 in the morning, your brain will start being prepared to turn attention to writing. Past experience has shown that even a short block of undistracted time, such as fifteen minutes, can be extremely productive netting the average person between 400 to 500 written words. If you are a busy person examine your schedule and see where you can slot in a couple of fifteen minute writing sessions, such as on break at work, early in the morning before the family gets up, or just before bed. Also, when you sit down to write, having a goal in mind will give you something to work toward. Make the goal reasonable so as not to be discouraged.
2. Get Out of the House
Whenever possible I find it helpful to get out of the house and go somewhere to write. I enjoy surrounding myself with books and so I like to go to the book stores, hoping to summon inspiration through osmosis. If coffee fuels your brain, head to the cafe. If you need atmosphere, go to a park. I have done some of my best writing on a bar stool. When you leave the house for the purpose of writing you are preparing your brain to focus on the task while eliminating your usual life distractions.
3. Have a Personal Writing Space
We can’t always leave the house and so finding a personal, hopefully private, space at home to write is essential. If you have a home office it is probably your go to area, but those with space constraints may have more of a challenge. Your living room couch is often a poor choice because it is in reach of the television remote or the video game controller, not to mention comfy and makes you want to relax. Your bedroom is doable, but it can often trick the mind into shutting down and going into sleep mode. What I find best is sitting at a desk or a table. The formality of it tells the brain you are going into work mode now. Whenever possible close the door. A closed door is a polite way of saying “STAY OUT! LEAVE ME ALONE! CAN’T YOU SEE I’M TRYING TO WRITE!” If you have a particularly busy home life you may have to retreat behind a closed bathroom door for fifteen minute writing sprints.
4. Wear Headphones
Sometimes we don’t have the luxury of a closed door or privacy. Throwing on a set of headphones when you sit down to write can help you tune out environmental distractions. Full ear headphones work better than buds and sound isolating headphones are miracles. At NaNoWriMo write-ins you can tell the people that are wearing sound isolating headphones because you practically have to slap them in the face to get their attention. Playing music can further move you into the writing zone via your very own novel soundtrack. Some people swear that music without lyrics works best and yet others say that they can concentrate fine with music with lyrics. Depending on my mood I fall into either camp. I like listening to atmospheric, electronic movie scores (The Book of Eli, Tron Legacy). Whatever you choose to listen to just make sure it isn’t pulling your attention away from writing. Talk radio, audio podcasts, and audio books are probably poor choices.
5. Hide the Mobile Phone
When possible it might be a good idea to do something with your cell phone other than to keep it at your side. Cell phones can vie for attention more than a hyperactive child. When you are trying to write you don’t need your Nicki Minaj ringtone going off every time you get a text message or that vibration tickling your thigh with each new incoming e-mail. This is especially important if you are hard-wired to instantly respond to every call, text, or e-mail. Eliminate the temptation and move it to another room.
6. Turn off the Internet
This should probably go without saying, but the Internet can be a huge distraction. It is easy to sit down with every intention of writing and get spirited away to cyberspace. Maybe you don’t mean to. Perhaps you have the best intention of just going onto Wikipedia for a quick fact check for your novel, but one things leads to another and you find yourself spending the next thirty minutes laughing at rage comics on Reddit.
You can take simple measures such as unplugging your Ethernet cable or turning off your Wi-Fi. Alphasmart word processors are popular with many writers. They are ultra portable, have a ridiculously long battery life, and no Internet capabilities.
If you use the Chrome Web Browser (and really you should) there is a great extension called StayFocusd. The extension allows you block all of those time wasting websites for a set period of time. It can be fully customized to block your own list of attention black holes while still allowing important web sites you might need.
Keeping focused on writing can be a challenge. Hopefully these six attention keeping tips will help make your writing time more productive and propel you toward your writing goals. Does something else work for you? Please share it!