These aren’t the same boring old tips on how to stay focused on writing (eg, turn off your WiFi). This is better. Whether you’re writing an essay, blog post, magazine article or obituary, my key to staying focused will help you write until done. Finito. Cooked. Stick a fork in it.
One way to stay focused on writing is to get inside your reader’s mind. If you’re writing an essay for school, you need to dig into your teacher’s brain to figure out what she wants. If you’re working on a magazine article, you need to learn how to stay focused on writing what your editor and readers want to know. If you’re writing a book, you need to know your readers.
In The Sense of Style: The Thinking Persons Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, Steven Pinker says the single biggest cause of bad writing is the “curse of knowledge” (or lack of focus on writing the essentials). Bad writers don’t focus on writing clearly. Rather, they get distracted by irrelevant details, or make connections that are logical only to them. Bad writers imagine that other people know what they know – which is why academic writers fall into the trap of using jargon that only other academics understand. Pinker encourages writers to stay focused on writing clearly and concretely.
So, there you have two ways to stay focused on writing. Get inside your reader’s brain and don’t get distracted by irrelevant details. And here’s one more: learn the thrill of routine.
How I Learned How to Stay Focused on Writing
I realized the power of consistency. I’ve always been deathly allergic to schedules. My husband is the opposite: he likes his routines and he resists change. When we married nine years ago, I poo poo’d his adherence to routine because I thought it was a sign of stodginess, boringness, and lack of creativity. But now that I am an old married woman blogger entrepreneur who has learned a few harsh lessons about making money freelance writing and blogging, I’ve learned the power of routine.
If you’re already a star at routines, schedules, and disciplined writing – but you can’t stay focused on writing – read 10 Ways to Increase Your Writing Motivation. Perhaps you simply need to learn how to motivate yourself to write more.
Developing a routine will help you stay focused on writing. Here’s what I wrote for myself, which I read every morning: “Consistency is the key to success in EVERYthing you do. Playing the flute, blogging, being married, running up Quarry Rock in Deep Cove in Vancouver in BC, making and keeping meaningful friendships, doing yoga, raising good dogs, being a great employee, throwing successful neighborhood parties, healing, finding freedom and peace and joy in every day…the secret to living well and being fulfilled is being consistent. Discipline and routine offer freedom, because a routine stops you from floundering around, deciding what to do next. Your plan is all laid out. No thought required. Just action. Habit.”
How is routine related to staying focused on writing? Here’s how it works for me: if I have my plan for the day all laid out, then I can focus on writing because I’m not distracted by thoughts of what’s coming up later or what I should’ve done earlier. For instance, I play the flute every morning after walking the dogs and before turning on my computer. I write a blog post every morning, and another one every afternoon (this is a new writing routine for me, because for the past four years I’ve been lacking discipline. I’m finally just learning how to stay focused on writing).
According to Pinker, a good piece of writing is like the perfect soufflé appearing in a spotless kitchen at the end of a cooking show: “The messy work has been done beforehand and behind the scenes.”
And that, fellow scribes, requires focus.
What is your biggest distraction – what zaps your writing focus? Me, I love going into past blog posts and updating them so they’re consistent with my present style. So now I only allow myself to update old blog posts only when my two new ones are written, published, and tweeted. That’s another way to enforce your writing focus: work first, play later.
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In 5 Tips for Focusing Your Magazine Ideas, guest blogger Merle Rosenstein offers practical ways to stay focused on writing articles for magazines.