by Kacey Heinlein
The distractions available to us in the Information Age are practically limitless. Research can turn into hours of aimless Internet browsing. A break can become a conversation that yanks you out of your working zone. Writers simply cannot substitute time spent writing with something else, so losing sustained attention is a big problem.
Do you have a research paper staring you down or a personal writing goal you’re afraid you can’t achieve? Resolving to work harder isn’t enough. Here are five ways you can improve your ability to focus on writing.
Have clear goals
How can you focus if you don’t know what you want to accomplish? Make your goals clear, specific, and attainable. “I want to finish my book” gives you no direction. “I plan to finish my novel draft in two months” is better. “I will write 500 words a day until I finish my novel” may be best. The point is to have a clear objective in mind when you sit down to write so that you have something to focus on.
“I want to have 15 pages done by the end of the week,” is good, but if you don’t plan time to get those pages done, you may be caught floundering on Friday and miss your goal. Plan what days and times you’ll work on those pages. If you have multiple projects to work on in a single block of time, break that block up and decide how long you’ll spend just writing. Again, being specific is key.
Sit in the chair
This is the moment. Are you ready? Of course you are. You have goals, you have the time, and you have the workspace―right? If not, pick a spot. Some people like working in coffee shops. Others have their own personal writing cave at their desk. Find what works for you. Have a water bottle, snacks, or references handy if you need them, but nothing you’ll find distracting. Don’t give yourself excuses to get up.
Take breaks – intentionally
Typing and staring at a screen for hours can take their toll. It’s important to take breaks for your health and simply to refresh your mind. The important part is that you decide to take a break and when you’ll get back to work. Don’t get on Twitter every few minutes while you’re working, but maybe try a 10-minute break every 45 minutes before jumping back in.
Sure, we all mess up. So you got pulled away from the screen and lost an hour that was supposed to be work time. Is that reason to wallow in failure? Never. The important thing is that you start again and again until you’re used to staying on the wagon.
Like anything worth doing well, focused writing takes practice. In time, practice becomes habit. You may have a long way to go, but the important thing is to take the first step.
Are you ready to focus?