Creativity vs. Distraction: 13 Tips for Writers in the Age of the Internet

I was twelve when I learned how to use my first hand-me-down computer. It ran Windows for Workgroups and played games like Crystal Caves and Commander Keen. Getting that computer was a life-changing experience. In some ways, it was probably the event that truly fated me to be a writer. Although I had written stories on a typewriter, the computer was a delightful toy that pulled me deeper into the possibilities of word processors and design software. I wrote as much because I liked typing away at the computer as much as I liked the actual writing.

When I was fifteen, my computer got hooked up to the Internet. It was dial-up, which meant only one computer in the house could be connected at a time. It loaded a three-minute video in about three hours. And in absolutely definite ways, it put me in the career path of a writer. The innovations that followed rapidly in the next ten years, not least among them the advent of the Kindle and the self-publishing boom, were timed to allow me opportunities that past generations couldn’t even have imagined.

The Internet has been good to me, in ways large and small. It’s allowed me to make a living doing something I’m passionate about. It’s allowed me the ability to talk to all of you every week and to get to know so many people I never would have encountered in actual life. It’s taught me to be a better writer. It’s allowed me to live in the middle of nowhere and still purchase just about anything I could want from just about anywhere in the world. It’s given me access to the world’s library of books, music, and movies. It’s put a mind-boggling amount of information at my fingertips. It’s plugged me in to a global community of opinions, news, passion, support, and possibilities.

Twenty years after first dialing up the Internet on my clunky old computer, I take for granted how phenomenally this technology has affected my life, as a person and a writer.

Vintage everything. My first computer, sans Internet.

But along with all the blessings have come an equal number of challenges.

If I sometimes take for granted the gifts given by the Internet and its related technologies, I also sometimes take for granted how much its very blessings are also its curses.

If the Internet has given my creativity a voice and a platform, it has also encroached upon the way I create. My fifteen-year-old self could have had no idea how this technology would change her life and the world in the next two decades. She could have no idea how this technology would literally change her, her brain, her very physiology.

In short, if the astounding technologies of our lifetime have given us countless good things, they have also given us… Internet brain. This creates concerns for any human anywhere who uses a screen (and, honestly, for those who don’t too), but as writers we must confront special challenges in protecting and empowering our creativity in this Age of the Internet.

The Unique Challenges for Writers in the Age of the Internet

When I was fifteen and just starting out as a writer, I had no idea I would face challenges much different from those encountered by Charles Dickens (other than, you know, the ink-stained fingers). But in the last half of those two intervening decades, I have found myself putting more and more energy into combating the totally unexpected challenges of the very real ways in which my brain has changed.

Comparative carefreeness of childhood aside, I’ve recognize that as an adult it has become so much more difficult for me to sink into the dream space where the stories live. A lifetime of habits and skills keeps me writing, but it’s not the same as back in the day. And as I’ve been chronicling in the past year or so particularly, I’m not too happy about that.

Despite the fact I’ve always been determined not to let technology run my life, I’m far more addicted to and affected by it than I want to admit. It’s a Catch-22 since, as noted, the Internet is both the blessing and the bane of life as a writer. But I am determined to learn to live in peace, and even true creative productivity, with this omnipresent centrifuge of my life.

To that end, here are fifteen steps I believe are important to help modern writers walk that fine line between being masters of our technology or being mastered by it.

8 Steps to Mitigate Distraction

I recognize that the first, the biggest, and probably the most important task I must accomplish is to reduce the amount of distraction I allow into my life. Without hindering necessary functions, I must learn how to take back ownership of my own brain—and with it my creativity.

1. Turn Off Notifications (and Texts)

Our computers and phones are great at letting us know about things right away. But probably 95% of those “things”—whether notifications from email, social media, text, or even phone calls—are hardly crucial, much less time-sensitive. Every time one of them “pings” into our attention, our concentration is broken. Whether this happens during an actual writing session, or perhaps just a daydream, we’ve lost at least a measure of momentum and continuity.

The Solution: Turn off the notifications and/or log out of sites and apps when you’re not actively using them. If you can’t see/hear them, they can’t control where your attention goes.

2. Never Use More Than One Screen at a Time

These days, we may have the TV on the background while we’re typing on our computers with our phones (or even multiple phones) nearby just in case any notifications come through. This is rarely, if ever, as productive as it seems. It trains us to be ever less present, even as it divides and conquers our limited attention into multiple surface channels rather than encouraging a single deep dive.

The Solution: Make a strict “one screen at a time” rule. If you’re watching TV, watch TV. If you’re using the phone, use the phone. If you’re writing on your computer, write on your computer.

