Distracted and Anxious: How to Slow Down for Long Enough to Write Something

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You want to write, you really do, but you just have so many other things going on. Like cleaning the kitchen, signing up for car insurance, helping your friend paint her living room, and I mean, you haven’t checked your email in a while, and deadlines are looming, the grass needs mowing, people are getting hungry, and so are you. Yes, it’s time for a snack. Then writing. Because that’s the problem. You’re hungry.

Constant distraction is a form of procrastination, and also a serious writer’s block. It’s all too easy to convince yourself that you’re too busy to write, and even easier to make yourself busy. Telling yourself, “I’ll write when I get this other stuff done,” rarely helps, because there are endless tasks to accomplish and there always will be. We spend so much of our time buzzing around trying to multitask and getting very little done (or is it just me?) that suddenly a month is gone and that free time you were waiting to magically make itself available never arrived.

To quiet the anxious distraction monster:

  1. Don’t wait for time to write. Make it. Schedule an hour into whatever digital calendar you use and protect that time with your life. Go ahead– pick a day and time this week and draw a good solid boundary around it. Nothing is allowed to be booked over this time, so choose wisely.

  2. Before it’s time to write, decide what you’re going to write about. It doesn’t need to be a detailed plan, but an idea of where to start staves off that feeling of dread when you sit down with a mind full of expectations and blankness.

  3. When your sacred writing time rolls around and your brain is flying along at the speed of light, pause and take six long, luxurious breaths. Focus on a full, slow exhale and notice the little moments of stillness between the exhales and inhales. This helps bring your mind chatter back down to a slow simmer.

  4. Set a timer for an hour (I use the Forest app, which helps me focus and plant trees!). Within that time, your only job is to write. If you need to do research for your writing, I suggest making something up and flagging it to check later, because the moment you open a browsing window, you know you’ll be lost forever. Bring awareness when your twitchy brain wants to waver, and gently guide it back. Tell it everything is ok, that those other things will get done too, just not right now.

  5. BONUS STEP: Find a friend to focus with, or better yet, a group. Write together. It’s amazing how fast you can rise to the challenge when someone is writing with you and succeeding at it. I used to roll my eyes at the idea of writing alongside someone else, but I don’t anymore– it’s singlehandedly kept me writing when I would have normally made an excuse and cleaned the oven.

Parting food for thought

Distraction is a form of bending to the will of anxiety, and anxiety is a sign of deeper fear. You may feel a sense of relief mixed with guilt when someone asks about your writing and you can say “I was crazy busy this month!” But part of you knows that’s not the truth. What are your constant distractions protecting you from? And what about writing makes you vulnerable, causing the instinct to protect yourself to go into overdrive?

<<< Do you have writer’s block? Read “A Brief Introduction to Writer’s Block”

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