Even if you’re good at writing – even you say you like writing – there will be some days when you don’t want to do it. Days when you have to use every trick up your sleeve to make yourself get words on the page. (Days when you write a blog post rather than work on your current project, even …)
Days when you’ll seize any conceivable distraction.
So what can you do to keep up the momentum?
- Schedule your writing time. Block it out in your calendar. Tell other people that it’s your writing time. Granted, you’re not going to be writing at top speed for every minute of that time, but you’re making it a clear intention. When I’m distracted during that time, I’m distracted from writing. It’s like what they tell you about meditation: acknowledge the fact that your mind is wandering, and then bring it back to the task at hand.
- Recognize what parts of the project are going to be most troublesome. This is absolutely a personal thing, but right now I’m about to “start” something. The start is my struggle. It’s not just the start of a project, but the start of a section – a chapter or something under a new heading. The way I usually get around it is to never end a writing session at the end of a section – at the very least I’ll give myself a few notes to go on.
You can’t always plan it that way to be nice to yourself. Today, for example, is my first day back at the project since writing and sending in the proposal. I had other things going on and didn’t want to continue writing it without knowing if the proposal might be rejected, so I have to get over this hump. But, whenever possible, I do what I can to make Future Rebecca’s life easier.
- Remove distractions. I have a specific writing desk. There are books in the room, yes, but I don’t bring my knitting in here – one distraction down. There’s no door to keep the cats out, so that’s a wash, but there’s also no tv. I rarely turn off the wifi when I write – I’d rather do a quick search and put the proper date in now instead of later – but I’ll turn on the Forest app on my phone and put it on the harshest setting: you can’t leave the main screen until the timer is up, or else your little digital tree dies. I’ve even got the comments customized so it tells me to keep on writing.
Do I mean “Bore yourself into having to write the thing you’re putting off”? I might indeed.
- Give yourself a carrot. Set a reasonable, achievable, goal and then tell yourself you can’t do something fun until you’ve reached it. Dickens used to tell his servants not to give him his clothes until he hit his daily word count, so he’d be naked and confined to his study until he got there, but it doesn’t have to be that extreme.
It also doesn’t have to be mean – this isn’t “I can’t get up to use the bathroom until I hit 500 words” or “No refills on my coffee until I finish this section.” You don’t want to make writing harder because you’re ignoring bodily needs or running low on caffeine. It’s a reward: once I hit my word count, I can have some candy, or spend 20 minutes working on my fun knitting project, or get lost in an internet search of nothingness for a while.
- Write something – anything – else to get words flowing. You can hop to another section of the project, or start making notes about what’s bugging you about the project, or write something else completely – it doesn’t have to be connected to the project you’re putting off. You can also switch it up and get out a pen and some paper instead of using your laptop. This is your chance to use different colors, or to write down the other things that are bothering you, or to get a quick shopping list out of the way. Once you start writing, it makes it easier to switch the flow of words back to your original topic.
The more you write – the more you follow your schedule – the better you’ll get at forcing yourself to focus simply by trial and error. If something works for you, hang on to it. If one of these tips doesn’t, then reject it and start searching for another.
What do you do to help yourself focus on writing?