Sometimes, I just need to get away from the distractions of “real life” and focus, really focus, on my writing work.
I don’t use the word “distraction” in a totally negative way. Daily distractions are a normal part of life. In fact, most of the daily activities that “distract” me from my writing work are things I dearly love and things that make my life full and rich and enjoyable.
But, good or bad, distractions do have a way of putting off the writing work, or, at least, keeping me from the kind of deep focus that is sometimes required to get past a certain hurdle or answer some looming question about this story or that scene. For me, there often seems to be a point in the creation of a work where I have to isolate myself from everything else in order to find my way through that particular jungle.
Solitude in Proportion to the Project
For most projects, this self-imposed solitude takes the form of brief, concentrated writing sessions where I can turn off the internet, turn off my phone, shut the door (or go to one of my favorite, secluded writing spots) and focus. These writing sessions usually last for about three hours. (50/10/50/10/50 pomodoro-style bursts.) One or two of these hyper-focused sessions will usually get me through a short story’s rough patch.
But, for longer projects, it takes something more. This is especially true when I hit that wall of combined fatigue and self-doubt that comes too often when a project is dragging. (Usually, this is somewhere around the 2/3 completed mark.)
That’s where I am today, and why I’m taking the next five days to sequester myself, away from daily life.
Different Methods to Achieve Seclusion
I’ve been able to use this self-seclusion method successfully over the years, in a variety of ways. Some of these methods may not be available to you (due to time constraints, real world responsibilities, cost, etc) but that doesn’t mean you are off the hook! On the contrary, I believe it is not only beneficial, but NECESSARY for each of us to find ways to channel this deep-focus mindset toward our creative life on a regular basis. Each of us has to find our own way to accomplish this goal, but it really isn’t an option.
Your method of achieving deep focus time for your creative work may look different than mine, but here are a few things I’ve been able to do to help me in this area.
- Internet-free Island – In this connected day and age, sometimes the simplest (and hardest) thing to do to create deep focus is to unplug, disconnect, and ignore the ping of daily life. Turn off the internet, the phone, and any other electronic distractors for two hours, and you’ll be amazed how deeply you can focus on what is actually in front of you, rather than what the rest of the world is trying to put in front of you.
- Temporary Writing Space – Some writers have a home office space, but others do not. If you do, schedule a “writing only” time, let the other members of the household know this is time when you can’t be interrupted unless someone is bleeding, on fire, or otherwise in legitimate jeopardy, and shut the office door on the world. Put on headphones (white noise, music, or just to block out some sound) and write. If you don’t have a spare room or a basement, you can ritualize the act of writing by turning the kitchen table into your creative space: lay out a placemat, set out some candles, light incense, or whatever you can think of to temporarily transform that spot from “eat here” to “create your masterpiece here”.
- Cafe Seclusion – This doesn’t work for some people, but a lot of writers, including myself, actually find the cafe or coffee shop to be a great place to write, especially if you combine it with the Internet-free Island concept above. The dull rumble of coffee talk and espresso machines is a kind of sonic wall for some people. There’s even an online app to get you that coffee shop, white noise feel, though this would require you to (technically) leave Internet-free Island.
- Natural Wonders – Okay, I live in a really great area for this one, but pretty much every location has at least SOME opportunity to find a picnic table, shelter, bench, or fallen log where you can get some outdoor alone time and write. I have a long list of places where I can go write, where there are limited distractions (other than the scenery), and where the world around me can both calm my spirit and energize my creativity.
- Hermit Day (or Weekend) – Take one to three days and get away. Find a state park with “primitive cabins” or look for a little writing nook on Air BnB. Borrow someone’s vacation home for a day or two, or offer to pet-sit or water their plants when they go out of town as long as you can crash there for a night or two. Structure your time away to make it Internet-free Island, for at least a large portion of every day. (Don’t talk yourself into “just checking email” in the morning…wait until you have met your daily goal.)
- Writing Retreat or Residency – I was able to do a two-week writing residency in Wyoming at the Brush Creek Foundation and let me tell you, I was able to write like CRAZY during those two weeks. The good news? There are a lot of writing retreat centers and residency opportunities. Some will be sponsored, others you might pay for, but in either case, a good residency is set up to minimize your need to do anything other than WRITE or create.
Craft Your Own Writing Retreat
Whatever your personal answer to this dilemma, you CAN find a way to give yourself the time and space to write. The best-seller lists are full of people who started by writing on their commute to and from work, or writing rather than actually doing the old 9-to-5 job they were being paid to do. Some authors started by writing early in the morning or late at night, after the rest of the household was in bed. Or they found an unused stairwell where they could spend their lunch break with a pad of paper balanced on one knee and a baloney sandwich balanced on the other.
When I was in college and first feeling the white-hot rush of writing the great american novel (which was neither great, nor, ultimately, a completed novel) I worked in a paper factory warehouse for the summer. Due to the number of college kids (like me) working in the warehouse, and because our fork-lift driving skills were less than precise, there were pallets of damaged paper boxes littered throughout the warehouse. I would snatch a piece of damaged paper and jot notes and scenes and bits of dialogue.
No matter where you are, physically, you can create your own desert island, at least for a few moments. I hope you find at least an hour, sometime soon, to really focus on your creative work.
I am now leaving for my own few days of retreat. Until I return, I’m wishing you, Happy Writing!