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6 Ways To Write Even When You’re Badly Distracted

writing distractionI don’t know a single person on the planet who doesn’t have occasional periods of major distraction. Often the problems that take our attention come from our family.

I’m in the middle of one of those. I have absolutely no control over what’s happening to a beloved and in some cases, my input seems to have caused more problems than it’s solved.

In short, it’s been hard to concentrate.

However, deadlines keep coming, blogs need to be written, assignments done, etc. etc. etc.

Since this is an ongoing problem that probably won’t resolve in a hurry, I’ve had to develop ways to keep working. Here are six of them.

I’m ready to drop everything and go if that’s what’s called for – it probably won’t, but I’m mentally ready if it should be helpful. That also means I’m ready to take the consequences of lost work time.

I’ve let selected clients know I’ve got a family problem. I find the people who hire me to write are a pretty understanding bunch. Those who expect frequent contact I’ve let know I’m not as available right now as I often am.

I’m doing more bookending which helps me stay on track. I love bookending anyway, but when I find my mind drifting to worry and anger and frustration, I pick up the phone and bookend whatever writing chore I want to work on. Accountability helps me keep at it.

I find writing distracts me from the problem. When I really get into the writing, it distracts me from the problem. Of course!

When worry hits I breathe. My worry over this situation seems to come in waves. When it hits I stop, get mindful of my worry and do some conscious breathing. Somehow that re-grounds me in the impermanence of everything including problems and lets me become, again, undefended in this situation. I can then return to my work.

I’m being gentle with myself. I din’t create this situation but given the people involved it’s totally normal that I’m worried about it, and the family members involved. I ache for them and I want so badly to be able to fix it. I can’t, but I can honor my compassion and use some compassion on myself. I know I’m not writing as fast as I usually do. And probably not as well, at least not without more editing than I’m used to. I’m not getting everything done and that’s just fine with me – or I’m remembering that it needs to be okay.

I’m also noticing that by using these techniques most everything that really needs to get done is getting done.

How do you handle important distractions?

Write well and often,


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{ 25 comments… add one }
  • Oh God, oh God, oh God. Do I need this right now.

    1. I got laid off in January and can’t find another job, because–
    2. I have dyscalculia, a math learning disability and am going crazy trying to deal with Vocational Rehabilitation, who seems to think I would be happy as an OTR truck driver (!?!?).
    3. My boyfriend broke up with me. :'(
    4. Both my fridge and my car quit within a week of each other (though my parents came to the rescue with a new fridge and a newer car and I could not be more grateful, what good is a new car if you have nowhere to go?).
    5. I’m almost out of unemployment, first extension. Can I get the next one? I don’t know. If not, that means welfare. >:(
    6. Every single physical issue I’ve ever had is acting up, thanks to the stress.
    7. I can’t fall asleep, or stay asleep.

    I’m so frantic. I can’t even blog. I can’t even think straight.

    I am trying to cope by re-editing my police procedural. A few last-ditch queries on a book no one is interested in may be a futile exercise, but at least it is giving me something to do.

    I hope your family situation gets worked out or comes to its conclusion soon, Anne. *hug* Thank you for this great advice. I’m going to try and set some goals each day so as to take my mind off things.

    • Elizabeth! Breath! Seriously, slow deep breaths have been proven to help calm us.

      Another thing you might try… when you get frantic, stop and notice that you’re ok, right in that moment… you have a car, a fridge, food, a roof… etc. (I hated this advice until I finally grudgingly tried it.)

  • Hello Anne,

    I can totally relate, definitely! I am easily distracted by problems, physical noise and a whole lot of reasons while I’m working or writing. I don’t know how to manage distractions easily but thanks for sharing these tips on how to still manage to write despite the countless distractions around. How about overcoming the writer’s block? I hope you can give us some tips too.

    – John
    John recently posted..fractionationMy Profile

  • jorgekafkazar

    Thanks for sharing that, Anne. I’ll light a candle for you and your dear ones this Sunday.

    If the distractions are geographic, I go away from them. I declare several periods a week as a computer free time and work away from my station (and the cookie jar). I also, as Ali suggests, decamp frequently and hie me to the shrubbery of nearby botanic gardens to let nature commune with me, and v.v., while I write with pen and paper If possible, I go up to Ojai and work there for a few days.

    I ask myself whether there is anything I can really do about the situation. If so, I do the necessary footwork. If not, I am powerless; I give myself a get-out-of-jail free card and just bear down and work, addressing something I have power over, instead of fretting.

