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What’s the Best Way to Create a Distraction-Free Writing Environment?

Writers have always been able to find a million different diversions to keep themselves from their work, and between the web, computer games, and the fast pace of modern life, there are a million times more distractions now than in days past.

I was reminded of the multitude of distractions the other day when an old post on the Bookworks blog crossed my desk. The piece covered writing apps that offered a distraction-free experience (I’ve covered a couple such apps myself).

I was about to start writing my own roundup of distraction-free writing apps, but I thought it would be more interesting to ask what fellow writers do when they want to really get work done.

Some writers invest in hardware like the Alphasmart Neo, or the (expensive) Freewrite, but others either change their surroundings or install apps to block out interruptions.

What do you do? Do you change your location, or environment? What about your tools?

Me, I have found that distraction-free writing apps aren’t even the beginning of what it takes to remove distractions.

My first step to ridding myself of distractions is to delete all the games from my work laptop and keep them uninstalled. That way, even if I get distracted there are fewer activities to engage in. Then I take things one step further, and clear my browser history; making it harder to find the online games I used to play.

Next, I open a new browser window for each task and only start tabs for the websites I absolutely have to have open in order to complete the task. (As I sit here writing this post, my open tabs include a few related stories, a DDG search on distraction-free writing apps, and little else). Since I work online, I simply cannot use a distraction-free writing app. Too much of my work involves checking sources, which means I can’t do without a browser, but I have learned that if I don’t have Twitter or Gmail open in a tab then I won’t be checking it every ten seconds. (This doesn’t stop me from opening and then closing a tab for Twitter, but it is a step in the right direction.)

Truth be told, I have never been in a position where I could use one of those distraction-free writing apps; my work has always required that I refer back to one source or another just to make sure (if nothing else) I am not taking anything out of context, or (in the case of reviews) to make sure that my memory or impression of a feature matches with it actually does.

To be honest, I envy anyone who can use one of those distraction-free writing apps, but I also suspect they are relatively few in number. I don’t think there was ever a time when one could write without having multiple sources/inspirations, and in 2017 most of those sources/inspirations are going to be digital.

But I could be wrong.

What steps do you take to create a distraction-free writing environment?

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Carmen Buxton October 3, 2017 um 10:14 pm

I have a laptop that works fine except for the wireless card. I kept it mostly because it has InDesign installed on it and I can’t find the install CD. It does work for distraction free writing– no web browsing, no email– but then I have to copy files to the flash drive to send them anywhere and that gets tedious.

Harvey October 4, 2017 um 7:57 am

I like the idea of a dedicated writing computer without Internet, games, etc. But even in writing fiction I enjoy the ease of hopping online for a moment to check a reference, etc. And I can do that without then being drawn to check emails, Facebook etc. For the better part of two years I did that in a structure I call The Adobe Hovel. It’s about 150 feet from my house, which unfortunately puts it JUST outside range of my WiFi. So to "jump online" I had to use my phone’s hotspot, and that involves data, and that gets expensive. Then a family of scorpions moved into the Hovel and I moved back to my home office. I also have an outside desk, a wire-frame desk just outside my office window, where I write quite a bit. The main thing remains: to write you have to put your fanny in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard. All other "problems" are secondary and just more distractions. IMHO, "Hmm, which distraction-free app should I choose?" is just another way to delay writing. (grin)

Nate Hoffelder October 4, 2017 um 8:21 am

"But even in writing fiction I enjoy the ease of hopping online for a moment to check a reference, etc."

See, that’s why I wondered who could use distraction-free apps. I didn’t think that even fiction authors could avoid checking sources.

BDR October 5, 2017 um 8:02 pm

For me, the idea is a distraction-free app that appears when I want it (see my WriteSpace comment) then disappears when I don’t is the perfect solution. I get the benefits of Word and net access when I need it and it’s gone when I don’t. No muss, no fuss.

Best of all, I don’t have to resort to some cockamamie device like a pen & paper or a dumb terminal … this is 2017 not 1917 and I’d like to think that I’m not dumb (though many would probably disagree with the latter). Writing is about keeping up with the times and, like the Big 5, those other things are products of a distant age.

Will Entrekin October 4, 2017 um 8:21 am

I was using Freedom for a while to disable my internet accessibility for whatever amount of time I wanted. It was great until I started mostly using streaming apps like Spotify and Apple Music. If I remember correctly, I still have most of my music on an external hard drive on my local network, but I haven’t used that network as often, and I think those apps cut off access only to anything that used the internet, not just what was on my local router.

I have an iPad I use in a Zagg Slim Book that’s basically a laptop, and I don’t navigate by touch so much, so it helps keep me in Pages.

Alternately, I bought a Waterman fountain pen after reading Stephen King call them the greatest word processor ever. I kind of fell in love with it, and for a while there I was writing only using a pen and paper and reading exclusively on a Paperwhite, so I felt a little like a reverse hipster.

What I find is that it’s less about distraction and more about navigation for me. The harder it is to go back over what I’ve written before, the easier it is to put one word after another.

Ron Martinez October 4, 2017 um 11:16 am

I find Bose headphones and droning, ambient instrumental music helps tune out the world and also get me into the slot.

There are plenty of playlists for this, artists like Aphex Twin, Eno, Moby and others. And listener-supported online drone station

Nate Hoffelder October 4, 2017 um 12:17 pm

Interesting; you’re the third person (counting two on Twitter) who mentioned audio distractions. I don’t even try to write when there’s a lot of background noise, so sound distractions weren’t even on my radar.

tired October 4, 2017 um 2:58 pm

When I want to get work done I just don’t fire up the browser. It is really that easy.

BDR October 5, 2017 um 7:45 pm

The WriteSpace plug-in for MS Word works great. Adjust the background color & font color/size to your liking, click a ribbon button and you’ve got a full-screen distraction free environment that exits back to the normal word document at the touch of the escape key.

Jason van Gumster October 10, 2017 um 11:05 am

There’s another option: training your own personal focus and discipline. Not everything needs to be off-loaded and delegated away from you (be it to technology or another person). Even in a modern era of countless blinky things vying for your attention, it’s still *your* mind, *your* body. For the most part, that’s something you have control over. You can train yourself to increase your focus. A million beeps and boops don’t matter if you’ve trained yourself to ignore them.

It’s not necessarily easy to do and some folks pick it up faster than others, but once you have it, it can’t fail you. Its batteries won’t wear out. Its license won’t expire. Its code won’t rot and expose you to countless security holes.

Treat technology as an aid, not a replacement.

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