Buzz, Bing, Beep! How to Turn Off Writing Distractions

Bentley Gin Mill

Turning Off the TVs at Bentley’s Gin Mill—Time to Write!

Everybody’s getting hammered with distractions these days. The sweet candy of the smartphone turns into a shrill mistress clamoring for attention. The bright chirps of the Twitter feed turn into an ear-splitting cacophony, ever pecking, pecking, pecking. Trying to keep up with your grandma’s blog makes it hard to read every post from Buzzfeed too. Writers, how can you find your sweet solace at the keyboard, where the only music you hear are the words in tune, when all around you are the beeps, buzzes and bombs of our 25/7 (extra credit) world?

Well, beats me. I’m a lousy example. But now I’m going to huff and puff and declare that (after many such declarations), I’m really—no, really—going to create new habits of discipline and focus. Because, dangit, how am I ever going to get any writing done? Here are my main problems, with a few solutions:

News, Not Needed
I always wanted to be a journalist. Perhaps with newspapers fluttering their way into time’s crypt, it’s just as well I never got an actual job on a paper. But I jones to read the news, even if it’s mostly fervid enumerations of political atrocities or social atrocities (newest Kardashian cut, anyone?). Thus I’ll read news updates throughout the day. Not gonna do that anymore. From now, just a morning look at the headlines, and maybe a glance or two at the excellent Next Draft news curation after lunch. No more swallowing the vortex of human misery—just enough to get bloody.

Bigger Data to Fry
I write marketing copy for businesses. So I try to keep up on all kinds of developments in marketing info, like marketing automation programs, lead generation, effective landing pages, big data, big bad data and big, bad badass data. Attend all kinds of webinars and the like, to see the breadth of marketing concerns. No more. No more webinars and articles that don’t have direct relevance to the kind of copy I write. Maybe just check in with the good MarketingProfs daily newsletter, and cherry-pick the articles of relevance.

Eating Fewer Essays
I love long-form writing, the kind of stuff you see on Medium and Byliner and in the New Yorker and the Atlantic. I’m an essay writer myself, and there are some excellent prose stylists around these days to really show you (me) how it’s done. But get into a few of those pieces, and you’re an hour or more down (and your own essay lies a’dying). Can’t do that anymore—one long-form essay, if any, per day. Or read them after the workday is done. Yeah, I can spare some time from the television, another scouring desert wind of the mind.

The Creaks, Shakes and Conniptions of Publishing
I’m fascinated by the publishing industry, the creaks and shakes and conniptions it’s undergone in the last five years or so, since readers and self-publishing (and hybrid publishing, and agent-assisted publishing and cooperative publishing and every other garden-seedling variant) came into ascendancy. But I’ve spent so many hours reading about the end of print, the bloody cudgel named Amazon, the imperative that every writer have a bouncy, groomed platform or they will shrivel and die—nay! Nevermore. Perhaps I’ll just periodically check in with an industry maven who pokes into every corner, like the silver-tongued, indefatigable Porter Anderson, who adjudicates publishing boxing matches at joints like Jane Friedman’s and Publishing Perspectives.

A Deaf Ear to the Mail Bell
And email, damn. I check email 20 times a day, one of those mouse-pressing-the-cocaine-lever things. There’s no need. It just breaks your focus, so that if you did, by Odin’s beard, happen to be engaged in a piece of writing, it takes fifteen minutes to return to that fugue state of concentration that good writing deserves. Not gonna do it anymore: email in the morning, after lunch and at the end of the day. By the way, Ed Gandia consistently offers good counsel about focus and productivity, as does John Soares. Check ’em out.

Despite me not reading every headline, or offering all my ears at every webinar, the world will go on. I really won’t miss out. And I’ll get more writing done. Your writing distractions might differ from mine, but it can only be good for your own writing to consider how to cut them back.

Oh, yeah: don’t stop reading my blog, though. You can return to your writing anytime.