Today’s guest post is by Rosie O’Neill.
Focus is the thing that makes a writing session fly by in a burst of creative energy, the words flowing and effortless as we get lost in our manuscripts. It’s not something we can turn on and off like a tap, however, and it reacts to all sorts of different personal and environmental circumstances. We focus better, for example, if we’re well rested and don’t have anything pressing to do elsewhere.
Finding our focus ahead of a writing session can be a powerful tool to master as a writer. After all, we can’t always wait for the muse to strike before we sit down to work—it’s just too unpredictable to offer consistent progress. If the muse does exist, it has to find us already working— which means we need to take back control over our own focus.
This mind-set isn’t an easy one to master. With so many things threatening to distract us from our writing, especially if we’re unpublished or working a day job alongside, it can be genuinely hard to make this important creative work a real priority.
Here are some of my favorite tricks to boost your focus ahead of a writing session.
Get out in the fresh air.
There really is nothing like getting out for a walk to leave you feeling refreshed and ready to write. A blast of fresh air combined with some light movement is the perfect antidote to too many hours sitting and wrestling with your word count. As an added bonus, letting your mind wander and drift as you walk can be brilliant for untangling plot holes—your subconscious can do all the heavy lifting for you!
Of course, moving around in the fresh air has plenty of other benefits, contributing to better sleep quality and improved energy levels, too—which certainly can’t hurt when it comes to getting down to a writing session.
It doesn’t have to be a long countryside walk, either. Open up your windows, put your favorite upbeat song on, and have a silly dance around for five minutes.
Set up your environment for focus.
Paying attention to your environment can make a huge difference to your focus. Think back to the last time you were distracted when you were trying to write. Maybe the TV was on in the background, or maybe you kept being interrupted by family members or phone notifications?
First, think a little about the privacy of your writing space. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a separate room with a closed door (though it can be!); many of us find it easier to concentrate in a busy cafe environment, where the background noise can fade into a soothing blur. The key thing is to consider interruptions. Wherever you choose to write, your environment needs to be somewhere you can tune out the interactions of other people and get lost in your own words.
Sound can have a big impact on this. Lots of us like to write in silence (some good headphones can help with this for writers who want flexibility with their location), while others have music, radio, or even white noise preferences.
Finally, consider those extra little distractions. Putting your phone out of reach and out of sight for the duration of your writing session will help limit those habit-based scrolling black holes. You can also try out internet blockers on your computer to temporarily cut you off from emails, social media, or whatever sites that typically distract you.
Get into a single-tasking mind-set.
Multitasking is terrible for your focus and makes for a really unproductive writing session. Before you start writing, try making a list of all the other little things that are on your mind, whether in the form of a journal entry or a giant to-do list. Transfer the particularly urgent things onto one or two sticky notes.
You can then either leave them to one side while you work—safe in the knowledge that you won’t forget about them—or simply get on with them and get them out of the way before you even begin to write. This is really helpful for boosting focus in a writing session because it means you won’t need to feel pulled away from your desk by anything, and you have no excuse to procrastinate by sneaking in a few tasks mid-chapter.
Another trick you can use to help with single-tasking is setting a timer. Choose an amount of time that seems short enough not to be daunting (around twenty minutes is usually enough) and give yourself the task of writing for that long, with no breaks or interruptions. Even the most unfocused writer will probably find that if they can just settle down for twenty minutes of writing, focusing becomes much easier and the words soon start flowing.
Ultimately, getting focused with our writing and making progress on those important projects and manuscripts often comes down to making it a true, urgent priority in our lives. Putting writing front and center and weaving in those other commitments and distractions around the outside can be a difficult mind-set shift, but if you really want to write that book, you’ll find a way.
Rosie O’Neill writes contemporary fantasy for young adults who like untraditional love stories and unlikely heroes. She’s also a book coach and writing mentor who helps writers find the magic in their manuscripts and get their books finished. Read her blog, download her free workbook with resources for building a more joyful writing habit, or connect with her on Instagram.