Shhh! A Writer’s Guide: How To Focus By Destroying The World

MikeachimThe Everyday49 Comments


Modern writers have a problem, and it’s called The World. It’s noisy and distracting. They don’t know how to focus on their work. It’s a problem.

The solution is simple…destroy it.

More on that in a minute.

First, some basics.


Define “writing“:

Me, I reckon it’s – a process where words are put together in arrangements that elegantly and efficiently convey meaning.

(This means Dan Brown isn’t technically a writer. Hey, I’m fine with that).

Basic requirements for writing:

1. Imagination

2. Words

3. Facts /Ideas

4. Something to put words on, or in.

(5. Time)

That really is all.

Inbox Overload

But on the digital side of things, it’s got a bit messy.

Thanks to Progress, modern writers have “never had it so good”. They’re trying to stay focussed while being firehosed with bright, shiny distractions from all directions – and the tragedy is, professional writers are particularly susceptible to distraction because their imaginations are one of their main tools of the trade. Their job is to write; their instinct is to explore, to slake their need for variety and novelty. They want to play: it’s how they do.

So pity them. With ‘Net-enabled computers, they’re like reformed pyromaniacs doing a day shift at a gas station, then an evening shift at a library…and they’re issued with their own complementary jerry can.

So, predictably and naturally, the brain of the online writer is wired for rebellion.


Procrastination is what’s hard about writing. Writing itself is easy.When you’re writing, truly writing, the world fades away from the periphery of your Inner Eye and all you can think about is what you’re writing. You’re drunk, cacklingly monomaniacal, vacant-eyed smacked out of your head on it. You’re in a world of your own, andbecause you built  it, you deeply, obsessively care about it.

This is the only way to write your best work.

I’m a professional writer – which means I spend most of my day avoiding writing.
Andrew Martin
Procrastination is like masturbation.  At first it feels good, but in the end you’re only screwing yourself.

Well, sure. We all know this.

And because we just love giving ourselves a hard time, we therefore treat procrastination like a lamentable recurring character flaw that we should be able to overcome if we’re any sort of real writer.

Except it’s nowhere near that simple. Wanting to procrastinate isn’t a sign that you’re a lazy wretch: it’s a sign that your brain is awake and ready to get to work. It’s itching for something to do, and if you don’t suggest something quick, it’ll go its own merry way. To repeat: procrastination isn’t laziness – it’s misguided energy.

No – it’s not you, it’s everyone else. So what you really need to do is to remove all distractions that might mislead your wayward intelligence. You need to destroy the world.

light #2


Problem: My Computer is Really Great At Doing Stuff

Modern computers are incredible.

I’m sat here in a room aromatic with overstrong coffee, in front of my battered-looking Fujitsu Siemens Amilo A1650 laptop. Open Office, Photoshop Elements, The Complete National Geographic, Sid Meier’s Civilization III, Google Picasa, Spotify, Skype, e-books (like this one), PDF’d magazines, photos, old emulated Commodore Amiga games, digital photography tutorials, WordPress manuals and heaps more. There’s easily enough here to keep me busy for a year.

And I’m connected to the Internet. So multiply that by a sizeable fraction of infinity.

Modern PCs and Macs can do near as dammit anything – even the ageing workhorses like my one. But when you can do near as dammit anything, you do  n.a.d.a.


Solution: My Computer Is “Junk”

I have an old (positively ancient in computing terms) Sony Vaio, a low-end Pentium III. It runs Windows XP, but only just. It has USB ports so I can move files back and forth, but it doesn’t have an internet connection and would only be able to limp online if it did. It doesn’t have enough memory to run much but the most basic software. I know this because last year I experimentally installed Photoshop on it, and it took 8 minutes to boot the program up. (This isn’t terribly fast, even for a PC). I giggled for a while, wiped my eyes and then emtpied the hard-drive. There’s nothing on there now except a particular word processor (see later).

That’s all that machine does now. Finis. That’s it.

So now I have a computer, and I also have a glorified typewriter. I use one to get on the Internet, check my e-mail, goof off, chat to people, surf around for things to write about or just for the hell of it, and to do professional or fun blogging, like this post. And on the other – I’m writing a play and working on a book.

When I’m on the latter machine, I’m not on the former. It’s one or the other. That’s the line, right there.

If you want to write, try getting something that through technological limits or installational choice does nothing but write. Buy a laptop that has the connectivity to transfer files back and forth, but can do bugger-all else. The great news is that it’ll be really, really cheap because in a computer hardware sense, it’s verging on junk. (Less so with Macs – you’ll have to hunt a bit harder for the cheapest models).

(Oh, and don’t be tempted to get an actual typewriter. That’s just daft).

What you’re after, in the literal sense, is an electronic notebook.

And nothing more.


Problem: My Screen Is Too Busy

For many people – maybe even for most people – having a dedicated word processor isn’t a practical option. That’s particularly true for digitally nomadic travel writers or anyone else who works on the move. They need it all in one box.

So if you’re one of these folk, you need to destroy the world with software.

Q10 - No name 14022010 165806-1

Solution: Turn It Into A Blackboard (or Whiteboard or Greenboard or…)

Q10 (PC only).


Darkroom (PC).

CreaWriter (PC).

Writeroom (Mac / iPhone).

OmmWriter (Mac).


Problem: I’m Not In The Mood

Once you’ve got your minimal-distraction environment arranged just so, well, there’s the sitting down part.

Solution: Oh Go On – Just A Little Bit…

No need to flinch. Writing is only difficult in large doses. So take small ones. Learn to accustom your mind to be as quiet and undistractable as your surroundings, and do it patiently, bit by bit.

Unfortunately, this is tantamount to asking a small mischievous child to sit quietly in the corner of a sweet shop. Pretty soon, your brain is running about covered in sugar and your thoughts are all sticky. That’s probably when you need to stop for the day – even if just ten minutes have elapsed.

Just make sure that for those ten minutes,  you’re dashing.

Solution: …or Okay, So What Are You In The Mood For?

And if you find yourself procrastinating. So what? Just point it in a more useful direction, like towards the housework (I’m with Lifehacker on this one).

Procrastinate with a focus, and you’ve got it beat.


Further reading:
Images: Grant Neufeld, notashamed, Katie Tegtmeyer, badboy69, Mickie Quick, blakie, Giorgio Montersino and Mike Sowden.