Friday, April 13, 2012

3 Steps to a Focused Writing Environment

Have you ever had those moments when you find it completely impossible to focus? When, no matter what you do, you can't seem to just sit down and write? Sometimes, the easiest solution is to make sure you're in the right environment. It's easiest to be focused when the area around you is focused too.

Before going into my methods of achieving this, I must add a word of caution. The Most Important rule is to write, and if having a complex pre-writing routine prevents you from writing as much as you should be, then you need a new routine.

With that said, here are the top three things that help me focus and get down to writing!

  • Motion

The first thing I try is to move. If it's clear to me that I'm not doing work in one location, I get up and move to another. (It helps that I have a laptop weighing less than five pounds, but pen and paper are super-light and easy to move as well.)

Sometimes it may be as simple as moving from the living room to my bedroom, or the other way around. Other times I might need to walk to the local library or find a cafe nearby. In my college town I would go to my friends' houses all the time and write on their couches.

Why This Works
A major player in kick-starting the writing process is change. Causing directed change in your environment can lead to bursts of creativity as your brain readjusts its perceptions and picks up on details it hasn't noticed before.

You may also be simply bored, and moving sends the message to yourself that you are serious about this writing thing. Boredom is no excuse for not writing.

  • Ambient Noise

As the oldest of several children, I don't mind noise around me when I'm working. In fact, I usually do best with noise. If it's too quiet, I'll start up music. I've done some of my best writing past midnight with my headphones plugged in and turned up loud.

However, some types of noise are detrimental to my focus. People trying to get my attention or talking to me distract me from my work, especially if they're my friends and I want to talk to them. Laughter makes me want to ask what the joke is. And, of course, the television and its perpetual stories is a story-killer. I have to get away from it if I want to do work.

My ideal writing environment has other people in it, none of whom want to talk to me, and music playing so I can hear it. When this isn't happening, I plug in my headphones and turn up the sound, blocking out the rest of the world.

Why This Works
Music soothes the savage beast, or so they say. For me, music captures my innate distractability, giving it something to focus on. With the ADHD part of me happily occupied, I can devote all of my attention to my work.

More generally, the sound around you is important. Soothing noises can help calm frustrated writers, and if you're in a room filled with screaming kids, your tension is likely to rise faster than your word count. Your ears are always open, and what they're picking up has more of an effect than you'd think.

Update: Other Ideas? Many people have problems focusing when lyrical music is playing. I have found that classical or, more generally, instrumental music can be helpful if the lyrics are too distracting. I would also recommend white noise such as the sound of the ocean to play in the background.

Some people might even work best in a completely silent environment, but considering how difficult that is to find, I would recommend finding a background noise you can play and turning your headphones up to block out everything else.

(Thanks for pointing this out, Charmaine!)

  • Clutter

I have realized that I work best in a clean environment. If everything around me is in order, my mind easily settles into its own order. Sometimes a quick restructuring of the desk is all I need, and sometimes I have to actively find a location that is as structured as I'd like my text to be.

Why This Works
Your mind reflects the area around you. If the area is cluttered, your mind will be full of clutter as well. You'll be going off on tangents about how did that hair tie get there and when was the last time I organized my pencils by length and I wonder when lunch is, instead of writing.

If you find your mind wandering, maybe you need to straighten out your environment before you can straighten out your mind.

Caution: In order for actually cleaning to be considered productive, you must write steadily for at least three times the amount of time you spent cleaning. Otherwise, you're just wasting time and need to try moving instead.

(As a side note: Ew. Cleaning.)

Every writer has different methods that they use to train themselves to focus on their work. I know people who go crazy if music is playing while they're trying to write, and people who need clutter to feel calm.

Not all of my tips will work well for you, and you should experiment with them to find out what you like and what you don't. What kind of environment do you write in?

Word of the Day: Distractability, adj: The ability to be distracted easily, usually not considered a benefit. Might not be found in the dictionary, but it makes sense. Ladies and gentleman, The Wordsmith. Thank you,  thank you, I'll be here all night, or until I fall asl...


  1. Distractability. How appropriate. I do so wish I could write to music, but that's more distracting to me than anything. I love it too much. Perhaps I just haven't found the right type of "writing music" yet.

    Not sure how much cleaning my writing area will buy me in terms of creativity, but my muse sometimes tarries near the shower. Think I'll go check and see if she's there.

    Good post!

    1. Thank you. I thought it should be a word, so I declared it to be one.

      I've heard classical music is helpful? I'd also suggest finding some white noise to play, that sometimes helps spark creativity.

      *laughter* I wouldn't recommend cleaning as a matter of course. Tends to be too distracting to be overly helpful.

      Thank you!

  2. I'd like to try writing to music, my tunes are all ones that I'd sing along to, so thinking about finding some classical tunes with themes, angry, sad, love that kind of thing. I need a clean environment to focus otherwise I just want to tidy up.
    Wagging Tales

    1. Thanks for your comment, Charmaine!

      I actually know quite a few people who say that music with lyrics distracts them, but classical and/or instrumental music helps them focus a lot. I always mean to organize my songs by mood, but I have way too much music for that to be easy.

      I actually meant to include something about classical music... I'll have to add that.

  3. I like to have a bit of noise when I'm writing. As long as no one talks around me, but stay in the background, I'm fine. Music helps too. I do like a bit of music when I write. Plus it's a great way to measure how immersed in my writing I am. When I realise I haven't heard the last ten songs I know I've really been in storyland.

    1. I love being completely immersed in the stories. ^_^ May it always comes that easily to you!

  4. These are such great suggestions for focusing on our writing tasks. When I'm too distracted, I shut down all things except my document...Twitter, Facebook, email, etc. I have the attention span of a 10 year old!

    1. Thanks! Haha, yeah, sometimes I feel like my attention span is way too short. I hate it when I forget what I was saying in the middle of a sentence because I just thought of something else.