What comes first: the distraction or the fear?
You’re not distracted, you’re afraid.
Oops! If you’re feeling called out right now, I apologize. #sorrynotsorry 😅
The number one thing I hear from writers — and I mean at least once a day, every day — is that they can’t get any writing done because they feel so distracted.
I’ve written before about how to manage distractions, so if you 100% know that’s really what the issue is for you, then I’ve got you covered: click here for a list of six sure ways to manage distractions.
But are you sure that’s what is really going on?
Is it distraction or is it fear?
Have you ever paused to ask yourself WHY you are so easily distracted when you really want to be writing? Could it be possible that you’re actually afraid and that’s why you’re such easy prey for the common distractions we all face…
- Social media apps on our cellphones
- A Netflix hit/binge
- Minor tasks around the house that suddenly feel urgent
- The news
If we all face these distractions, then why do some people manage to write in spite of them while others go a loooonng, long time without putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard?
I think it comes down to fear and how we think about it.
I hate to tell you this, but we’re all afraid, every single writer. We're afraid before we write and we’re still afraid when we sit down to write.
When I sat down to write this blog post, I was afraid I wouldn’t know what to say, or that I wouldn’t be able to express my ideas clearly enough to truly be helpful to you. When I sat down to work on my novel yesterday, I was afraid that the scene was trite and I’d have to end up deleting it so I shouldn’t even bother… but I wrote anyway.
You have to feel the fear and write anyway if you intend to get any writing done.
Some writers consider fear a sign that they can’t really write, that the very presence of fear confirms their anxious thoughts that they aren’t talented enough, aren’t good enough, don’t know what they’re doing, are just going to fail, etc. [Insert your own nasty thoughts about yourself and your writing here!]
What FOCUS looks like
In The Writer’s Flow Studio, we come together in community writing sessions multiple times each week. We do a centering exercise and then dive into a 45-minute writing session together on Zoom, with a writing prompt provided for those who want to work with one.
I notice something about the writers who attend these sessions…
I set the timer for 45 minutes and for the first 5-10 minutes people are still sorting themselves out and there’s a bit of fidgeting going on, moving of notebooks and papers from one place to another, people looking at me to see how much time has passed, that kind of thing.
But just before I tell everyone in the Chat box that 10 minutes has now passed, something magical happens. I look up at those writers and they are FOCUSED. Perhaps not 100% of people for 100% of the time, but pretty darn close to that.
Within ten minutes of starting, the group is writing with great focus and intensity. I’ll show the timer to say they have 35 minutes left in this session and no one even sees it. By the time we’re at the “10 minutes left” mark, no one else exists for them and they are deeply engaged in the words on the page in front of them.
At the end of our sessions, I come on to say that the 45 minute time period is up and people look at me like “Wait, who are you again?? Where am I?” They’ve lost track of all time and entered a flow state. (Writer’s Flow Studio does what it says on the box, my friends!)
It isn't magic, it’s flow — the deep creative state we all crave. The only way to reach the flow state is to create and sustain focus.
The relationship between focus and fear
And here’s the thing:
Before they joined The Writer’s Flow Studio, most of the writers struggled with focus. Of course they did — each of them is just a normal writer living in a distracted world, like you. But let’s break down what they’re doing so that you can do this for yourself if you choose to…
They chose a time (or a few times) in the week when they told themselves they were going to write, and they connected with others who had a similar goal. (Community = accountability!) Together, they did a centering exercise (e.g. deep breathing, a visualization, body scan, some creative play, etcetera!) and began to write. And even if they came into the session feeling a little distracted, within a few minutes that fades and they’re writing.
Structure like this provides the vehicle for focus.
And FOCUS is the vehicle for overcoming fear.
You don’t overcome your fear and THEN find focus, you overcome your fear THROUGH finding focus.
How to overcome fear
Fear only grows in the face of inaction — if you think about it, this is true in every aspect of your life and it’s true in your writing life as well. Spend your days thinking about how you really should write and then NOT writing is giving into the fear and in that space of inaction, the fear just grows as you confirm for yourself that you were right. (See? You didn’t write and now you feel bad about your writing life. You knew it!)
If your issue is just managing distractions, then you can fix that easily. But if fear is really the issue, then the only way out is through: find your focus and you’ll release the fear. Not forever — I wish it was that kind of magic — but long enough to do the writing you need to do.
If you’re in The Writer’s Flow Studio with me, then you have everything you need. And if you’re not (yet? 🤓) a member, here’s the step-by-step breakdown of what I outlined above:
- Schedule time to write
- When that time comes, start with a centering exercise to regulate your nervous system and reduce your anxiety.
- Then set a time and write (with or without a writing prompt) for a timed session. If you’re really afraid, start with 15 minute sessions and work up from there!
- Bonus points for writing WITH someone for community and accountability, so you’re not tempted to skip your session and have a sense of being in it together.
Ideally, repeat several times a week so that you can give yourself the message that writing through the fear is possible.
The only way out is through
The more you do it, the easier it gets. PROMISE. There’s no other way.
(I mean, you’re welcome to sign up for creativity coaching with me at $75 for a 30 minute session, but what we’ll be doing is working our way through the steps I’ve designed for you here. So why not try this on your own first?)
We find flow through finding focus…which then helps us release our fear, a little bit at a time, and a little bit more each time we do it.
The only way out is through. Give it a try this week and let me know how it goes.
If you don't yet have a copy of my free PDF, The Focused Writer's Guide, you can grab a copy right here. It will help you put all of these steps into place for yourself.