Let's Get Focused
February 3, 2023

Writing is an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling activity for me, but it can also be incredibly challenging, especially when the internet is constantly vying for my attention. Here are a few steps that help me focus and may be useful for some of you. If you're struggling to write, revise, or edit, don't worry–you're not alone!


Having a specific spot to write can create a routine. This could be a quiet room in your home, a local coffee shop, or a library. In my case, it’s a tiny office. The key is to find a space where you feel comfortable, that is ergonomic, and buffers you from the outside world. Wherever you are, distractions like work, the kids, and laundry must be blocked out. There are a few tricks that may help. Turn your chair toward the wall so everything is out of sight. Pull down the shades if you face a window. Clear your desk of distracting knick-knacks.


The internet is full of distractions, including news, fun websites, social media, and infinite knowledge, all of which can derail your writing. If you write using web-based tools, consider using website blocking tools, such as Freedom, StayFocusd, or Cold Turkey. They block distracting websites during your writing time. It’ll ban Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and other time sinks so you can get in the zone.


Notifications from your phone can and probably do divert you're attention, even if for a second. The tones and buzz are designed to make you take notice, which is counter to uninterrupted writing. Turn off notifications with the “Do Not Disturb” feature on your phone. Don’t worry. you can set critical phone numbers and apps that can get through the digital roadblock so you can take emergency calls from your kids or parents or boss.


When I’m writing, I set a timer for 20-25 minutes. During this time, I focus solely on my writing and avoid all forms of chaotic life, both online or physical. After the timer goes off, I take a several-minute break, then start another session. Standing, stretching, and moving around have been proven to promote brain activity. I often walk downstairs to refill my coffee or water. This may not sound like exercise to you, but it gets the blood flowing in my legs and breaks up the monotony. Plus, I’m chronically ill, so I don’t need anything more strenuous.


Having a routine help me get into the right mindset for writing and makes mental space for writing. My regimen starts by taking off my watch to charge followed by a twenty-second breathing exercise and a quick stretch from a back arch to arms and fingers. Some people flex their toes before they start. I tend to write better in the morning before brain fog sets in, giving me greater clarity. If you’re a night owl, write at night. Routines vary from person to person, but they really do work.


When I sit down to write at the beginning of each day, I jot three achievable tasks into my desktop notes app. I used to handwrite them on sticky pads, but times have changed. Sometimes researching a regional delicacy or which type of combat boots a character might wear will take precedence over cranking out words. Other times it’s outlining. Achievability is the key. Small goals aren’t as daunting, so it is easier to begin, and once you’re already on the right path it is easier to keep going. Write a short scene. Line edit a paragraph.  A short list keeps me from feeling overwhelmed. If I achieve more, then great. If I achieve less, I know what to prioritize next time.


Brain fog (a medical term) is my enemy. And it is only exacerbated by sleepiness and chronic fatigue, both of which are problems for me. Counterintuitively, I write more in short order when I’m rested, so taking a short nap is actually more efficient. This may not be an option for you, especially if your ownly free time is late at night or early in the morning, but every half-hour of rest helps. To promote deep sleep, I don’t drink anything with caffeine after 3 pm. A bit of exercise can help you sleep, which will help you write.

I hope these steps help you as much as they’ve helped me. Focus takes time and effort beyond forcing our minds to pay attention. It’s a series of factors, some of which you can control and others you can’t. By making small changes you can achieve your writing goals.

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J.F. Lawrence | Jesse Lawrence
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