In The Trenches: Dealing with Distraction

For the next few months, the authors Chandler Baker, Virginia Boecker, and Lee Kelly's will take us with them on an inspiring writing journey through the medium of blogs posts. Today, Virginia looks at how to deal with and overcome distraction. 


Distraction. It’s one of the worst enemies of a writer. Whether you’re a full-time writer, part-time, or 15-minutes-at-a-time (John Grisham wrote his novels this way, as does our own Chandler Baker!) distraction is something we face every time we sit down at the computer. Writing is a solitary pursuit, and it’s so easy to get sucked in to the world outside our own heads: Twitter, Facebook, email, a text message – someone sends you an innocent link and the next thing you know you’re down the rabbit hole that is the internet and you’ve lost 15 minutes of writing time (and for those like Chandler and John, that’s everything!), plus you’ve lost your focus. 


So what’s a writer to do? I’m currently drafting Book 2 in my series while awaiting the editorial letter for Book 1, so my time is especially valuable these days. Here are a couple tricks I use to keep myself on track:



Make a list of things that distract you the most.


For me, this is Twitter, text, gossip blogs, and the stock market (I’m simultaneously a 16-year-old-girl and a 60-year-old-man). While I’m writing, I actively avoid those things. Put my phone somewhere I can’t see it, close all browser windows. If self-control isn’t your thing (is it anyone’s?) there are software programs that help you with this. Mac Freedom allows you to shut off your internet entirely for up to 8 hours. Anti-Social that turns off social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. (Fun fact: The guy who developed this software did so after he fell into the “Wikipedia Trap” when he was trying to do research.) There’s also Writeroom (Mac) and DarkRoom (PC), full-screen writing environment apps that let you see nothing on your screen but your own words.



Schedule distraction times – after reaching your goals.


In our last post, we talked about the importance of setting daily word-count goals, especially when you’re first getting your first draft down. Try setting mini-goals: for every 500 words your write, allow yourself 10 minutes to tweet and text to your heart’s content. When the 10 minutes is up, turn everything off and get back into your story.



Remember your ABCs.


In my first “real” job after university (an editorial assistant at a publishing company) they made every employee take a Franklin Covey course. If you’re not familiar with this, it’s old-school time management. (You’re yawning now, I can see you! But bear with me. I promise it’s relevant.)


More or less, the premise is this: everything on your to-do list can be slotted into A, B, or C priority buckets. If it’s something that MUST get done, it’s an A. If it’s something that SHOULD get done, it’s a B. If it’s something that OUGHT to get done, it’s a C. Small distinctions, you say. But actually, they’re huge. If you have a list of 20 things to get done in one day, it seems overwhelming. But if you have a list of 20 things and only 3 of them are As, things suddenly seem a lot more manageable.


I use this method every day of my life now. I’m always prioritizing things in my head, shifting them around as necessary: A1 to A3, B2 to B1, C1 to B3. (There’s a “someone sank my Battleship!” joke in there somewhere.) When I sit down at my computer to write, writing is always the A priority. If I reach a place in the manuscript where I get stuck, I might be tempted to stray elsewhere: update my blog, outline a new story idea, maybe even do my laundry, until I see how I’ve prioritized those things (B1, B2, and C1, respectively).


Keeping your writing prioritized this way keeps you focused and reminds you that the less-important things occupying your very-important writing time need to be put where they belong: at the end of the line.



Question: What are your biggest writing distractions, and how do you overcome them? Tell me in the comments or feel free to tweet me @virgboecker.


Virginia Boecker is the author of THE WITCH HUNTER, a YA historical fantasy, out Spring, 2015 from Little, Brown.

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