Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

The Key to Distraction-Free Writing

From Jeff: This is a guest post from Ethan Waldman. Ethan helps people live and work in harmony with technology at the Cloud Coach blog. Right now, many people are using his free course, The Automated Email Blueprint, to liberate themselves from email hell.

Sometimes, you stare at that blank screen and simply can’t get focused. There’s so much to do — so many opportunities and obligations. It’s easy to get lost. It’s easy to get distracted.

But if your words are going to make a difference, you are going to have to focus.

Writing is integral to everything you do online:

  • You write tweets and Facebook updates.
  • You write captions for your photos.
  • You write blog posts and newsletters.

To draw an analogy, your website is like your body, and your writing is like your voice. It’s the most important tool to getting your message heard.

So why is writing so hard — especially online?

Distracted Baby Photo

Photo credit: Kevin Rawlings (Creative Commons)

Writing requires concentration

And not just short blips of concentration.

If you actually want to get something decent written, you’re going to need to stay focused.

You’ll have to ignore your email and social networks, your cell phone, and the television.

And just write.

Writing requires discipline

You have to go back and read your work. You have to edit. You have to reread it again.

You have to keep slicing and dicing until you’ve created a masterpiece.

Then, you have to do the hard work of shipping — of releasing your work into the world. And tomorrow (or later today), you have to do it all over again.

Sometimes, you realize what you’ve written is awful and unsalvageable, and you need to start over.

This is all part of the grisly process.

Writing requires time

Good writing cannot be rushed.

When we’re used to most tasks taking five minutes or less, writing can feel like an eternity.

But this is part of the beauty of it: writing takes time. This is one thing that cannot be thrown into the microwave and zapped to completion.

Writing is difficult, but good.

If you’re missing any of the three key ingredients (concentration, discipline, or time), you’ll find yourself fighting a losing battle when you try to get something written.

So how do you actually create space for this to happen?

A simple solution

When it comes to writing, my productivity philosophy is simple: Keep it distraction-free.

First, forget what you think distraction-free writing means. This isn’t about forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to do. It’s about using your energy in short bursts to create your best work.

I use the Pomodoro technique. The idea is to pick a task and set a timer for 25 minutes. Focus only on this one task. When the timer rings, take a five minute break, and then do another 25-minute block.

If you don’t want to commit to the Pomodoro technique, try the basic idea: focus on only one thing while writing, and that is writing. Shut off any other distractions and just do the work.

What about distraction-free writing tools?

I combine the Pomodoro technique with distraction-free writing software. The options vary widely, but the marks of a good distraction-free writing tool are:

  1. It has a full-screen mode.
  2. You like using it.

Even WordPress has gotten in on the distraction-free writing fad: They added a full-screen mode for the post editor a few months ago. If I’m just writing a quick blog post, it’s my go-to solution. Otherwise, here’s what I use elsewhere:

On my Mac and iPad, I use a great app called IAWriter (for Mac or iOs). I like it because it has very clean typography, absolutely no text formatting tools, and a “focus mode” where only the sentence you’re currently working on is in black (the rest are in grey)

On my Windows machine, I like OmmWriter. OmmWriter is cool, because it provides an audio experience as well, with sounds that remind me of wind gently blowing through chimes. It’s very zen and can really help get me in the writing mood.

Rules for distraction-free writing

Are you ready to begin? To finally write something without the constant dings and buzzes of our world? Here are some rules to guide you:

  1. Don’t edit while you write. Worry about cleaning things up later — just get everything out that you can, while you can.
  2. Don’t format text. Leave the bolding, italicizing and subheads for later. Just write.
  3. Don’t stop until you get to the end. If I’m writing a blog post, I try to write a full draft before my session is done. If you’re writing a book, maybe that means writing to the end of a chapter or sub-section. You get the point.

When I adopted a distraction-free writing practice, I saw my writing improve in quality and speed. The same can happen for you too, if you concentrate, make the time, and show a little discipline.

The only thing stopping you from writing is you. So give this technique a try for a week. And see what happens.

Distract yourself from the distractions and just write.

What do you think? How do you avoid distraction and just write? Share your thoughts and techniques in the comments.

If you need help breaking through the online distractions and getting focused with your writing, check out Ethan’s Automated Email Blueprint.

*Photo credit: Kevin Rawlings (Creative Commons)

About Jeff Goins

I am the best-selling author of five books, including the national bestsellers The Art of Work and Real Artists Don't Starve. Each week, I send out a free newsletter with my best tips on writing, publishing, and helping your creative work succeed.