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How You Reduce External Distractions to Sit Down and Write

How do you cut distractions to make time, space and the focus to write?

That was the question I was first thinking about when I sat down to draft something on focus and distractions (before it grew and grew into a seven part series…)

I posed the question on Facebook (at The Writing Space) and these were some of the responses I got (plus one from Twitter).

Find the place that works for you

Most things that have the ability to distract me are in my home, so I go to the Library, Panera or Borders Cafe. Yes, they’re public places, but I find it’s easier to block out those distractions than the tv/games/cats/dishes/laundry/vacuuming that I have to do at home. Jacki Newberry

I’ve tried writing in public spaces too but I find it too distracting. I need solitude to focus. I’ve learned to ignore the ‘house angel’ :) Linda Hartley

If noise disturbs you, cut out noise

Ear plugs are great. After using you realize even regular everyday noise can pull you out of your writing. (Although after wearing ear plugs for 4 hours, the world seems very very noisy when you take them out.) @JLMartin on Twitter

Unplug for a while

I get up early and go for a walk. When I get back I am usually ready to sit down and write a rough draft. In the evening I finalize the post. Julia Lindsey
I’m going to try being completely unplugged when we’re off on our house swaps to see if that helps somewhat. I’d love to know what other folks do … Julie Gibbons

Just Write

Life is a distraction. I carry a notepad & pen. Write in a 2 hour stretch or a bunch of 5 minute snippets - just get it written! Brian Bella

Try a dark screen or plain text editor

A Simple Way to Cut Distractions (previous post here)

Do one thing at a time

There’s a nice web page called you can write down a list of things, and only one of the tasks is shown. when you finish it, you’ll see the next one. It helps me to stay focused while online and not wander off to other interesting things. Ulla Hennig

Change Location

If I can just make myself go and sit in the room with a view over our garden, or in the garden itself, and read just a few words, maybe a quotation, I can write furiously for a good 20 minutes to half an hour! Jan Scott Nelson

Go Outside

I usually find getting outside for a walking meditation helps and then I move room - I can’t write creatively in the same room I work in! Jackie Walker

Go Inside

I function best in silence and solitude. Some days are filled with family members around, with their attendant noises. So, I create the silence and solitude I need, in my head and I can be creative, inspired and productive in the midst of all that may be going on. Cheryl Wright

I love the way some opposites emerged from this conversation.  What works for one person won’t necessarily work for another.  Won’t necessarily work for you.  We all need to recognise our own distractions, and look for the best way to filter them out.


How would you answer the question?


PS This is the first time I’ve highlighed comments and conversations from Facebook rather than blog comments or tweets.  It’s an experiment - part of my learning about how to use Facebook to connect with people.  A post on what I’ve learned from that to follow some time in the next few weeks.


This is the 6th in a 7 part series on distractions, focus and flow.

Part 1: The Holy Grail of Focus
Part 2: What Distractions Allow Us to Do: Part 1
Part 3: What Distractions Allow Us to Do: Part 2
Part 4: What’s the Opposite of Distracted?
Part 5: Distracted? Tell Me About It!
Part 6: How You Reduce External Distractions to Sit Down and Write

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  1. Tweets that mention How You Reduce External Distractions to Sit Down and Write | Confident Writing -- says:

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Todd Rutherford, Rebecca Wilson and Joanna Paterson, Todd Rutherford. Todd Rutherford said: RT @joannayoung How You Reduce External Distractions to Sit Down and Write [...]

  2. Gwynneth Beasley says:


    I don’t believe in making yourself writing goals like completing a certain amount of words or hours at it per day. I only write when the ideas bubble up and won’t be ignored. When you are in those moments nothing can distract you at all! I have written an entire children’s book whilst my kids were watching Mary Poppins in the same room. It was hot, it was noisy, I was tired and had a headache and the mouse didn’t work. But I had the inspiration and the passion to do it regardless of anything. All my other writing has been the same!
    .-= Gwynneth Beasley´s last blog ..Homemade Mouse Traps =-.

  3. Indigo
    Twitter: sageraven

    I have to close the wood blinds in my house in order to write. If I see it’s an amazing beautiful day outside, my mind wanders and before you know it I’m not writing - I’m outside.

    Then again falling snow, or rain storms fascinate me. See why I have to close the blinds *winks*. (Hugs)Indigo
    .-= Indigo´s last blog ..Mother of us all… =-.

  4. Darryl says:

    My suggestions? First, if you write using your computer, then close all programs but your word processing program! Get off Twitter, Facebook, email, everything! TURN THE CELL PHONE OFF. (Are we really THAT indispensable?) Otherwise you will find yourself wandering away into a myriad of endless dead-ends. Second, give up the myth that you can multi-task. It’s really called “switch-tasking.” You cannot do two or three things at one time. You will focus only on one thing at at time-but if you switch from task to task, it will take you a few minutes to refocus every time you switch. This is a colossal waste of time and it will interfere with your muse! (Note: if you really believe in multitasking why is it more accidents occur when people are texting or talking on a cell phone and driving-texting and talking on a cell phone while driving demonstrates the same poor reaction time of someone who is intoxicated!).
    .-= Darryl´s last blog ..Two Poems Published =-.

