Distractions are everywhere. In this current day and age, it can be really hard sometimes to find a moment of quiet, a place to think clearly for more than ten seconds. You have a dozen distractions the minute you wake up in the morning. There’s your phone on the night stand. There’s the TV remote. There’s your stomach growling.
But where distractions really come in, maybe more so than in anything else I do throughout the day, is when I’m trying to write my fiction for the day.
I’ve seen it happen. It can be done. When I know the scene I’m going to write, and I push away all distractions — close the door, turn the phone off, disconnect the Wi-Fi, and so on — I can write 2,000 good words of fiction in about an hour. There. My work for the entire day. Completed early in the morning .Excellent.
Of course these days are few and far between. Maybe one day on each manuscript I write. One day in forty to fifty.
My typical writing day takes a lot longer. On average, three to four hours. Sometimes five. On rare occasions six or more. There was one day on my MFA thesis novel last summer where I sat down to write 2,000 words at 9am, and didn’t finish until 7pm. Ten hours, to write 2,000 words. It was so pathetic I almost cried.
Time passes, and after awhile, when you’re deep into revisions, you can never remember which scenes came easier during the drafting process and which didn’t. I’m working on the fourth draft of my thesis novel right now and I have no memory of the part that was so hard to write, and I have no memory of the chapters that came more easily. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter how long it takes you to get your words down on the page, but it will help you, considerably, if you can cut down on the distractions and write your words faster. It’s better for your health. It’s better for your state of mind. It is better, ultimately, for your novel.
So let’s look at the top three distractions we all have as fiction writers and figure out how to do away with them during writing time…
This first distraction may be one of personal preference, but over the years I have tried to write both ways, and I have come to find that writing by yourself, with nobody else around, is the best way to get your words down for the day. You have nobody before you distracting you, not at a library, or a coffeehouse, or a crowded park. Now, I’ll admit, one thing I occasionally like about writing in a public place is that you’re kind of forced to focus on your work. When you’re at a table at Starbucks, you’re not getting up every ten minutes to grab a snack. But you’ll probably have your phone on you, and there’s free Wi-Fi. If you can, try to write at home, in a private room, by yourself, with the door closed.
This one’s huge. I don’t know about you, but when I have my phone nearby, I check it constantly. I think most of us do. Five minutes pass, and it’s like a tic, I have to look, I have to see if there’s a new e-mail, or an alert, or something, anything, tell me I’m special, phone, tell me, tell me! The phone is the kiss of death to fiction writers. The only way to write good words each day is to immerse yourself in the world of your story, put yourself in the heads of your main characters. When you stop writing every five minutes to check your phone, the spell is broken. And when you return to your writing, it will take a few minutes, possibly longer, to get back under that spell, and find your groove again. Reward yourself by messing around on your phone AFTER you’ve written your goal amount of words for the day. Right before you start writing, check it if you need to. But then take the phone out of the room, put it somewhere far away, and then don’t retrieve it until you’re done writing.
This is the other killer. Oh my God, is it the worst. Sometimes you click over to the Internet innocently. You can’t think of a word. Or want to double check the definition of a word you just used in a sentence. You look up the word, and read about it, and then, without a moment’s hesitation, click on over to Youtube. There’s a funny cat video to watch. It’s only forty seconds, that’s nothing, so you take a look. Then you watch a second cat video, and a third. No biggie. Three minutes have been lost, who cares. But then you watch some more videos, and suddenly, in a blink, two hours have passed. What a waste. If there’s nothing else you get out of this article, it’s this: Turn. Off. The. Wi-Fi. Before. You. Start. Writing. And keep it turned off until you reach your words for the day. If you desperately need to look up a definition, put the sentence in bold and then come back to it later! The Internet is the absolute worst distraction for me when I’m trying to write, especially when I get stuck in a scene. It’s so easy. Watch some videos. Read some articles. Scroll the news feed on Facebook. It’s all so pointless, when what really matters is the writing of your fiction. Turn it off.
There are other distractions of course. Your stomach may rumble, so do have a few snacks on the desk. Sometimes I like to take a five-minute break once I hit the 1,000-word mark, but I still won’t put on a Youtube video. That five-minute break will turn into an hour before you know it, trust me.
At the end of the day, there will be distractions. There’s family, work, unexpected emergencies. The key is to eliminate as many distractions as possible during the time you choose to get your writing done.
And the rewards will follow.