Sorry, what did you say? I’m a bit distracted right now. 😝
It’s not like there aren’t legitimate reasons to be distracted. There’s COVID news, the never-ending list of life maintenance, family needs, trolls on Twitter, climate change, the economy, and whatever the hell the nutso QAnon crowd are planning this week.
Even when I put my phone down, papers need filing (do they though?), fridge needs cleaning (later), Mr. Darcy needs his nails clipped (sometime this month), so many books to read (eventually)…
Are you like this too?
Does your brain jump from thought to thought to thought so quickly that you can’t find space in there for the book you’re supposed to be writing?
Do you do EVERY SINGLE BLOODY THING except sitting your arse in the chair to do the writing you promised yourself you’d do? Then look at the minutes you have left and decide you’d better wait for another day when you feel less distracted?
This is a habit I’ve fallen in and out of so often I still have the bruises on my soul to show for it.
Because the other thing I’ve learned over the years is that I’m a better person when I’m writing. Something about attending to my need to write makes me more patient with the rest of life. (If you ever meet me in a cranky mood, feel free to ask me if I’ve written yet that day.)
6 Powerful Ways to Deal With Your Distractions
I can guide my writing students on managing their distractions because I have been there…and there…and look, over there — a squirrel!
Let me be clear about this: THIS. IS. NOT. YOUR. FAULT.
We are all living in a distracted and scattered world. If we want to find focus for our creative work, we must create it for ourselves.
No one can find focus for you, you must take charge of your own creative life and create the focused environment you need to get your writing done.
Here are some of the actions I recommend you take RIGHT NOW to deal with your distractions as a distracted person in a distracted world and get your writing done anyway:
1. Clear Your Head
Creative mental space is de facto different than everyday living mental space.
There are tricks for clearing the head that I’ve discovered work for me and I keep them polished and ready for action:
- A quick walk, ideally in a space with trees.
- Reading poetry or short fiction.
- A short, simple breathing meditation.
- Listening to a favourite piece of choral or instrumental music.
Try a few of these on for size to find the one that works best for you and use it as your go-to exercise for clearing your mind before you sit down to write. (This one thing alone can completely transform your relationship with your writing practice, I promise!)
2. Keep a Notepad for ALL OF THE THINGS
I keep a notepad nearby where I just scrawl down ALL OF THE THINGS as they occur to me. Before I go to my desk to write, I write down everything littering my mind on the notepad and then I can come back to it later when I’m sorting out To-Do lists.
Leaving the nagging list of errands and errors on the note pad allows me to let go and write knowing I won’t forget to pick up more Orville Redenbacher popcorn [stops briefly to write that one down].
Get yourself a notepad just for this express purpose and use it every time you go to write, BEFORE you sit down to your writing session.
3. Shut the Damn Door
Sometimes our greatest distractions are pretty darn cute…they come in the form of partners or our own children or family members.
Virginia Woolf was not wrong about having a room of one’s own in which to write. If you can manage to write in a room all by yourself: DO THAT. Put a sign on the door saying you’re writing and not to be disturbed.
But if you don’t have the luxury of a room just for your own writing time, wear a really big pair of headphones as a sign that you’re working and not to be disturbed. Then tell your people in advance that you won’t be available for just that short period of time.
4. Separate Yourself from Your Smartphone
I used to keep my phone next to me while I wrote and allow myself the excuse that I needed the alarm on my phone as a timer.
Then someone would WhatsApp me, and I’d hear it ping, or if I’d turned down the ringer the screen would light up and that would distract me. Or I’d just go to pick it up to check something for just a quick second (ha!) and all was lost.
The iPhone is my writing nemesis and I know it. So now I use a kitchen timer to time my writing sessions and the iPhone stays in a completely separate room while I write, because I really don’t trust the damn thing…or myself.
It’s not enough to put your phone on Airplane Mode. Turn it off and put it physically away from you, in another room where you can’t reach for it when an anxious thought trips across your mind as you’re writing.
5. Turn off the Damn Internet
Repeat after me: no Internet while writing.
If I’m writing something that needs further research in places, I just insert square brackets and a note to myself [LOOK UP BRAND NAMES FOR SCALPELS] and keep writing.
Research and writing are not the same thing. This is something I think I learned from Gail Anderson-Dargatz and it has made it possible to just keep going instead of constantly getting lost in rabbit holes.
You can write by hand if you’re too tempted to use the Internet when writing by computer. Or use Internet blocking software and turn it on when you sit down to start a writing session. Or schedule that sucker to block you in advance, so you have no choice but to dive into your latest chapter, poem or short story.
I use the Internet blocking software app called Freedom because it works across all my devices, and because I always want more freedom in my life.
6. Set Time Limits
I set time limits for my writing sessions in advance and set a timer.
I often write beyond when the timer goes off, but setting specific limits somehow quiets my fear and clears my head. All I have to do in the next 20/40/60 minutes is write, and if it turns out not to be all that great a writing session then I know it will be over soon and I can try again tomorrow. (More on that here…)
In The Writer’s Flow Studio (my monthly membership program), we do a grounding exercise first for 3-5 minutes, such as deep breathing or a body scan or some form of creative play, and then we write for 45 minutes. There’s something powerful about knowing that your time to focus is limited and it enables you to dive deeply into the work.
Get yourself a basic kitchen timer (NOT your phone!) and try it out for yourself.
These are 6 powerful ways you can deal with your distractions and find focus for your writing sessions. But, guess what?
Not a single one of these ideas will work for you if you don’t try them. 🙂
It comes down to this: we need to commit to not being distracted so that we can get our writing done.
Commit to this and then make a plan based on what you know about yourself, your fears and your monkey mind. If you want to conquer distractibility as a writer, you can. Because it was never about your massive list of things to do or FaceBook in the first place, was it?