How to Stay Focused When Writing.

How to focus.

Imagine, instead of writing, your job was to run. That’s it, just run.

Each morning, you left home and ran. Would you sprint? Would you pace yourself? How long would you run? Would you stop to pet a puppy, get a cup of coffee or flirt with a neighbor? If you’re like most people, you might quickly get distracted.

How to Earn a Darn Good Living as a Writer…

Once that happens, the quality of your running will peter out. Soon you’ll be wandering all over the place wasting your time.

But, if your job was to run for 30 minutes, take a break and run for another 30 minutes, it’d be a lot easier to stay focused. You could put off flirting with the neighbor until your break.

The truth is, without time limits, it’s difficult for anyone to stay focused.

It’s All in the Timer.

Fortunately, a simple timer set for brief periods will help keep you focused. You can use a free online timer. I prefer to use the timer in my iPad so I can listen to music or sound tracks specifically designed to enhance concentration while I work. The right kind of music will boost your concentration even more.

“Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents.” –Ludwig van Beethoven

And Headphones…

Headphones help to block distracting noises too. If you’re working in a very noisy place, use earplugs and headphones.

Don’t let the simplicity of this technique fool you. It’s powerful. The trick is to set a timer for a span of time you’re comfortable with. A 30 minute work period is a good place to start. Before you sit down to write, simple set a timer for 30 minutes and don’t do anything but write or think about writing for that time.

How to Earn a Darn Good Living as a Writer…

Be Gentle with Yourself.

Your mind might still wander. If it does, gently bring it back to the task at hand.

If you have no idea what to write, that’s okay. During the allotted time, it’s your job to make space in your head for your writing project. If you do that, the ideas will come.

Breaks are Critical.

Woman ConcentratingThe length of the break period is up to you. If you’re on a deadline, keep break time short, 5 to 15 minutes. If you’re working on something intense that requires a lot of brain energy, take longer breaks.

Breaks can be productive too, especially when you need to be creative. Sometimes, the best ideas will pop in your head when you’re on break.

It’s important to get up out of your chair and move around during the break period. Walk and stretch to get the blood moving again. Get some fresh air. If you’re feeling energetic do pushups and squats.

When you plan your day, either the night before or in the morning, it might help to schedule how many writing periods you want to have. Expect some days to be more productive than others.

Music…the Other Secret.

If you’re listening to music when you’re writing, the type of music can make a world of difference. Songs with words and a heavy drumbeat are distracting and keep your thought process on a superficial level. On the other hand, classical music improves focus and creativity. Baroque music, specifically, has been proven to boost creativity and concentration.

Baroque music, such as that composed by Bach, Handel or Telemann, that is 50 to 80 beats per minute creates an atmosphere of focus that leads students into deep concentration in the alpha brain wave state…In one study, students wrote twice as much with music than without! Music and Learning by Chris Brewer, 1995.

Here’s a very powerful sound track designed to enhance focus and creativity.

While I have discussed using a timer and music to help to help you stay focused when writing, naturally, this method can be used to focus on most any task.  An iPod or MP3 Player will give you the flexibility to move away from your desk while still enjoying the benefits of music and headphones.

What tricks do you use to help you focus and create?

How to Earn a Darn Good Living as a Writer…

Comments

  1. Hey,
    This is some brilliant advice!
    Sometimes I feel like I hit a wall when I write a new post on my blog. But like you mentioned, I don’t stop until I’m done. Listening to music helps me a lot as well. I tend to listen to classical music or music with no lyrics.
    I tried the timing method but felt too much under pressure that way.
    Thanks again for this post. Very useful information here!

    Esteban

    • Hi Esteban! Thanks for commenting. When I use a timer, I forget about it while I’m writing. It’s not meant to be a source of pressure. That is counterproductive. Instead, use the timer as a boundary around the time devoted to your project. The more relaxed you are the more creative and productive you will be. Pressure, tension, stress and fear actually shut down the creative process and puts your mind in the fight or flight mode. Relax!