3. Opt Out of Ads When You Can

Part of the problem with #InternetLife is that we have so little control over our experience. We may google an article we need for research, only to be bombarded by half a dozen cookie-enhanced animated ads urging us to stop writing and go buy something. At the very least, our attention is now schismed. One minute we’re thinking about how our character might escape the guillotine—and now we’re thinking that, yeah, that new yoga mat is super cute and maybe we should buy one or at least go look at it because what can it hurt it’s just a second ohwaitIjustwastedtwentyminutesofwritingtime!!!

The Solution: Use AdBlocker where you can (although seems to be growing less effective). Or if you’re able, splurge for the ad-free versions of your favorite sites, apps, and subscription services.  The ads seem harmless enough, but it’s shocking how much static they add to our daily lives (not to mention how much time they get us to waste window-shopping and impulse-buying). Of course, when none of the above is possible, you can always opt for not jumping onto the Internet for that quick research check while in the middle of creative time.

4. Resist “Crazy Tabs” in Your Browser

My regular Internet routine of checking email, social media, and other daily necessities (and some not-so-necessities) sees me opening 20-30 tabs in my browser—and then blowing through them as fast as possible. It’s time-effective, and it’s stimulating enough to keep my attention even on the routine boring tasks. But I know it contributes to my Internet brain. How can it not?

The Solution: I admit, I’m still struggling with this one—mostly because I haven’t found an alternative that gets me through my work as quickly. But when possible, I encourage trying not to open more than a handful of tabs at once. In fact, one tab a time would be peachy. Even just having tabs open in the background (I currently have five open—two as reminders to do things later) keeps you from focusing completely on what you’re actually doing. (*goes to close extra tabs*)

5. Categorize Tasks Into Related Groups

One of the problems with “crazy tabs” is that it has your brain jumping all over the place. One minute you’re checking your bank account, the next you’re liking a cat video on Facebook, then you’re trying to understand some heavy-duty article about world economics, then you’re confirming your grocery pickup order—all in the span of five minutes. On the one hand, that’s kind of impressive. On the other—no wonder our brains are fried.

The Solution: Something I’m experimenting with is grouping all my crazy tabs into categories. By grouping all the social media sites together, all the articles-I’m-reading together, all the emails-I’m-answering together—I’m at least giving my brain a chance to settle on one type of task for a longer period of time.

6. Unsubscribe, Unsubscribe, Unsubscribe

It’s just good email hygiene to go through your inbox at least once a year and unsubscribe from anything you don’t read and/or don’t truly benefit from. However, most of us aren’t so great at this. I’m just now doing my first email purge in years, and I’m surprised by how much stuff I receive that I brainlessly delete without reading and/or browse through daily even though I never find anything that actually enhances my life. And yet, even just taking the time to notice and reject/delete an email is a precious bit of attention wasted—over and over again on a daily basis.

The Solution: Clean up your inbox. Delete all the junk so you don’t have to look at it anymore. Put stuff in folders, so it’s organized and you can find it when you want it. And unsubscribe like a crazy person. If you don’t read it, unsubscribe. If it doesn’t enhance your life or encourage you to be a better person in some specific way, unsubscribe.

7. Do One Thing at a Time

Even we’re not on the Internet (but especially when we are), we’re Masters of Multi-Tasking. But studies have shown multi-tasking actually doesn’t make us more productive. We feel busier and therefore more productive. But because our attention is split, we’re not able to dig as deep. Granted, sometimes focusing on one task at a time does mean we get less done. But actually standing there and waiting while the coffee percs, instead of checking email or browsing Pinterest for inspiration, can be exactly the reset time our brains need before we turn our attention to writing.

The Solution: Become conscious of when you’re multi-tasking. Often, we do this without even recognizing it. Or we may even think we’re doing it as part of a useful strategy. For example, when I’m in the midst of a comparatively boring task such as typing up notes, I will “bribe” myself into focusing by hopping over to browse Etsy every ten minutes or so. Yes, it makes the boring job more fun, but is it really helping me be more productive? I think not.

8. Turn Off the Internet, Use Focus-Enhancing Extensions, Set Up Different Machines/Accounts

It’s one thing to decide to limit technology. It’s another thing entirely to resist popping onto the computer to check our email real quick. It’s just five seconds after all. We’re not even going to respond; we just want to see if anything new came in. Or maybe it’s killing us that we can’t name that familiar celebrity we saw in last night’s movie. So we pop on real quick just to remember that oh, yes, that’s who she is. Or maybe our story requires us to know the name of the twenty-sixth Vice President of the United States. So we pop on real quick, and before we know it, we’re thirty pages deep in Wikipedia. (Or… that yoga mat ad got the better of us again…)

Even if we’re true to our self-promise and the visit is, indeed, real quick, we’ve still severed our attention. We have to start all over—and then, when the next urgent need pops in our heads ten minutes later, we have to start all over again and again and again.

