Writing with Focus
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. The key is to find a space where you feel comfortable, ergonomic, and buffers you from the outside world, things like work, the kids or laundry. This may be challenging, but there are a few tricks that may help. For example, in a small apartment, hotel, or condo, 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.
BLOCK DISTRACTING WEBSITES
The internet is full of distractions, and websites like social media and news sites can quickly derail your writing. To avoid this, consider using website blocking tools, such as Freedom, StayFocusd, or Cold Turkey, to block distracting websites during your writing time. Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube can be distracting. The ability to search the internet for research or online writing apps without these time sinks is writing gold. This also helps you stay in touch with emails and texts that may be important.
TURN OFF NOTIFICATIONS
Notifications from your phone can divert you're thoughts elsewhere. The tones and buzz they design into phones are intended to make you to take notice, which is counter to uninterrupted writing. Turn off the notifications with “Do Not Disturb”. Again, you can set critical phone numbers and apps that can get through the digital roadblock, so you can take those calls from your kids or parents or boss.
SET A TIMER TO STAND
When I’m easily distracted, I set a timer for 25 minutes. During this time, I focus solely on my writing and avoid all forms of my chaotic life, both online or physical. After the timer goes off, I take a five-minute break, then start another session. Standing, stretching, and moving around have been proven to promote brain activity. I go the extra mile by going downstairs and back up. This may not sound like exercise to you, but when you’re chronically ill like me, it’s enough to get the heart pumping.
ROUTINE, ROUTINE, ROUTINE
Having a routine help me get into the right mindset for writing and makes mental space for writing. My routine consists of taking my watch off and charging a twenty-second breathing exercise, and a quick stretch from a back arch to arms and fingers. I also tend to write in the morning while my brain is still functioning (I am unemployed due to physical and mental limitations). If you’re a flexible night owl, write at night and flex your toes before you begin. These routines really do help me and may help you.
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. Sometimes researching a regional dish or types of combat boots takes precedence over getting those words down. Other times it’s outlining. Achievable is the key. Write a scene of troublesome banter or line editing a chapter. This short list keeps me from feeling overwhelmed. If I achieve more, then great. If I achieve less, I know what to prioritize next time.
SLEEP IS MY FRIEND
Brain fog (a medical term) is my enemy. And it is only exacerbated by sleepiness and fatigue, both of which are a problem for me because of my chronic illness. I write more and better by writing for less time than losing sleep to stay up writing. 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 pushes helps. To ensure deep sleep, I don’t drink anything with caffeine after 3 pm and listen to a noise machine (another ritual).
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.
MY FOCUS THIS YEAR