With all the distractions in this crazy, mixed up world, mastering how to stay focused while writing can be very difficult. In this complex day and age, it’s often difficult to stay focused on anything for a long period of time, let alone writing.
But, we’re talking about writing here.
I’ve written hundreds of news articles, dozens of university papers, several contracts, and numerous website articles. In addition, I’m currently doing edits and rewrites on my nineteenth novel. A supernatural thriller, The Witch’s Tombstone is about a troubled young woman cursed with shadowy supernatural powers who believes she’s the descendant of an evil witch who was burned at the stake in the 1700s for her crimes.
An aspiring writer friend recently said, “I don’t know how you do it. I haven’t figured out how to stay focused while writing.”
Whether you’re writing an email to a friend, a university or high-school paper, or your own novel, you’ll have to figure out a recipe that works for you. Here are some proven tips to help you master how to stay focused while writing.
Find your flow. When you get into the zone, you can write fluently, holding multiple pieces of a story in your head simultaneously, often without referring to notes. Wikipedia defines flow as “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one’s sense of space and time.”
When I find my flow, hours seem to pass by in the blink of an eye. I get so immersed and engrossed in the story, I forget to eat, forget to shower, and forget all about the phone and social media. My story catapults me into a fantastical and amazing world that almost becomes more real than the world in which we live.
Turn off your phone. Turn off all social media. Close your email.
Often people who think they can multitask are only fooling themselves. Researchers have demonstrated that when we multitask, oftentimes many tasks are completed poorly. There is still something to be said for concentrating on one task, completing it, and then moving on to the next.
Turn the TV off. Turn the radio off.
I guess some writers listen to music or have the TV blaring in the background while they write. However, I’d hazard a guess that this doesn’t work for most of us. It hearkens back to the research on multitasking; that often your brain is incapable of handling several tasks efficiently.
Come to grips with distractions. Even if you turn your communications off, you will get distracted. Accept it. Sometimes your brain will be slow to kick into gear and you’ll feel your thoughts wandering. Don’t panic. Just remind yourself that you have to concentrate and stay focused. Gently steer your mind to the writing task at hand.
When I start my writing day, often at six or seven in the morning, my mind is generally slow to find the thread of the story. The words often feel clunky, the dialogue wooden. I see plot-holes everywhere. But, as long as you’re comfortable with your revision process, knowing you can polish the sentences later, convince yourself to plow forward and write the story. Often it takes me an hour or more before I find my flow, after which the words seem to come effortlessly and smoothly.
Got ants in your pants? I often find myself getting up from my desk to get something or do something and I have to constantly tell myself to return to the office and get back to work. If you want to learn how to stay focused while writing, you’ll have to learn to sit still. When you find yourself wandering aimlessly around the house, remind yourself to get back to work, even if you have to shout it out to snap yourself back to the task at hand.
Set a schedule. Figure out the time of day when you’re at your best and write then if you can. As I said, I’m at my best in the morning. I put aside three to five hours every morning (of every working day) for nothing but writing. If you have to, determine how many hours your project will take and then allocate a set amount of hours to it weekly so you’ll finish it on time.
Sometimes setting a daily word count goal helps. It works for me. During novel writing, I generally set a daily quota of 2,000 words. When, and only when, I reach that goal, do I begin doing all my other writing-related tasks and domestic chores.
Do the things that inspire you. If your inspiration comes from visiting your friends, schedule a visit before you start writing. I find inspiration from a number of sources: horror movies, news, reading, conversations, people-watching, and Mother Nature. I tap into all of them regularly to keep my creative juices flowing. It’s also important to take time away from your writing so you don’t burn out.
This might contradict what I said earlier, but if you find you can’t get your muse flowing, try changing up your schedule. Maybe you find you have too many things to do in the morning. Too many things on your mind. Maybe your mind will be calmer and more focused at night. It doesn’t hurt to experiment.
Whatever your writing goals are, start now. Don’t procrastinate. If you put aside just a little time every day for writing, you might find that as the days pass, you become more excited about your work and more inclined to dedicate larger blocks of time to it.
Lastly, don’t be daunted if you don’t get it right the first time. Be prepared for disappointment, pain and suffering.
After all, if writing was easy, we’d all be doing it.
Remember what President Theodore Roosevelt said: “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”