Sunday, August 02, 2009

How To Stay Focused As a Writer

So I've been thinking about what takes me away from writing.

In the summer, it's summer things, and that's okay because I believe everyone needs a break to be filled up again. We need to have lives as well as writing lives. But in the fall, when I write, I sometimes get distracted or I find myself procrastinating, so I thinking about how I can do things different and the answer to the question, "How do I stay focused as a writer?"

1) Check email once a day, once every 2 days, or once a week if you can.

Email is one of the most distracting things ever invented. It can be it's own daily project. The biggest problem with email is that it makes everyone else's priorities your priorities. You take the focus away from what's important to you to what's important to someone else.

If you are an email nut, promise yourself you will only check it once a day. If you must check in more, check it first thing in the morning (but promise yourself this is only to see if you have any acceptances or interesting mail and not a time to respond to anyone, that you will do on *your* time, which you will schedule for it) and check it once before bed (this is a good time to schedule 30 minutes of responses.)

Also, someone told me if you cannot respond with less than 3-5 sentences, then call the person directly, it's faster.

2) Turn off your email sound alert or better, keep your email program closed.

I am like Pavlov's dog when I hear the bell go off. I stop what I'm doing and check to see what important news is being sent to me. Oh, someone just added me as a friend on Facebook. Someone wants me to buy herbal supplements. Great, I'm glad I stopped what I was doing to know that.

3) Set a scheduled time for you writing each week and stick to it.

During this time, you are not to a) surf the web b) check email c)"research" - aka surfing the web, browsing through book d) leave your seat at your computer to do any other tasks.

The more you set your mind to writing during the time you set to write, the easier it will be to get to work.

4) Read blogs, news, etc. AFTER you've already written.

The part of your brain that processes news and blogs is your left brain, the non-creative side. If you want to be inspired, read your favorite author before you write, not journalistic stuff. And with blogs, you never know what you'll get--sometimes it will inspire other times not, so just wait until you've done your writing to read them.

5) Turn off the phone, the TV, the radio, the family, or anything else that can distract you.

I know "turn off the family" how do you do that? Set limits. I remember reading that Lucille Clifton (I think it was her) told her kids not to disturb her when she was writing unless they were on fire.

No, it's not bad parenting to tell your kids that what you is important and you need time for it. It's being a good role model for them so they don't feel guilty for exploring their own passions. Especially girls. I definitely do not want my daughter to grow up to be someone like me who constantly feels guilty when I do something for myself that doesn't involve family. I don't always feel guilty, but enough to know I never want her to feel like this.

6) Set goals and keep them.

Maybe you need a goal buddy, but find a way to set goals for yourself--how many words/pages/poems you will write in a week, how many submissions you will send out, etc.--and hold yourself accountable. No one cares about your writing more than you do, so don't slack off. You owe it to yourself.

7) Realize you are a writer and have a writing life to keep up.

If you only talk about writing, you are not a writer. Writers write. If you want to have the title of "writer" you need to earn it. Write. Even if it's bad or you don't want someone to see it. You never know what you're going to get until you start. It's up to you. Write and go forth.



  1. I agree with all of this, but ESPECIALLY the email part.

    As a freelancer, I end up doing a lot of communication via email (in terms of receiving documents to edit, etc.), which means I have to check more than once a day. So I have two email accounts, and one is just for business. I check it regularly throughout the day, but NEVER during my creative time, and I only check my personal email once a day (and sometimes not at all on weekends).

  2. Ugh. This is me right down to staying off Facebook. Wish I could turn off my family!

    Lucille Clifton is definitely an inspiration to me. Whenever I don't think I can balance writing and family life, I think of her and just move forward.

    Thanks for your post. A good reminder to all who are experiencing the summer doldrums.

  3. All rational, thought-out idea. I wish I could follow them. :)

  4. Yes, yes. To all of it. I've been thinking how it's the kids being home that has slowed me down this summer, but, in truth, it's my own procrastination. For sure. However, it is hard to turn the kids off, and it is way easier to do fb w/background noise than it is to think about poetry, or, ack, write it!


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