  2. Hello Garyhorton?

    your post is informative especially to scholars… everyone is a scholar, let me post this in my facebook page and recommend it to my friends. I too have a problem when it comes to taking breaks when writing, especially when im stressed with deadlines, thans for the post…

    regards,

    ongaka

  3. Hello Gary, you just nailed it on how to stay focused when writing. And I love the illustration that you used about someone running and flirting on the way, and how easy for the person to get distracted. So is with writing, you need to be focused in order to end up with a very useful article. Thank you for this piece of info and I am sure many will also appreciate it too.

  4. Hi Gary. It can certainly be a difficult task to stay focused while writing. Personally, I’ve found that exercising before I sit down & write really helps me a lot. You’ve also mentioned above that music can help improve concentration, but I’ve always found music to be a distraction while writing…I’m realizing now that I was probably just listening to the wrong kind of music. I think I’ll give some Bach a try next time. Cheers!

  5. hi Gary
    good analogy of running and writing. Staying focused when writing can certainly be a challenge. Especially if you do not feel like it….then everything becomes a distraction. The fly in the room, the sun outside, the piece of lint on the carpet. Everything! I used to have to write long assessment reports for work. I must have written over 500 of them. I had to be in the zone to be able to write. I would write a section at a time and then take a break. I also used to listen to classical music with headphones. That placed me in my own little bubble and in the right head space. And when at work, if a coworker came in to distract me,they were less likely to interrupt if they saw I had headphones on 🙂

    • Hi Emily! Thank you for commenting. You brought up some great points. When I’m wearing headphones and writing I feel like I’m in my own little bubble too. It really helps. All the best…Gary

  6. I like to have either music or the television going in the background. It doesn’t seem to matter what noise it is so long as there is noise. I can’t write in a void. I couldn’t possibly set a time limit for writing, it would cause me to stress out too much and all I would focus on is the time ticking away. I think I will try your sound track to see if it will help me get more focused. Thanks for providing it.

    • Hi Christine! I appreciate your comment. There was a time when I had to have white noise when I wrote. Sometimes I would even go to a coffee shop. I don’t know why I had to do this back then. Now, I need my own space. It’s interesting that the timer stresses you out. Another comment mentioned the same thing. Using a timer actually helps me relax because I forget about it knowing the time is for the task at hand. All the best…Gary

  7. Very interesting stuff you have here. I have always admired anyone who could write. I never considered myself to be very disciplined, only because I tend to take breaks. After reading this, I’m beginning to think I may be on the right path after all. I don’t set a specific time limit. Instead, I will just type until my roll ends. Then I will take a break and get my mind off of it. When I come back to it, I will reread what I had finished earlier, then get a burst of ideas, and go again. Thank you for this post. I may just have to try the timer to see if it helps.

    • Hi and thanks for stopping by. Of course the best strategy is always what works for you. Writing is rarely easy, even for people who write all the time. I pace a lot on my breaks and have a special kitty who is always ready to inspire me with purrs and affection. All the best…Gary

  8. Setting a timer and making time for breaks is a really good tip. It’s something I’ve started doing to stay focused and improve my productivity. You’re right about staying gentle with yourself! I get distracted sometimes but continue working on improving staying focused on the task at hand during the allotted time. It’s okay to make mistakes when trying a new technique. Practice it and you’ll get better.
    One thing I haven’t tried is listening to baroque music. I’ll give that one a try.
    Working on something you enjoy is another tip to staying focused. It’s easier to stay focused when you do something you love. I know that’s not always feasible, but it’s something to work toward especially if you hate your current job. You can set a little time aside to work toward finding a job you enjoy.

    • Hi Martina!

      You are so right about working on something you enjoy. That’s why I love blogging. I get to write about the things that interest me.

      I appreciate your comment. Thanks for stopping by.

      All the best…

      Gary

  9. Hi Gary

    I was literally just discussing this very issue with someone a few hours ago and your site pops up. I’ve fallen into a terrible rut and not touched my sites in quite a while. It’s not even due to lack of ideas, I have plenty to writer about. I just can’t seem to get my head into the right place.

