Removing distractions and focusing is key to good writing

With the modern digital age, it’s easy to be distracted because there’s just so much more things you can do on the internet. That’s a fact. It’s especially so if you are at home and have access to high-quality internet connection. Like a fibre broadband.

Then you have a writing project that you need or want to do and it doesn’t even matter if you are making a living with it or not. You just want to write something. So You decided to sit at your desk or lie in your bed with your computer.

But then you remember you got social media. You feel compelled to use. You tell yourself, “I will use it for five minutes and then I will get back to writing.” And if you signed up for a video streaming service like Netflix, you’d rather be watching movies or TV series from it. You tell yourself, “I will write after this movie.”

With that, you went ahead to do the other thing that caught your attention and before you know it, you got sucked into the black hole and couldn’t come out. By the time you realise it, it’s already late and you got other things to take care of. The text processor or editor that you opened was just sitting there, staring back at you with a blank page.

And it doesn’t matter if you are a plotter or a panster.

If you are a plotter, you can have all the outlines in the world done and laid out in front of you, but once your attention is elsewhere, you just killed your own writing.

Panster will have it worse because they don’t plot. They write only when they get an idea and let the story take them where it is. Distractions will actually shut down a panster’s process of getting an idea and writing. I know because it killed mine three times just today. Netflix is more interesting than me doing writings. My video games are more interesting than my writings. Even my bed is more interesting than my writings. I also know it’s not fair to blame technology. Ultimately, it was me who lack the discipline to switch off those distractions and decided to use them instead of doing the actual work.

What one can do is to remove all these distractions. For a start, switch off your home router or WIFI and prevent yourself from going online. Another much easier way to go offline is to install apps that prevent internet access until you restarted your computer once you activate it. The other way is to go to a place outside of your house, preferably one without WIFI, and just sit there to write.

But if you have to go online to do research for your writing, you can do it on a different computer if you have one. Ideally, it should be physically as far away from your “work” area as possible. Otherwise, schedule a day that you can go to a library and use the computer there to do research and write down what you need to know on a paper-based notebook. Alternatively, you can sign out of all your social media and video streaming accounts after you are done. This way, you have to go through an additional step of signing in when you want or feel like using the accounts. It serves as a deterrent.

Signing out of account is something I did. I was hooked on social media and so I signed out of my twitter account. It reached a point where I don’t even bother to use it anymore. But I didn’t sign out of my Netflix or YouTube account. Thus my constant problem of being distracted.

However, removing distraction isn’t enough to help you achieve good writing. Having the ability to focus on just the one thing is equally important. And focus is really all about saying no to something and thereby saying yes to something else that you should be doing.

As writers, chances are you have plenty of ideas floating around your head. You feel compelled to write something with those ideas. If you are writing essays or articles, suddenly you find yourself wanting to write not just one but two or more pieces. If you are writing a book, you find yourself wanting to write a book for each idea. So you end up starting multiple writing projects that you never got to finish. By finish, I don’t even mean published online or submit it somewhere. Instead, I mean those pieces of work that reached their respective conclusion and you can proudly tell yourself, “I completed them”.

For me, I have a bunch of those just sitting in my computer in their respective folders. Those piece of writings never quite get anywhere because I was distracted and couldn’t focus on finishing them. When I finally want to get back to any of those writings, I just couldn’t.

Therefore, it’s important for you to be able to identify what’s a good idea to expend the effort to write and what are those that you should say no. That way you can filter out junk and spend the your energy and time on the right thing. Sometimes, an idea is not even junk and you just knew it deep down you can finish the writing. It’s equally important to be able to put that idea aside and focus on your current piece of work and see it to completion.

And how to tell if it’s a good idea? Well, listen to your gut. You have to trust yourself, the writer, if the idea is good enough to warrant a pursue. Part of the journey to develop this gut feeling comes from having read a lot. By reading, you get to understand and know the kind of writing that sells or people want to read. If not, you can follow the advice that Stephen King himself said and I paraphrase, “The good stuff stays. All the bad ideas will just fall off and be forgotten. Writing down notes of the ideas you get means you end up keeping all the bad stuff.”

Acceptance of doing nothing productive

You made a promise. It can be either to somebody else or to you. And because you didn’t want to feel like you have broken a promise, you force yourself to do something.

Maybe it’s not promise. Maybe it’s because you didn’t want to feel like you have done anything productive or useful. So you force yourself to do it.

But you just ain’t feeling it.

Just like that, you put yourself in a situation where you struggled with the mixed feelings. Feeling trapped is now the main thing.

When it came to writing, that’s how I feel. Ever since the decision to stop publishing my daily log or journal to this blog, I actually felt compelled to think of a topic to write about because I didn’t want to leave my blog empty. Sometimes, there’s really nothing on my mind to write about. Anxiety comes into play because I promised to myself that I will write everyday and it doesn’t matter what or where. It could be writing on a piece of paper or in a notebook or on my computer.

And it was through this act of forcing myself to write something for my blog that I decided to settle down on writing this piece. But it’s a fact that without a certain amount of passion and ideas, nothing good will come out of “forced labor”.

So, it’s very important that one learn to accept that it’s perfectly okay not to do anything just for one day. It’s perfectly fine to take a break from doing something because you are running a marathon, not a sprint. You don’t want to burn yourself out so early in the journey and then ruin your future.

Winning is a matter of perspective

By traditional standard, winning something is about getting an award or a prize. It is the external proof or validation for the winner that he or she won whatever he participated in. To prove that he or she had put in the work.

What if winning is now a matter of perspective? It’s something that doesn’t require physical medals or official acknowledgement in the form of prizes.

