Distraction Free Writing (Part I)
1st May, 2021
Distractions are the antithesis of focus; and focus is what we need to write our best. It makes sense that when we write we want to remove as many distractions as possible. There is just one problem: there are now more distractions than ever!
But worry not! This guide is to here to help you level-up your distraction free writing so you can get the most out of your writing sessions. This is a guide in several parts. In this first part we will look at why we get distracted so much when writing, and in future parts we will look at how we can use that knowledge to make our writing sessions as distraction free as possible.
So without further ado, let’s get started!
So why do we get so easily distracted when writing? Sitting down to write can seemingly put us into a hyper-alert mode: where distractions arrive again and again, and each one gets increasingly harder to resist. We know we should be writing – not scrolling social media on our phone! But putting the phone down and getting back to writing requires willpower. And what happens when we finally do it? We soon want to pick up the phone again…
Trying to write but instead finding ourselves constantly being distracted can feel like we are at war with ourselves. The truth is in moments like this we are at war with ourselves! We have to remember that there are two sides to each of us: our conscious mind and our subconscious mind. When we find it so difficult to concentrate on writing, what is occurring is a conflict between those two halves of ourselves.
Let’s not kid ourselves: writing is hard! One of the key reasons for this is the delayed gratification we get from writing. In the moment, writing does not necessarily provide us with much satisfaction. To get satisfaction from writing we have to play the long game. We have to hit the daily writing target, finish the first draft, or even finish the entire project. Writing takes an upfront commitment of time, focus, and energy before we can feel the reward from doing it. This delayed reward is what allows our subconscious to step in…
We can consciously understand that writing requires patience before we can experience the reward. Our subconscious, however, isn’t really motivated by the long term. Our subconscious exists in the here and now. It is simply the way we’ve evolved. Historically we didn’t have to grind out work for the pay check at the end of the month. Our efforts, such as hunting animals or foraging for food, would provide much more immediate rewards. As hunter gatherers the gap between our efforts and our rewards were much smaller than today. It’s worth remembering that even long-term investments such as farming and agriculture are relatively recent activities in terms of human evolution!
Our subconscious has evolved to keep us safe and happy now, not later. This is why our subconscious is always guiding us away from long-term, high-effort activities into other activities that provide much more immediate reward for less effort. We can see this struggle everywhere: waiting to the last minute to start writing that essay, skipping the gym session (again…), or ordering a takeaway instead of cooking dinner from scratch. In each instance, we likely fill the time we should have dedicated to doing the hard stuff with low-effort rewards such as watching TV, playing computer games, and scrolling social media.
Dopamine is what our subconscious is always on the lookout for. Dopamine is our “feel good” chemical that helps us feel pleasure. The bad news is that the modern world provides a constant stream of low-effort dopamine hits and our subconscious is more than happy to take up the opportunities on offer. So much so in fact, research has only shown that the attention spans of modern humans may be shortening. We are simply getting used to stimulation always being available!
So in the end, when faced with the challenge of writing, many other things are going to appear much more appealing to our subconscious since they offer much more immediate reward for less effort. One phenomenon reported by many writers is mundane tasks becoming attractive in light of writing. Things like doing the dishes or mowing the lawn all of a sudden seem like justified ways of delaying a writing session. The main thing to remember is that if there is a task on hand that is easier than writing, your subconscious will likely lead you into doing that instead!
Distractions are a battle between our subconscious and conscious minds about the best action to pursue in the present moment. It’s about choosing between long-term reward and short-term satisfaction. In the next part of this guide, we’ll look at how shifting your thinking can help you avoid the next writing distraction that comes your way. Here’s a hint: it’s about bringing the power of your conscious mind into the dialogue and not letting your subconscious get away unchallenged!
We hope you've found the information in this article helpful in regards to levelling-up your distraction free writing. If you are looking for a distraction free writing program created with all this information in mind, please try out Prime Draft, available on both Windows and Mac.