Six Simple Ways to Improve Your Writing Environment (and Get More Done)

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Do you have lots of great writing intentions … only to find your day filling up with all sorts of other things?

When you do sit down to write, are you easily distracted?

Yes?

Hey, me too!

I’ve come to realise that this isn’t a weakness in myself: it’s more about the nature of writing. There’s often a lot of resistance associated with getting started … and even once you do get going, it can be very hard to get into flow.

For years, I used to imagine that I would – somehow – become able to effortlessly focus for hours at a time.

And, in fact, I can!

But not when I’m at home.

Is Your Writing Environment Killing Your Writing?

Most writers work at home. It’s a useful perk of the job (or a necessary part of the hobby) – and I certainly wouldn’t want to commute to an office every day, like I once did.

However…

Home can be a very distracting place. I’ve got a four year old and a two year old, so our house often looks like someone did a mad sweep of a toy shop and scattered the contents liberally around every room. The rooms the kids don’t go in (primarily the master bedroom and the study) are always right at the bottom of my priority list for tidying.

There are always things to be done at home, too. Laundry to put on; dishes to wash; bits of paper to file (now that we have one child in school, we’re generating even larger quantities of paperwork than before).

Is it any wonder it’s hard to focus on writing?

If your home life looks remotely similar, please don’t beat yourself up for struggling to focus!

Instead, try to have occasional writing sessions away from home (or away from your usual writing environment). My favourite places for this are:

  • Our local library (free, air conditioned, and full of books – what’s not to like?!)
  • One of our local independent coffee shops, Pride & Produce (great cappuchinos).
  • A small, good value local hotel (brilliant for occasional overnight writing retreats).

At home, two blog posts (say, 2000 words total) plus 500 or so words of my novel would be a great writing day. In my hotel room, I can often knock off 7,000 + words between 2pm and bedtime. I normally go there once every 2 – 3 months: it’s always a wonderful chance to really immerse myself in my fiction-writing.

Of course, if you can’t get away from home, or can only do so occasionally, you can still improve your writing space.

Here are six things to try (wherever you write):

#1: Turn Off Your Internet Connection During Writing Sessions

I’m embarrassed to admit what a difference this makes to me! The internet is a world of distractions a single click away – if you turn off your wifi, or physically unplug your Ethernet cable, you might be surprised just how much easier it is to focus.

#2: Play Music (or Ambient Noise) Through Noise-Cancelling Headphones

This really helps me focus if I’m in a noisy environment: while I was planning this post, I was upstairs in our local library, next to a small coffee shop and the always-busy children’s area. My trusty headphones drowned out all the background noise!

#3: Tidy Up … but Don’t Procrastinate

Visual clutter can be very distracting, even if you don’t realise that it’s a drag on your attention and focus. Be careful not to let tidying become yet another tool for procrastination, though — just do a quick 5 minute tidy before you start your writing session.

#4: Get Physically Comfortable

I’m sure this is advice that you’ve heard over and over again … but are you acting on it? Make sure your writing setup is as comfortable as possible. That might mean adjusting your monitor height (pop a few books underneath) or using a laptop stand so that your screen is at eye level. Think, too, about seating – I like to sit on an exercise ball, which prevents me slouching back and nodding off!

#5: Remove Things that Distract You

If you’ve got your phone on the desk next to the thriller you’re currently reading, it’s not much surprise if you end up getting distracted as soon as you hit a tricky bit of writing. By keeping distractions in a different room, you’ll make your natural inertia work in your favour…

#6: Consider Using Scents or Aromas

Some writers like to burn incense or scented candles as they write: it may not be your thing, but it’s worth trying – scents can be very evocative and may help you switch into the writing mood. Last time I was at my hotel room, it had only just been cleaned before I checked in, and it smelt strongly of cleaning stuff … which made me realise how distracting the “wrong” smell can be!

