Focus! Focus! Focus! SQUIRREL!

Do you know what my dream day would be like? My dream day would be spending a day, an ENTIRE day, writing or working on fiction writing related activities. Alas, I’m working mom with a crazy schedule, so the chances of that happening anytime soon are slim to infinitely impossible.

That means that I have to make the most of the time I have available to write. I’ve started devoting the first hour of my day to writing. Whenever I get to my desk (usually no later than 9:30am), I tell Siri to set a timer for an hour and I get to work. When the timer goes off, I stop and move on to whatever is first on my task list.

I don’t know about you, but my mind NEVER stops and it doesn’t take much to distract me. Are you familiar with Doug the dog from the movie Up?  SQUIRREL! Yeah, that’s me. I have to work hard to create an environment where I really can just focus on my fiction writing. Here are some the practices I’ve adapted to keep myself on task.

Limit access to social media

When I created my standing desk, I created a separate workstation for writing. This machine does have an Internet connection because sometimes I research during my writing time, but I’m not logged in to any of my social media accounts. That extra step of having to log in is usually enough to get me back on track. I know most people don’t have a separate workstation, but there are programs and browser plug-ins that will limit your access to the Internet such as Freedom.

Turn off the phone

If I’m feeling particularly scattered, I set my iPhone to Do Not Disturb when I write. Now, again, working mom with two kids in school. I have to be reachable, so I make sure the house phone is available, but In the other room. I can finish my thought and then go check the caller ID or answering machine.

 Background noise

Some people need silence to write, I need a little bit of background noise. Lately, I’ve been using Songza to find suitable music. It’s a music concierge service (and it’s free!). You tell Songza what you are doing and it will find music to fit that activity. It even offers ambient noise like a coffee shop. I prefer music and there is almost always a guitar or piano instrumental category that fits the bill for me.

Capturing the Squirrels

In yoga, and meditation, they say that when trying to quiet your mind, cultivating the ability to let thoughts drift through your mind is key. David Allen author of Getting Things Done talks about capturing information for later processing and organization. To keep thoughts not relevant to what I’m doing drifting through I combine both of these ideas when I’m writing.

While writing, if I have a thought that’s relevant to my story but not necessarily the part I’m focused on currently, I type it into the document and then change the color of the text for easy location in the future. If a thought wanders through my mind about non-writing tasks, I just jot it down on a notepad I keep by the computer. The thoughts are captured, so I can let them drift out of my mind with confidence that they will be dealt with later. When my timer goes off, I usually take a few minutes to scan through the notes I’ve added to the text and move them to appropriate scenes or add them to the outline. Once I’m out of writing mode, I grab the note pad and process the information captured there, adding tasks or calendar items as necessary.

It’s not a foolproof system and I’m not 100% focused 100% of the time, but I am making better use of the writing time I do have, so I’m happy.

What do you do to maintain focus during your writing time?

Lee Laughlin is a writer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at She has been a member of the Concord Monitor Board of Contributors. Her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is currently working on her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction.


20 thoughts on “Focus! Focus! Focus! SQUIRREL!

  1. Any background noise but music. I prefer ambient sounds or total quietness. I cannot write in a cafe either. Too much stimulation. I can write while watching TV or cooking or ironing just like now. I dart from task to task because I can’t sit still. I’m an OC with the hint of ADHD.

  2. I just wrote about how lonely the opposite is ;-). I’ve been lucky enough to have large chunks of uninterrupted time to write and edit and….it can be terribly lonely. You get stuck in a sentence, you start to lose perspective, you lose yourself. It sounds better on paper than it actually is. Pun intended. Grass, greener, right?

  3. I am new to writing and part way through my first attempt at a psychological thriller. I completely understand your fight for writing time. I am also up against it alongside work and family commitments. When I do sit down to write I plug my headphones in but do not play music. I find that this faint muffle of background noise wherever I may be is at a perfect level for me to concentrate on my writing. Thanks for the post! Mark

  4. I need either something muscial playing, or I need a show playing on my computer (no real tv), but my muse pops up out of nowhere randomly throughout the day, so I’ve always got something to write with and on anytime, even if it’s just an app on my phone. However, I’m trying to make my blog better, any ideas?

  5. Headphones. Nice, big, bulky headphones. For me, they serve two purposes: First, I listen to ambient sounds, (thunder storms, ocean waves, haven’t tried coffee shop, maybe I should… oops… squirrel!) Second, they are a visual reminder to all in the house that I am working. I am still easily accessable but the sight of those headphones makes people pause and think, “Can this wait until later?” They know I will come up for air in about an hour.

  6. I can listen to music if it has a certain feel that I’m trying to portray in my writing. What I can’t do is have people around me. Which is impossible.

  7. I’ve started going to a coffee shop with another writer friend and we both get a lot more done because there’s no house distractions (the laundry, the floors, what’s in the fridge).

  8. I know a lot of writers advise against listening to music while writing, but I feel like it’s almost a necessity for me. Primarily instrumentals though, favorite would have to be Ludovico Einaudi piano tunes while writing, the man’s a genius musician. It’s the truth the key is to get focused and to stay focused awesome post!

  9. Reblogged this on Getting Lit Fit and commented:
    Unfortunately, I must confess that since starting my new job, I have not maintained focus on my writing. Having to work earlier, longer hours and farther away makes it difficult for me to find the time. I know this is a poor excuse that a real writer would never use. Hopefully soon I’ll be able to find a good chunk of time in which to write, then I’ll be able to focus on focusing.

  10. Great article. I have a butterfly mind and have tried standing-up to write, limiting SM and setting proper breaks. Don’t always obey my own rules of course! I always end up doing laundry & chores during my working day – totally relatable & realistic post. thanks! /I am supposed to be finishing my novel – squirrel!!

  11. i try to write as much as i can but it is hard to find time with school and school work on top of that when i get home. However, i too am guilty of the social media and mobile phone distractions! Will definitely try out Songza, thank you! Would you mind taking a look at my blog? the link is:

  12. Pingback: a few of my favorites | Riddle from the Middle

  13. I’m such a “Squirrel” it took me 4 months to read this! And I have 3 blogs… all of which I’ve ignored… Good stuff, thanks for sharing. I listen to classical music and movie soundtracks – no words! Started a novel with NaNoWriMo last year – got my 50,000 words! – and working on it intermittently; more ceasing than beginning. My hubby says, “Why do today what you can put off til tomorrow.” Happy writing! 🙂

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