The Solution: Sometimes willpower and good habits aren’t enough. Sometimes we have to physically remove ourselves from temptation. When possible, it’s often helpful to create two desk/computers/accounts to help us separate necessary Internet work from our creative work. We can also simply unplug the Internet during writing time. Or we can find an add-on or app that will block our inability to control ourselves. (I’m currently experimenting with Freedom.)

5 Steps to Enhance Creativity

Controlling and cutting down on distraction is the first step in reclaiming our full creative capacity. But from there, we also have to look for ways to nurture the creativity itself.

1. Ground Yourself

Take time every day to return your brain to its full and deep potential. Meditating, doing yoga (as long as you aren’t using it as an excuse to go yoga-mat shopping…), or even taking a walk or a bath can be all it takes to reclaim your brain. You may also need to take it a step further. If your emotions are all over the place, it will be difficult to be fully present to your creativity. You may need to actively work through anxiety and even trauma. This may take time (but in my opinion can totally be counted as creative work).

2. Make Time for Active Imagination

In addition to your writing sessions, try to make time for regular “artist’s dates” (as Julia Cameron calls them). This can take any variety of forms, but one of the most pertinent is focusing on what Carl Jung called “active imagination,” and what I’ve always thought of as “dreamzoning.” In other words, make space and time to just zone out and daydream. Because this is a form of active meditation, it is not the time to let your thoughts wander and think about any old thing. Nor is it necessarily the right time to work through your feelings. It should be a time of “watching the movies in your head.”

3. Become Conscious of Monkey Mind

One minute I’m thinking about writing—then I’m thinking about what I read this morning—then I’m remembering something that happened yesterday—then I’m thinking about my plans for the day—then I’m realizing my thoughts are all over the place. Every time you recognize your thoughts are a train that’s come off the track, focus on bringing yourself back to conscious presence. Just as with the unwanted ads on the Internet, we can learn to discipline our minds to focus primarily on the thoughts that bring the most value into our lives. And I’m not talking about doing this just during meditation. Do it all the time.

4. Concentrate on the Pictures, Rather Than the Words

One thing I’ve realized about the difference between my pre-Internet brain and my post-Internet brain is that my creative thinking used to manifest largely in pictures and now manifests largely in words. Instead of walking through life and seeing stories, now I just talk, talk, talk to myself incessantly. Psychologists say the unconscious has no language; it speaks to us solely through symbols, or images. To me, that says I’m much less in touch with my unconscious creativity than I used to be. So now, in the down moments of my life, I am trying to shut up and see again.

5. Savor Your Beautiful Life

I’ve decided (somewhat belatedly) that my word for this year is savor. I want not just to be present, not just to ground my wandering and distracted brain, but to savor everything around me—whether it’s the golden sun in the green leaves or the cardinals prattling at each other or just putting on my pants in the morning. It’s my life, and I don’t want to miss a second of it.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What do you struggle with in balancing creativity and distraction these days? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. pieemme2 says

    Good points, but, as you mention Julia Cameron, I was pretty disappointed by the Artist’s Way (25th Anniversary Edition). I found it an endless repetition of a few very basic sensible points, which I had already figured out by myself. I couldn’t put up with her drudgery of schoolchildren exercises. To be fair, I cannot rule out that this was the effect of her points having been around for 25 years and sounding familiar by now. Having learned a lot from your own (KMW) tips, which in turn might have been influenced by JC, I couldn’t find any value in the book, which struck me as mostly self-promotional blabbering.

    It’s probably the case of an aging book.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I have a feeling I might have felt that way about her at a different time in my life as well. Good books are as much a convergence of the right material at the right time as they are the material itself.

  2. Oof. 😛

    My go-to is turning off the wifi. I’ve also found Scrivener’s ‘full screen’ mode to be very helpful, as it creates a space where it’s just me and the words. Even the toolbars can be distracting if my brain wants to wander.

    Thanks for sharing your insight! Cultivating creativity is definitely something to be mindful about.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I like Scrivener’s full screen as well, although sometimes I find it more distracting than not if I’m flipping back and forth to look at notes frequently.

  3. Wow, I feel called out. 🙂

    This is especially relevant during quarantine when we’re all on the Internet more. I’m starting to realize just how badly my brain and laptop battery are frying. Thanks for reminding me to be more mindful

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yeah, it’s really come home to me during quarantine as well. I think it was just the realization of how dependent we are on the Internet for everything right now.