    If, however, I’m obsessing, I need to fill my brain with other things for a while: write a letter of condolence to someone, exercise, write something, do household tasks, clean up my email, whatever. This usually works well enough for me to return to my schedule.

    We can’t fix the world. We can only clean up our little corner of it.

    Keep us in the loop, Anne. I hope all is well as I write this.

    • Thanks, Jorge… I recognize everything you say and it’s good, as always, to know we’re not alone. Family situation isn’t going to clear up in a hurry, but my attitude, my willingness to let go without letting them loose if you take my meaning, is improving.

  • I used to waste a lot of time on social media sites and youtube videos until I realized that I’m spending too much time in front of my computer. Now , I spend a couple hours away from my laptop, away from my home at a lonely place with trees, birds and occasional chipmunks. When I get back from my hangout, I’m bustling with energy and am craving to write something… 😉
    Ali | Writers Blog recently posted..The Naked Truth About Earning Passive Income With Your WritingMy Profile

    • Spending time outdoors with trees, hawks (okay, I’m bragging now) butterflies, birds and other critters and fresh air is good for all of us.

  • Barbara

    This post is just timely. I am badly distracted now that I felt a need to let go of everything and focus on myself. It seems that what I am doing is so wrong.

  • Anne,

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I’m at the hospital as I write this because my daughter is sick with pneumonia. It’s been difficult trying to get any writing or reading done because of all the stress I feel.

    I agree with many of your points, especially mentally preparing yourself to leave everything when the problem or dilemma requires you to. Freelance writing is one of the best things going on in my life, but there are more important things that need my attention and care, so it’s important to be ready for whatever comes your way.
    Stef Gonzaga recently posted..The Basics of Guest BloggingMy Profile

  • I handle distractions by stopping what I’m doing and walking away. I’ve learned that if I don’t acknowledge distractions, they build up and build up. Walking away, meditating and working out helps me to clear my head so I can resume writing.

    Peace and blessings to you and your family.
    Amandah recently posted..The Howard Stern Guide to Shocking the Shirts Off Your Readers (And Keeping Them Hooked)My Profile

    • Amadah, that’s also true. Like you, I have to honor my feelings… give them room.

  • Monica

    Hi Anne,
    Nowadays, cell phones are like mini-computers and we’re always connected. However, writing is, by its very nature, a lonely activity and it needs solitude in order to be done well. You do yourself a large favor if you turn off your cell phone for the hour or so that you write. You’ll find that it’s nice to be unplugged for a few hours every day.

    Monica recently posted..גיבוי מרחוקMy Profile

  • Sandy Sampson

    Hi Anne,

    Sorry you are going through a rough patch. Love your suggestions! For me, nothing beats a list. I use a task flow chart that helps me block related tasks together and get a handle on the big picture as well as the minutae that needs to be completed. In a pinch, a yellow pad or sticky notes can help, too :o)

    Good luck managing all your distractions.

    Hugs to you.

    • Sandy, thanks for your understanding… you know, a flow chart for my tasks might work… I’m going to try it.

  • I have recently found your blog and am enjoying reading your posts thus far. I’ve always considered myself a “writer” (and in fact, I am a technical writer by day), and am only recently considering really branching out with my own freelance writing.

    One of my biggest distractions is, quite simply, the computer. I have always found that I write better with plain old pen (or even pencil) and paper. The best way I’ve found to write is to let my thoughts flow without the distraction the Internet provides, and then transfer my writings onto the computer later. It sure makes for a cramped right hand, but it works!

    • Olivia, sounds like you’ve gotten a good handle on the way that works best for you… thanks for sharing it here.

  • love how you distinguish this as important distractions, Anne. It’s these times when we recognize how all else is simply distractions.

    I commented (somewhere -who remembers where) that I swear there’s been a month’s worth of full moons. I’m sorry you and your family are challenged now. Sometimes it helps me to just do simple tasks – reorganize my desk, clean up the email box, that kind of thing. I pull out my favorite reading and I write to express my feelings – often just for myself.

    I break client work into small chunks – targeting an hour of devoted attention and then reassessing where I am.

    Wishing you and your family comfort and a virtual hug, Anne.
    Cathy Miller recently posted..Is Your Message a Symphony of Silence?My Profile

    • Thanks, Cathy. Simple tasks are often where it’s at… so is going shopping, at bit.

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