 

You may not be able to have the writing room of your dreams, but a few little tweaks can definitely make it easier to sit down and concentrate during your writing sessions. If you can get away from home, even only occasionally, do: a different, distraction-free environment helps so much … and so does that sense of having put aside a couple of hours, or even a full day, for your writing.

I’d love to hear about where you write, and how it’s working (or not!) for you – just drop a comment below.

Thanks for commenting! I read all comments, and reply to as many as I can. Please keep the discussion constructive and friendly. Thank you!

14 thoughts on “Six Simple Ways to Improve Your Writing Environment (and Get More Done)

  1. Funnily enough I was just today thinking about how distracting it is writing at home. I love being here and not having to go anywhere, but I do get terribly distracted by all the things to be done. The hotel idea sounds brilliant, although I fear I wouldn’t be allowed to leave home, even for a night! Maybe I could sneak some time at the library though.

    • It’s worth a try, even if you’re not sure how it’ll go down at home!

      The first time I went to the hotel, about a year ago now, my kids cried down the phone to me at bedtime and I felt terrible. (Though only briefly, because then I ate a very nice, hot dinner without any interruptions…)

      Now, they’ve fully adjusted to it and don’t mind at all when I’m occasionally away overnight.

      I know it can be a tricky one to raise with a spouse/partner, but if it’s something you’d like to do, hopefully there’s a way you could both make it work?

  2. I’ve implemented most of these tips. Distractions are kryptonite to writers! And the Internet is probably the worst of all. Look at me… I should be writing, but instead I’m reading emails and blog posts! 🙂

    • I definitely wouldn’t be without the internet for research and marketing, but it certainly doesn’t help me much with the actual writing..! I have to turn off the wifi just to focus, sometimes.

  3. Hi Ali, this is another informative blog post. My suggestion is if you arrange “writing time” make sure your family and friends are aware. State clearly when it is and where you will be, so you can be left alone. By making a public announcement to them, this also acts as a great way of sticking to a structured routine. Your idea of switching off your internet connection really allows you to focus without distractions. Also, you may want to put your mobile phone on silent, or airplane mode.
    Dave Mears’s last blog post ..Thailand Bans Smoking On 20 Beaches

    • Thanks, Dave. I think accountability to family / friends can be hugely helpful, and yes, it’s definitely useful to make sure they’re aware that you’re going to be writing — and that they shouldn’t interrupt!

  4. I agree with going away. I go to Tenerife every November for 2 weeks and get my Nano novel off to a great head start! As soon as I’m back, the routine collapses!

    • The re-entry into normal life can feel tough after I’ve taken just a day or two away, so I can’t imagine how tricky it must be after two weeks! Hope this November goes well for you and that you can keep up some of the momentum on your return. 🙂

  5. I love this article! I work remotely as a marketing coordinator for a company and a large part of my responsibility is managing our blog, social media, etc. I work out of a shared office space most days so it definitely helps to get out of my apartment. It’s funny though, I have noticed myself switching up my location a lot more recently as it has helped to jog my creativity and remain focused on tasks at hand. I love the suggestion of adding a fragrance. I often light candles when I journal at night and am definitely going to add this into my business writing process. Thank you for the inspiration!

    • Thanks Annie! I think a change in location can make such a difference — even just moving to a different room in the house can help. Enjoy the fragrances!

  6. Hi Ali,

    It’s true: not only do I enjoy your blog posts, but I also learn so much from your writing.

    That said, the tips you’ve mentioned are excellent. I’m a big fan of testing out different strategies. I have had little success in “no browser” rule during writing sessions. But all of these tips are fantastic. However, I have been productive when I write blog posts at the office as compared to home office.

    I’m continuously finding out ways to get productive.

    Thanks for writing such a great post.
    Hassaan Khan’s last blog post ..The 6-Step Process of Writing Effective Content to Grow a Blog

    • Thanks Hassaan! Keep on trying different tips and see what works for you — not every solution is right for every person and their workflow. Good luck!

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