    I’ve read your article and will put them into practise right away, as I have much to do and can’t go on like this. My focus is shot to pieces quite literally.

    I have found that breaking things up a bit can help the creative juices, usually going fort a long walk helps clear my head. I think I need that little bit more this time and hopefully I’ll settle back into a routine.

    Thanks for posting this, plenty of food for thought.

    Jay

    • Hi Jay!

      Good to hear from you.

      I’d also suggest that you learn to meditate. In my experience, meditation quickly boosted my concentration. There are many methods, but don’t get too complicated with it. The first meditation method I learned was following my breath. I’m sure you can find plenty of information online about that method.

      Naturally, the more you concentrate the better you’ll get at it.

      All the best…

      Gary

  10. I really have issues with this myself. I can’t really concentrate for too long, especially when I am working on my PC. I am looking forward to use your method next time I am doing my job. I really like listening to music but everything I listen to is distracting. Next time I will try with Mozart, Beethoven and Bach lol.

    • Hi Iliyan!

      Like I suggested to Jay, I encourage you to consider meditation.

      You might also find that classical music helps or try an audio tape designed to improve concentration.

      All the best…

      Gary

  11. I completely agree with the schedule idea.
    Without it you will end up wandering around like a lost puppy, at least that is the case for me.
    I write content daily and I have to stick top schedule or I would not get anything done.
    I really liked your background music, I may give that a try.
    I think everyone needs to find their own space fro writing and once you find it stick to it.
    How do you do it?

    Shawn>>

    • Hi Shawn!

      I stick to a schedule too, but I can get rather obsessive about it, so I’m learning to not push myself to hard.

      I write every day. My most productive time is in the morning after a long walk. I use the walk both for exercise and also to begin thinking about the writing I will be doing.

      I write until I’m hungry for lunch around 1 pm. Then I eat, have some black tea and take a nap. Usually, I’m refreshed after a 20 minute nap and will write for another few hours. This is bonus time and I stop before I’m too tired.

      Throughout the day, during break time, I sometimes walk outside to feel the sun, listen to the birds, let my eyes focus in the distance and to get the blood flowing.

      At the end of the day, while my mind is still engaged on my current writing project, I make a note of where to begin in the morning.

      Like you said, we each must find what works for us.

      All the best Shawn…

      Gary

  12. Gary, the article that you read was outstanding. Especially as it pertains to members who are affiliated with WA and responsible for writing creative content for their businesses, it was advice that would pertain to everyone.
    One thing that I noticed though: As I have the “NoScript” add-on installed on my computer, when I clicked on the page I had an error message that appeared stating that I had disabled “Java” and initially could not be re-directed to your actual site location. “Java” lately has gotten a ton of negative reviews online because of its faulty characteristics and problems that have occurred on computers and other devices worldwide who used this add-on. Some viewers who have disabled “Java” might elect not to enable it, (as I almost did) and therefore not actually read your article. I have never had this issue previously when visiting other sites asking for feedback comments here at WA.
    Otherwise I LOVED your article and will definitely consider some of the advice you listed, (taking breaks, listening to soothing music) the next time I get hung up creating a written draft for an article.
    Thank you,
    Jeff

    • Hi Jeff!

      Thanks for stopping by. I’m not sure what happened with the Java thing. I had trouble on this end too, but apparently we’re past that now. The internet moves in mysterious ways.

      Thanks for the complement, glad you enjoyed the post.

      The trick to writing is to stay relaxed. The more tense we are the less creative we will be. Stress makes the brain switch into survival mode. The ‘fight or flight’ response is triggered which totally cancels out non-essential mental processes like writing.

      All the best…

      Gary

  13. Thanks for some great tips.
    I usually sit down and write until I am finished, the reason for this is that I am at my most productive in the early morning. However when it gets to mid day I get into a slump and can’t concentrate. Your tips here will help me so much for the second half of the day.
    I live on the beach so to take a nice fast pace walk for a break would be wonderful for me.

    • Hi Lynne!

