As much as I love to write, I have a hard time getting into, and staying in, the “I’m working and focusing and being productive” mindset. Every time my phone dings or vibrates I have to snatch it up to see what’s happened; I have a tendency to spend much more time rereading what I’ve written than I spend writing something new; and it’s incredibly hard to stay in a word processor when I’ve got that internet browser open in the background, with Twitter just begging to be updated, Tumblr to be scrolled, and CNN.com to be glanced at quickly so I can act like I know something about current events.
So, if you’re like me, and have a desperately difficult time keeping yourself focused, here are a couple tricks and tips I’ve found useful, for when I really need to buckle down and write.
Try an app like WriteRoom, WriteOrDie, OmmWriter, or similar, (even Microsoft Word has a full screen Focus mode) that gives you a full-screen, no-nonsense, no-distraction view of your work. I love WriteRoom — it opens to a full black screen with a green font that makes me feel like a hacker in the earliest days of the internet. It’s also super easy on the eyes, and keeps me from getting overwhelmed by opening and flip-flopping between a ton of documents. I wouldn’t write my whole manuscript in WriteRoom, as it doesn’t do pages, italics, or anything like that, but it’s perfect for sprints, NaNoWriMo writing marathons, and those days when you just want to get words down.
Set a timer on your phone and down let yourself stop writing until it’s gone off. This works doubly well if you turn off your phone’s internet and place it inconveniently out of reach, so you’re not sabotaging yourself by checking it over and over.
Take the notebook and go somewhere outside, away from the Internet, to write by hand. Moving to different locations always helps me think, and I find I really need to write by hand when I’m still in the out-lining, figuring stuff out, “ack what is this thought I’m trying to capture???” stage of writing. I also like to number two to five pages at the start of the session and not let myself go inside until I’ve filled them all out.
And my final tip for distraction-free writing:
Be super interested in what you’re writing about. Much has been said for writing whether you feel inspired or not, but if your writing session feels like you’re wading through molasses, you might be not only torturing yourself, but not producing anything worth using. The best writing is going to come when you’re totally INTO whatever it is you’re working on. So, follow your whims — don’t handcuff yourself to a scene you’re not feeling. Jump ahead, jump around, write something you really want to write.
I like to read a little before I write, either a novel, part of my WIP, or even a book about writing to get myself in the right mindset — usually, by the time I’m sitting down to write, a certain scene, character, or snippet of dialogue is already floating to the surface, begging for my attention. When that happens, it doesn’t matter if my phone is chiming or what’s going on around me — my own fascination in my story trumps any distraction.
So, my fellow writers and procrastinators, what are some tactics you try to keep yourself focused? Do you use any special apps or writing programs? And how do you avoid the temptation to update Twitter every two minutes? Leave a comment, tell me your secrets!