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Self-Discipline for the Distracted Writer
Recently, I wrote here on Pub(lishing) Crawl about persistence and the importance of not giving up on your writing. If you've been a longtime reader of this blog and its predecessor, Let the Words Flow, you know that Susan Dennard has written several great posts about her BICHOK approach to getting work done. (BICHOK = Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard.)
But what if you are being persistent and your butt is in the chair, and still you aren’t making progress with your manuscript?
Consider this scenario: You reserve a block of two hours to write, and you are at your desk right on time. You open the file. You stay at that keyboard for the full two hours, and when your time runs out, you find you have only a paragraph or two to show for the time you spent.
I hate to say this, because we writers like to think of our spirits soaring free and the muse carrying us along. However, if you’re in that chair and nothing new is showing up on the screen, you may have to work on your self-discipline.
All writers know about the hazards of the shiny internet with all of its pretty windows. Who wouldn’t be distracted by the alluring birdsong of Twitter? And we all must check our phones every ten minutes or so. How else will we know how much time is left in the two hours we’ve dedicated to writing?
All joking aside, distraction is a major hindrance to your writing success. Limiting distraction can be a very daunting task, but if you’re serious about completing your manuscript, you will step up to the challenge.
Here are three suggestions to help you focus:
Set a timer. A timer forces you to start, and starting is often the biggest obstacle. Personally, once I start, I have a hard time stopping. A timer forces you to start immediately.
You can use a kitchen timer. (Mine goes up to 60 minutes and rings a loud bell when the time is up.) You can use the timer on your microwave if you’re near the kitchen. Your cell phone has an alarm. The key is to set a timer for a specific amount of time – even as little as 15 minutes – and do nothing but work on that draft from the first minute to the last. If you’re like me, you may find that once you start, just stopping long enough to turn off the alarm is a nuisance.
Disconnect the internet. I find that when I sit down to write, the first thing I do is check my email. Then I check Google News. After all, those things are important, right? Of course they have importance, but they should not be allowed to intrude on my writing time. To help me stay away from that “quick peek” at Twitter that becomes an hour, I unplug the power from the back of the wireless router. Then I sit downstairs so reconnecting it will require a trudge back up the steps. Of course, if other people are using the internet in your house, you may be forced to simply turn off the connection for your own laptop. There are also programs online, such as Freedom, that will “lock” you out of the internet for a pre-set period of time. (Interestingly, most of the endorsements on Freedom’s website are from authors!)
Plan a “Power Hour” with a writer friend. Agree on a start time when you will both begin writing. At the appointed time, both of you (or all of you if you include several friends) begin to work. At the end of the hour you can take a break and get in touch to compare accomplishments. (Another version of this is the “Word War,” where the object is to rack up the highest word count in a given period of time. These are popular during NaNoWriMo. Click here to read about a Word War that was live blogged on Let The Words Flow last November.)
These are just three ideas, but they can make a huge difference in your productivity. I’ve tried them all and regularly fall back on the timer method to get myself locked in and focused.
Of course, there are many other ways to improve your focus and self discipline. What works for you? Please share your thoughts in the comments!