At the end of this past summer my middle child moved out of the upstairs bedroom she shared with her younger sister and into what had been my downstairs office. With the room taken over by an eight-year-old, my office moved into a corner of our master bedroom. I did get a new desk out of the deal, so don’t feel too sorry for me. However, being on the main floor of the house hasn’t been an easy transition, especially with three kids and a wife doing remote learning from home (my wife is a teacher). Focus hadn’t been a problem in the dungeon, but of course, I had the house to myself in those days. Now, the struggle is real.
Focusing on your writing without distractions is integral to the health of your story. Writing is about making a connection with a reader when boiled down to the basics. That reader has come to the written page ready to have their imagination tickled by your prose. Checking Twitter every five minutes does them a disservice. The least you can do for that reader is come to the blank page with the respect it deserves.
The following is a list of methods that have helped me focus over the years. This list is by no means complete but is simply a reflection of the methods I have tried. Some of these I still do, while others I don’t. Whether you do or don’t is, of course, your decision.
Close the door
I know there are writers out there that need the hustle and bustle of a café to inspire them to write. However, most writers don’t fall into that category, instead requiring quiet and solitude. If you are lucky enough to have a home office (unlike me) then use it. Whether your writing space is in a home office, the corner of a bedroom, or the laundry room like a young Stephen King, make sure that space has a door. Then close it.
Turn on music
Playing music can eliminate the array of noises that accompany writing in a house with other people. In his book On Writing Stephen King mentions writing to rock-n-roll music, which makes a ton of sense if you have ever read a King novel. I think this suggestion should come with a note of caution. Several years ago, I listened to music while writing to help drown out the distractions of the outside world. However, it became a distraction in itself when I stopped writing to sing along with the music. The problem progressed to the point where I was scrolling through the list of songs in search of my favorites. As you can imagine, I don’t listen to music while writing these days. If you decide to try this out yourself, I suggest lyric free music.
Some of you might be scoffing at the notion of meditation. However, a few minutes of quiet contemplation can help relieve the stress of the day thus far, expelling it from the writing experience. In my own personal experience, I have found that my writing sessions go better when I have meditated beforehand.
Eliminate midsession distractions ahead of time
When I sit down to write I have already checked my email and the web has been sufficiently surfed. I already have a big cup of coffee on hand. When I’m introducing a new character, whether major or minor, I try to have a name already chosen and ready for use when I start my writing session. I try to do as much research as possible ahead of time. All of this is an attempt to eliminate distractions during a writing session. Like a beaver damming up a river stops the flow of water, distractions eliminate the flow of words.
The cellphone DOESN’T enter the writing room
I stumbled upon this method on accident. Before a writing session last week, I realized my cellphone’s battery was low. My charger was in the kitchen, so I hooked it up and went to write. During that writing session I realized how often I pause to check something on my cellphone. How many likes does my tweet have? Oh, someone commented on Instagram, I should check it out. To say it had been a distraction is an understatement. If you’re serious about your craft the pocket-sized computer can wait until you’re done.
Any of these five methods are worth a try if you want to improve your focus. I have one last method which I haven’t tried but is still worth passing along. Inform your friends and family that you wish to remain undisturbed while writing. In your house, for instance, you could do this by telling them that if the office door is closed then you’re working. In the case of friends, a text message would suffice. Of course, keeping a daily routine would help to remind everyone that between the hours of 8-12 Stephen is hard at work and not to be bothered.
Best of luck staying focused and keeping that writer to reader connection strong. Remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.
Stephen Michael Roth