Want to know something crazy but true about the writing world? Of all the people who dream of writing a book, only a fraction ever attempt it. Of that fraction, only a small percentage ever see it to the end.
What’s the difference between those who make their writing dream a reality and those who give up? In a word, focus. Focus is the key to making the journey from aspiring writer to an accomplished author able to hold their book in their hands with satisfaction.
Learning to improve focus makes all the difference to your success. With proper focus, you’ll be able to hit your writing targets, stay committed to projects until they are complete, and shut out the many forms of distraction and temptation that lead you astray from writing.
Read on to discover why focus is so essential as well as a number of proven practical ways to improve it.
Why focus matters
Focus is one of the determining factors as to whether someone succeeds or fails as a writer.
Without focus, you lack the ability to:
- Choose a single book writing project and commit to seeing it through
- Engage in the massive amounts of reading needed to write well
- Stick to the writing schedule you have set
- Write productively for hours at a time
- Execute on every part of the self-publishing process, from planning through to marketing
No matter what aspect of writing success you can imagine, it almost certainly requires good levels of focus.
Don’t think of focus as some kind of luxury or nice to have that will help make you a slightly better writer. Instead, think of it as an absolutely core requirement that no writer can hope to succeed without.
Given the critical importance of focus to writing, how do you go about achieving it?
How to improve focus when writing
It’s true that some people are naturally more focused than others. And while you can’t change this starting point, you can very much have huge impact on where your levels of focus end up.
To become a more focused writer, no matter your starting point, consider these proven techniques and principles.
Perhaps the archenemy of focus is distraction.
Despite the myth of multitasking, it’s a scientifically-proven fact that we do better when giving all our conscious effort and attention to a single task at a time. This is even more applicable when it comes to a deeply creative pursuit such as writing.
However, we live in a world where distraction is all around us and never ending. If you don’t consciously minimize the things that distract you, your ability to get into a flow state of peak productivity is compromised.
Due to this, when you write, give it all your attention. Turn off notifications on your smartphone. Don’t browse the web for fun. Instead, do whatever you need to shut out any and all distractions. They only hold you back from achieving your dream writing goals.
Build your focus muscle
It can help to think of focusing during writing as being like a muscle. It’s something that needs to build up gradually and even then only due to the conscious and determined effort of the exerciser. One of the ways to do this is to gradually increase the length you spend on a single session of reading and writing.
Don’t expect to go from unfocused multitasker to disciplined, flow-state focus champion overnight. It’s a gradual process. Build up slowly and your brain will adjust to your new way of doing things.
Discover your optimal focus situation
We all focus in different ways and in different environments.
That might sound strange at first, but how could it be any other way? To use a comparison, we all like to unwind and relax according to our own tastes. While one person might enjoy sitting on the couch and playing video games, another might prefer a slow morning walk on a winter morning. We are all unique and seek our own ways to shared destinations.
It’s down to you to gain self-knowledge and explore different ways you can get maximum focused state when writing. Some people need total silence all around while others focus better with the pounding sound of thrash metal in their ears. Some writers need the solitude of their office with the door closed behind them. Others find the buzz of a good coffeeshop acts as white noise to allow them to zone in on their writing.
Track and celebrate the benefits
Focus is best achieved when you are able to understand the myriad factors impacting it and act accordingly. It’s also important to positively reinforce the power of focus and create positive associations in your mind.
For example, some writers use the Forest app which rewards periods of focused work with the planting of new trees. Others set publicly accountable goals and know they will be held to them as a result.
Anything you are able to do to solidify a focused way of working and celebrate successful focus will help you embed it is a way of life in the long run.
What to do when you lose focus when writing
Inevitably, sometimes you will find your focus is rapidly dwindling during a writing session.
One minute, everything seems fine and you are making rapid progress on your word count. The next, you can’t keep your eyes on the screen. Your mind is going off in any direction other than your writing. When this happens, what exactly should you do?
The first thing is to figure out what it is that is making you lose focus. Although the effects of being unfocused are often the same, their causes are very diverse.
Some of the most common reasons for a loss of focus while writing, as well as a possible remedy for each, include:
- Dehydration. It’s easy to get into the zone when writing and neglect the need to drink enough water to stay properly hydrated. One solution is to keep a big bottle of water next to you and drink it while you work. Often, consuming a decent amount of water will help you regain focus and get back to work.
- Too long on one task. Most people can only focus on one task for so long before losing their peak levels of cognitive focus and effectiveness. If you’ve been staring at the screen for hours, take a break! The key is to define how long your break will be and having the discipline to stick to it. For example, you might decide you need some fresh air. If so, set a twenty minute timer on your phone. Then get back to work. Failing to be disciplined about this means your breaks will just turn into prolonged procrastination.
- Mild lack of sleep. Sometimes, you will have had an hour less sleep than you would have wanted, or perhaps you were disturbed in the night. If you find mild sleepiness is making you lose focus, take a nap! Set a timer for twenty minutes and see if it helps you focus better when you get back to writing.
- Severe lack of sleep. Sometimes, you are severely tired and it’s not possible to work well as a result. In cases such as this, don’t try to force things. Instead, get a full night’s sleep and return to work the next day.
- External environment. There might be something in your external environment that is making it hard to focus, such as the wrong noise or even the place you are working. Fixing the specific issue in your surroundings and then getting straight back to work is a smart move.
Accept that losing focus from time to time is totally normal. It only becomes a problem when you lack the awareness to find its cause and the decisiveness to take action to remedy it.