Do you ever sit down to write for a couple of hours, only to find yourself with only a paragraph or two to show for it?
It’s really easy to get distracted, especially if your work involves online research. One link leads to another and another and … oh look, a cute cat video!
I’ve been freelancing and writing novels for the best part of eight years now, and I still sometimes find myself scrolling mindlessly down Facebook when I really should be writing.
If that sounds like you as well, here are the seven tips that work best for me to stay on task. They might be just what you need, too.
1. Turn off your internet connection
This might sound way too simple, but turning off your WiFi or unplugging your Ethernet cable can drastically improve your concentration. You might want to put your phone out of reach, too.
Sure, it’s not something you can do all the time, or even for your whole writing session. But if you notice yourself feeling the slightest bit distracted, it’s the quickest fix I know.
Don’t tell yourself you should just be more self-disciplined, either. There’s no point using up precious willpower resisting the lure of the Internet when you could just switch it off — and save that energy for writing.
2. Write down your intention when you begin
Next time you sit down to write, take ten seconds to write down what you intend to do: “Work on chapter 10 of my novel for 30 minutes” or “Edit blog post for client” or “Update About page on my blog.”
Again, this might sound a little silly, but it forces you to be clear about what you actually want to get done.
If you work from a to-do list, circle or star the item you’re going to work on first. You might also want to note the second and third to-dos to help you stay on track if they’re all short tasks.
3. Sit quietly for three minutes at the start of your session
Do you ever begin a writing session feeling distracted, stressed out, or a bit overwhelmed? If you have to get your kids off to school before you can write, you have a day job and write on your lunch hour, or you’ve got a ton of other commitments, it’s tough to sit down and focus on writing.
Sit quietly for just three minutes at the start of your writing session, breathing slowly in and out. Don’t try to think about your writing or to-do list. Just give yourself a chance to be quiet and still.
Three minutes might sound like it wouldn’t make a difference, but it does. Give it a try!
4. Set a timer and write until it goes off
I find this one works incredibly for most writers, but not all. Give it a go, but if you find yourself feeling pressured or blocked, just try one of the other tips instead.
At the start of your writing session, set a timer for, say, 15 minutes. Tell yourself you will write (and nothing else) until the timer goes off.
If 15 minutes is easy, build up the length of work bursts. I like the Pomodoro system of 25 minutes on task, followed by a five-minute break. But feel free to experiment with this one before you commit!
5. Listen to soundtracks or classical music
Some people like to work in silence. If that’s you and you’re staying focused, great!
Personally, I like to have some music on. It helps drown out distracting noise (the kids at home, or other people in the library) and it seems to help me focus.
If you’re the same, try film soundtracks or classical music. If you put on music with lyrics, it’s easy to get distracted listening rather than writing. You might want to consider finding a few favorite instrumental albums to play only when you’re writing. It can be a reliable way to get into a writing mood.
6. Take regular, planned breaks during your writing session
Noone can stay focused for hours on end. For most people, somewhere between 20 and 45 minutes is about right.
Plan in advance. Don’t just take a break once you start to feel a bit distracted. Knowing you only have to write for a certain period before a break can really help you to focus.
Ideally, don’t take a break just after finishing something. After a break, it can be hard to get back into writing. Instead, write the first sentence or two of your next piece or a prompt to kick off your next task.
7. Make sure you’re physically comfortable
Taking regular breaks lets you move your body and balance some of the effects of sitting at a desk for much of the day. While you’re at your desk, though, get as comfortable as possible.
That might mean investing in a new chair (or even sitting on an exercise ball), propping your monitor up on books, getting a more ergonomic keyboard, or simply making sure you have a drink of water and some healthy snacks on hand.
If your back, neck or arms are aching, it’s going to be hard to stay focused — and you may well be storing up health problems for the long-term.
If you’re struggling with focus, pick one thing from this list to try — and tell us what you’ll be doing.
What’s the one key thing that helps you to focus when you’re writing? Share it with us in the comments!