In last week’s article we had a general look at distractions, where they are coming from and how to handle them. Today I want to have a more detailed look at ten specific sources of distraction and how to handle them.
Photo Credit: Justin Ladia
The world around you
Things happening around you and people can be rich sources of distraction. What I am talking about are family, friends, neighbors or other people as well as things you can’t do anything about. This can for example be things like repairs on your apartment building.
It is important to take the right remedies here. When it comes to friends and family, you simply have to talk to them and make it clear to them that they cannot interrupt you when you are working on your writing. When it comes to other people or neighbors, try to write at times when the chances of being interrupted are least possible.
As for other distractions you can’t influence, you either have to learn how to ignore them or wait till they are gone. If there are repair works outside during the day, write in the evening. You can also give earplugs a try.
We all have chores we have to do. Doing the dishes, bringing out the trash and cleaning the bathroom are just some examples.
What can happen is that right when we want to start writing, we suddenly remember that we still have to bring out the trash and there is no other way but to do it right now. It can go as far, as that we remember another item on our list of chores, every single time we sit down. Once we know it, we can’t focus on our writing at all.
If you get distracted by your chores a lot, you have to take care of them before you start writing. Instead of pushing quick tasks, like doing the dishes, off further, do them before you sit down. If necessary clean or vacuum rooms as well. Make sure though that you don’t just push your writing off.
The internet and technology
These are some of the prime sources of distraction in our time. We are constantly available and online to people.
Our phones can ring at any point in time and text-messages, phone calls or things like WhatsApp can distract us. The problems with the internet are even bigger. It is not just instant messages, emails or notifications that are dangerous, but simply being connected can be a major source of distraction.
You might suddenly be unsure if you picked the right word. Instead of going on and continuing to write, you just have to make sure you picked the right word and have to check it online. If this happens only once or twice it is fine, but once you do it every other sentence, you can’t hope to get any real writing done.
What can also happen is that your thoughts drift away to other things and questions and you just have to look them up. Google is just a few clicks away anyways.
When it comes to the phone the simplest solution is to either turn it off completely or to mute it for the duration of your writing. If you have to be available for specific people, there are solutions to mute all but specific numbers.
The same is true for the internet. When you write on a computer it should not be connected to the internet.
Writing software like Microsoft Word can also be a source of distraction.
They come with all sorts of menus and formatting options and it can on one hand be very distracting to constantly see all those options at the top of your screen. Another problem is that these options can also help you give into procrastination. Instead of starting to write, you first have to choose the right font, the right font size, the right page format, the right size for the title and so on.
What I find more annoying is the automatic grammar and spelling checking as well as fixing certain errors automatically, especially when writing first drafts. The red lines under misspelled words will constantly distract you and give you the urge to go back and correct them. Automatic corrections can simply break your concentration for a while.
Now I know you can turn most of these things off and there is most likely a way to hide certain if not all menus, but I still find it annoying.
The best solution is in my opinion to use distraction free writing software. I can highly recommend WriteMonkey.
You should make sure that your workplace or writing area is free from all sorts of distractions and keep it as orderly as possible. If you have all sorts of things next to you when you are writing your attention might turn to them. When you don’t come up with ideas, you might start to go through stacks of papers, check letters, skim through today’s newspaper or whatever else is laying around.
You should always aim for a writing area that is completely free of anything you don’t need for your writing. Only the things you really need should be there. That is either your computer or a notebook and pen.
What I am talking about here are expensive notebooks or pens, but also delicate furniture or additions to your writing area such as pictures of your favorite writers or bookshelves. You should say no to all of these things.
If you get a notebook it should be a cheap one. The only reason to get a notebook should be to note down everything that comes to your mind. If you get an expensive, beautiful notebook, you might think twice about writing something into it. An expensive pen too can make you write slower or more carefully for example.
Expensive furniture can make you concentrate more on not damaging it, then on your writing. We talked about having additional things in your writing area before, and I am going to say the same thing here. The less there is are around, the less you are going to be distracted.
It can be great when you feel more at home or motivated with books around you for example, but it is no use if you spend most of your time reading, instead of writing.
Distraction by illness can happen both, consciously and unconsciously.
The unconscious happens when people don’t feel well and are troubled by the thought of some serious illness. Instead of writing they are preoccupied by these worries. The simplest remedy here is to go to a doctor and have yourself checked out.
The conscious form is people making up or faking an illness, so they don’t have to do their work. They cough once and then tell themselves that they are sick and instead of writing they should rest for the day. You should make it a rule that you always write except when you are too sick to get out of bed or have to go to the hospital.
Causing trouble with other people can be a conscious or an unconscious decision as well.
We all remember the days at school when we annoyed the person sitting next to us or the teacher to distract ourselves from class.
It is not so different for some adults. Let’s have an example:
Instead of simply starting to write, you lie to yourself that you can only write well, when you put on loud music. You know it will most likely cause trouble with the neighbors but you do it anyways. After some time the doorbell rings and your neighbor asks you to turn the music down. Now you either do it or you don’t, simply to cause even more trouble. Whatever happens, you are now too mad at your neighbor, to simply keep writing. Who does he think he is?
It is a way of tricking ourselves, so we don’t have to do certain things. It sounds weird, but it is not uncommon. If you notice that you often have trouble with other people or family when you are trying to write, find out if it is you yourself who causes it.
Sex and instant gratification
Sex is one of the most powerful distractions. We can turn down many things easily, but with sex it is a little harder. The biggest problem is that it gives us instant gratification.
Finishing our daily writing gives us a feeling of gratification and we are proud of ourselves. The thing is though, that with sex we get this same sort of gratification instantly. It can go as far being content with ourselves and feeling validated enough for the day, so all thoughts of writing are gone.
The same principle is true for all other forms of instant gratification: gossip, food, drinks, masturbation, smoking, television, etc.
If you indulge in these without a good reason or feeling anything about it, you are most likely doing it to distract yourself from other things that are more important.
They are another way to get instant gratification but I felt it necessary to mention them separately. The biggest problem is that they not only distract you, but relying on them for distraction can cause you to build up an addiction.
You might tell yourself every once in a while, that a beer before you start writing is a nice way to loosen up a little. In reality you are just pushing your writing off. Soon enough though this beer might become a daily habit and after some time it might already be at two beers.
Rewarding yourself after writing and drinking the occasional beer after you finish a piece is fine, but it should never become a daily norm and never be done simply to distract yourself.
The same holds true for any sorts of other substances.
These are in my opinion the most common sources of distraction. If you notice that you are having problems with one or more of them, make sure you follow the recommended remedies to handle them and write freely and unrestrained.