Image courtesy of Maggie Smith / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
As a former business student I have always been encouraged to take on as many tasks at the same time as possible. It was called multitasking, a valuable skill to list on a resume when applying for jobs right out of college. The ability to talk on the phone, while crunching numbers in an Excel sheet, while typing an email, while researching on the internet, while twirling your pen, while constructing the perfectly shaped paper plane was applauded and recognized throughout my business training and career.
Then I started writing.
The first legitimate story I ever wrote was a short 500 word children’s story assigned in a writing class I was taking at the time. Needless to say it took me about a month to complete and my teacher’s critiques were far from what I expected. I figured out an important lesson, that every writer figures out very quickly, it takes forever to write.
In business school we were able to put together a credible presentation within a couple hours along with a paper that might take a couple of days depending on how many people were working on it. Bing. Bang. Hand it in and hope for a good grade.
With writing things were different. I learned that distractions and multitasking often led to a very slow work process. Half the time I would end up with a pile of garbage that I didn’t even want to read. I found that writing required an insatiable amount of focus and willpower. I discovered a handful of things during my early days of writing that need to be put into place in order for my writing to have any impact on the world.
- A schedule is an absolute must – My Google Calendar is my bible now and even the small things, like dinner or going out with friends on a Friday should always make it onto the calendar.
- Writing blasts – This is something I took from my old football strength and conditioning coach. We would do short 20 second, high-intensity workouts and then take short breaks, instead of trying to run a marathon everyday. Why not apply this to writing? Block out all distractions, no matter what they are for 10 or 15 minutes a day, then take a break to watch your favorite TV show, hang with the family or read a book.
- Rewards are the best – This ties into the writing blasts, but one of my favorite leisure activities is to plop down on my Lazy-Boy, crack open a beer and watch sitcoms. The only way this happens is if I type for at least a half hour everyday. Once this is complete I am free to reward myself however I please.
- Block out all computer distractions – I’m a sucker for Facebook, a sucker for checking my emails, a sucker for reading other blogs and a sucker for just about every other random thing you can do on the internet. If this sounds like you, checkout ZenWriter. Like bug spray, it’s a repellent and not a deterrent, but I was amazed at the software’s ability to shut out all my usual computer distractions and allow me to focus on writing. Not to mention Zenwriter has some very calming music. My favorite part is still the sound of typewriter keys as you type (it makes me feel like I am sitting in a forest constructing a masterpiece.)
- Children distracting you? – I do not have children myself, but I asked my sister Megan what allows her to focus on her writing (as well as grading papers for her English class). She explained to me that a surprise book or toy usually keeps her kids at bay for a little while. She of course does not want to spoil her kids with presents everyday, so she uses a combination of these tactics: sending them off to play with friends, setting up a home office and the kids know when the door is closed they should not come in, her husband, parents, brothers (me) and sisters taking care of the kids for a while, and the occasional writing through the chaos no matter what is going on. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how you parents do it, but I respect you and will never claim to know the solution to writing with children.
I’ll tell you one thing, writing is tough with all the distractions of today’s world. Although business school had it’s all-nighters and caffeine fueled weeks, writing requires a form of self-discipline that no school can teach. Do I slip up quite a bit? Yes. Is this the perfect plan for eliminating all distractions? No. But is there ever going to be NO distractions? No. Try some of these techniques out and let me know if you have any to contribute.
See ya next time…