Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Dealing With Digital Distractions When Writing

I rarely blog about writing and I very rarely blog about technology (honestly, I rarely blog, to the increasing annoyance of both my agent and my publicist), but today I want to touch on both and where they intersect for me. 

Tell me if this is a familiar scenario:  you sit down to write (whether a novel, a report, a dissertation, a love letter, whatever), you minimize everything but Word and look at that beautiful blank, white space in front of you, just waiting to be filled up by your brilliance. You begin to type, slowly at first, but building momentum. Just as you're about to hit your stride you hear, DOO-doot.  Whoops. Facebook was open in one of those browser windows.

I wonder who wrote on my wall, you think. Doesn't matter, but maybe you should just quick check, so you're not distracted. Ten minutes later, you're trying to get back into writing when an e-mail pops up from your boss. Oh, crud. Does he need me to come in early? Did I forget to use the new job codes on my time card? You read the e-mail, then reply. Then some guy who was apparently sitting at his laptop, mainlining espresso, just WAITING for an e-mail to which he could respond, fires off a reply to your reply. You're in it now, because it's obvious you're still at your computer.

Twenty minutes later, that's resolved. You get a page of writing done before an alarm pops up from Outlook, reminding you that your second quarter estimate tax payments are due in two days. You'd forgotten all about that. How can you focus now?  Maybe you should pop over to failblog for a while and just chill out to calm your mind.

You're just about feeling creative again when your spouse asks if you're coming to bed. Word count for the night: 400.

I don't know about you, but the Internet is a huge distraction for me any time I'm near a computer, particularly when I'm trying to writewhether a sermon, a lesson, an article, or  a novel. Trying to write with the Internet right in front of me is like trying to write with a toddler in the room. It's possible, I suppose, but it takes much more time and energy than it needs to and involves little momentum.

Dealing with (and conquering) that distraction is a big part of being a productive writer. I've found several different tools that work well in overcoming the constant distractions of working on a computer that's connected to e-mail, twitter, facebook, a billion blogs, and my schedule and task list for the day and week ahead . . .   I'll tell you my very favorite method for avoiding such distractions tomorrow, but for now let me suggest two (almost) free pieces of software that can help and ask for your input.

The following programs are very effective, especially when used in tandem:

1. Dark Room. This free program describes itself as " a full screen, distraction free, writing environment." Basically, it's like you're writing on a Commodore 64's word processor (complete with monochrome screen); no features, no bells or whistles, just you and your text. It's a clone of a somewhat pricey (considering what it is) Mac program. You can download Dark Room by clicking here.

2. Cold Turkey. You have to buy this one, but the good news is that you pay whatever the heck you want! This program has been a God-send for me. It will temporarily (you set how long) block whatever websites and programs are a distraction for you.  Want an hour of uninterrupted writing? Open up Cold Turkey, set it up to block social networking and time-sucking humor websites, as well as your e-mail and IM programs, and then click "Go Cold Turkey!" It's like going back to the early '90s, but without the parachute pants. (You'll have to turn off your smart phone too, if you have one.) You can get Cold Turkey at...waaaait for

My newest strategy works even better than these two programs and I will share it on Thursday. But for now, what works for you? How do you keep digital distractions from neutralizing your writing mojo? 

Comment below.


  1. Digital distractions are less of a problem for me than physical ones. Honestly, I go to maybe two or three websites--ever--and they are exhausted pretty quickly if no one is saying anything interesting (which usually they are not). But give me a messy desk or a kitchen full of dirty dishes or a dog that wants to go out and I really can't work very well.

  2. I agree, Erin. The digital distractions are there but I can tune them out, or at least jump back into writing pretty quickly. But the dogs, the kitten who wants to help me write, and the kids stopping by my office for a quick visit on the way to the refrigerator are something else. Today I'm cleaning my office. It got so messy that even I can't work, which is saying something.

  3. I can relate. I read somewhere that receiving good news on e-mail or FB triggers a sort of Pavlov's-dog reaction in our brains, a surge of serotonin or something, so we keep checking back hoping to get another "hit." Maybe there needs to be a Social Media Anonymous, lol.

  4. There actually are Internet addiction groups out there... I know the feeling. When I activate "Cold Turkey," which blocks FB from coming up, I realize just how frequently I flip over and refresh FB without ever really deciding to. It's like a rat hitting a feeder bar for another food pellet, to quote Noah Vanderway...

  5. This is the story of my sermon writing life! I usually turn off my wifi switch and put tape over it, if necessary.