How to Protect Your Writing Time From Distraction
Original image via C Technical
I’ve got a running list of dates in my mind to remind myself of the person I was before said date hits. The Confident and Carefree Lisa of October 2016, the Excited For Three Weeks of Quarantine Lisa of March 2020, and the Wary and Ready to Throw Down Lisa of November, 2020—it seems like each new week brings a fresh hell of surprise and “it’s just unprecedented” and outrage and distraction. We’ve become time clock zombies of check in, check out, doomscroll, eat, sleep, repeat. Who in the world can write under these conditions, I ask you?
Here’s the thing—power structures want you distracted. Because when you’re distracted by all the things to worry over, you don’t have room to focus on what matters.
Yes, the world might be burning. That means it’s more important than ever to create.
People who create are people who are rewriting a collective story. A person in the act of creation is not a person in the act of serving power. When we dedicate time for our own art, free of the bounds of the world and power structures around us, we are engaging in an act of resistance.
Here are some tips to protect your writing workspace from distraction and reclaim your time.
1. Download internet blockers and put them on a schedule
I read a lot of advice asking writers to simply turn off the WiFi in their homes or on devices when it’s writing time. But if it’s up to me to turn it off, I simply will not do it, nor will I be able to wait until the time is up to turn it back on. Plus, my husband needs the internet too. There are several apps and extensions you can download to your personal computer to schedule internet blackout periods. Cold Turkey Blocker is my favorite. (The Freedom app is also good, but CT is my preferred.) This app disables my internet browser and email on a scheduled basis— and once they’re scheduled, I can’t turn them off. My email and browser is blocked every day from 12:00 AM to 8:30 AM and I do my writing from 6:00 AM to 8:30 AM most days. Without the news or email to sweep me away, the morning is like a tabula rasa and my brain is keyed up to write.
2. Utilize the Downtime/Do Not Disturb function on your phone
Of course, having the internet blocked on my computer does me no good if I can still check email, news, and social media on my phone. On the iPhone, you can utilize Downtime to schedule off limits time for certain apps. (On Android, you can schedule this using Do Not Disturb and App Timer.) This is great, because while I don’t need to access social media, games, email, or news during writing time, I still might need the calculator, the notes, the music, etc. In other words, the tools. I schedule my Downtime the same as my Cold Turkey Blocker time—so no matter how badly I want to see exactly how the world is burning, I simply can’t. I’ll just have to write instead.
3. Give someone else the escape key
The Downtime function on iPhone is useless if there is a way I can simply override it, like just ask for more time or enter a password I know. That’s why I made my husband set the Downtime password on my phone, and he will take this password to his grave. (The password only works for releasing my social media, games, email, and news from downtime. I can still access messages and tools and everything else I would need in an emergency. And no—he doesn’t have the overall password to my phone. I know y’all were worried.) Another option might be to create a randomized password you’ll never remember, write it down and put it in a lockbox or on a high shelf or somewhere you can’t easily access. Look, desperate times call for desperate measures.
4. Ritualize your routine
Our brains are little habit-based monsters hungry for a hit of ritualized routine to keep the anxiety down. It’s why your stomach growls at lunch time even if you just ate. It’s why your cat won’t let you sleep past six AM even though her food bowl is FULL, it’s just FULL. Creating a ritualized routine around your writing time will eventually jolt your brain into a creative space more and more easily with each day the routine is built.
So find a time in each day that can be just yours for writing. Maybe it’s really early in the morning before anyone else in the house wakes up. Maybe it’s after they go to bed. Maybe it’s the lunch hour. Maybe it’s during a child’s nap time. Maybe you pull a Maya Angelou and spring for a hotel room. Whatever it is, try to look for a consistent time in each day or week where you can reliably be counted on to write. It doesn’t have to be every day (we live in a society after all), but it helps if it’s three to four days a week at the same time. Then, set your prep routine. Maybe it’s making a pot of coffee and sitting with a steaming cup. Maybe it’s a quick meditation. Maybe it’s writing out a list of everything you want to do or did that day. Whatever you need to clear your brain and create a firm line between the rest of the world and writing time. Then do it the same each time, without fail. You may struggle to write at first. But your brain will get used to this new habit and be hungry for that quiet writing reward of each day.
5. Retrain your brain to prefer limited screen time
Speaking of your brain being a habit-based lizard—just as we’ve inadvertently trained our brains to be easily distracted by the blinking lights and red dot notifications on our phones, we can also train our brains to prefer the quiet time away from the screen. The Freedom app works for both your phone and your desktop as a scheduled internet/app blocker. Moment tracks how many times you pick up your phone and hours wasted doomscrolling (and it is a lot). There’s a NewsFeed Eradicator Chrome extension that has been my personal lifesaver on my computer; it basically disappears your News Feed from Facebook or Twitter on your computer and you have to ask to scroll for a set amount of time. I do five minutes at a time. And every time that News Feed disappears again, I whisper a little “thank you.”
So yes, the world is in extra mode lately. All the more reason to quiet your mind, find your zone, and write to resist it.
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