  4. Your suggestions are excellent even though I still struggle with some of them, I agree with the previous comment on the use of Scrivener. Also I’ve been using the Firefox browser for years because it doesn’t track your usage. I’ve also added to Firefox the ad blocker from Ghostery. I’ve found it to be very effective and you can select which ads to block. Finally, I’ve recently begun using StartPage in place of Google as the search engine. StartPage is great because it is just as effective as Google but your searches are done anonymously.

  5. One lesson I’ve always liked is to have a place to put notes so we can forget them. Make lists (or links) of the tasks I have and what social media to explore, and when I need to or let myself look at them. Until that time comes up, they’re out of the way and everything’s clean — and I really have permission to dig into one thing at a time. If distractions do come into my head, that’s just one more thing for the list, and back to focus.

    Focusing on one thing at a time is a skill like anything else. And it’s *not* like riding bikes: it’s one we can easily get out of practice in. So, we need to create a proper training environment, and keep putting in the hours to get better.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      So true about focus being a habit we must maintain. Once we’re off the wagon, it’s harder than ever to catch up and get back on.

  6. Eric Troyer says

    Great post! Several things you mentioned are, at core, being mindful. That is, being fully present and aware of what you are doing in the present moment. I like meditation because it helps me be mindful. I consider it exercise for mental discipline. It can also be relaxing, because you are more likely to notice when you are tensing up.

    You also mentioned reminders. I have started using Todoist, a task organizer. There are several other good ones out there. When I see or remember things I want to do later, I quickly create a task and then move on. I can organize the task later. I love it. (Though I have to be mindful sometimes when using it so the task organization doesn’t become more work than it should be.)

    Isn’t it interesting how all these things should be tools for us to use, yet they often seem to be using us? I believe in large part it’s because we’re emotional creatures responding to emotional stimuli. I don’t think Data or Spock would have these problems!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “Isn’t it interesting how all these things should be tools for us to use, yet they often seem to be using us?”

      Spot on.

  7. Guilty as charged! 🙂 Email checking is my Achilles heel. My goal is to only check each account (of two) once per day. Okay,maybe twice with my writer email.

    I’ve long felt that sense of Internet Brain and despair as much as you do, Katie. Thank God for normal distractions like 4 hours on the golf course thinking of nothing but golf, or getting lost in a print book for an hour, or sitting on the porch eating lunch or sipping a cold drink and watching the grass grow.

    Chris

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, something else I want to work on the future is not keeping my email tab open in the corner. Whenever a new notification comes in, my attention is split even if it’s only for a second.

  8. I struggled with pretty much everything you mentioned just trying to read this article. It took me much longer than It should have.

  9. Thanks for this! I’m a teen so I’ve had the internet for most of my life and I use it on a regular basis. I’m often disappointed in myself because of how much time I spend writing v.s. other less important things.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, I’ve often thought about how those just a little younger than myself never knew a world without the Internet. I’m sure that comes with downsides, but perhaps you’re also better equipped to deal with it in some ways.

  10. Another interesting post.

    I agree that we have intertwined our creative drive with the demand to learn new technology. Some times the technology wins. I learned to write using an Atari 800 that had a tape recorder to save text. When I bought a PC (no hard drive), I connected a modem to the Atari using a game controller cable and sent my manuscript to a work computer so I could port it to the PC. After a month of fiddling, the download took 10 hours.

    Today’s distractions are different and challenging, but not all distractions are bad. Some actually feed the right brain.

    Music inspires images. When my wife plays the piano, I sometimes get a burst of insight, even solving sticky writer’s block problems. I have a guitar within reach that lets my internal muse take a break. Alexa may play the blues while the wife in my story kills her abusive husband. For me music blocks the other distractions, neutralizing the chirps and chords announcing a message or email and keeping me focused. Of course, I do have to resist a good blast of Jimi Hendrix…

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Indeed. I feel incredibly blessed to live in a time when I can have music on demand. It’s hard to fathom that previous generations might never have heard an orchestra.

  11. I agree totally about the tabs. You no doubt already know this (except I’ve been using the internet as long as you and was in IT for 35 years), but I now put all my usual processes into a Favourite group and I can then open the whole group in tabs with one click. So my first stop of the day is monitoring Ad and Sales performance. Once click and I get 8 tabs and go through them in order. It takes between 5 and 10 minutes and it’s done until tomorrow.

  12. I use cold turkey an internet blocker, but set the blocks the night before to make sure I don’t postpone in the morning. I have a full schedule of blocks and breaks that can’t be changed until 10pm at night. I have a few sites that are exceptions so that onedrive still updates etc.

