How to Manage Distractions When You’re Writing

This week, one of my writing group colleagues, Tiffany, challenged us to blog about our strategies for coping with distraction when we’re trying to write:

“What distracts you the most when you are trying to write (internet, life, people trying to talk to you, etc) and how do you work around it?”

Let me set the scene for you. You’ve brewed yourself a fresh cup of coffee or tea, the early morning sun is shining brightly, you sit down at your desk with the delightful anticipation of sinking into your story … and realize twenty minutes later that you have been sucked into the vortex of twitter / instagram / facebook / your Distraction Demon of choice.

It happens to the best of us.

I started writing semi-regularly three years ago, and very regularly (almost daily) a little over two years ago. Over time, I have developed a few tricks to deal with my Distraction Demons, and I hope they’re helpful for anyone struggling with it! (I still do, on a daily basis.)

I have four simple rules:

  1. Leave your phone behind. Leave your phone in another room, or, if you must have it near you, put it in “do not disturb” mode and place it face-down.
  2. Avoid the internet. Do not open your browser unless you absolutely have to (e.g., necessary writerly research).
  3. Time yourself. This is key. Set an alarm for your writing session and don’t pick up your phone or open your browser until the timer goes off. (This is a trick I learned while studying for the bar exam, when you’re bound to your books and outlines almost 24/7 for two months and can’t afford to fall behind, no matter how tempting the Distraction Demon.) If you’re planning on a long writing session, build in breaks: set the timer to go off at regular intervals and give yourself permission to check your phone, grab some more coffee, stretch, take a stroll. I find that I work best in 20-minute bursts of uninterrupted and focused activity, followed by a few minutes’ break. Find a focus/break interval that works best for you – it may take some experimentation, but the effect it has on your ability to focus is so worth it.
  4. Celebrate! Don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done when you reach the end of your writing session. Positive reinforcement works wonders and will keep you coming back for more. If you need a more tangible reward, consider starting a Writing Tip Jar and give yourself $1.00 for every time you complete a writing session. Use that money for anything your heart desires at the end of the month. (I’ll be sharing more on my Writing Tip Jar tool next week.)

If the Distraction Demons have been driving you up the walls, don’t worry – with a little practice and determination, you can beat them. And if you try these tips, I’d love to hear about your experience!

Yours truly, one distraction management technique at a time,