If you’re about as old as I am (1993 or earlier), then you’ll know that life didn’t used to be as fast-paced as it is now. We could focus on one thing for long periods of time. I remember that I once spent four or five hours in my living room reading one book, not even noticing that the sun had set and I was sitting in the dark. If you asked me to do that now, I probably couldn’t. We live in a society now where multitasking is a must. We’re being trained to focus on many things at once (commercials have been shortened from 60 seconds to 30 and 15 seconds–that’s a lot of info). Now, the problem is not being able to multitask–it’s how do we stop multitasking.
For the writer, this is an extraordinarily horrible thing. I, as a writer, am finding it increasingly difficult to focus on just my writing. If I’m on my laptop (and I often am), I find myself switching tabs constantly in my web browser. I currently have (*counts*) thirteen tabs. (Whoops. I did it again. Tab-hopped on over to Facebook.) The most glaring problem with this is, of course, that I’m not writing. I’m distracted. I’m doing other things (all of which are completely unimportant when it comes to writing). I am, in fact, avoiding my writing. I know I’m not the only one who does this. What we need help with is not switching a flip that magically puts us in the “writing mood,” necessarily. We need help removing distractions so that we can write freely, without hopping on over to Facebook. So, instead of tips for “getting into the writing mood,” this is tips for removing distractions.
- Close the internet
- Better yet, turn off the internet completely (unplug your Ethernet cable, turn off the wifi on your laptop, pour hot coffee on the wireless router, etc.)
- Write in a notebook or other single-purpose device (no games, no internet, no music–just writing)
- Do any research beforehand
- Stay in the chair
- Stay away from people
You might not like this list. Perhaps they clash with your writing style. Maybe you just can’t stand not having some music going while you write. Maybe you work best standing up. Whatever your hesitation is, just hear me out. I’ll freely admit that these tips might not work for everyone; they’re just a starting point. But while these aren’t the only solutions, these can help.
1. Now, you can tell yourself all day that you really do need those tabs open. You have things up you can’t afford to lose, or you’re busy research important plot points (What kind of name is appropriate for my MC…?). Well, you’re just kidding yourself. Every single one of those tabs needs to go down. Right now. Go. You’re wasting time. You’re looking for reasons not to write. Close the internet and write already.
2. For those of us with weaker wills, closing your browser isn’t going to work. The cute little icon on your desktop is staring at you, begging you to click it. This is when you completely remove yourself from internet access. If turning off your wifi isn’t extreme enough for you (you can always turn it back on), then have someone you trust change the password for the internet connection. (This may be too extreme for some, especially if it’s just for a short period of time.) **If your writing software is internet-based, then I recommend either cultivating an extremely strong will or downloading a free (or not), offline writing software.**
3. If the internet is not your only distraction when working on a computer, then you might want to try going the old-fashioned (*snort*) way. Grab your notebook/notepad/loose-leaf paper and pen/pencil/marker/crayon/whatevertheheckyouwritewith, go to the park or somewhere else with few distractions, and get writing. I find that going back to basics can give you a very different writing experience. There are no distractions. You’re not bound by the limitations of software. If you want to write in varying font sizes or in the margins, you go right ahead. Do what you want to get it on paper.
4. People like to use research as an excuse for not writing. “I need to figure out if my character should be named Jared or Jaranian or something.” “I need to research the mechanics of catapults.” “I need to know if having a car in the sixteenth century is anachronistic.” “I need…” It’s just an excuse. If you don’t know something, make it up. If you don’t know if you’re being correct, make a guess and stick with it; that’s what editing is for. If you don’t know a character’s name, use a placeholder and change it later. If you have an idea of where your story is supposed to go, then you should have been researching for at least a little while before writing (**note: this does not mean you should use “preliminary research” as an excuse to put off writing**). If you come across an issue you hadn’t accounted for, then it’s obviously not so all-important that you need to stop the story in its tracks to do more research. In short, don’t use research as an excuse to stop writing. If you know you’ll need to do some research for your story, do that as soon as possible, before you start writing.
5. This is the hardest thing to do. The moment you get up and walk away from your writing, you have lost. You’ve given up, given in to all the temptations around you. You have not been distracted from your writing; you have gone out looking for a reason to not write. This is the greatest sin a writer can commit. If you want to write, then do it. You have the ability; you have the means. Do it. Don’t turn your back on your words.
6. People are as bad as the internet. They provide endless distraction, and while we love our friends, sometimes we can’t afford to procrastinate with them. However, some of us have friends that actively seek us out. How do you remedy this? Hide from them. Go somewhere they won’t expect you to be (this is where writing in a notebook is handy; you can go anywhere). If you must stay in your room, close the blinds, turn off the lights, go in the basement (or bathroom). Don’t answer the door or the phone (unless it’s an emergency). Go hide in the closet if you must. … Maybe this is exaggerating. First, explain to them that you need to be left alone. Ask them not to call you or text you unless someone is dying.
Tell them you’re going to be in China for the next week and then hide in your basement. Double points if your friends see you during the week, but you still convince them you were in China. *cough* Now, if you have truly amazing friends, then you can, actually, be in the same room with them while they’re working on whatever it is non-writers do. Two people working will motivate each other to continue working (especially if your friends throws things at you when it’s obvious you’re not writing…).
These are only a few things you can do to help minimize distractions. They may not all work for you, but trying to remove as many distractions as possible will help you to settle into that “writing mood” a lot quicker.
NOTE: For a free, offline writing software, I recommend Q10. It takes up the whole screen and only allows you to write. No internet, no games, no distractions. Writing mood achieved.