Friday, November 4, 2016

6 Ways to Stay Focused While Writing

We've all done it--we sit down to a what we hope will be a long, productive writing session. Two hours later, we find that we've composed a dozen tweets, made three cups of tea, researched medieval weaponry, and terraformed Mars. Oh, and maybe we wrote 150 words.

Where did that elusive focus go? How do we get it back? How can we actually, you know, get things written? I've touched on this topic before, but since then, I've found new tricks and encountered new ideas. Here are 6 of my favorite tips:
  1. Keep a mental (or physical) "distraction log." I've used this not just for writing, but for schoolwork, as well. You know when you're chugging along on a project, and you remember some random song and feel compelling to google the lyrics? Or when your work session is spontaneously interrupted by an intense need to find out what happened to Adam Lambert, if that book you've been eyeing has gone on sale, or how to keep succulents alive? (Specificity because I've had all these googling urges in the last hour.) These distractions are never-ending, but the trick is to keep them contained. When they come, acknowledge them, but you don't have to follow them. Instead, either write them down or keep a mental list, and tell yourself you'll come back to this list when you're done with whatever you're working on. It'll keep you from wasting time while working, and when you return to the list, you'll find that some of the distractions are no longer appealing anyway. 
  2. Use certain music just for writing, and use it every time you write. Bonus points for using it only for writing music. I picked up this tip from author Emily St.-John Mandel when I heard her speak last month, and it has come in handy. If you start using the same music over and over, you eventually get your brain into a rhythm. You start the playlist, and your brain goes, "Okay, time to write." (You know me--I'm all for using classical conditioning to hack your own brain.) For suggestions, try the Focus playlist section on Spotify. I suggest this playlist or this one.
  3. Use the pomodoro technique. You've heard me talk about this before, but it's amazingly simple. Set a timer for 25 minutes, and do absolutely nothing but write for those 25 minutes. That's it. When you're done, you can take a break, but it's likely that you won't want to break your momentum, thus increasing your productivity. It's a good way to jumpstart your focus, since 25 minutes is a manageable amount of time.
  4. Physically remove the distractions. If you want to keep checking your phone, put your phone in a different room. If you write on your computer and you're always switching over to different tabs to scroll Pinterest, either disconnect from the internet or remove the computer entirely and switch to paper and pen. (Hey, you can always unplug your wifi router if you get truly desperate.) Lastly, keep a neat workspace. You won't feel inspired by a barren room, but it's hard to get things done if your workspace is full of junk, either. 
  5. Resist the temptation to research or fact-check. Yes, it's important that any facts, historical details, or real-world references in your writing are accurate. But it's not important when you're writing. If you check everything in the moment, you'll never actually get anything written. Instead, flag it and move on.
  6. Don't start a blog. Just...don't. I don't want to know how many more novels I could have written if I had never started this blog.
What's your favorite way to keep your focus?

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  1. Thank you, Epic Annie! I will try the first one and work my way from there.

  2. I like your ideas--especially the distraction log. I've realised I use it to stop the temptation of research/ fact-checking mid-writing. I hope you keep writing, too :)


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