Thursday, November 17, 2016

NaNo Tips: What Helps You Focus? (Hannah)

We're halfway through the month of November, when most people start to slow down and face difficulty in the challenge known as NaNoWriMo.  After working diligently for the first part of the month, the self-discipline and excitement are wearing thin.  This is when distractions are most powerful.  How do you fight through the distractions to stay "in the zone?"

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!

~ Hannah


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!

NaNoWriMo: Write with Abandon!

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


  1. Oh, I can relate to this right now. The first week and a half of NaNo, I was at the top of my game and ahead of par. Now, family is visiting, it's concert week for our choir, and I'm behind in school. Writing has to be squeezed in, and I'm below par for the first time this month. But I am determined to push through!

    "I love plot holes"- that's the most surprising sentence I've read in a while. Your description of the distractions while writing the post was humorous and relatable. Keep up the good work!


    1. Yes, I know the feeling. You start so strong and then wilt away. Life gets in the way, and suddenly you're thousands of words behind.

      I'm glad you liked the post! Thanks for commenting!

  2. I share your frustration with internet traps. I sit down at the computer to accomplish a task . . . see a message or interesting article . . . and I'm off to pursue a totally different mission than intended. I go away from the computer, then again remember I needed to accomplish the original task, and bingo, a new message, a curious lead line, etc. and I'm off again to waste more time. November is indeed a hard month to write, considering holidays and pre-holidays preparations, so the ability to hide from well-meaning loved ones becomes even more difficult. One thing that helped me . . . I often forced myself out of bed and delved into a writing project at 3:00 a.m., and it seemed to be the only way to escape the pitfalls of interruption. However, I never succeeded in escaping my cat that refused to respect my writing time no matter the hour! Good luck, and thanks for sharing your great tips.

    1. The Internet is definitely the worst for me. I can definitely see you getting up that early to write... Normally, I just stay up really late. It accomplishes the same goal most of the time. :) My cat is rather disrespectful as well. He thinks whenever I sit in my working chair, it means he can come sit on me and demand all the attention he wants. It makes it difficult to work, but I love hearing him purring as he sits so sweetly on my lap.


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