I’m writing again for the first time in months and finding it difficult to sit still in my chair. Today I thought about what works and what doesn’t for me. What do I have to do to get from distracted-checking-my-e-mail-every-five-seconds Meghan to focused-writing Meghan? Here’s what works for me:
1. Make sure you’re in a quiet place where you won’t have any interruptions. If you’re somewhere with noise, use earplugs or noise-blocking headphones. If you can’t afford those multi-hundred-dollar Bose things, get a pair of $25 construction headphones at Home Depot (that’s what I have). They’re big and bulky and block out all noise.
2. Make sure you have water, tea, and snacks at your side, so you have no excuse to get out of your chair for the next two hours. (You can also bribe yourself with something you want, like chocolate or a chai latte.)
3. Give yourself 10 minutes to check your e-mail, then shut it down.
6. Open Scrivener. If you don’t have it, go here and buy it right now. Do the 30-day free trial if you want, but what happened to me was that I didn’t do the tutorial within the 30 days and then didn’t buy it for several more months. My recommendation: skip the trial and just buy it. I know many writers who swear by it and once I finally started using it, I loved, loved, loved it. Once you’ve bought it, do the tutorial. I opened a second Scrivener window at the same time as the tutorial and imported my book while doing the tutorial so I could apply what I was learning to my book as I went along. Buy it. Right now.
7. Open Freedom. If you don’t have MacFreedom and you’re using a Mac. Download it right now. It’s free. You can also use Self Control. More and more writers are using MacFreedom, so it seems to be the preferred app, but with self-control you can blacklist or whitelist certain websites, while MacFreedom blocks you from using the Internet at all. If you’re on a PC, google “network blocking software” and see what’s out there. There must be something.
8. Set Freedom for the amount of time you want to work. I usually do 120 minutes, but if that’s too long for you to go without Internet, do 60.
9. Open your stopwatch widget. If you don’t have one and you’re on a Mac, go to Apple and download one for free. If you’re on a PC, I don’t know how widgets work, but you can always go to a sporting goods store and get a real stopwatch. I used one for years. Turn on the stopwatch (and turn it off whenever you get out of your chair of stop writing to check your e-mail, etc.)
10. Now you’re all set and panic sets in. You can’t write. You don’t want to write. You can’t think of what to say. You desperately want to check your e-mail. Or wait, didn’t you leave the stove on? Oh, maybe that’s the mailman. And you should pay the electric bill. Oh damn, you forgot to call Sophie to tell her you can’t make it tomorrow. Go ahead, think through all the reasons why you can’t write right now. But don’t get out of that chair. Just sit there for ten minutes until your brain calms down. Still don’t want to write? Then don’t. Just open up the document you were working on yesterday (or last week) and read it. Before you know it, you’ll be making edits and editions and … look ma, I’m writing! Thirty minutes later, you remember you need to add that movie to your Netflix queue, so you open your browser and … damn MacFreedom! You’re blocked from using the Internet! Sigh. Back to writing.
11. Once your 120 minutes are up, stop the stopwatch, get up and use the bathroom (you’re also allowed to do this while writing, just make sure you stop the stopwatch when you do), give yourself a 10-minute time limit to check your e-mail, refill the coffee, eat lunch, whatever, then sit back down and set MacFreedom for another 120 minutes (or however long you plan to write. Have a goal before you begin.)
12. And voila! You just wrote for four hours! Now it’s my turn …