◎ May the Focus be with you (Computer Edition)

October 13, 2012

How can I stay focused enough to write? 

That's the question on every writer's mind. In a day and age where we can easily sit at our computers and sift through blogs and pinterest and tumblr and facebook until drool drips from our mouths and into a massive puddle on our laps, it's a wonder novels get written at all. (You're welcome for the visual.) While I am definitely guilty of wasting enormous amounts of time, I have discovered several tried-and-true strategies that just might work for you too.

1. Keep as few tabs, windows, and programs open as possible.

I am notorious for running too many programs on my laptop at once. This is no bueno. If your computer is hindered from operating speedily, you're going to have a bad time. There's nothing like typing something fantastic and having to wait two minutes for it to appear on the screen. (Gotta love Word!) Also, leaving a slew of programs and web pages open will make you feel like there's something other than writing you should be doing (meaning that you'll be back to pinning pictures of kittens in teacups in no time). Quit the programs you're not actively using and free up that RAM for more important things!

2. Clean up your desktop.

Remember how your parents nagged you to keep your room clean as a kid because it would 'help you get more stuff done'? (No? I'm the only one?) Well, it's true. When my desktop is covered with random crap, I don't feel like writing. I feel disorganized and, therefore, not in the right mindset to get anything done.

Ever watched Hoarders? Notice how impaired those people's lives are by the clutter which surrounds/engulfs them? Computer clutter can have similar (albeit much less severe) mental consequences. Organize your files, keep your desktop looking tidy, and give yourself a nice, calm background that won't distract you while you write.

3. Get out of the house.

Your family is distracting. Your cat is distracting. The mess you call your bedroom and/or office is most definitely distracting. If at all possible, go to the public library or your local coffee shop with your laptop and charger in hand. Leave your distractions behind. I have mastered this trick so effectively that Starbucks has become my unofficial office. I get there, order the same drink, sit at one of two choice tables (whichever is available), and am able to write for several hours straight because I've conditioned myself to associate coffee shops with intensive writing sessions.

4. Make lists.

I am a big fan of list-keeping. I have lists all over my office. The key to list-making, however, is knowing what kind of list it is you're writing. I have lists with larger "macro" goals (finish BOOK X by X MONTH, etc.), and from there, I create smaller lists which break down everything I need to do in order to reach each of those big goals. I then create even smaller lists that detail what needs to happen for those smaller goals to be met. (Listception!) What I'm trying to get at is that if you go into a writing session with some set goals both on a mirco and macro level, you're going to get a whole lot more done than you would have otherwise. A fictional example:

Micro Goals (TODAY):
Revise tricky paragraph in Chapter Four
Proofread for Tense Change Errors
Expand Chapter Four by at least 1,000 words

Sub-Micro Goals (THIS WEEK):
Finish all edits on Chapter Four by Friday Afternoon
Proofread first four chapters by Friday
Read through Chapter Five and plan revisions by Saturday
Draft Query Letter and Synopsis by Tuesday

Finish second draft by October 5th
Hire copyeditor by October 17th
Finalize Query Letter and Synopsis by October 23rd

Completely finish novel by December 6th
Query 25 agents by January 15th

These lists can be written*, typed, or left free-floating in your head. What matters is that you have some idea of what needs to be done and how it fits into the bigger picture of what you're trying to accomplish.

5. Listen to music.

Pick a trance-like song or playlist and plug them headphones in! By doing so, you block out the distractions posed by the outside world (I'VE GOT A DOUBLE EXPRESSO WITH WHIPPED CREAM AT THE COUNTER FOR NUMBER 65!) and instead transition yourself into the world of your novel. (Bonus points if the playlist/song is tailored to the scene you're writing.)

What strategies do you use to use to deter/avoid distractions while writing? Let me know below!

Note that I didn't mention anything about disabling your internet connection. While that strategy works for some people, it most definitely doesn't work for me. I'm not one of those people who does well on an all-or-nothing model. As long as it's in moderation, I feel that using the internet during a writing session is an A-OK thing to do!

*(I use dry-erase boards for my macro, sub-macro, and sub-micro goals. Because micro goals are something I need to be able to tote around in my purse, I use those cute little notebooks from the dollar bin at Michael's.)


  1. I love WorkFlowy.com for list-making. It seems to fit your habit of lists and sub-lists and you can print them out (I find&replace the dashes with check-boxes), export it, and keep it online.

    1. Ooh, how fun! I think I'll join up. Thank you for passing this link my way!


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