5 ways to avoid internet distractions

How to stay focused on your writing and avoid internet distractions

thewordyhouse-co-uk-writing-in-woods-1200pxPhotograph by Doug Robichaud

I work from home and I’m lucky enough to have a study to write in, but occasionally I decamp to my bedroom. Despite the much publicised risk of insomnia that supposedly comes with working where you sleep, my reasons for doing so are compelling:

1. When my children are at home they often come into the study to use my husband’s computer. They are noisy and make constant demands for chocolate milk and snacks. They also watch videos of chatty people playing Minecraft which are not, I have discovered, conducive to concentration.

2. My bed is very comfortable and I’m not inclined to leave it in a hurry.

3. There is no WiFi reception in our bedroom…

And that is the big one. The internet is the scourge of the writer. Lost your train of thought? Can’t think of the precise word you need? Paragraph structure gone awry? Obviously, a quick peek at Facebook is exactly what you need to kickstart your creative process. Those photos of rude signs and crazy cats are so inspiring, are they not?

Now, I’m all for a screen break. Sometimes when you’re in a writing rut it’s good to get away from your desk and clear your head for a few minutes. But taking a quiz to discover your spirit animal or how many 80s album sleeves you can identify is really not going to help. So here are my top five tips on how to avoid internet distractions and stay focused while you write.

1. Go somewhere with no internet connection or turn the internet off. Well, duh! I mean, that’s the obvious answer, isn’t it? But of course it’s easier said than done. When we’re writing – especially when we’re writing something factual –we need to have resources at our fingertips. Google, Wikipedia, Thesaurus.com… they certainly get used a lot round here. But sometimes it really can pay to avoid going online for a while. You can always look things up later – if facts or figures are missing, or you can’t think of the exact word you need, put in a few xxxs temporarily and look it up later. Emails can wait, too – you don’t have to reply within 10 minutes of receiving them. Because, when you’re really in the zone and the words are flowing, you’re in a magical, hard-to-reach place. When you get there, the last thing you want to do is break the spell by checking social media or other websites – it will only disrupt your train of thought and make you question what you’re writing. So ban the internet for a set amount of time – you’ll be amazed at how much you get done.

2. Just keep going, even if the quality of your work starts falling off. No one can churn out sparkling prose indefinitely. Our brains get tired and our thoughts start to become muddled ­– but that doesn’t mean you should necessarily stop and start looking at bathroom tile options. As long as you feel you have something more to say then keep on writing in whatever way you can manage. Your sentences might descend into a stream of consciousness or you might start jotting down ideas in note form ­– it doesn’t really matter as long as you are getting something down on paper and managing to avoid internet distractions.

3. Take scheduled breaks. Of course, only a fool would attempt to write without regular stoppages for tea and biscuits. Now and again you do need to rest your eyes, stretch your legs, eat lunch and put on a load of washing. But schedule these breaks into your writing day/morning/afternoon/middle-of-the-night essay crisis. Don’t just take them whenever you feel the urge to clear your head or you’ll be wandering off every 10 minutes – and the chances are that when you come back you’ll start checking your social media feeds, email, etc. If you set yourself the goal of writing for two hours, say, before you’re allowed to move from your seat (that’s writing, not surfing), then you’ll give yourself more chance of getting into the writing zone and you’ll be a lot more productive.

4. Give yourself a deadline. Set yourself a day and even a time by which to get your work totally finished. Obviously you may well have an actual real-life deadline – but don’t rely on last-minute stress to get the job done. Sure, sometimes it can deliver a much needed shot of adrenalin, but that’s not always the best circumstance under which to craft your copy. However, you do need to have your own end point in sight in order to drive yourself forward, keep focused and avoid internet distractions. A good idea is to imagine what you might do after you’ve completed your work and reward yourself accordingly.

5. Have a social media frenzy when you’ve finished – and notice how little you’ve missed. You’ll probably think that you’ve been offline for ages and there’ll be loads of fascinating posts for you to pore over – but the chances are you’ll find that little of any interest has happened. Commit that feeling of anticlimax to memory! And whenever you’re tempted to stray online when you’re supposed to be working, remember that you’re unlikely to be missing much at all.