How to Eliminate Distractions – Digital and Otherwise

Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Focus is at the heart of success. Unfortunately, we do not live in a world that nurtures concentration and single-minded devotion to one’s art. So, how can you minimize those pesky interruptions that keep you from writing?

Digital Distractions
Let’s start with all things online – they are just beckoning for your time and attention. Luckily, there are some tricks to reduce your susceptibility to those online Sirens.
  1. Only check email, social networking and news sites once or twice a day. If absolutely necessary, check every hour but only for five minutes
  2. Turn off email and smart phone notifications of any sort while you are writing
  3. Close your Internet Browser while you’re working – do your research beforehand
  4. If feasible have a dedicated computer or lap top that is strictly for writing – nothing else, not even checking the weather
Activity Distractions
Of course, not all activity distractions are digital. You may be pulled in by your favorite TV show or sidetracked by the need to clean the house from top to bottom. It’s also not unusual that cravings for ice cream or potato chips supersede the writing process (I’m in the potato chips category). Here are some tips to minimize the temptation to self-interrupt:
  1. Create a very calm and nurturing writing environment
  2. Remove TVs from your writing area
  3. If at all, only keep very small amounts of snack food in your writing area
  4. Leave all reading material that is not immediately related to your novel outside your writing space – read for fun in other areas of the house that you can’t see from your desk
People Distractions
While you have quite a bit of control regarding the Internet and activities that pull you away from your novel, people distractions are a little bit more complex. Setting boundaries can be challenging.

First of all, decide on the people who are allowed unlimited access to you – such as small children. Then list the people who are very dear to you but would be fine with you being unavailable at times. In these cases, telling people in advance when you are busy is most helpful – especially when you live in the same house.

People on your periphery are much easier to deal with. A simple, “Sorry but I am really busy right now. Can we do this later?” usually does the trick. In addition,
  1. Turn off your cell phone while you are working – or at least your message notifications
  2. Assign a gate keeper if you are living with somebody - that person can screen phone calls and visitors for you
  3. Protect your writing time with velvet fists
  4. Practice saying no to anything you don’t really want to do
No more distractions – let the words take over!
Renate Reimann, PhD (bottom photo) is a co-instructor in the upcoming class, WRITING YOUR NOVEL FROM THE GROUND UP: How to Build Your Story While Building Yourself as a Writer for Long-Term Success–In Two Parts. Part I starts on Tuesday, September 17, 2013 and Part II starts on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 (This class is designed for you to jump in wherever you are in the process. If you are just beginning your story, or have gotten stuck partway through, start with Part I, “Your Story Blueprint.” If you have the story arc and characters firmly in place, then Part II, “Completing Your Draft” would be a perfect place to begin.)

For more information, visit our classroom page.


Unknown said...

Distractions are going to be the death of my writing. The "platform building" aspect of writing: blogs, Facebook, Twitter, are important and deserve, as you mentioned, a selected time during the day for attention. But they can too easily start to be "productive procrastination" distractions as I numb out on the computer and avoid the creative work of writing. I. Must. Be. Better.

Marcia Peterson said...

Computer and phone distractions are the worst. It does help to silence incoming e-mail, texts, etc., or even shut down everything except the Word doc you're writing. Easier said than done though!

Margo Dill said...

I laughed at practice saying no. It does actually take practice--not so much the physical act of saying NO (although that may help) but the guilt/indecision--should I do this? after you say no. Believe me, I need to practice!

Lynn said...

I needed this 'smack upside the head'. If my writing is going well, time just slips away and I lose track of everything else, to the point of letting the kettle boil dry. If I'm bogged down, everything else is appealing, from Facebook to running a load of laundry. MUST learn to focus and stick it out, no matter what. Thank you for the reminder and suggestions.

Coach Renate said...

Julie, I see your point. Sometimes productive procrastination on tweets and Facebook posts can be a good thing. But the "numbing out" might be the moment to take a break. Then switch to your creative writing. Let me know if that works for you.

Coach Renate said...

MP, sometimes it helps to set aside certain periods during the day when you are "off the grid." But let people around you know when that is so they won't get nervous about you not responding. No need to upset anybody.

Coach Renate said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Coach Renate said...

Lynn, sometimes it's a good thing to do something else like the laundry when you are stuck. Just instruct your subconscious mind to find a solution to whatever is in the way. Going for a walk or meeting a friend can also give you new insights that will bring you back to your creative writing.

LuAnn Schindler said...

When I first started freelancing, I kept a regimented schedule, only checked email twice a day, spent 'x' amount of time researching, writing, etc.

As a journalist, it's difficult NOT to check email because it's one way I communicate with sources and sometimes I'm waiting for a crucial quote to land in my inbox.

I DO need to practice turning off the distractions, though, like social media and Words with Friends. I may tell myself I'm only checking one thing and the next thing I know, an hour has passed that I SHOULD HAVE BEEN writing!!

Coach Renate said...

Yes, some people absolutely need to stay available on email. When that happens I like to check email on my smart phone. It's less likely that I am tempted to do other things. Of course, that might not be true for everybody.

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