I view my distractions from writing in two categories: internal and external. The trick is eliminating both at the same time to create a distraction-free environment conducive to writing.
I may be excited to write, but on my way to do it, I see a pile of laundry that needs to be taken care of. As I check the time on my phone, I notice a few messages. I should reply so I don’t forget and am not thinking about it while trying to write. After an hour of switching from app to app, thankfully I check my email and find one from a writing group. Unfortunately, their link takes me to a video on Facebook. It includes great information about writing, and I’m inspired to get to it…until I check my notifications.
In this article, we’ll focus on external distractions such as these.
First we have offline distractions: family members, pets (aren’t they the same thing in many cases?), chores, neighbors. We can do one of two things: block them out or take care of them.
If you can’t write with people talking in the background and this is a frequent problem for you, try a sound machine or noise cancelling headphones. You can ignore chores by writing in a room where you don’t see the mess piling up. Or, do like me, and have your desk facing a mostly blank wall with another blank wall beside it.
If, however, your dog is begging to be let out, and you don’t want more of a mess to clean later, it’s best to just deal with the distraction. While you walk the dog, or even when doing other chores, use that time to think of what you’d like to write. That way, once you sit down, you can make the most of the limited uninterrupted time you have left.
It’s also helpful to have outward signals that you’ve started your writing time. Sure, this can show your family that you’re in work mode and that their requests should be saved for later if possible, but it’s primarily a reminder to yourself anytime something shiny tries to lure you from the tedium of your writing.
A couple of easy external reminders you can set up to help you focus are:
- Wear a hat, scarf, or shoes. I love that as a writer I don’t have to dress up for a presentation every day. Sometimes, however, that means I’m too comfortable at home, and I forget I’m supposed to be working. Occasionally, I’ll put on a pair of shoes even though I don’t need to. By keeping them on until I’m done writing, if I get up to go to the bathroom and then get distracted by stuff that needs to be put away, I’m more likely to return to my writing even if I’ve gotten derailed momentarily. While walking around my house, I’ll think, Why on earth am I wearing shoes? Then I’ll remember. Bonus points if the shoes are uncomfortable because then I’m less likely to run around doing everything else to avoid writing. Instead, I will prioritize and only do the most important tasks before writing.
- Light a candle, turn on a special lamp you don’t normally use, or start an essential oils diffuser. For me, this has become like turning the car on before a road trip. Once I start it, it’s time to go. Maybe I grab one last thing I almost forgot, but otherwise I feel like I’m wasting fuel. Once I’m on the road, I’ll only stop if I really need to or if I’ve reached my destination. If my diffuser is on, I’m in my chair writing or doing everything I can to get to that point. The scent and small hum are also reminders that I’m supposed to be writing.
Additionally, one of the best things I did for my writing, though I didn’t know how much it would help at the time, was to get rid of clutter. I don’t just mean clutter at my desk. I mean clutter in my entire life. It saves me so much time, time that can be spent writing instead. If you don’t know where to start, I always recommend beginning by getting rid of clothes that don’t bring you joy for whatever reason. And always have a container marked for donations. As you remove excess from your life, the things you truly love, like writing, will rise to the surface and flourish.
I hope these tips help you make distractions work for you rather than just against you.
M. C. Starbuck sends weekly writing texts to inspire you to write more and better. She is the author of Packrat to Clutter-Free and Surprised by Marriage. She writes about making big goals easy and fun at LivingTinyDreamingBig.com where you can subscribe to her Fun & Fabulous Friday emails, which include a different book recommendation every week.