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How to Avoid Distractions When Writing


by Tom Ashford

Even in the process of beginning this article, I became distracted. I watched a Ricky Gervais interview on YouTube. I joined in a discussion about the recent Marvel movie announcements on Facebook Messenger. I started playing with a fidget-spinner. Don’t ask me where it came from. I honestly don’t know, even though it’s sitting on my desk. The only way I could start writing about how to avoid distractions was to write about the distractions preventing me from doing so.

It’s hard to write. Even when it comes easy, it’s hard. It’s work, regardless of how much we sometimes enjoy it, and for many of us that means sticking to a schedule… and there are always more fun things to do than stick to a schedule.

For those aspiring writers who often don’t have the luxury of a full working week to write their manuscript (and also for those full-time authors who have no other source of income with which to pay the bills), making the most of their writing time is key. Wasted time equals fewer words, and fewer words means fewer books published per year, and fewer books means smaller paychecks.

But how can anyone avoid distractions in this day and age? Technology is everywhere. Information and communication is everywhere. And let’s be honest; if you’ve just finished a long shift at your day job and you still need to cook dinner when you get home, watching the next episode of Stranger Things sounds a hell of a lot more enticing than another hour hunched over in front of your laptop.

Here are a few tips.

1.) Turn Off Everything in the Background

Off means off. Have you sat down to write, fresh from watching something on the television? Then don’t just mute the volume whilst the temptation of new Netflix content blares out at you. Don’t just put it on standby, either. Turn it off completely – that way you’re psychologically finishing that activity and moving onto the next.

The same goes for computer games, tablet computers, you name it. But don’t turn the refrigerator off, even if the hum is annoying. That you’ll have to put up with.

2.) Make Sure Your Workspace is Ready

What I mean by this, is make sure your workspace is ready for you to start writing. It needs to be comfortable, which means no angular, wooden chairs or the ones that are made of plastic and can be snapped shut. A painful back is the worst distraction of all. Also, make sure you have plenty of light. Eye strain doesn’t help with productivity either.

What this doesn’t mean you should do, however, is procrastinate by tidying up your desk. Your ability to write does not stem from how tidy your workspace is, and making sure that all your pencils are laid out correctly is not an excuse to avoid sitting down and putting those pencils to paper. Unless you have OCD, of course. In that case, make sure that everything is tidy and ready so that you can start writing without interruption.

3.) Know When to Take a Breather

Yes, you have to sit down and work. Yes, you have to sit down and work even when you’d rather be doing anything else. But that doesn’t mean burning yourself out, either. Set yourself a word count to hit or a time slot through which to work. If you hit that target and wish to continue, fantastic. If you’re too exhausted, then relax. You’ve earned it. When you next sit down to write, you’ll be all the more ready to do it.

4.) Focus on the Task at Hand

One thing at a time. Don’t try to juggle your writing, and your marketing, and your cover design all at the same time. Decide which is the most pressing task at hand, and focus on that until it’s done. Knowing that you have a clear path from A to B makes getting through a session without the temptation to jump to something else a lot easier.

5.) Turn the Internet Off

As in, completely off. No Facebook, no news websites, no searching the web for that piece of information you need or that perfect synonym (and if you have to use it for something necessary, switch it back off again as soon as you’re done). Turn your phone off if you can, or turn it over so you can hear an urgent phone call but aren’t distracted by the endless stream of notifications.

A lot of people find that their most productive writing time comes when they have no other choice but to write. Think train rides to and from work (presuming you can get a seat). Without the distraction of the internet (don’t you dare try to use their WiFi), people find themselves pleasantly surprised when their usual output doubles. If only the average UK train wasn’t more expensive than the rent for a shared-desk office.

6.) Know What You’re Doing Before You Sit Down

Don’t park yourself in the chair and then ask yourself what you’ll be writing today. Have a clear idea of what the next chapter or paragraph or even sentence is going to be before you start, so you don’t end up sitting in your chair thinking about it too much. Thinking about things can lead to daydreaming, and daydreaming leads to the infinite void of YouTube.

7.) Barricade Yourself in a Nuclear Bunker

If all else fails, isolate yourself completely. If a bunker capable of withstanding a nuclear blast isn’t available, anywhere that’s remotely soundproof or isolated from society at large will do. If at all possible, don’t tell your partner or children where you are either. Nothing distracts a writer more than being reminded of all the mandatory chores and duties you’re supposed to be doing instead.

Tom Ashford

Tom Ashford

Tom Ashford is a professional copywriter, author of numerous dark fantasy and sci-fi novels, and the Head of Content at the Self Publishing Formula Blog. His books include the Blackwater trilogy and the Checking Out series.

He lives in London with his wife, in an apartment that doesn’t allow pets. Find out more about Tom here.