      Thanks for stopping by and taking a moment to comment. The mornings are my most productive time of day too. That’s when I do all my new writing. Later in the day I’ll edit what I wrote earlier or polish another project. I’m envious you live on the beach.

      All the best…

      Gary

  14. Thank you for this great article. I wasn’t aware that I need to set a time for writing in order to stay focused. Using a timer is a very good idea and I will definitely try it.
    I use music when I am working on some activities and I didn’t know that heavy drumbeat music can be distracting. I will use music that you suggest. Thank you

    • Hi Tamara!

      Thanks so much for stopping by. I appreciate that you took the time to comment. Music helps me a lot. I also live with several demanding cats and a couple of very loud dogs. Actually my oldest dog is snoring under my desk as I type this. When there is a lot of noise and I’m struggling to focus, I use earplugs AND headphones connected to my iPad with classical music. It’s my own private bubble of creativity.

      All the best…

      Gary

  15. I am going to try that today. There is a lot of distractions around the house sometimes. So I am going to start with 30 minutes and plug my headphones in and listen to some good music. At the same time I am just going to be thinking about what to write and also writing at the same time. Seems like a good technique, I know for some people they will get distracted by the song and start singing the lyrics. But I think with a little of practice anybody can do it.

    • Hi Brandon!

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. There’s a lot of distraction at my home too. Ear plugs and headphones with relaxing music is a big help. I avoid music with words because my mind wants to follow the words and not think about writing.

      I recommend you use only instrumental music or audio tracts designed specifically to enhance concentration. We’re all a little different about what distracts us, so expect to experiment some until you find what works for you.

      All the best…

      Gary

  16. It is really good to hear that people appreciate the superpowers of a writer. They say the pen is mightier than the sword.
    I personally like to write in the silent void but I am wiling to play a little ‘Bach in the Background’ (good title for a CD!) if it will help my focus.
    Thanks for a lovely article.

    • Hi Janelle!

      Thanks for commenting. I love the picture of you and your pup. My circle of friends includes more animals than people. I prefer silence too, but where I live it’s very rare.

      Yes, ‘Bach in the Background’ would be a good title for a CD. Very clever!

      All the best…

      Gary

  17. Robert Allan says:

    Hello Gary
    Great site with absolutely loads of info for the budding writer/blogger.
    I personally like complete silence when I write. It’s the only way I can stay focused and the least bit of noise and that’s it I stop until it goes away or at least until I can distance myself from it.
    As for making money from it I have published loads of articles on various ezines and have had quite a good response so I hope you will receive the same and if you continue as you are now there is no reason why you wont.
    Have a nice day.
    Regards
    Robert Allan

    • Hi Robert!

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I appreciate your words of encouragement.

      All the best…

      Gary

  18. Hi Gary,

    The technique that is most effective for me is writing on a paper note book rather than writing online. I know, there’s the extra work of transferring it into soft copy later, but that only takes about 10 minutes or so.

    Writing with pen and paper seems to stimulate my thoughts better and keep me away from other distraction on the internet. I just scribbled all the way and on good days, I can easily produce an article in less than an hour.

    I’ve never tried listening to music before. I’m going to listen to this focus music video and see how it goes for my writing in the next 3 hours.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Cathy!

      Thanks for stopping by. You bring up a good point. If I’m struggling to write, I’ll use a pen and paper too. Sometimes sitting in nature with a legal pad is very helpful. When I’m in the early stages of planning a long writing project, I’ll lay it out on paper. It seems to help my creativity, like you said. Although I write much faster at the keyboard.

      All the best…

      Gary

  19. Hey Gary,

    I totally needed to read this post. I tend to get easily distracted when I’m supposed to be focusing on my task at hand.

    These are some great tactics you shared. I apply the timer formula whenever I am working on my business; but the idea of taking breaks sounds like it can work for me.

