Last updated: 19 September, 2020
At last! You have your idea, you have your outline, you have the time, and you have your blank screen in front of you. Nothing can stop you from writing now!
Nothing? Well, except the phone, emails, social media, self-doubt, and even the software you’re using…
Writing is hard. It requires focus and momentum. Even if you think you can deal with the distractions, it doesn’t take much to send your train of thought off the rails.
If you keep stopping to go back over what you’ve written before moving on, you will likely have a beginning that has been revised and polished many times, a middle part that has been worked over somewhat less, and an end that has barely been looked at. And since the end is what makes the final impression, that’s not a good balance of attention.
If your concentration is interrupted, you’re more likely to leave out important connecting material or details that you had intended to put in when you got distracted. The result is something that feels like it was put together by different people who weren’t talking to each other… because it was: you, at several different times and states of mind.
You can’t pick up where you were and restart with the same momentum. If you have to go back and look over what you’ve already done to refresh your memory (or to consider whether you still like it), then you’re like the little engine that couldn’t, chugging slowly up the hill only to slide back again and again.
Your writing brain is not your revising brain. The part of your mind that is stringing together the thoughts and forming them into words is not the same as the part of your mind that evaluates what you’ve written. If you stop to go back and look over what you’ve written so far, you’re switching tracks from creative brain to analytical brain – or you’re trying to, anyway (probably not successfully).
Who are these robbers lurking ready to take your train of thought off the rails and plunder it? Here’s the rogues’ gallery – and how to beat them:
That’s phone calls, text messages, emails, and social media. People want to talk to you! They need your opinion, advice, or input! And the world is moving on and things are happening and people are saying things and you need to know! But stopping to read and reply slams the brakes on your writing. Even worse, after you’ve accidentally spent half an hour on social media instead of writing, you may be too upset to focus.
The fix: Go write somewhere where there’s no wi-fi, or turn it off if you can’t move. And turn off your phone, or, if you absolutely can’t make yourself do that (I understand), switch it to silent, turn off notifications, set it face down, and put it as far away from you as you can manage. The emails and messages will be waiting for you when you’re back. As for social media, it’s a fast-flowing river, and you will never see everything that goes by, so don’t even try. There will always be more, just as there is always more water in the river. Go back later when you have time to waste.
This is the great temptation of any writer who is dealing with facts! As you write, you realize you to want to include a detail or insight or to check something. So you flick over to your browser to look it up. Forty-five minutes later, you’ve read three feature articles on news sites, gotten into four arguments on Twitter or Facebook, checked out seven Instagram profiles, and gone down a rabbit hole about naked mole rats, and you still don’t know the fact you paused to find out.
The fix: Make yourself a note in the document that you can deal with after you’ve finished your first draft. And step away from the wi-fi – or at least act like you have!
Many writers will write a sentence or two and stop and wonder if those sentences really are any good – and then spend a bunch of time rewriting them and rewriting them again instead of drafting the rest of the document. This wastes time and forces you to switch from creative to analytical. Even worse, when you give into self-doubt, you reinforce it.
The fix: It’s normal, when you look back at what you’ve written, to dislike at least some of it. But if you’re doing that while you’re writing, it undermines the whole process. It’s like heckling yourself while you’re performing. Repeat the magic phrase: “I’ll take care of that on the next pass.” You can do a whole separate pass to check mechanical details after you’ve finished. Also, consider hiring an editor. Editors cost less, work faster, and add more value than you might think; and they give a fresh perspective.
Software that checks your text as you write might seem helpful, but it can be very distracting – it prompts you to make small changes immediately, disrupting your flow of thought and bringing in that other robber, Self-Doubt. That sentence isn’t going to get any worse if you leave it until your revisions, and you’ll be in a better frame of mind if you save looking at it until then. Once more for the people in the back: The grammar-checking mind is not the same as the writing mind.
The fix: Don’t let software interrupt you unbidden. Turn off all of Word’s squiggly lines (and any other checker that underlines your text as you type). Run those checks at the end instead, along with your PerfectIt pass. If you don’t yet have PerfectIt, give it a try. PerfectIt makes sure that your text follows a consistent style, and it doesn’t interrupt your flow. You can write freely and set down your ideas without worrying about small slip-ups – just run the check at the end and look at it with your analytical brain. Get the free trial here.
OK, be honest: Are you reading this during a “break” from writing?
Seriously. Is that what you’re doing right now?
Well, then. Email yourself the link to PerfectIt. It’ll save you time later. Then close this browser and finish writing your draft!