Divine Bird

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About Writing: Eliminate Distractions

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Note:  This post is part of a series about advice for writers.  All of my advice is based on my experiences, and is offered freely in the hopes that other writers will get something out of it as well.  I highly encourage discussion; tell me your ideas, challenges, and suggestions in the comments!

6.  Eliminate distractions

“But Jenny,” I hear you say, “There’s only so much I can do, what with the kids and the pets and the traffic and the etc. etc. etc.”

I’m not talking about creating a bubble around you.  If you have the luxury of doing that, great.  But even I, a childfree person who only has a husband and a cat, cannot control the noise level everywhere I go.  There’s always something:  noisy neighbors, the leaf blowers coming by, the sound of my husband doing his job, the cat running around like a madwoman.  But those are environmental things that are part of living around other people.

However, if you’re writing on a computer, there’s a whole other set of distractions that you CAN control.  Personally, I have my email, Twitter, and a chat window up at all times.  Sometimes Facebook is added to the mix, or Tumblr.  I spend lots of time fixing my Pandora station or my playlist on my MP3 player.  I get sucked into Wikipedia when checking a fact from my story.  This is all unnecessary.  When I need to sit down to write, I turn off the sound on my phone (and flip it over so I don’t see it blink at me), close most Internet tabs, and disable the pop-up notifications I get from things like Tweetdeck.  Even then, it’s hard to concentrate.

My answer now is ZenWriter, a free multi-platform app that someone recommended to me.  It goes fullscreen so I don’t see my taskbar flashing at me.  Soothing music without a beat lulls me into a receptive state, and a subtle nearly-white or nearly-black background offers an uncluttered view.  When I tried it out for the first time I literally doubled my words per hour.

Nothing says you have to give up your electronic toys or resort to going offline entirely.  However, find ways to remove electronic distractions from your screen.  Eliminating even one or two things can give you back those precious minutes.  Or institute a ‘no-interruptions’ policy when you carve out your writing time.  Put an Away message up on your IM account that says “Writing: please do not disturb” or even go into “invisible” mode.  Utilize a fullscreen program to hide your taskbar so you don’t see the little (1) every time a new post comes through.

If you don’t think your online life is distracting but you can’t seem to write anything whenever you sit down, try this:  grab a piece of paper and a pen.  Every time you flip away from your document for any reason, make a mark on the page.  After one hour, look at how many you have.  You may be surprised.  Each switch eats up at least 30 seconds and interrupts your brain, making it harder to write continuously.

Do you have other tips for eliminating distractions?  Share them in the comments!  Also, for more information about ZenWriter, visit their website by clicking on the name.

Next post:  About Writing: Take Breaks (post will appear on Friday, as I am following my own advice and taking a break for the holiday.  Happy Thanksgiving, guys!)

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