    The other big thing I do is have certain times of day when I turn off the computer entirely and work in my notebook- I usually do this in the period straight after lunch. I find that so helpful, especially if I have had a morning of procrastination.
    Also when I’m drafting, I write the first hundred words or so in my notebook first, which only takes a few minutes, then type them up. This helps me to get started, slows down my writing and sets the tone. I find this way, I write better quality. I find drafting straight onto the computer without having focused properly first, makes me glib and hurried in my writing. Using both in this way, helps me to get both quantity and quality.

    I use a program called write or die to draft on the computer to write a fixed number of words. I know I have to keep writing until the kittens show up on completion.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’m really liking the app Freedom, which I mentioned in the post. I’ve been using it for a week now, and I’m amazed by how much quieter my brain is just knowing that it’s on during the morning when I’m writing.

  13. I’ve had to slow down a lot this past year for health reasons. Slowing down includes making myself take a rest in the middle of the day. Often I read, but I’m trying to be better about using that time to daydream. I used to daydream all the time when I was younger and then, somewhere along the line, I let `more important’ things crowd it out of my life. HAVING to stop and rest has been oddly liberating.

    Another thing that happened is I have a two-year-old nephew. Just watching him look at the world for the first time helps me look closer, concentrate more on what I’m seeing; kitties (and the way they signal that they want to be left alone). Ducks with their snaky necks and waddling walks. Dandelions to be blown. Staircases that suddenly seem really high (when you’re trying to make sure Somebody doesn’t fall down them). Splashy water. Flowers! That grow on trees! The world is amazing, and I feel blessed to be able to see that again.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Sorry to hear about your health. But it’s beautiful that you’re not wasting the time and that you’re using it as an opportunity to learn and grow.

  14. Harriette Jensen says

    I found your post very pertinent. I had been thinking that I was spending too much time on Facebook, doing searches, etc., but was chalking that up to a general “getting old” syndrome where I forget why I start to go somewhere . However, I think that’s just a general malaise in our culture. We have way too many things to distract us from the more important ideas, issues and realities.

    What I do when I’ve finally grounded myself (usually by meditating or reading someone else’s poetry) is really simple. I close my browser, open up Notebook, make it full screen so I can’t see any of the tasks I have on my desktop, and start writing.

    Of course, I still get all those annoying dings for notifications, but I have learned that most of them, in my case, are either political money requests or someone saying thank you for accepting me to some list and they are easy to ignore. I pay no attention to spelling or typos when in Notebook and do very little editing once I’m “on a roll”. When I run out of inspiration, I transfer everything to my word processing program for formatting and spellcheck.

  15. I find if I’m getting very distracted that adding ‘white noise’ helps me focus. I know, for me, when I write listening to music, if I like the song or know it too well, I’m distracted by it. I like writing in cafes and coffee shops because I somehow find that noise and clutter focusing. For the times when I am at home and need the ‘noise’ to let my brain focus, I use an app called ‘Coffitivity’ which has the noises of the chatter and dishes etc of a coffee shop without the cost of having to spend a day buying coffee. I can put on a random Spotify list for ‘mood’ with Coffitivity over it (it will play over music) really gives me the ‘white noise’ I need to focus without the absolute distracting silence of silence.

    I also find that when my brain wants to start going down rabbit holes on the internet, it’s time for me to stretch my legs; even if that only means I walk around the living room for a minute and look out the window to rest my eyes. I let my ‘wanderlust’ be my cue to take a short break before getting back into it. And while I look out the window I let my mind ponder the scene I’m working on or character motivation so I stay in the moment and it won’t take me long to get back in my head when I sit back down.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’ve heard conflicting reports on whether background noise is helpful to our brains or not, but personally I like it. When I’m writing, I play an instrumental piece. When I’m on the Internet, like now, I have alpha waves or binaural beats playing.

  16. Ads aren’t a problem for me, because I primarily use Brave for browsing. It does the adblocking automatically.

    But #4 is my biggest problem. This is partly because I have multiple offline projects going, and clusters of tabs are related to particular projects. However, I’m learning to use my bookmarks more. I have them organized, and you’ve prompted me just now to simply bookmark several tabs right now. Done! But other tabs are mental to-read lists, and I really have to crack down on those.

    Turning off the internet is my second biggest problem, and that’s primarily because I have Scrivener synced via DropBox to my desktop and laptop. But you’ve prompted me to double check how DropBox syncing works … and per DropBox’s FAQ, you can safely work with a file offline, and the file will sync back up as soon as you turn the internet back on. So I’m going to have to look hard at this idea.

