As the founder of Shut Up & Write, I’ve spent over a decade helping writers conquer distractions so they can focus on their writing. Though some distractions may vary, most of us have many of the same core issues keeping us from the page. Now, before something interrupts us, here are my five most important practices for getting writing done at any time, but particularly while under quarantine or in a work-from-home situation.
- Change your environment. My office is 9’ x 10’ with a standing desk, a wall of books, cushions, and a few writing tables, set up in the most efficient layout for my daily routine. To shake things up so I can access my creative thinking in the same space where I also work on business development and hold video meetings, I orient myself to face away from my desktop computer when it’s time to write. I rearrange the cushions so I’m facing a different direction and voila, I’m in a different space.
- Set boundaries. My son is schooling from home and my wife is frequently on video meetings. At any moment a request for me to make lunch or fix something can happen, so when it’s time to write, I warn everyone. But just in case, I set up my Shut Up & Write desktop placards at my office doorway so I can intercept physical interruptions. I haven’t had to resort to “In a meeting” messages on my phone, but that’s an option also.
- Post reminders. Put up physical reminders of your writing project where you can see them frequently. I post my current story outline on my magnetic bulletin board—the one with my daily schedule—and that way I’m reminded that my writing is important to me every time I look at the schedule. This is usually enough to remind me to set a time in the day to write.
- Seek accountability. I kid you not, but I’ve had moments when I think, “I sure wish I had a group of people to write with so I’d be accountable to show up on a regular basis.” Then I remember I developed Shut Up & Write for just that very purpose! After a few-year break from hosting sessions, I now host a regular group of the HQ crew, and it’s amazing how much more writing I get done each week in these virtual writing sessions.
- Lower your expectations. In a normal one and a half hour writing session I write 1000-1500 words. With everything that’s going on this year, in the world outside and in my cramped and busy home, I consider it a win if I write 400-750 words these days. I call this a huge success and reward myself appropriately with a pat on the back and a “Good on you!” Being creative is a challenge; being creative in dark times means you have to give yourself some slack.
Because I really want you to get your writing done, I’m going to throw in a “secret” sixth method I use: make a list of your distractions so you can deal with them proactively. When you’re aware of potential distractions, you can put measures in place to make sure they don’t affect your writing. Putting this energy into your writing practice is one of the best investments you can make.