Here’s What I Do When I Can’t Focus But Need to Write Anyway

Focusing is hard. That’s normal. Maybe.

Some things have happened in my personal life recently that have made focusing on my day-to-day work very … challenging.

It’s all good things. I just haven’t been able to overcome my distractions lately as easily as I usually do.

But it’s not like this hasn’t happened before. I used to struggle with focusing on a daily basis. But then I got a home office separate from my bedroom, and life improved tremendously.

But location doesn’t matter much — you might have a chair, a specific corner or place where you write best. That’s your writing space. It calls to you. Or, some days, you have to drag yourself toward it and force yourself to stay there until your work gets done.

When I’m having an atrocious focus day and can’t afford to do less work, I shut out as many distractions as I can. I give the dog a bone, put my phone on do not disturb mode, put on my noise-canceling headphones, turn on instrumental music if I’m in the mood (sometimes I need total silence), and turn on Cold Turkey (which blocks specific preset websites like Facebook and BuzzFeed) if I’m really having a tough day.

And then … I write.

I know it doesn’t seem like it’s that simple, to just put your hands on the keyboard and make words happen. But you know, it’s funny … when you block out everything else around you, suddenly, writing isn’t actually as difficult to dive into as you thought.

And in those moments I can’t block everything out like that? I just do my best. I accept that some things are just going to take longer. That I’m going to have to take some breaks when I don’t want to and might waste some time even when I have it to myself.

In reality, you’re going to have good writing days when you’re hyperfocused and (almost) everything gets done. And you’re going to have unfocused writing days when you can’t stare at one screen for more than 15 seconds and nothing makes sense and you’d rather just not do anything at all.

When you accept the life of a writer, you take in the good and the bad. The easy and the challenging. The productive days and the days that seem wasted. There are no absolutes here. There is only balance.

If you can block out your distractions — yes, even the ones in your mind (that’s up to you) — do it. If you can’t, take your time. Some days, what matters most is that the work gets done and it gets done well. No matter how long it takes.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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6 thoughts on “Here’s What I Do When I Can’t Focus But Need to Write Anyway

  1. Some days are definitely better than others, that’s for sure.

    A technique I’m playing with now, in keeping forward progress, is to take a day (or maybe a week) away from my novel and freeing my mind to dabble in a short story here and there. And let’s not forget a day or two in the week for our blogs.

    It may sound counter productive, but I’m finding the added range of writing revives my imagination and allows me to use different writing styles…even learn new ones I didn’t feel I was very good at, so I avoided them. (In my case, blogging…I’ve only just started, and so far it isn’t as frightening as I thought it was going to be.)

    Thank you for reassurance, there are bad day and good days.

    1. That’s actually a technique I want to try using and possibly recommend to others in the future. It’s easy to think that working on something else is somehow cheating or wasting time, but in working on something else and then coming back, you return with a fresh perspective and maybe even added motivation to continue. Sometimes, honestly, you get kind of sick of your WIP and need a break. And that’s OK!

  2. It’s all about the long haul. Some days will be bad, but eventually there comes a day where things just flow, and part of you wishes every day could be like this, but that is out of our hands. What we can do is take that day and run with it, and look back and see how things did end up balancing out, eventually.

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