    If anyone is distracted by using the internet to do story research on the fly, I do have an idea that could work. I borrow a technique I saw in an old Piers Anthony “author’s note,” where he makes notes to himself right inside a text he’s working on. He puts { } around whatever note he’s making. So if you’re in the middle of writing, and you suddenly realize you need to research a point or other, you can do this:

    Robin Hood and Little John’s shooting contest got off to a great start. John shot 100 yards, and Robin Hood shot 500 {double check how far archers can shoot with a Welsh longbow}. After, the contest, they frolicked through Sherwood Forest …

    Scrivener users can use the “inline annotation” feature for this purpose, which can be highlighted or colored in red so you don’t miss your notes. Bottom line, the idea is that you don’t immediately go fact checking yourself into a rabbit hole of distractions during writing time; you save up the questions for later. Just keep writing, just keep writing (picture this being said in the voice of Dory from “Finding Nemo”).

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Thanks for the tip about Brave. I’ll check it out–although I have so much stuff saved in Chrome at this point that it might be more trouble than it’s worth to switch over. :p

      And, yes, that’s one of Scrivener’s (many) features that I love: being able to go offline or even off-grid with it.

      • I’m a bit late to the party, but still…

        Brave is based on the same engine that runs Chrome, so switching over isn’t really that hard, especially because all the extensions you use will largely work in Brave.

        One thing: grouping tabs is allowed by default in Brave, but you can also enable it in Chrome (there’s a guide here, if you’re interested: https://www.howtogeek.com/656707/how-to-enable-and-use-tab-groups-in-google-chrome/)
        For me, tab groups have become a must. You can also colour-code them, it doesn’t get better than that!

  17. Sherrill Whittern says

    This was a very helpful article, and even more pertinent given the situation in which I find myself as a widow “sheltering in place” alone. For weeks now, my phone and computer have provided my only connection with the world and other people. I discovered anxiety destroying both my creativity and rational thought processes. Thankfully God showed me a way to combat anxiety by focusing my mind on Him through Bible reading, prayer, thanksgiving, praise and worship. As I connect with the Source of all creativity, I find His peace chases away my anxiety and refreshes my creativity.
    “Monkey-mind” has also been a distinct problem, so much so that I’ve feared senility setting in. Your description enabled me to recognize it for what it is and to realize when I set my mind to doing just one task at a time, and really concentrating on it, I am able to keep my focus so my thoughts don’t wander everywhere.
    I have also discovered the need to restrain myself online. I was tempted to read every article that came up on the Internet regarding COVID. I this found this necessary because I discovered that reading all those negative, scary news stories fed my anxiety. So I am online much less and, surprise, productivity is increasing.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      For a long time now, I’ve been adamant in disciplining myself from unnecessarily pursuing negative news, almost all of which lacks pertinence in my daily life. But the pandemic temporarily shunted some of those good habits to the back burner. I’m getting back on track now. 😉

  18. roslyn cairns says

    With isolation, and everyone and his cat online, my internet connection has been finding it hard to cope. This was beyond frustration for me: what if I were missing something vital that was happening and I didn’t know immediately? It has made me realise how addicted I had become to my usual internet pursuits.
    In past years it took me a long time to harness my creativity away from pen and paper towards the keyboard. I was pleased when i adapted; but i have found benefit from scribbling in a notebook again (my kind, not the technical). It certainly has given my eyes a rest, and helped me look inward rather than internetward. Thanks for some great tips about internet house cleaning.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Personally, I’d like to move away from the computer to a device devoted solely to writing (e.g., no Internet), but I’m having a hard time finding anything ergonomic. Most require you to look down at your hands the whole time, which is definitely not good for the neck.

  19. Ha – My business is called Monkey Mind. And it’s very much what i suffer from .. i have three projects on the go – i commit to ding something on each of them every day, so when my mind wanders, i move to the next project so i am fresh for that one and so it goes… at the end of the day i have managed to work on all of them while i’m in a reasonably creative mode and don’t suffer from writer’s block. I love your idea of UNSUBSCRIBE! i am guilty of the opposite so i will endeavour to unsubscribe to some of those non essentials… Cheers

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I like working on multiple projects per day as well. Makes me feel productive and as if I am moving the needle on everything I’m working on. But I do better when I schedule the projects rather than moving amongst them spontaneously. Having a structure makes me feel less distracted.

  20. All good advice. Building on this, I’m a regular biker and I do not put anything in my ears when I’m on the street, not even cucumbers. I find this creates a good space for me to noodle on story problems.

