By Dr. MaryJo Wagner
It’s not a newsflash that we live in the age of distraction and the era of ADHD. While this condition is frequently related to children, it’s not just a kid thing. If you’ve got a computer, a smart phone, a couple of TVs, a tablet, and two lovely-but-busy children and a dog, it’s impossible to avoid struggles with focusing and staying on track.
But as writers have a triple challenge. Now we’ve got the distractions of technology, the interference of our overly busy lives, and (oftentimes) writer’s block.
Early (surprisingly successful) Attempts at Curing Writer’s Block
Willa Cather, the American novelist, and my favorite author, did her best work sitting on a camp stool at a small writing table in a tent. Why? Because there was no writer’s block in the tent.
As for me, born with raging ADHD long before computers were around, I wrote much of my Ph.D. dissertation wearing a hooded sweatshirt. The hood blocked my peripheral vision and made me feel a bit cacoon-ish which helped me stay on track.
Bottom line: I got the thing done. And in record time. Of course, it helped that my advisor was taking a sabbatical and was about to leave for a year in France. A deadline is always good!
Want to Head off a Block? Try This…
So how can you avoid writer’s block (at least most of the time)?
- Begin by carefully analyzing where and when you do your best writing. When you set up the same conditions to do the same task, your brain relates that environment to the task. Willa Cather was in her tent. I was wearing my hooded sweatshirt. You tamed writer’s block by finding an environment that works and sticking to it.
- If you write directly onto your computer rather than using a pen and paper, I suggest using an old computer that you might have just for this task. This computer should not be connected to the internet. Ah, I can hear you saying, “But MaryJo, my writing often involves research and I need to be hooked up to the web.” So do the major pieces of research first. Then save your work to an external hard drive so you can access it from your main computer.I often print out what I need beforehand so I’m not writing, then going to the internet, then writing and back to the internet again. Such activity causes brain disruption. When you come to a place where you need to check something, make a note to go back to that when you’re done writing the first draft.
If you don’t have an old computer lying around, just disconnect the internet connection of your existing computer while you write. Or try using extensions such as StayFocused from Chrome, LeechBlock from FireFox, KeepMeOut, and Rescue Time. These are downloadable tools (some are free) to help control random surfing, game playing, Facebook time and the like.
- Take care of yourself. If you’re tired, if you had two donuts and pretended that was breakfast, if you’ve been working without taking a break, you’re setting yourself up for writer’s block. Sleep better. Eat better. Write better.
- Forget writer’s block. Just write. Simply begin the process of writing—doesn’t matter if it’s riddled with mistakes and all over the map. Go for it even if you aren’t sure what you’re going to write. Putting anything at all down on paper (or in a Word doc) sends your brain the message: “Ah, I’m writing now.”
- Don’t edit as you go along. Editing is a different mindset than writing. So again, your brain suffers disruption and such can cause writer’s block.
- Move. Yes, research has shown that we improve focus and tame writer’s block when we stand up and move around, take a walk, or dance for a minute or two. Try cross crawling. As you march while lifting your knees up high, touch your right elbow to your left knee and your left elbow to your right knee. It’s energizing and gets both your right and left brain to work together. (Yes, there’s science behind this but not room in this blog post to go into it.)
- And finally, one of the best ways out of writer’s block is to stop thinking about writer’s block!
Remember: Writer’s block is just another form of distraction.
Dr. MaryJo Wagner is a recovering ADHD victim who encourages entrepreneurs to get organized, focus and stay on track to make more money.
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