How to stay focused on your writing

Tuesday January 15 2019

Looking for some ways to keep your mind focused on your writing? It happens to every writer. You zero in on your manuscript, considering your next words, only to find your mind straying in every possible direction a mere five minutes later. Whether it is a fictional novel, a biography, or a short informative article, one thing is certain: our creation is our baby. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean life stops simply so we can carry on writing. Whether prompted by stress, weariness, or a small dose of frustration, those five minutes are all it takes to disrupt an entire plot. Here are a few ways to keep your mind focused on your writing.

Get in the flow: Psychologists describe a powerful form of concentration called ‘flow’. It happens when someone concentrates or is fully engaged on what they are doing. When you are writing, you can hold all the pieces of a story in your head and write fluently.

We all recognise this state. “Time flies when you’re having fun” is one version. Meditation is, perhaps, another version. If you play sports or video games and you find yourself ‘at one’ with what you’re doing, that’s another. All these mental states require concentration.

Block out all noise: Noise, whether blaring or quiet is one of a writer’s greatest foes. Turn off the television, close out the social media apps, set your phone to mute. If worse comes to worse, find a comfortable place to tuck yourself away from the world for a while. For some people, this means a bedroom, for others a spare room or study. Judging from personal experience, this can be a writer’s greatest ally and one of the best ways to keep your mind focused on your writing.

Move locations: Just because a tabletop is convenient doesn’t necessarily make it the best place to write. Maybe it worked at first, but now you find yourself tapping your finger against the surface with increasing regularity. Try changing things up. Set up shop on the porch or relocate to the living room. I personally find the couch to be my best friend when I am suffering writer’s block.

Reward yourself: Surprisingly enough a break doesn’t mean a total corruption of focus. It is a proven fact that a little rest can go a long way. Take fifteen minutes here and there - walk the dog or drink a cup of tea, anything to temporarily stop the intellectual wheels spinning. Unfortunately, a check on Facebook or perusing eBay doesn’t fall into this category. Staring at a screen is just as exhausting as using it.


Don’t overthink: Naturally, every writer wants their creation to be perfect. As a result, we oftentimes find ourselves searching our own piece for its faults. This habit has a tendency of arising at the most inconvenient times. An hour spent scouring the thesaurus, searching for the ideal word to complete the sentence. Sometimes it’s a matter of finding faults before we ever know they exist. I’m not saying slop the words down on the paper, but don’t incessantly grill your work either. We go through an editing stage for a reason. If you find yourself stalled because of one particular detail try marking the spot and coming back to it later. You will likely find your flow working much smoother.

Multitasking doesn’t work: Conversely, failure to concentrate can be very unproductive. In fact, multitasking makes us stupid. People who think they are good at multitasking aren’t, according to researchers at Stanford University (see also: original paper). That’s you and me, dear reader.

I’m writing this post to share some of the habits and techniques that have (sometimes) helped me to improve my own concentration. And yes, I know that some of them are contradictory. That’s the ‘sometimes’.

Find your stress reliever and work with it: When your mind is overflowing with the stresses of life it’s hard to find room for creativity. Each of us has our own unique tactic to relieve these worries. For some, it’s as small as tapping a pen against a paper. Do you like to get your daily exercise in? Do it just before you settle in to write. This will give your mind a chance to clear while allowing you to participate in one of your favorite activities. Whatever your preference, find a way to incorporate it with your daily writing routine.