One of the biggest challenges I have as a writer these days is just staying on the beam.
For example, just now, rather than write that first sentence and move on to the next, I Googled ‘staying on the beam.’
I wanted to check—was it being used in this context by all sorts of writers and other procrastinators? Luckily, the top search finds for Google were gymnastics references. Had they been links to stories about procrastination, I possibly would have lost the morning curious as to what others had to say.
The ability to do spontaneous searches is a good thing. It can lead to better writing certainly and even add new dimensions to whatever it is you’re writing.
But at the same time, the only way you’re going to make any progress (and presumably money) is to stay focused and complete one writing project at a time.
Here are ten tips to make sure this happens:
- Don’t go online the minute you wake up. For writers, first morning thoughts are like farm fresh eggs. Before they are influenced by anything else, write them down.
- Don’t write while in your pajamas. One of the best-known writers in America, Gay Talese, dresses to write as if he were a banker or a lawyer. He wears a custom-made three-piece suit with a tie and even cufflinks to go to his office which is in the basement of his home.
- Take social media breaks but put a time limit on them. How often and how much time? You’re a grown-up, you can figure that out.
- Before starting any big writing project, make sure your refrigerator is stocked so you’ll have no reason to run out for lunch or snacks.
- Once you start writing, ignore e-mails, texts, phone calls and all other distractions until lunchtime when you can take a short break.
- And when we say break for lunch, that doesn’t mean prepare a four-course meal or try out a new recipe from Barefoot Contessa. A simple sandwich, salad or soup or some combination thereof should suffice.
- Once you’ve made some progress, give yourself a reward…maybe a cup of tea with honey or a quick read of that cover story of New York magazine.
- Try not to shut down for the day if you’re stuck. Hemingway would always end his writing session in the middle of a chapter. That way he could pick it up with a head of steam the next day.
- Sometimes a change of scenery can work wonders. There’s no law saying you can’t take a walk around the block to revive yourself.
- When you don’t seem to be making any progress, stop. Remember, writing requires intense concentration and your brain is like a muscle. It needs to relax now and then.
What tips do you have for staying focused? Share your advice!
Good advice, Susan……I confess to being very scattered most days, and have a difficult time ignoring the many interruptions that plague me, but I resolve to make a better effort to follow some of these tips (damn, no more four-course lunches? Sigh.). Hopefully rewarding my ‘progress’ will help!
Yes…the four-course lunches have to go! When I started writing years ago, I would have to get up from my chair and GO do something–laundry, watering plants…as a way of procrastinating. Today, one does not even have to leave his/her chair to go many places far away from the task at hand!
Excellent advice. I’ve been guilty of a lot of these. Going on to the computer first thing in the morning, not making time for social breaks and not ignoring emails, phone calls, social media updates. The one thing I do get right is I dress for writing as well. I don’t wear a suit, however, I do change out of my pj’s to look presentable.
You’re doing better than I am Deb – most days I just wear my comfy old sweats that I wouldn’t DREAM of being seen outside the house in. Not exactly ‘presentable’. Sigh.
BTW I love your new Gravatar! Such a great photo of you and Dave. :-)
They sound so simple and can be yet so challenging. They’re good reminders so thanks for sharing.
Do you know how I stay on the beam?
I walk; I go through my notes then take to the hills or lanes, anywhere I won’t be interrupted. It clears my thoughts; so much so that I can nearly always write ‘in my head’. When I get back I can’t wait to sit down and let my fingers get to work on those words.
Wonderful tip, Helen! I have to agree – nothing clears my head like a nice long walk….alone. :-)
Helen, I absolutely agree. You do clear your mind and then can start afresh when you sit down at the computer. Thank you.
I think most writers share characteristics of procrastination and distraction. It’s how our minds work, but it also makes for good writer when we can ‘stay on the beam’ (great metaphor by the way!) Once I actually get started, I write and write and write, but for me, getting started is the hardest part. If anyone’s interested, my travel blog is: thesunshinetraveller.com
As you can guess, I was surfing around trying to get inspiration from other writer/bloggers and avoid doing any of my own when I found your post! Being reminded that we all face this challenge and the list of temporarily forgotten rules for productivity were just what I needed. Thanks much for your timely advice. Back to work on my own website agelessglobetravels.com!