What if you lost a competition but actually won in other ways? Let’s say you are running a race and you are about to win but you see someone on the verge of collapsing from heatstroke. You stopped to help the person to get medical attention and you lost the race. Yes, you didn’t win the race but you won by simply because you have the compassion and empathy for a fellow human being?

What if you have been battling depression all your life? Somedays you will be perfectly fine. Somedays, it’s like you find yourself drown in extreme hopelessness and everything seemed to be overwhelming. You feel like death is your only solution. Even so, you still show up to work and you sit your ass down at your desk. Then you read an email and managed to send a reply professionally. And you have the courage to tell people that you are suffering from depression instead of keeping it to yourself and needed time off. In that case, you didn’t lose. You won just because you showed up. There’s no prize for that but you didn’t let depression hold you back from living the life you want. A life that you desire.

So instead of thinking that you should be the first in everything or have more money than your friends, the Jonses, etc., why not think about the obstacles you have overcome and whether you have stayed true to yourself despite what life throws at you.

Let us start winning everyday.

Why do writers get writer’s block

If you are a writer, there’s a high chance you’d have suffer from writer’s block. For the uninitiated, it is the point during one’s writing journey where he or she struggles to put words down. When you sit down in front of your computer, time just flew by you but no words appear on the screen. Even when you did write something, you find yourself deleting those words. You get angry. You wonder what’s going on and started to hate yourself.

I’ve encountered it several times now during my writing journey. After spending some time to dissect it, here are three reasons I believe contributes to writer’s block.

High Expectations or Perfectionism

Most writers, if not all, I believe have traits of perfectionism in them. It is this desire to create the best piece of work before you hit that publish button. Even if it’s not perfectionism, it could be the high-expectation you put on yourself, especially if you have successfully published something that went viral or is starting to earn you enough income. Now with a new piece of writing, you want it to be even better than before.

So you put a high amount of pressure on yourself to deliver. You push yourself a little too hard that you start criticising yourself for every little mistakes you make in your writing. You delete words because you feel like they don’t belong or don’t get the message across. You are spending more time editing than writing. After a while, it makes you cranky and frustrated all the time.

Being too comfortable in your routines

Routines are great. It gives you some sense of stability. For some writers, routines are what allow them to write because it’s something like a primer. However, routines can be dangerous if left to its own devices because it makes you complacent and comfortable. When you are comfortable, you stop coming up with new ideas or thoughts. Your subconscious mind just think there’s no danger. Nothing to worry. And when you finally want to write, there’s nothing in your mind.

Being stuck in the same physical space

Writing can be a pretty lonely endeavour, especially when you are just starting out. When there is a deadline, self-imposed or contractual or sometimes you just want to finish a piece of writing quickly because you think you are in some kind of flow, you withdraw from the world, hide away in some place just to meet it. You stop meeting your friends. You ignore your family. Maybe stop talking to people even.

When that happens, your brain stop getting the right kind of stimulation it needed. And if you think about it, it’s actually very closely related to being comfortable in your routines. Being stuck removes your inspiration because your brain see the same things over and over again.

How to get out of it?

The solution to writer’s block is actually very simple. You will need to audit yourself and asked whether your writer’s block stems from one, two or all three reasons.

If it’s the first reason, then you will need to start accepting and acknowledging you are only human and mistakes will happen. Self compassion is very important here. Lowering your expectations will also help. You have to trust yourself to complete the writing.

If it’s the second, the third or both reason, then maybe it’s time you switch up your environment and routines. Maybe start reviewing that messy wardrobe of yours and began the journey of minimalism. Maybe call up a few of your closest friends and ask them out for a meal. Or maybe it’s time for you to take a vacation.

Journals. Useful. To a Certain Extent

I believe that it doesn’t matter if you are a CEO of a Fortune 500 company or just an employee working at an entry-level job, writing a journal is a highly effective way to dissect your feelings, process those feelings and understand yourself better. Not only is it therapeutic, it also allows you to develop yourself further.

For me, I started blogging in 2006/2007 as it was the in-trend thing to do. I started writing and publishing my journals on Blogger because it was the only thing I knew how to do, having been influenced by early bloggers. Then I moved on to WordPress in May 2010. The platform was more powerful and more professional. And I continue to write and publish journal online.

Journaling has helped me be a better person. Or at least that’s what I like to think. But after reading some articles on Medium about improving your writing, I became aware that I have slipped up. Especially after doing some auditing on my own. Journals are no longer being used to look at things more objectively and draw lessons to put into practice. So, there were more and more rantings. More complains.

Putting these journals online have also, I believe, limited my growth because I wasn’t being intentional about the content that goes on to my blog. It was being treated as a dumping ground. And it may have also kept people away. After all who wants to read a blog full of rants and complains that doesn’t add value to their life? I certainly don’t.

Don’t get me wrong, journals are useful in their own way. Only up to a certain extent. When it becomes the main thing you write and post online, becoming the primary content you see on your site, it’s no longer useful. Your blog became your literal dumping ground for all the joy and shit you have in your life. And not a lot of people wants to read that. Worse thing could happen when you start pouring your heart and soul on to it. Imagine putting up something that put your bosses or friends in bad light. Imagine you got the facts about something wrong and rant about it online. It will ruin the relationships you have. I did that once just because I didn’t control my emotions well and damage the relationship I have had with a friend. And when you are an adult, it definitely don’t make you look professional or mature.

Those are the lessons I have learnt. And this is why my journals have been taken offline from my blog.

Please don’t repeat my mistakes if you want to become a better writer. Focus on creating meaningful and useful content that people wants to read. Be intentional about what you want to publish online. It will be something that I will put in practice too.