How to keep focus while you write

One of the biggest challenges writers face these days is keeping focus on their writing. The world’s full of distractions. None of it is helped by the fact that these days we’re conditioned to have an attention span of around – OOOH, POSSUM! – fifteen seconds.

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That’s one of the down-sides of the internet where, according to the figures I’ve seen, the average user flips between media around 27 times an hour. That’s a little over two minutes per interaction – Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, YouTube, Instagram, texting, messages and so on. We are conditioned to have an endless hunger for new, an endless quest for instant gratification.  All of it shallow, transient and brief.

It’s not limited to the web either. TV scripting usually demands an ‘action moment’ every eight seconds or so – a hook – as a device for capturing channel surfers. That’s had its impact on the pace and rhythm of the stories. We live in a world where instant fun, instant gratification and constant novelty is expected, where any one thing can capture us for seconds or at best a couple of minutes at a time. That stands in diametric opposition to the sustained single-thread concentration demanded of reading – and, more especially, of writing. But that conditioning is insidious, especially because we usually write on the very same tool we use to get that massive wealth of content flowing past us.

So how do we get around it?

There’s only one answer. Switch off the internet. Turn off your phone. Take yourself away from screens, except the one you’re working on. Or switch off the computer altogether, sit down with pen and paper, and get going for a solid planning session as a first step to writing.

Most of us have to wedge writing in around other things, and that can be turned to an advantage too. If you schedule your writing time – even a thirty-minute burst – it can sometimes be possible to also orchestrate it so there are no interruptions. The very best writers do it. Jonathan Franzen apparently writes on a laptop disconnected from the internet, sitting in a room facing a blank wall. No distractions; just the inner voice.

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If you want to learn more about writing and some cool techniques for turning those perfect ideas in your head into the written word, check out my short book How to get writing… fast. Available on Kindle.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2016


6 thoughts on “How to keep focus while you write

  1. Thanks for this post Matthew. I’ve done some of these and they really do help. Turning off the internet has proved very productive – my kids hate it though. 😉

    1. Yes, the internet is such a distraction! I keep it on when I’m writing because even with fiction I usually need to look something up or fact-check, and it’s such a handy tool. I have to keep reminding myself not to get sidetracked…

  2. Most of us will probably say we can’t disconnect because we need the internet handy all the time for fact checking, word definitions, synonyms, etc. The thing to do is to keep on writing, making notes about things that need to be checked. You can do that right in your document, in all caps, or inserting a comment.
    Using a computer not connected to the internet is a good idea, or — my favourite — writing your first draft by hand, on paper with a pen (or pencil, but I wouldn’t recommend that). It’s hard to go back and read over what you’ve written so far, so you just have to power forward.

    1. Yes, I keep the internet running because even in fiction the fact-checking is essential. Writing a draft with pen and paper is a great way to re-frame thinking. I always plan my material that way.

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