One of the challenges of making the commitment to write every day—or adhering to a writing schedule—is being able to block out the world so you can focus on your work. I struggle with this continually. According to Stephen King in On Writing, it is important to be able to “shut the door” and not be distracted by what is going on around you as you write. King points out that we need have a space as writers so that we can write (although, on another note, he also states that art should be a supporting element of life, not the other way around).
It is important to be able to “shut the door,” but what if you don’t have an actual door to shut? What if you write in the midst of things and still need a way to focus without physically shutting a door? I have a few ideas that worked for me.
Let everyone in your life know that you are going to be unavailable for your writing time frame. Whether it is an hour, two hours, or a half day or whatever time frame you choose, letting people know that you are busy is the first step in creating expectations to not interrupt. People may still interrupt you, of course, but you can hardly expect them to know intuitively not to interrupt. Make it clear that you will be available to them, but only after the writing time is over. When they interrupt you, remind them that you are doing your work and you will be with them when you are done.
Loud music. I have mixed results with this method. While I love music and listen to it often (and often get inspired with new ideas when driving around in my car listening to my tunes), I find I have to choose just the right music if I really need to focus. I don’t want to end up singing along, which obviously interrupts my concentration. To avoid this, I have a few tricks. First, listening to classical music with earphones works very well (i.e.: YoYo Ma playing Bach on a loop is my favorite option) because it energizes without distracting. Another method is choosing a song or set of songs that has the same vibe as whatever I am writing and then play that song (or those songs) on a loop, over and over again, so the music becomes background noise. I find the loop idea works better than a fresh new song every time (because then my brain stops writing and has to ponder, “Oh, I haven’t heard this one in awhile…..” and bam, I am out of my fictive dream).
White noise. I have downloaded and used several white noise apps and those work really well instead of music at times. Sometimes, having a recording of rain on a tin roof is just what you need, so it’s worth it to play around with white noise.
Noise-canceling earphones work well (or so I’ve heard). Some people prefer to work in perfect silence. I am not one of those people, but if I were, I’d get some noise-canceling headphones. I love technology.
Have a back up writing location. Things super crazy at your house? Everyone calling and asking you things? Just can’t get away to write? This is when I sneak off to a coffee shop, order a beverage, and plug in the earphones. It helps to know the local coffee houses ahead of time so you know which ones get busy, which ones are noisy, and which ones no one knows about (and go to those). I once got completely derailed when every shop I went to within a five-mile radius of my house was packed full of people. I might as well have stayed at home. Come to think of it, the local library would also work well for this, or a quiet restaurant. The important thing is that you have a place you can go to that will keep you focused. Oh, and leave your cell phone on silent when you go so you won’t be electronically interrupted.
These are just some of the ideas I have to create my own writing space in my mind, if not physically. If we want to be committed writers, we have to have plans and when things get busy, be able to adjust accordingly. Am I missing any other ideas? Let me know!