    Thank you for sharing,
    Diana

  20. Here was I, attempting to write a new post when I went completely blank and got up and made some tea. When I came back to the computer, I happened on your post and it couldn’t have been more serendipitous.
    Your advice has made me realise that I can take a break without feeling guilty of not working hard enough. Stupid, I know but when you’re starting out and trying to earn a new living on the internet, you do feel as though you have to be at it all the time.
    I have steered away from music, purely because I thought it would distract me, no matter what the genre. I will take your advice on board, but the real benefit I have had reading your post, is not to feel guilty if I take a much needed break. I think from now on, I may be more productive. Thanks for a great post. Ches

    • Hi Ches!

      Thanks for stopping by and taking a moment to comment. I’m so glad my post helped you not to feel guilty about taking a break.

      We humans are more productive and creative when we are relaxed. Stress, even self-imposed stress, causes our brain to go into fight or flight mode. That means all internal systems are switched into survival function. Creativity and higher thought processes are shut down. It’s like slamming on the mental brakes. So relax and let the ideas flow.

      Also, you mentioned guilt. I struggle with guilt too, but in other areas of my life. It’s a hard thing to shake. I once read that guilt is instilled in us when we are very young children, too young to be guilty of anything.

      It’s important to be gentle with ourselves regardless of the circumstances.

      All the best…

      Gary

  21. This is really useful! When I’m writing I often find that taking a short break every 10 minutes or so is essential otherwise I become unfocused and the quality of my content suffers.

    I find that exercise such as going for a walk can really improve my writing focus and creativity. The fresh air, change of location and getting the blood circulating through the brain all combine to make me refreshed and ready to start writing again when I return.

    Thanks for the tips – great site!

    • Hi Mark!

      Thanks for stopping by. Yes, you bring up some great points. I love walking and do a lot of best thinking when outside. There’s nothing like taking a break to refresh our thoughts.

      All the best…

      Gary

  22. Carlton Gonder says:

    Hi Gary,

    This article has inspired me to be a better writer when it comes to writing blogs on my website. I have also bookmarked this to share with my friends and future inspiration. I knew there was a reason I liked classical music when thinking about what I am writing.Keep up the good work with great articles such as this .

    Yours Truly,
    Carlton

    • Hi Carlton!

      Thanks for visiting. I appreciate your comment and pleased you found my post helpful. Classical music is great for creativity, particularly Baroque music. Thanks for sharing my post.

      All the best…

      Gary

  23. Hey Gary,

    Excellent example in getting your point across. Timer helps time-boxing and let’s you focus on the task at hand.
    I use this technique (not as often as I should) to trick my brain into saying I just have to work for 20 minutes and I can take care of the other stuff later.

    By the way after reading your post I realized why I had trouble focusing even though I would plug my headphones in and listen to music to cut the outside noise out. The link you shared is simply awesome (I am listening to it as I type)

    Great tip in getting the writing done, it was immensely helpful.

    • Hi Josh!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. The timer helps me a lot to focus when I’m dreading a writing task. With a timer I know I only have to be disciplined for a limited amount of time. Sometimes just getting started is the biggest hurtle.

      I live with several dogs and cats. I love everyone of them, but sometimes they are so noisy I want to choke them. Headphones and earplugs have not only saved my sanity but also the lives of a few of my critters.

      All the best…

      Gary

  24. I am so glad to have found your website. There’s a wealth of information for the aspiring or proffessional writer.

    I have found that my own writer’s block is worry. It starts with a simple thought and then becomes almost like a train wreck of worrying thoughts!

    I believe your tips will help me keep it together and do what needs to be done. Thanks!

    • Hi George!

      Thanks for stopping by. I do think listening to relaxing music or guided meditation audios will help you relax. I worry too sometimes.

      I like to joke that worry is the product of a good imagination gone bad. The good news is we can turn it around quite easily once we realize we are doing it to our self.

      More than anything, learning to meditate has shown me how we humans often torture ourselves with our thoughts. I’d encourage you to learn to meditate. There are plenty of videos online that will teach you for free. Find one that you can identify with and gently practice.

      Here’s a simple trick that will help you to quickly relax and stop worrying. All you have to do is slow your breathing down and exhale longer than you inhale. Keep doing this until you feel yourself relax. That’s it! You can do it anywhere and any time.