    I’m intrigued by your thoughts about visual thinking, and it’s something I’ve been meaning to look into. When I was much younger, I used to day dream all the time. It always made me happy. I’d love to find a way to reconnect with my sensory mind (and I think it actually goes beyond visual) to bring richness to my stories. If you’ve encountered any good resources on visualization, I think that would be a great topic.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Haha. :p Yeah, I never got why people would want to listen to music when outdoors. Outdoors has its own soundtrack to savor.

      I was actually thinking about doing a post on visual thinking. I’ll mull on that this week and see if I have enough material for a post.

  21. Jack Bannon says

    I like to focus on those parts of my writing I find particularly emotional and let them wash over me and carry me where they will. Sometimes they spirit me away to totally new places. Other times they take me to a time in life when I felt those emotions myself, and I rewrite the scene while I feel things afresh. I think it helps my writing.
    Occasionally I focus on the feeling I get from a book, a movie or a strong memory, and see what ideas they can give me for writing. Sometimes a feeling can influence how I write for hours.
    When I catch a whiff of how a planned scene feels to me, I will write it out of order. I believe that when the emotion of a scene makes me respond physically, then I’m onto something good. I strive to be published one day, and I hope that my readers will feel some part of those things I felt in writing, but for me, it’s feeling that pulls me away from distraction, so I focus on that.

    Cheers and good writing!

  22. Commander Keen was great.

  23. John MacLeod says

    This all needed to be said, so thank you. I have found my own way to a number of those points already, and I can’t help but be struck by the way that other people find me odd because I practise them.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Right? People often look a little scandalized when I say I don’t always have my phone on during the day.

  24. Amber Fox says

    I’ve struggled woth distractions for as long as O can remember. For years I thought it was an Internet and computer thing. Bit recently I’ve been thinking back to when I hand wrote my first novel in the days Before Computers (BC). I would regularly stop writing to read a few pages of Garfiled comics (I kept books of them on the shelf by my desk). So now I’m thinking that maybe is just… part of my process? That fighting it is fighting myself and I should just relax and work with it? There’s so much advice on how *not* to do it tho and why it’s a Bad Thing. Am I the only one who’s always done it?

    Great tips on increasing creativity. Made me realise I’ve not daydreamed in ages. I used to do it constantly!

    Thanks for the post. xx

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I remember reading about how Lawrence Block would type one page on his typewriter, then play a hand of solitaire–then type another page. :p So, yes, distraction’s just part of the game to some extent. If anything, maybe some of these distraction-free apps are making it *easier* to pass on some of our temptations.

  25. Excellent Blog.

    I’ve been looking at all kinds of life hacks lately, to help me and others with creativity.

    I’m definitely going to remind this blog for my audience.

  26. David Snyder says

    I am sure I am not saying something that everybody does not already know, but there are an increasing number of studies and books that show the Internet and Internet culture IS the enemy—that it has led to short attention spans, a loss of the ability to comprehend long passages, to memorize, to think abstractly, originally, creatively, etc.

    In other words, wallowing in the Internet as a lifestyle leads to lasting neurological changes associated with impatience, higher and higher thresholds for arousal, the need for ever more graphic or violent stimulus, and the inability to concentrate.

    One from a while back: Carr, Nicholas The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains . W. W. Norton & Company.

    I have very mixed feelings, because I love the ease of Internet research, but there is no doubt in my mind that the online lifestyle and culture has destroyed entire worlds of real experience and real feeling—and not only reading but writing has suffered. When I read many new books today (not all, but many), it seems like someone has just lifted some trope from Netflix or a how-to book on writing, and crafted a plotty plot. But I can’t feel anything. It does not feeling “living.” It feels concocted and artificial—much of it anyway.

    So, as much as I love the Internet for research, I have to force myself to stay away. I force myself to stay in a zone of hyper focus with my critique partner, with my head down, working on one paragraph at a time as job number one—and I only join the virtual stream when I absolutely have to. And I try to stay in the real world.

    I remember that as far back as the 90s I heard experts at famous medical schools warning of the damage that computers would do to the human brain and consciousness, for all of their wonder, and I find much of that prophetic now.

  27. OMG I need to read this daily and share with all my good friends. I do pretty well with some stuff but not well with others (not aided by the current pandemic and feeling one needs to stay perpetually informed). I did achieve “inbox zero” (which feels like when you just step from the shower) and now task myself with keeping it low. (I have a software, EagleFiler, to archive important communications.) — Thanks for all your newsletters; yours is one that I always open. 🙂

  28. M.L. Bull says

    The internet is one of my distractions as I listen to songs on YouTube while I write and ads tend to play sometimes between songs, but I ignore ads really well. I actually think email is my biggest distraction. I’m almost always checking it on my phone.

