Defeating Distraction, Finding Focus

You’re writing at a good pace, but then get distracted, torn away from your story. You hate when that happens, but sometimes the diversion is irresistible. What causes that, and how can you prevent it?

We live in a distraction-rich environment. Even before the Internet, there were rooms to clean, library books to return, lawns to mow, desk items to straighten, and windows to gaze through. Today, there are Facebook posts to like, tweets to retweet, texts to answer, online stores to shop in, blog posts to read, and new sites to explore.

Still, this tendency to get distracted doesn’t make sense, does it? You sat down fully intending to write your story. Then things went awry; that best-laid plan went askew, you diverted to a tangent. Why does that happen?

Let’s separate two types of distraction—external and internal—and tackle each separately.

External Distractions

These attack you from outside and appeal to one or more senses. A funny show comes on TV, a favorite song blares from the radio, the cat snuggles against you, a pleasant aroma wafts from the kitchen.

The cure for these might seem simple; just eliminate external sources of distraction. Write in a bare, soundproof room with the door shut, on a computer disconnected from the net.

That might work for some, but for many of us it’s not practical. It’s better to start by eliminating your most common, most alluring distractions if you can. As for the others, learn to become aware when a distractor is pulling you away. At the onset of each distraction, make a conscious decision to allow it or not.

Consider setting up a “focus object,” an inspirational something to redirect you toward your story, akin to the busts of Beethoven atop pianos. I made a framed picture of Jules Verne with the caption “Keep writing, Steve,” and mounted it above my desk. Pick a focus object specific to you and glance at it when you feel the tug of some external interruption.

Internal Distractions

The internal ones are worse, since your own mind assails you and there’s no one else to blame. Your mind wanders away from your story and suddenly there’s something else needing your attention. You have a bill due today; this story idea needs additional research; you’re wondering what that old high school friend is up to.

These generally occur when you’re stuck and need to solve an unexpected story problem. You feel you have to pause and think before writing further. That’s the moment when your brain takes a meandering walk.

As with external distractions, part of the cure is learning to recognize the distraction at the moment it occurs. If you were truly stuck just before that instant, maybe a short break is just the thing you need. Your subconscious can work on the problem while you’re engaged in the distracting activity.

If you were making progress right before that moment, ask yourself this question: “Is this the best use of my time right now?” On occasion, the distraction will be the best answer. Most times, you’ll realize you should return to your story.

Final Thoughts

Visualization is another technique for dealing with distractions. Keep a vision of you finishing your story, admiring it, and submitting it for publication. Think of how good that will feel. Use that vision to get you focused back on writing.

Recognize, too, that you can’t stay focused forever. You need to give your brain a rest. The Pomodoro Technique can be a way to promote both proper focusing and reasonable breaks.

You’ll find more great advice on dealing with distractions at this post by Leo Babauta and this one by Margarita Tartakovsky.

I hope you enjoyed… Sorry, I’ve got to go. Something else has attracted the attention of—

Poseidon’s Scribe