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.”