Writer's life Writing tips

How to Stay Focussed on Writing

I recently found out that concentration pills are a thing and it both intrigued and shocked me. Obviously, I am no stranger to vitamins and there are definitely legal and non-harmful options out there that can help you focus. But the ones I read about were of the illegal kind and are in popular demand with students, and possibly…writers? I mean, I certainly see the appeal since even a speck of dust can entrance me when I should be writing. Don’t worry, I don’t plan on taking anything. It did get me thinking on what I do when I need to remain focussed and what helps me stay productive. I may joke about having the concentration level of an electric eel on Twitter, but I do manage to complete the tasks I want to finish. Here are three tips to help you do the same.

Short bursts

Your brain can only concentrate for 25 consecutive minutes. I’ve noticed that myself when I do writing sprints. I lose focus after half an hour and can’t get anything coherent on paper. That’s when I need a short break, even if it’s just a stretch or grabbing something to drink. By writing 20 minutes and taking 10 minutes to do something else, you maintain focus. This means that you actually write those full twenty minutes and what you write isn’t complete gibberish either. At least, most of the time. Yesterday I worked in short bursts and for my break I did household chores. I was extremely productive that day. Household chores may not be the most fun, but folding laundry takes about ten minutes so it’s perfect for my break. Also, by repeating this cycle a few times, I had more than accomplished what I wanted to that day and was finished in the afternoon. The rest of the day I could do fun things, like dance strangely to Alice Merton in my living room, or debate the meaning of life with my two bunnies.

Make Lists

Whether these are actual lists (I do love me some old-fashioned paper) or apps, make a to-do list and tick off what you’ve done. If you have a big project, break it down. It’s a lot more satisfying to track your progress that way. For instance, instead of writing finish chapter one, you could write write 200 words a few times and tick it off as you get there. Or you can measure in sprints. If you’re planning on doing three bursts of twenty minutes you write the sprints on your to-do list and tick it off when you’re done. Voila. I don’t really do word count anymore, but instead measure in scenes or time. It doesn’t really matter. What works for you, works for you.

For apps, some people swear by Trello, but I personally don’t like the interface. It’s free, though, so check it out and see if you like it. Some people swear by it. I just curse by it. There is Google calendar that you can use for to-do stuff, and also Google Keep where you can make lists and keep track of important notes and reminders. A popular app is also Wunderlist. I’ve used it and it’s okay, but I love LOVE Google Keep. You can also add images and make it look all pretty. I love it. Did I mention I love it? I do. However, everybody is different, so just have fun with it and discover what works for you.

Also, if you don’t know what to put on your list, here are some fun suggestions.

Tip Three: Realistic Goals

When you want to be productive, there is nothing more debilitating than having a huge task ahead of you. At least, if you’re like me and don’t like pressure. It helps to break it down, like I said, but another thing to keep in mind is to have realistic goals. Make sure that you don’t push yourself too hard. You can’t expect to finish a first draft in four weeks when you know you have to work as well. If you’re just starting out as a writer, start slow and steady. Also try out different times in the day to see when you are most comfortable writing. Basically, again, find what works and then it will be a lot easier. In the beginning you might have to force yourself to sit down, but then it becomes a habit and it’s just easy. Again, it’s not about quality just yet, it’s about quantity and teaching yourself that when you sit down at your desk, you write. Reward yourself for achieving these goals as well! Whether it’s with a chocolate cake, snuggling with your pet turtle, or by watching an episode of the IT Crowd.

Combine these three tips and you’ll be an unstoppable force of nature. Except when you sleep. Then you’re just adorable. Have fun finding your groove and let me know if you have any additional tips.

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Morgan W. Silver

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