    Recently the start of this week, I decided to unsubscribe from any and everything I don’t need, and to delete after I finish reading emails. If I don’t, it will pile up like crazy. Some things I don’t even remember subscribing to. Like, when did I sign up for this? Lol…

    As far as social media, I’ve actually had my social media notifications on my phone off at least 2 or 3 months, and I barely use Facebook or Instagram like I used to. Although Twitter more than the rest, I typically check my social media when I feel like it.

  29. Thanks for these tips. I must admit I have conquered the social media distraction to a large extent, but as an indie author I still get swept up in the multitude of things I must do. Your advice on doing one thing at a time is something I need to master. I am prone to bouncing from task to task without completing any. Love the term Monkey Mind – it’s exactly how I feel in those moments 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, gone are the days when a writer can be *just* a writer (if those days ever really did exist). Now, we have to be prepared to wear many different hats. It can be challenging, to be sure!

  30. Great tips. I write tech articles for an online news site, and I fight a constant battle for focus. I have to go online to research, but like you say, it’s so easy to fall down a rabbit hole and waste time. As I’m paid per post, I’m literally throwing away money by doing this. But it’s still soooo hard to discipline myself!
    When I write for myself, i.e. my novel in progress, I switch off my WiFi and it’s much easier to focus. If I need to research something I make a note and go back to it later.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I hear you. When possible, I like to find research articles and save them in some offline medium, so I can focus on reading them away from the computer. But sometimes you need just that one quickie little fact, and it’s the Pied Piper that leads you away…

  31. OMG I played Crystal Caves and Commander Keen! I had a computer at 12 and internet as a teen too. You could be describing me. I made websites at 16 and starting blogging in 2003. I also wrote a few articles for (now-defunct) online magazines. I wish I had a picture of me on my old computer, so cool!

  32. Nikki Morton says

    This is fantastic. I really needed this. There is NO telling how much time internet rabbit holes have taken from my life. And…I couldn’t put my finger on it, but your point about focusing on the pictures, not the words, is exactly what I’ve been struggling with. I used to “see the movies in my head” as you put it, and now it’s just babble it seems. Thank you for this!

  33. Abigail Welborn says

    Thank you for a great post, again! I love how you are constantly interrogating your own habits and sharing with us. My first computer was a Mac Classic my mom brought home from work and I was similarly fascinated… then I went online in the AOL days… 😉

    Here are some other tips for people looking to combat distraction:
    – I read DEEP WORK (by Cal Newport) and then bought it to read again every time my motivation wanes
    – uBlock Origin is my ad-blocker of choice, and so far it seems to work for everything except sponsored Facebook posts; plus it lets you selectively filter content to fix the layout of a site (e.g., when an ad leaves a big gap at the top)
    – Firefox has a feature/extension called Snooze Tabs. I also use browser windows as reminders, but then it constantly weighs on me, so if it’s something I know I need to do and don’t want to forget, I snooze the tab until a time when I know I can deal with it.
    – The book GETTING THINGS DONE suggests grouping your to-do lists by where they get done. So you could have a list of things that have to be done online so that when you sit down at the computer you can knock them out. Trello, Todoist, and other apps (which I am very bad at actually using, hence the Snooze Tabs…) would all let you group like this and/or refine further. It’s an alternate way of grouping by type.
    – Freedom has several free extensions that will keep track of how much time you spend on each website or turn them off after a certain amount of time. LeechBlock is a similar Firefox extension with highly customizable filters. On Android, the app Time Limit will do the same thing.
    – the new Android system update (at least on LG) also has a digital health option which will limit certain apps and turn my phone to black-and-white (either all the time or at a certain time in the evening until the next morning).

    Especially during the pandemic, I crave the connection that can be found mostly online these days, but I also need a way to control the randomness. (A previous commenter recommended THE SHALLOWS and yeah, wow, is that sobering, but the addiction is real!)

  34. Paul Worthington says

    “Savor” is a great word, and an ideal philosophy of life!

  35. The Internet is my great resource and my greatest enemy. I’ve been getting up earlier and earlier to write, which is GREAT. But getting up at 6:30, and finally writing some words in Scrivener at 8:30–is discouraging. Two hours wasted, all because I “just wanna check on what Kevin said about xyz on Facebook.” Not just wasted time, but my mind all stirred up about some stupid thing I can’t do anything about. My only recourse is just shut off the phone and turn off wi-fi on the PC.

    • So true! I get up early too. I try not to go on social media during writing time, but once in a while I am tempted! And then you’re right, two hours gone. It’s amazing how much time I can waste on social media, yet can’t find writing time.

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