Ditching The Distractions = Get More Writing Done!

You could say that I’ve taken my own advice to an extreme: on Monday I resigned from my ‘day job’ (part-time but increasingly filling the hours and headspace that I need for my writing) and I’m not actually recommending that you do that.

Work is a distraction, true, but a necessary one for most of us and I will be stepping onto the hamster wheel again at some point…!

But since Monday, the ‘Universe’ seems to be telling me that I might just have done the right thing, in taking a small ‘break’:

• The short story workshop that I’m running at Evesham Festival of Words sold out on Tuesday
• My ‘flash comp’ entry (an extract from a ‘longer work’ that I’m trying to write), was a runner-up in Tuesday’s Writer’s Forum
• On Wednesday I won the Tamworth Literary Festival short story competition
• Today I had a story accepted by Woman’s Weekly

Coincidence? Probably. But I’m telling myself it means something! (because we writers have to hang onto any encouraging signs, don’t we?)

And now, because you seem to like them.. here’s another of my previously-published articles on writing subjects. This one’s got some tips on making more time to be creative. (If you have any other ideas, do please leave them in the comments!)

Ditching The Distractions

As writers, the call of the ‘real world’ is difficult to ignore. Sometimes it’s just an excuse to procrastinate but often, not being able to ‘retreat’ – either mentally and physically – is a real barrier to writing.

Research has shown it can take up to 15 minutes to regain focus after a distraction, so how can we stay focussed and also find time and space to write?

Some distractions are unavoidable, so concentrate on controlling those that you can, for example:

* Use an answer phone
* Only check emails twice daily (or do what I try to do and resist checking emails or social media until 4pm. The idea of that being, that there’s still an hour or so of the ‘working day’ left, if you need to reply urgently to someone).
* Re-think those household tasks. If you worked in an office, you wouldn’t be able to mow the lawn in the middle of the day, so why waste your precious writing time? Whenever you have an overwhelming urge to complete another task when you ‘should’ be writing, ask yourself whether it really needs to be done, now? Writer Carole Matthews recognised when she was procrastinating and used to tie her leg to the desk, to prevent herself ‘wandering off to do the ironing’!

Novelist Zadie Smith famously disables the internet using Freedom© and SelfControl© – computer programmes specifically designed to help writers – when she’s at work.

Charles Dickens – like many of us – needed absolute quiet in order to write. In one of his houses, an extra door had to be installed in his study to block out noise.

Renovating your home is probably not practical but if you need silence to write, try using ear plugs – or even ear defenders. Many writers play music through headphones or listen to CDs of ‘white noise’ – such as crashing waves or falling rain.

If the view from your writing room window is too tempting, then you could follow Stephen King’s advice (in his seminal book ‘On Writing’) and turn your desk to face a blank wall, or adopt the technique of American novelist Jonathan Franzen: he wears a blindfold and relies on his ability to touch-type.

Most writers need solitude but if you find that difficult, then being with others who are also writing – whether ‘virtually’ or in reality – might help.

‘One day writing retreats’ are becoming more available. For a small fee you can leave housework, TV and other distractions behind and go to a centre for a few hours of uninterrupted writing. Most organisers encourage you to set goals in advance and provide refreshments and ‘time and space’ away from the real world.

Why not organise a ‘power hour’ with a writer friend or Facebook group? Agree on a start time and at the end of the hour, get in touch via Twitter or Facebook and compare achievements.

Victor Hugo, author of Les Misérables, allegedly asked his valet to hide his clothes and wrote in the nude, so he couldn’t go outside but many writers find it easier to leave the house, to write.

Novelist Clare Morrall has written most of her books away from home. “I write in a room in a friend’s house, and I like the sense of isolation that comes from leaving my home environment, shutting the door on everyday life.”

If you don’t mind some background noise, then there are plenty of coffee shops to choose from. But if you want that coffee shop ‘buzz’ without spending a fortune on lattes, the Coffitivity website will provide the same noise and you don’t even need to leave your desk.

Or what about writing in your local library? Warm, quiet (ish) and most of them have desks these days.

Friends and family, however well-meaning, can be a major distraction. They often don’t understand our need for peace and quiet.

Jane Austen knew all about the ‘casual interruptions’ of family life. She never lived alone or experienced any solitude in her daily life, yet she still managed to write and made the most of her family by reading out her work-in-progress to them in the evenings.