  5. Iain Broome
    Twitter: iainbroome

    I’m struggling with this more than ever at the moment. I’ve taken to writing in the local pub where I don’t have an internet connection or anywhere to wander off to (because if I do my laptop might get nicked).

    I thing my current malaise is down to taking too much on. I am in the process of trying to take my own advice!
    .-= Iain Broome´s last blog ..Reading at and setting up a spoken word event =-.

  6. Darryl says:

    I love it. I go to a small cafe…unfortunately with internet connection. But I will stay for hours there drinking coffee and working. I am able to find a corner that is far enough away where I am usually not disturbed.
    .-= Darryl´s last blog ..Two Poems Published =-.

  7. Karen Swim
    Twitter: karenswim

    Hi Joanna! I look forward to catching up with the series. In your first post, you talked about flow and I cannot tell you how much that has helped me these past few weeks. Distractions have been a nearly daily battle for the past couple of weeks. I have tried many of the suggestions you offer and at times I just give in taking it as a signal that my heart is not in the task at the moment.
    .-= Karen Swim´s last blog ..Age of Conversation 3 – Available Now =-.

  8. Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for May 13, 2010 « Write Livelihood says:

    [...] How You Reduce External Distractions to Sit Down and Write? Joanna, author of Confident Writing blog, posed this question on Facebook and Twitter, and she shares the responses she got from other writers about how to focus and get writing assignments done. [...]

  9. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Gwynneth thanks for your comment - sorry it took a while to appear, it got eaten by the spam muncher. It’s interesting what you say about not setting aside certain amounts of time or word counts… because some people swear by it ;-) I think for me it’s really a question of working out what works best for us as individuals and going with that. I love the story of the way you wrote the children’s book… a perfect example of a flow moment. Thanks for sharing it.

    Lauren I’m glad you enjoyed it. I think a lot of the instructions to self to “focus!!!” comes with an assumption of a) failure and b) criticism. We need to find other ways to get into that flow state (which inevitably means being focused on what we do) without spending all that time agonising over it first!

  10. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Indigo I have the exact same problem with weather of most any sort… It’s hard when you’re in love with the natural world not to jump outside and go wander in it!

    Darryl those are all sound suggestions for those times when you need to get right down to the focused part of the writing task. I do find I can multi-task with some things, but not those that require serious concentration.

    Iain I feel for you, taking our own advice is always the hardest sort!

    Darryl I think a lot of it depends on what kind of writing you want to be doing / what kind of writing state you want or need to be in. Cafes can be great environments - I think it’s something to do with just the right amount of background noise to switch part of your brain off, but not so much it distracts from the work in hand.

    Karen I’m glad the ‘flow’ idea has helped you get into the flow ;-) Me too. That and ‘rhythm’ which I went for as a word for the year… it helps me to be more intuitive in the way I work, and a good deal more kind to myself.

  11. Writing Roundup, May 14 « Uncategorized « Jen's Writing Journey says:

    [...] How Do You Reduce External Distractions to Sit Down and Write? Tips from writers to help you focus. [...]

  12. Jez Lerman says:

    Hey Joanna,

    Terrific blogs, tweets, photos and links. Thank you for posting them.

    Lately I’ve been desperately trying to find the right balance between living a simple focussed life and this technology-driven distracting world.

    I could once write without an ocean of information at my fingertips, long before the Internet was created. Writing, in those days, seemed to be a far easier experience (I’m probably deluding myself here). I would write a lot of (snail)mail, relishing the flow of words nearly as much as that delicious anticipatory tingle for the replies to arrive later in the return post. I wrote and read more often than I do now. Harumph.

    In an effort to combat this state-of-affairs I bought an Alphasmart Neo which has improved my writing considerably. I would use it during my 2-hour commute in the mornings, and the same again in the evenings. Recently I’ve found work closer to home - I can walk to the office, halleluyah - but I haven’t allowed/found-time/any-other-procrastination-reason written anything since i started the new job.

    I really want to rediscover the free-flowing writing ability I once had. The book “Writing the Natural Way” by Gabriele Lusser Rico has become a tremendous aid toward attaining this goal, rekindling the passion inside for writing freely and honestly.

    I’m also trying to stop pulling the pin of self-sabotage every morning, managing email, surfing the web, RSS-ing, generally wasting time - it isn’t as if I’m retaining the content. This means simply turning off the Internet connection. So why is this so damned hard for me to do, disconnecting myself from the Great Encyclopedia in the sky?

    I’m not the only peson grappling with this problem. Recently there has been an interest on the web based around the following question “Is Google making Us Stupid?” or, more to the point, is our addiction to online content re-wiring the human race into a distracted, weak-minded, distracted, wavering bunch of …..well, noone knows yet quite what.

    Just my two-cents worth…


  13. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Jez thanks for sharing those reflections, and apologies for taking so long to reply. I share a lot of your feelings about the distractions of the internet. It is both a wonderful and amazing thing, something that enriches our lives, and also a source of huge amounts of energy, time and mind wasting. I guess we all just need to learn how to make it work,the same way we do with all other tools and forms of progress. Interested in your line ‘pulling the pin of self-sabotage every morning…’ - going to ask myself if that’s what I do too in the name of ‘connectivity’…