What’s Your Go-to Trick for Starting a Deep-Focus Writing Session?

What do you do right before you need to focus?

I used to have a hard time focusing when working on a writing project.

For me, that meant that sitting down and starting something was a challenge, but not an overly tough one. Staying focused at the start — long enough to enter what’s often referred to as a “flow state” (when you kind of get sucked into what you’re doing and almost go on autopilot while your brain does all the work) — was often impossible.

The closer I got to being a full-time writer — actually making a liveable wage making words happen — the more I realized I needed to find a solution to this problem, or I was never going to survive the often overbearing demands of online content creation.

So I, sort of accidentally, came up with a solution that worked for me.

Three words:

Noise. Canceling. Headphones.

Okay technically that’s two hyphenated words plus one but WHATEVER.

It took me years — way too long — to discover that what helped me the most to focus and really get into what I was doing was to literally block out everything else around me, eliminate auditory distractions, and allow my mind to drift not away from what was in front of me, but instead toward and far into it.

Put simply: I need complete silence. Not all the time. But definitely when I need to deep-focus for even a short period of time (like when I need to write an article in an hour or less for work).

This is something I’ve figured out about me and my workflow. But I feel like I need to clarify that just because I made this personal discovery and it has worked for me does not mean it is the “right” or “best” way to do things. My way is my way. But it doesn’t have to be your way.

Some people need background noise. The various sounds floating around a coffee shop, perhaps; the TV; music, a podcaast, or maybe even a combination of more than one of these things.

Some people require different background noise — or none at all — depending on what they’re working on, where they are, or how they’re feeling. When I’m happy, sometimes I don’t mind listening to music while I write. When I’m frustrated, I need to dive deep into my focus cave until I’m finished dealing with whatever is on the top of my task list at the moment.

The point is, you have to do what works for you. And the only way to figure out what works for you is to try different strategies until you learn what works and give up on what does not.

So: How do you do it? How do you prepare yourself for a writing session that requires your full attention for either a short or longer period of time? Do you block out all noise? Turn up the music full volume? Five-second dance party? Tell me what you do. I’m curious!

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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10 thoughts on “What’s Your Go-to Trick for Starting a Deep-Focus Writing Session?

  1. It’s so important to find a strategy that works for you! Always writing at a specific time and playing rain sounds in the background always helps me get into a focused zone.

  2. My most creative time is early in the morning. The quietness, coffee, and candlelight sets up my mood to write. Sometimes I might play a certain song that associates with what I am writing about.

  3. Currently? I need to have cleared all my notifications… which is a bit of a problem. I can write to music — but only stuff I already know the words to and definitely without a plot. Musicals are right out. Editing? I need silence.

  4. My best thing is to go to a coffee shop. Or take a train journey. I am totally fine with being surrounded by noise if it’s in a public setting. And I manage to slip into deep, uninterrupted writing. When I’m at home I get so distracted by all the other things that need doing, like house work etc. x

  5. Hi Meg, Thank you for validating my feelings on requiring complete silence when writing or when I need to focus on projects. Not everyone “gets it” and interruptions will happen breaking the spell. Erica

    1. I don’t think you necessarily have to splurge for a high-quality product just to block out more sound. I think it’s possible to work with whatever you have — even good headphones that don’t block out all noise are still better than nothing haha. :)

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