Perhaps that’s the answer: try to use your distractions to your benefit. Writer Wendy Clarke admits that she never gets any writing done when her husband’s home but he’s a great proof-reader, when she’s finished a story!

Other ways to ditch the distractions:

* Use a kitchen timer. Try setting it for 30 minutes or an hour and don’t do anything but write. When the bell goes off, allow yourself a short break, then set it again. Keep going until you’ve finished.
* Beware of telling friends when you’re at home ‘writing’. They’ll often interpret that to mean you’re ‘available’ (for lunch and coffee and stuff, which is lovely BUT…)
* Do one thing at a time. It’s been proven that multi-tasking doesn’t actually save time and it can cause stress!
* Try clearing your head through yoga, mindfulness, meditation or Morning Pages/journalling.
* Clutter is very distracting. Make sure you have a clear desk or room and space in which to write.
* Invest in a ‘do not disturb’ sign.

Based on an article originally published in Writing magazine in 2014

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16 Responses to Ditching The Distractions = Get More Writing Done!

  1. edinburghs says:

    I’m a champion procrastinator so this is all useful, Helen, thank you! All the best with your full-time writing career.

    • Thanks, Kate! Not sure how long I will manage to get away with it.. (the ‘full-time writing’) and it won’t start until I’ve worked my notice, later this summer BUT I am looking forward to it! (no pressure…!)

  2. Alex Gazzola says:

    If you do need absolute quiet to write, instead of trying to achieve it with earplugs or extra doors, I’d almost be tempted to try to train yourself out of this mindset. Few can work to multi-decibels of heavy metal, granted, but if you find yourself unable to write with ordinary background noise then I think something else might be bothering or hindering you – not the traffic outside or loo flush upstairs. I think writers can get too obsessed with trying to secure perfect surroundings and environment – but perhaps it isn’t possible?

    • Good advice, Alex. I think you’re right. Given that most of us have to snatch the time and opportunity to write, insisting on ‘perfect conditions’ is only going to make life harder (and word count smaller…!)

  3. Congratulations on those successes, Helen! And I envy you giving up that day job ….

  4. Keith Havers says:

    Congratulations on the Tamworth comp win, Helen. I entered that one as I was born there. Is your story available to read?

    • Thanks, Keith. Yes, I am local to that area too – I went to school in Lichfield and I once had a part-time job in McDonald’s in Tamworth!! (but that’s not where my story’s set!). Strangely they haven’t announced the competition results on their website or on Twitter so, no, as yet there’s nothing to direct you to! I just had a phone call to tell me the good news and apparently the award ceremony – which I’m hoping to go to – is a week on Saturday. I will update the blog if they put the stories and winners’ details up anywhere.

  5. I cannot write with my husband in the house. And my favourite and best place to write is the kitchen table, but find it hard if there is washing up etc hanging around. I now use the time before he leaves for work making sure the washing up is done, (even been known to take his plate to wash up while holding his last piece of toast). Check emails social media while his loading up his pick-up, as he often forgets something in the house and will pop back in. Once I hear it drive away, I start writing. Well done on your successes, hope they continue, and good luck full time writing!

    • That made me smile, Caroline, as I pictured your morning ritual. Does he ever get offended, I wonder, that you clearly can’t wait to see the back of him…?! My man plays a lot of golf (out all day tomorrow, for example, from about 8am to 7pm – hurrah!), so that gets him out from under my feet! However, I do still have the dog here and she is very distracting! (long hard stares, which are impossible to ignore, when it’s time for her walk!)

  6. Wendy Clarke says:

    Congratulations on all the recent successes. It’s a brave move to pack in the job but you’re already reaping the rewards. P.S I still can’t work when my husband’s around so he’s going to have to keep working for ever 😊

    • Thanks, Wendy. I’m not sure whether ‘brave’ or foolhardy is the right word but time will tell! I can always get myself something else if I find I run out of money or inspiration…!

  7. juliathorley says:

    There’s so much useful advice here, some of which I already follow (the 30-minute timer, for one thing). I have no teaching today, so I plan a hard day on the keyboard coalface. Watch this space!

  8. Kate Hogan says:

    Well done on all your successes, Helen, and the decision to make space in your life for doing what you wish to do at this time – may the force (or was it forth!) be with you. All good wishes KH

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