Here are some of my favorite techniques for staying focused.
1. Avoid Multitasking
Multitasking keeps your brain from falling into and staying in "the zone." Travis Bach, from the fantastic writing blog "Pretentious Title," explains why multitasking is the enemy of creativity. He did such a great job that I will just refer you to his article and let him explain it: The Science of Protecting Your Creativity.
2. Don't Self-Edit (At least not during NaNoWriMo)
This one is a bit of a no-brainer. If you are too busy thinking about, reconsidering, and changing what you have already written, you are not making any progress toward writing anything new. We call the critical part of your brain the "Inner Editor," and while he is one of the most essential elements in writing a good story, he must be banished for the duration of NaNoWriMo if you are to have any hope of writing 50,000 words in one month.
3. Finish Other Commitments First
I am a problem-solver. I am happiest when I can figure out new, brilliant ways to solve whatever dilemma I happen to be facing. I love plot holes because the elation that comes from finding creative solutions to them is one of the best parts of writing for me. However, there is a dark side to this focus on solving problems. If I spend my writing time thinking about the things I need to do later, I will not be nearly as productive with the task at hand: writing. If I save writing for last, there won't be anything else to demand my time.
4. Alternatively, Make Writing Your First Activity
Contrary to the above, sometimes you are just too tired at the end of the day to write well. Writing early in the morning, before you do anything else, can help take advantage of the early morning energy. Especially if you are a morning person, writing early can help infuse you with enthusiasm and productivity.
5. Write In a Place With Few Interesting Things
My "cove" as I call it, even though it is my favorite place to work, is actually terrible for me. I have a comfy recliner under my bunk bed, beside me are several shelves full of books and items important to me, and just ahead I have a wall covered in interesting pictures and certificates. If I run into a place where I am struggling a little with my story, my eyes automatically wander, lingering on the other things in my room. If I were in a more boring place, I would be forced to keep focused on my story since there wouldn't be anything else of value to do.
6. Tune Out Unpredictable Noise
I love silence. I work best in silence. When there is silence, I can clearly hear the thoughts that constantly occupy my head. Unfortunately, it isn't always possible to achieve perfect silence. Maybe you have noisy family members, write in a location that is busy (a library, a coffee shop, your workplace, etc.), or have other noise-related distractions nearby. If silence is impossible, I go for the second best: familiar instrumental music. If I know the songs well, it is easy to dismiss them as white noise, and there aren't any words to usurp the ones that flow from my head to the paper.
7. Take Breaks
This one seems counter-intuitive, but it is actually very effective. I am the kind of person who likes to work, work, work until I have finished whatever I am working on. I start schoolwork in the morning and work until dinnertime, when my mom forces me to come out. (Or at least I used to.) This works for a while, but the truth is it leads to burnout. Oftentimes, it is best to schedule times to relax and let your brain rest.
8. Avoid People Who Care About You
I added this one because as I write this post, I have been interrupted by my sister needing my help, my dad talking to me about whatever is interesting to him at the moment, and my mom asking what I am writing about and wondering why it isn't my novel (since it is, after all, National Novel Writing Month). This is my fault for sitting in the living room to work, but it illustrates an important point: if you are around people who care about you, they will naturally find it difficult to completely ignore you and leave you time to write. Remember the old maxim: "Out of sight, out of mind." Put yourself out of sight if you value your productivity.
9. Turn Off the Internet
Probably the biggest, most insidious source of distraction is the internet. There are so many excuses to go there, and the most dangerous one for me is "research." I just want to look up some historical detail, and suddenly I have burned two hours reading about something completely irrelevant to the story. Social media is a dangerous trap for many people. One of the biggest problems for me is also what makes NaNoWriMo so great. The forums, where thousands of people commiserate about NaNo's difficulties, discuss writing, and encourage each other, are so fun to read through that it is easy to forget about actually doing what you are supposed to do: write 50,000 words. If you choose just one suggestion from this list, I would say pick this one. Disabling your access to the internet will make you a much faster writer.
So there you go! Some of my favorite ways to fight distraction and keep writing. What are some of your favorite ways to stay focused? Which suggestions on this list would be most effective for you? I would love to hear your opinion!
Thanks so much for reading! This month, I am buried in the depths of NaNoWriMo. If you would like to check out any of the other posts in this NaNo-related series, here they are!
NaNo Prep: Character Resources
NaNo Prep: Setting Resources
NaNo Prep: Plot Resources
NaNo Tips: Give Your Story a Chance
NaNo Tips: What Helps You Focus?
NaNo Tips: My NaNo Journey