bottled of colored sand to represent remedies for writing distractions

This is the year: You are writing a book. Excellent. Congratulations!

But you’re already feeling under the gun because it’s the end of January and you haven’t started yet. Or maybe you started writing diligently the first couple weeks of January, then petered out as life swung back into post-holiday gear. Aargh! So frustrating.

You’re not alone. You’re probably struggling with one of the most common problems I see (and face myself): writing distractions.

We all have important projects we want to do, whether a writing book or completing a bucket-list item, and yet we often allow ourselves to get distracted. Well, as they say, the first step is to acknowledge you have a problem; then you can do something about it.

Common writing distractions

Writing distractions show up in many forms. Do any of these sound familiar to you?

  • The “I have too many ideas!” distraction. You jump between multiple book ideas. You make small progress on each, but not enough on any one to gain momentum.
  • The “I have too much work!” distraction. You have a day job that doesn’t go away just because you’re writing a book. By the end of the day you’re out of time, energy, and brainpower.
  • The “other people are more important than I am” distraction. You do, of course, want to be of service to others—but do you allow everyone else’s needs to come before your own?
  • The “dinking online” distraction. Wait, where did that last hour go while I was on Twitter?
  • The catchall “life gets in the way” distraction.

I’d bet most of these waylay you occasionally, and maybe there’s one that’s a constant source of frustration. So what can you do about it?

Writing distraction remedies

Here are five remedies that clients, colleagues, and I have used successfully to manage writing distractions. Choose one that seems relevant to your situation and see if it helps.

Intentionally move things to the back burner.

When there are too many priorities on your plate, your energy gets diffused. Instead of pushing one boulder up the hill, you’re pushing several—with a wet noodle.

Choose the one project you want to make progress on. Identify the projects that need to be back-burnered. Set a date on your calendar, say in six months, to check in on the back-burnered projects. If you’ve completed your top priority, you’ll be ready for the next.

Bonus: When you mentally carry around a list of goals you aren’t making progress on, there’s an energetic “weight” you end up dragging around as well. The act of intentionally postponing projects helps relieve the emotional pressure.

Create a “don’t do” list.

One of my coaches made a brilliant point recently: we often default to doing all the things we normally do—without considering if they’re actually needed.

His suggestion? Shift your mindset from a “to do” list to a “don’t do” list. What can you stop doing to allow space for the big things—like writing a book?

Bonus: When you create space, in addition to finding time, you often find new perspective. What do you suppose you might learn or realize?

Change your environment.

In Chip and Dan Heath’s book Switch, they suggest three elements of making a change: the intellectual component, the emotional component, and the environmental component. Let’s stipulate you want to write a book, and you feel it’s important—no one needs to persuade you of the intellectual or emotional arguments. And yet writing distractions continue.

In this case, look for the environmental change. Commit to something that takes you out of the environment where you default to distractions.

You might join a writing group, find a partner to write with, or hire a coach to keep you on track. I’ve found signing up for a writing class to be one of my best approaches. I pay money to go (so I want my money’s worth!); it forces me to do homework (aka writing); and it forces me out of the house away from distractions.

Bonus: The camaraderie with classmates or writing-group buddies can be a strong emotional motivator.

Use focusing tools.

If you easily get sucked down internet rabbit holes, consider turning off your Wi-Fi, disabling notifications, or using apps that block access to distractions such as Facebook and Twitter. (Go explore all the apps that help limit distractions—but don’t get distracted by them!)

One tool I use regularly to help me find and maintain focus is the Pomodoro Technique, in which you work in sprints of 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break.

Bonus: With the Pomodoro method, the 5-minute break is a good reminder to stretch so you avoid “glute amnesia” and repetitive stress injuries from typing.

Block a half hour for writing first thing in the morning.

Once the day gets started, it can be tough to control the demands on your time. Block time for writing as soon as you have a cup of coffee in your hand. Try starting with a half hour.

A half hour might not seem like a lot, but if you crank out 100–200 words each time—a few paragraphs—that’s 500–1,000 words per week. (For context, this article is about 900 words. Seems doable over the course of a week, right?) Little by little, the words add up.

Bonus: Working on your book each morning keeps it in your awareness, so your brain cranks away on it in the background even while you’re doing other things. As a result, the more regularly you write, the easier you may find it.

You’re on your way

There’s no doubt: writing a book is a big project, a significant commitment. When you’re aware of your writing distractions, you can take steps to manage them and make consistent progress toward your goal. By year-end you’ll have something to celebrate! 

If you’re looking for external support for your book writing, consider Clear Sight coaching. Whether you need up-front planning sessions or periodic critiques and conversations, I can help. Interested in learning more? Get in touch at 919.609.2817.