Minimise Distractions When Writing: 4 Practical Tips

By Ali Hale

Perhaps you’ve managed to get into the habit of writing every day, but you’ve also acquired the distraction habit. You sit down at your computer, fire up your word processor and type a couple of sentences – but then an email arrives, and once you’ve replied to that, you check Twitter and Facebook … then a friend rings to chat about weekend plans.

After an hour-long “writing session” your output is a few sentences, none of which seem particularly good. You need to avoid distractions if you want to write fast and fluently, following four simple steps:

Step 1: Work somewhere quiet

The biggest move towards avoiding distractions is finding somewhere quiet to work. It doesn’t need to be silent, but it should be free from people who’ll wander in and interrupt. Not everyone can write easily at home: if you have young children, or if you still live with your parents, you might struggle to persuade everyone to leave you in peace to write.

If you can, get out to a public library – or if you’re in college, use the library there. The quiet atmosphere will help you to write. Alternatively, some freelancers rent shared office space: yes, you’ll have to pay rent, but if you manage to fit in an extra five or ten productive hours per week, it’s probably worth it.

Step 2: Get comfortable

Once you’ve found a good spot to work, make sure you’re not going to be distracted by physical factors. Sit somewhere comfortable, with a good desk and chair, and have your monitor at the right height (level with your eyes.) You might want to get a gel pad to rest your wrists on whilst typing.

Keep a bottle of water at your side, along with some snacks: you don’t want to stop half an hour into your writing session because you’re thirsty and hungry. If you drink a lot of tea, coffee or cola, get your caffeine fix in too … feeling sleepy or headachy won’t help your concentration.

Step 3: Turn off electronic distractions

So, the environment around you is perfect: quiet and calm, with food and drink within reach. Now it’s time to consider mental, rather than physical, distractions. With most of us writing directly onto computers, there are a huge number of electronic diversions that need to be put aside during a writing session. You can’t write well if you’re constantly flicking between your writing, Twitter, Facebook, Firefox, messenger windows, the front page of Digg…

Turn off any instant messaging programmes and close your email client. Switch off your mobile phone (especially if you’re in a library!) Some writers, myself included, prefer to unplug their internet connection altogether whilst writing – I’m offline as I type this. Others use a program such as WriteRoom or, for PC users, Dark Room.

Step 4: Set a stop time for your writing

The final step is to set an end time for your writing session. If you try to write for a whole afternoon, you’re likely to procrastinate and get distracted; instead, give yourself an hour and see how much you can achieve. Set an alarm on your computer to alert you once the time is up.

You’ll know that this works if you’ve ever had to rush to meet a deadline. Did you surprise yourself with how quickly you could write that essay or report, when it was due within a couple of hours? And do you find that you speed up before a break (such as lunch-time) to finish whatever you’re working on? This is called the “end effect” by time coach Mark Forster, who recommends working for short, timed periods to take full advantage of your mind’s ability to use an imminent deadline for focus.

During your timed period, if thoughts like “I should check my email” or “I wonder what everyone’s saying on Twitter” come up, pause for a second or two and dismiss them. You can check all of these after your end-of-session alarm goes off. Stick with your writing, and you’ll be replacing the distraction habit with the focusing habit.

What techniques have you used to avoid distractions in your writing? Have you found any tips and tricks which are especially effective?

Click here to get access to 800+ interactive grammar exercises!


Share


13 Responses to “Minimise Distractions When Writing: 4 Practical Tips”

  • Lasto Adri

    The most effective tip is to write while putting your inner critic in a hypernating mode.
    Just write.. write in which ever language and which ever way, then after you completely finish everything.. take a break for 30 mins may be or an hour.. whatever you like..
    refresh your self and return back to read and check your writing.. you’ll be amazed how you manage to finish this piece 🙂

  • –Deb

    This was a great post with great tips. I particularly liked the … oh, wait … I’ve got an email. Got to go check that out … (grin)

  • rachel

    I’m guilty of being easily distracted. Putting on headphones and listening to music often helps me focus – but sometimes it turns into the distraction itself, if I find myself constantly hitting the Skip button. I’ve been meaning to create some “writing friendly, mood specific” playlists.

  • flipper

    Thanks for this helpful post.

  • ~marie

    a deadline keeps me focused. without a deadline it’s easy for me to get distracted.

  • Leonardo

    Thanks for this tips. For me the best is to umplug the internet connection!

  • eva

    I like using WORD in full-screen mode, with word count turned on.

  • Michael

    The “end effect” was most meaningful for me. You can always say, “I have time to write later.” Until you’re dead, when you don’t.

  • Jan Titsworth

    What is the correct way to show the writer’s mental thoughts in the body of a manuscript?

  • MaryFrances Rafferty

    Please put me on emails of the list and other pages involved in writing for skills for writing III 3 next semester. I will be doing constant essays and they need me to learn this for most classes.
    Please put me on all the emails sites links and pages possible for my email I will appreciate that if possible. Thankyou

  • Chandra Sekeran

    I feel seeing one’s writing in print enhances his/her confidence. Today, after many months, I got my book in which I had done some writing excercises ( which I had wanted to send to print ).
    Reading the articles, I really think the press would have welcomed my articles, because it adressed the needs of the time. If only I had sent them to print….!

  • penski

    Thats a great idea setting an alarm.. I will start doing that from now on..as I do not work very well when I know I have a week to write an assignment! this should help motivate me..thanks!

  • Emily

    I’m knee-deep in “Novelist’s Boot Camp” (by Todd A. Stone) at the moment, doing all the pre-writing stuff I never wanted to do before. The author hints at doing push ups if you find yourself at a block or if you complain (even mentally) about writing. I find that I gain my focus back after doing about 25 (girly ones, but push ups, none-the-less). The idea that “you signed up for this” really pushes me to continue writing, even if I don’t want to do something that may or may not contribute to the overall book.

Leave a comment: