It usually happens like this: you sit down, ready to knock out a big chunk of writing, or edit a chapter. Nothing is going to stop you. Forty-five minutes later you look up from that new book, or your phone, or the papers you are sorting, and realize that you have only two sentences to show for that time. What in the world happened? And more likely—how did it manage to happen for the third time this week?
This was something that plagued me for a long time, and still does to some degree. However, after learning the hard way so many times, I have been able to figure out (in part) what works for me and how to stay focused in situations that are—shall we say—less than ideal.
Listening to a soundtrack all the way through—This is a favorite of mine. Choose a good no-lyrics, full-score soundtrack, and listen, from the beginning to the end, no shuffling. There is a strange sense of continuity and completed story that I find helps me stick to my project. Just make sure you pick a soundtrack that is in order, as a mixed order soundtrack lacks a cohesive storyline.
Turn off the internet—Social media, and even just emails or blogs can be a severe time trap. I’m not one easily pulled into spending lots of time on the computer, but I am still guilty of this from time to time.
Set time limits—When I was doing Nanowrimo I would race to get a hundred words done every five minutes, at all costs. At the end of an hour’s worth of writing, I would have almost my whole goal for the day done. There is something about that short deadline that helps me concentrate, because it is not a long, amoeba-like chunk of time matched with a certain large amount of work to do (which makes it easy for me to get complacent), but rather a very specific task paired with a short, manageable amount of time. I find this works well when living with a lot of little children. I never know when my lovely chunk of time to write will be suddenly truncated by the appearance of a child that has a need that can’t wait. Knowing that I utilized the little time I had is huge for me. Obviously, everyone has different speeds of writing, so maybe you can write far more than 100 words in five minutes, or a little less, but the tactic itself has been very helpful for me.
Go somewhere where you feel inspired—To be honest, this changes all the time for me. Sometimes it is the front porch, sometimes it’s the couch, and sometimes it is my actual writing desk. But whether it’s one constant place or one of a dozen, find that spot, and if at all possible, write there.
Set a goal and promise yourself a reward afterwards—Maybe it’s the brownies in the oven, or a walk with the dog, or maybe it is reading that exciting new book you just got. Whatever it is, find something you want and then don’t—I repeat, don’t let yourself have it until you’ve finished.
Have a plan—Not everyone works well with a plan, but even making a rough sketch of where you want the story to go, or what you want to accomplish in an allotted time, makes a huge difference. Before you waste time writing, erasing, and then writing just to erase it again, take two or three minutes to write out a short sketch or play-by-play of what is coming. Sometimes I even put in snippets of dialogue that come to me, and that helps determine the flavor the scene or my characters’ attitudes.
Accountability—Just tell someone—a family member or spouse across the room, or maybe a friend on Twitter or Facebook—that you are sitting down and trying to write x amount in an x amount of time. Just having someone aware that I am working motivates me to work fast.
Do not randomly edit—Resist the temptation. If you must, take a minute to find the right word, or run back and fix the typo quickly, but try not to fall into the write, erase, write, and erase again cycle.
No research—There is this tricky thing called research, and it usually goes something like this: Oh, I don’t remember how many guns a sixth-rate ship of the line had in 1698…it’ll only take me a second. *runs a Google search* Hmm, there doesn’t seem to be an obvious answer here, but there is a fascinating article on this ship that launched in 1698, maybe I should check that out…. And then, of course, after you read that article, it leads to another thing that needs research, and then another. Just put in a blank or an asterisk and move on.
Get comfortable—This might seem a little silly, but to be honest, how many of us have been distracted by being hungry, or in a bad chair, or being too hot or cold? Go the extra mile to put on a cozy sweater, get a snack, or light a candle on your desk for that lovely smell.
What do you do to stay focused? Comment with your favorite tips below!