      All the best…

      Gary

  25. Tasos Perte Tzortzis says:

    Hey Gary , I really enjoyed your example with running.It makes sense.Without breaks any job is difficult.

    I can write for my blog under the most difficult situations , even with kids playing around but not always.That is why I use breaks pretty often to keep the balance.

    Sometimes I drive and listen to my favourite music to refresh my mind and thoughts.

    But in every case I try to keep the breaks really short as extended sessions can be proved harmful , at least for me.

    Your music selection is a great choice , that kind of music act as a background without distracting you.

    Thank you for another nice read , keep on blogging.

    • Hi Tasos Perte Tzortzis,

      Thanks for stopping by. You are so right about long breaks. Too long a break can really make it difficult to get back to work.

      I’m amazed you can work with children running around. You must be used to it. I prefer to work in isolation, but that has not always been possible.

      Thanks for you kind words of encouragement.

      All the best,

      Gary

  26. Really good tips for staying focused when writing content.

    I usually try to sit down and knock out a bunch of content when I have time and I really like the section on breaks. Although I usually work many hours writing content for my website and others websites, I always try to take a break between a few posts and before a proof read any posts.

    I’ve tried listening to music and I’ve found that most of the music that I enjoy listening to actually distracts me, but may try to listen to something more easy listening to see if it helps.

    Again great tips for writers!

    Brok

    • Hi Brok,

      Thanks for commenting. I appreciate your insights.

      I always try and have a fresh mind before I proof read. Music helps me a lot, but I also like silence. Louis L’Amour claimed he could write his westerns in the middle of traffic. I don’t see how he could. It’s difficult for me to concentrate with noise and interruptions. Fortunately, I have an isolated study and an understanding girlfriend.

      All the best,

      Gary

  27. Well first things first – buy ear plugs if you have kids in the house (one ten year old and one 18 month old – boys!). I actually run 5 websites for a living in a house that seemingly never sleeps – it’s all about commitment at the end of the day…oh, and staying up until 2 in the morning to finish posting content! 🙂
    Great article!

    • Wow, Chris! Five websites, that’s amazing. I agree, in the end, results are directly linked to commitment. I don’t have children at home, but I do have several very spoiled and elderly pets, including a blind pug. When necessary, I use earplugs too. Sometimes I use earplugs and headphones combined in order to stay focused when I write.

      Thanks for stopping by Chris. You’re an inspiration.

      All the best,

      Gary

  28. Great post, Gary. Thank you.

    My problem’s usually the opposite one: getting hyper-focused and NOT stopping to take breaks. This is a guaranteed way to get fried brains. ARGH!

    It’s worse when I’m working on something I am very interested in. The timer thing (I do the Pomodoro) does help with that.

    • Hi, Netta!

      Thanks for stopping by. Actually, I get hyper-focused too. And, yes, it will fry your brains. At the end of a good day of writing my brains are mush. Fortunately, my family understands this, although they joke about it.

      Walking helps. I carry a notebook and pen and walk when take a break from writing. My mind is still working so I’ll get ideas as I’m walking and write them down. Naps help too. I get my best ideas when I’m napping.

      All the best,

      Gary

  29. RichPersonality says:

    I think a lot of people don’t realize the power of taking breaks. Your brain get’s overwhelmed if you’re constantly trying to do your work without relaxing. When I first started writing, I did it without any breaks and it was really really hard! I couldn’t be very creative and I found it hard to focus on anything. Even after I was finished for the day, my head felt like exploding, because of all the activity. We must allow our brains to rest!

    • Hi, RichPersonality!

      You are so right. When I started out writing fiction I would push myself to write as much as I could possibly write each day.  Within a few days my creativity dried up and everything I wrote sounded dull and boring.

      Every writer needs to find their balance between writing and rest. I like to write for a while and then walk for awhile. Often, I get the best ideas while I’m walking and focused on something other than my writing.

      Thanks for stopping by,

      Gary

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