If you’ve ever heard, “I make sure I write at least 1000 words (or other amount) each day” or the statement, “I write from 8 to noon (or some specified time) each day” – and wondered if this is good advice, consider this:
There is no absolute. This is a matter of style (as well as being conditional on a number of other factors). With that being said, there is wisdom in specifying the time you will write or the number of words you will write. One is not better than the other, but having a specific goal is important. Note that I said, “specific goal.” It is more attainable (because it is more tangible) to work toward a particular number of words or to write for a particular amount of time than it is to have as a goal, “I will have this section of my article (dissertation, precis) written today. That’s too ‘fuzzy.’
Now, what about getting distracted when you write? Has that every come into play for you? Maybe you have found (or believe) that you can write for 15 minutes (maybe) before you have to switch focus. It is possible that you have noticed that email is the usual way you switch focus! It’s possible that you tell yourself, “Yikes. This is not good to be doing. Maybe I need to find a new way to switch focus, even for a couple minutes, and then get back to writing. Maybe I should be getting up and walking around for a few minutes…or what about switching my focus to another writing project? Or wait, I know, maybe I should just move away from the keyboard, take pencil and paper, and write down ideas?”
Believe me, not only have I heard these conversations from others, I have had them in my own head. Here are four tips to assist you:
- Turn off your email altogether. Email has made all of us highly distractible and we have to be diligent about avoiding that self-distraction.
- If necessary, log out and/or disconnect from internet access. For example, think about the times when you have taken your laptop somewhere that doesn’t have internet access or it’s too much of a pain to hook it up – and so you know how uncomfortable (and sometimes panicked) we feel. This gives you a sense of the need to break our addiction to distracting ourselves with email (and believe me, I am HIGHLY familiar with this one personally).
- Begin to work up from 15 minutes of uninterrupted writing time to 20 minutes over the period of a week. Then the next week, go to 25 minutes, and so on until you can work uninterrupted for, say, 45 or 50 minutes (which is long enough. After that, most people need to – and should – get up, stretch, go to the bathroom, and get a drink of water). To help facilitate your increase in focused time, use a timer that is set for 15 minutes one day then 16 the next and so on. Just make it a little game and sure enough…you can do it!
- Break your writing down into smaller pieces – e.g., writing 5 tips for ____ and then working just on explain one of the tips at one sitting – is another way to get your writing moving forward even though you are doing it in 15, 20, or 25 minute spurts.
You’re smart. You’re educated. You’re committed to reaching your goals. I know you can set goals for writing and keep yourself focused long enough to reach them. Prove me right!