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How to stay creative in an age of distraction

I love owning my own home-based business. I sleep until I’m done (mostly) and schedule my day any way I want. Can I take a day off to go shopping in my favorite little artist-colony town? You bet. Can I spend the middle of my day visiting with a friend? No problem.

What I find most difficult, believe it or not, is scheduling time to write. In my business, I get e-mails and phone calls on a daily basis that I need to respond to. Often, when I’m writing, I may hear the phone ring or see an e-mail has landed, and I’ll be tempted to answer it because it will “just take a minute.” Or, I may think it’s better to answer it now then have to return the call or email later.

This is a pitfall that I’m learning to avoid. It’s my big danger zone. Another danger zone is the whole social media distraction. You know: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. One second spent to check Facebook and twenty minutes later…you know the drill.

In Adam Popescu’s post “How Neil Gaiman Stays Creative in an Age of Constant Distraction,” Gaiman reveals that he sometimes uses social media like Twitter for a short break from writing.

He might answer some questions, retweet, or chat with fans. He says this back and forth with fans has helped shape and influence his writing. And sometimes he even gets great ideas from the social media site—like creating a toy based on a character from his book Chu’s Day.

So, how does Gaiman keep from getting sucked down the rabbit hole of social media? He says he knows that “those 2 million followers are not going to do anything to get my stories written for me.”

“It doesn’t matter what social media you’re plugged into, or what’s going on,” counters Neil Gaiman. “At the end of the day, it’s still always going to be you and a blank sheet of paper, or you and a blank screen. My process as a creator is always the same. You write the thing you want to read. And you go on from there.” Read the rest of the article to glean more insights into the author’s writing process.

Below are some tips I’ve compiled for avoiding distractions. Many of these are basic but still good reminders.

  1. Tune out the telephone. During my sacred writing time, I put my phones (land lines and cell phone) in another room…far enough away so I can’t hear them ring.
  2. Turn off my Internet connection. If I want my online dictionary available, I shut down all web pages except that one so I won’t be tempted to jump over to check on my emails.
  3. Set a timer. Often, I set a timer for 50 to 60 minutes and I don’t let myself get up or be distracted until the timer goes off. Then, if I want to take a break to do some housework or business items or even jump on social media, I set another, shorter timer (maybe 15 to 20 min) to accomplish my goal and then go back to my writing, if I have time that day.
  4. Set up a specific time each day for my writing. It may not be the same time each day, but I look at my calendar to see where I have an hour or two where I won’t be too tried to write.
  5. Go to a coffee shop. If I just can’t settle down at home, I leave. Being in a different environment with my headphones or ear buds on allows for a specific amount of time forces me to get to work.
  6. Block out background noise. Sometimes, to help me focus, I wear my big Beats headphones that cover both ears. I don’t play music but he headphones dull any background noise.

What are some of your favorite ways to cut distraction from your writing life? Please share in the comments below.


One Comment Post a comment
  1. I love the idea of going to a coffee shop. When I was in college, I would do the majority of my homework in libraries, coffee shops, and Panera Bread Co. For some reason those atmospheres helped me think better than any other!

    October 3, 2014

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