Productivity....Say What? 5 Tips to Help You Focus on your Writing

Photo credit: ashley.adcox

Here's the situation: you have an hour to write. You go to your office, or your writing spot, or wherever you can carve out a niche for yourself, and promptly begin to write. 

What's that? No? You didn't start writing right away? Oh, you say you got on the Internet? You say you answered that inopportune text? You say you just had to vacuum the house? You say your son fell and had to be taken to the ER? Okay, well, except for the last one, it seems like you're making excuses.

We've all been there.

It's so easy to give yourself an hour to write and end up spending that hour playing catch up or "relaxing" in front of the TV or on the Internet. After all, as writers, we're naturally curious people, determined to observe the world and immortalize it in writing. If we ever get in front of the computer and manage to avoid the Internet long enough to write.

So how can you avoid the temptations of distractions and focus on the writing task at hand?

Here are a few tips that help me.

1. Keep your workspace clear of clutter. If you know that you cannot write until you clean out your office, make sure you keep it clean or give it a quick once-over before sitting down to write. You'll feel better about that status of your working environment and no longer have that hovering in the back of your mind.

If you know that you absolutely cannot spend only five minutes sprucing up your office before beginning, try freewriting for a few minutes before beginning on your true writing task, and clear your (mental) space that way. If all else fails, find a different spot to write until you can return to your preferred niche and clean it.

2. Whatever you do, avoid the Internet. If you feel you must check your email before writing--if you're waiting for that one special email that will make or break your day--try disconnecting your computer from the Internet. Unplug your router, if need be, and take your laptop outside or away from the room with the router. The further you are from the Internet router, the more likely you are to focus on your task at hand. And if you need to research a fact, make a note or highlight that passage in your manuscript and continue to write. Avoid the Internet until your writing time is over and your daily goal is met (see #5).

3. Keep a list. I find I'm more productive when I know what's expected of me. I'm a visual person as well, so that means keeping a physical, hand-written list works best for me. (Electronic notes tend to get shuffled around and lost in the midst of all other computer files/iPhone apps/etc.) Whether this is a list of scenes you need to finish, changes to make to a manuscript while editing, ideas you've had that you want to weave into the story, or a list of characters you need to focus on, keep it handy and check items off as you accomplish them.

4. Stick to a schedule. If you're lucky enough to have a lot of time on your hand, it still helps to be deliberate about your writing and schedule time for yourself to write. Schedule your time (it helps make good habits to stick to a schedule anyways) and keep track of the time you actually spend writing. It's amazing how much you can see your novel progressing when you keep track of the time you're spending on your manuscript and how many scenes you're getting through.

5. Make goals. It's hard to visualize how far you've gotten if you don't know where you began. It's hard to know where you need to get to today if you don't know how much work you need to do per day to meet a deadline. So keep your goals handy (like in a list, see #3) and check them off as you go. Don't be afraid to make large goals (e.g. getting published), but break those large goals down into small steps that you can accomplish daily. E.g. finish scene one, write query letter, write one hundred words, etc.

Now these tips work for me, but everyone is different and may find some of these don't work. It really all boils down to:

Know thyself. 

So experiment on what works for you and, when you find something that works, stick with it.