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Why Can’t I Just Focus On My Writing?

The moonlight poured through the window and bathed my desk in a brilliant white phosphorescence. The artificial glow of my laptop transformed the walls of my darkened room into an unusual backdrop for the dancing of shapely shadows. A small fan in the corner blew hot air around with a constant whirring, joining the periodic swishing of passing cars on the rain logged road outside.

It was a Monday night and for nearly an hour I had obsessed over the random details of my surroundings. Details which went unnoticed any other night, but proved too much of a distraction to allow me to write in peace on this particular evening. In reality, I was looking for a distraction—any distraction to take my mind off my work. Why? I don’t know.

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Many writers have these types of nights. Those nights where you want to write, but for some reason your mind doesn’t want to cooperate. Some call this writer’s block, but I believe it’s something else.

Writer’s block is when you can’t think of any ideas, figure out what to write, or how to proceed with what you already have. That’s not what happened to me on that boring Monday. I had plenty of ideas and knew where my story was going, but I couldn’t get myself to focus. I couldn’t make myself get the work done. I believe this is a much more common and troubling problem we as writers face.

Writer’s block sucks, but it can be overcome. There are plenty of ways to spark your imagination and get the creative juices flowing, but what can you do when your brain just doesn’t want to focus? When you want to write but your mind has turned into a vagabond crawling through a crowded city full of distractions? For me, the answer was simple.

I gave up and stopped writing for the evening. When it comes to writer’s block, you should never quit when you get stuck. If you do, you make it more likely that you’ll always give up when you get stuck in the future. But when it comes to focus issues, giving up—or at least taking a break—can make all the difference.

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When I find my thoughts keep wandering away from my work, I prefer to let them go free instead of trying to wrangle them up and force them to do something they don’t want to do. Holding your thoughts back to focus on any one thing for long stretches of time can be like putting a high energy puppy in a cage and expecting it to behave for hours on end. Sometimes it’s best to let them free and expel their excess energy.

I know a lot of writers use things like Adderall for focus, but if I need to rely on drugs to work, I’m doing the wrong kind of work. As I’ve said, I like to let my thoughts wander when they become too scattered in my head. It might not be the most productive way to write, but it allows my brain the freedom to create new and unexpected ideas.

In the opening paragraph I described the room I was in and what was distracting me from my work. That was brought about because I wasn’t letting my mind roam freely. I was trying so hard to focus that my brain did the opposite of what I wanted it to do. That serves no purpose and should be avoided. At least when I’m letting my thoughts ping-pong all around, I am entertained. But staring at my fan, well, that just blows.

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One major thing that seems to cause lack of focus is social media. Hell, I’d say my cell phone in general is a giant problem. YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, text messages… All these things take you away from your writing if you let them. And that’s what I’m finding most difficult these days: keeping my mind off the internet so I can get work done. After all, it’s so damn easy to caught up in the shitstorm that is trending news stories, random conversations, and countless cat videos. This leads me to another question. If the internet makes it this difficult for us writers to work, how hard does it make it for people to focus on reading the work we do manage to put out?

I really hope we as a society aren’t collectively circling the drain. It certainly seems like literature is a dying art form. And as much as I like to act all high and mighty about how much I love reading and writing, I still lose hours of my days to bullshit media that holds no importance to my world. I often get pissed at myself for wasting time on things that don’t matter, but it’s hard to sit down and write after working all day. Especially when you can watch hours of hilarious things like It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia clips on YouTube while you relax.

This brings me to my conclusion. Unlike the perfectly sane Frank Reynolds, I’ve come to understand that my lack of focus is really a lack of discipline. There are always going to be times when you are distracted and don’t want to write, but you must do it anyway. You must build the discipline to work when you don’t feel like it or when your mind isn’t into it. Even if it’s only a few poorly written paragraphs, it’s better than nothing. You can work with that. You can edit and build upon that. You can’t edit nothing. And this is where my mind is at now. I need to throw my damn phone in a drawer once a day and focus on my work as best as I can. You know why the great writers of the early 20th century got so much amazing work accomplished? It’s because they didn’t have computers or smartphones. They wrote on shitty typewriters or by hand in dimly lit rooms. We have too many distractions now!

Here’s the hard truth, though. It’s not technology, or other people, or social media that is at fault for our lack of focus. It’s us! We need more discipline. We need to stay off the fucking internet and write, and read, and think about what we’ve written and read. We must avoid the things that serve no purpose. Instead, we must sit down and write, write, WRITE!

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I’m interested in hearing about how some of you deal with focus issues. I realize that by letting my thoughts roam I do miss out on a lot of writing time. This isn’t ideal and I wish I could fix the problem. If you have any tips on the subject feel free to comment below.

And while you’re here, check out our life articles page for more great pieces.

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