How to Think Away Writing DIstractions

How to Think Away Writing Distractions

Life can be one big distraction. Emails, phone calls, text messages, tweets and posts can quickly eat away at the hour or less of writing time you’ve carved out for yourself. And those are just the digital distractions! They don’t account for the mental, physical, and emotional distractions you have to deal with.

Writing distractions used to make me angry. I would blame my wife, my friends, and my phone for my failure to meet my daily writing goals. But all the blame in the world would not write my book for me. When the same things keep distracting you from your writing, blaming apps, devices, and people will not solve the problem. Instead of thinking of yourself as a victim, realize you can be an achiever. Achievers don’t blame others for their shortcomings. They think of solutions for their problems and take action.

The best way to work around your writing distractions is to brainstorm a battle plan.

Quick, Effective Brainstorming

A few weeks ago, I started a practice that has been helping me immensely. I freewrite for at least fifteen minutes a day every day. Sometimes, I brainstorm about a new book I’m writing. Other times, I use the session for journaling. The most productive freewriting sessions center on ways to stop issues that are holding me back. I’m always looking for ways to improve the efficiency of my writing, and these freewriting sessions are extremely helpful.

Freewriting sessions work because over the course of ten or fifteen minutes, you’re able to get yourself into a creative flow. While you’re in that state, it’s possible to come up with new ideas that aren’t available to you on a conscious level. The brain is an amazing machine, but it occasionally requires coaxing to get to the most brilliant and insightful ideas.

How to Freewrite

To freewrite about your writing distractions, sit down with the Internet temporarily disconnected. This will keep your writing as distraction free as possible. Set a kitchen timer or a phone alarm for fifteen minutes. As soon as you’ve set the time, start writing stream-of-consciousness style on the subject of your writing distractions. If nothing comes to you, write out questions, such as:

  • “In what locations do I find the most writing distractions?”
  • “What time of the day gives me the fewest distractions?”
  • “What activity makes me mentally unfocused before a writing session?”

Start answering these questions during your session. Keep writing until your timer goes off.

Here’s what will probably happen. For a few minutes, you’ll ramble about the same stuff you usually complain about. For another large chunk of the session, you’ll be slow to come up with words. But somewhere in the middle, you’ll have a stroke of genius in which you come up with at least one usable idea for destroying your distractions. If you continue to freewrite and brainstorm on your writing habits for several days or weeks in a row, you’ll likely determine multiple ways to cut your distractions in half.

An Unexpected Bonus

I started freewriting as part of an effort to come up with new career ideas. What I didn’t anticipate was that I’d brainstorm ways to improve my life. I started coming up with new ways to work on my health, my finances, and my relationships. The freewriting sessions became like a board of directors meetings for my entire existence. I’ve always been the kind of guy who is willing to change my way of doing things if I find something better. These sessions give me the opportunity to find better ideas almost daily. I’m knocking out writing distractions and optimizing my non-writing life in just fifteen minutes a day.

The Consistent Writer

The best writers aren’t necessarily those who write with the most skill. They’re the ones who are able to find ways around their distractions so they’re able to write consistently. When they encounter a new distraction, they figure out how to conquer it. You can be the kind of writer who overcomes writing obstacles for ten, twenty, fifty, or even one hundred straight days. That kind of consistency will make you a better writer. Commit to this brainstorming practice for an entire week and try to come up with some anti-distraction weapons that could last you a year or more. With less blame and more action, you can become the kind of everyday writer you’ve always dreamed of becoming.

In honor of his new book, Cohen is hosting the “1,000 Prompts, 1,000 Dollars” Writing Contest on his website. Click the link to find out how to enter!

Tell me your opinion: What is your best method for overcoming writing distractions?

How to Think Away Writing DIstractions

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About Bryan Cohen

Bryan Cohen is an author, a creativity coach, and an actor. His new book, 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts, Volume 2: More Ideas for Blogs, Scripts, Stories and More is now available on Amazon in digital and paperback format. His other books include 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts, The Post-College Guide to Happiness, and Ted Saves the World. He has published over thirty books, which have sold more than 20,000 copies. Connect with him on his website, Build Creative Writing Ideas, on Facebook or on Twitter.


  1. Thanks, Katie, for having me on the blog today!

  2. Since my wife put the kabash on an out-of-state writing office, I settled for my in-college daughter’s bedroom (painted a lovely purple) and the massive boom box I ingeniously bought for her during her last Christmas living at home. This, with the iPhone and Pandora, provides an endless stream of instrumental music. I prefer Christian or (this month) Christmas tunes. However, I still suffer from chronic facebook addiction. That’s the one I gotta nail down. Perhaps your freewriting method will offer a solution.

    • Thanks, Ron. I’ve always wanted a purple writing room :). Good luck! You can always try a 2-4 week Facebook hiatus. It’ll still be there when you get back :).

  3. My distractions come from family, job, and from social media (how do you find the best balance between building your presence and writing?). The best thing for me is to resort to pen and paper away from the computer or take my laptop to the patio (internet off). I always get a lot done at the library but it is hard to go often. My favorite trick is tough with the day job…I like to stay up very late at night when everyone’s sleeping. 🙂

    • I could see the late-night owl trick being tough with the day job. The library is great! I love getting work done there. Would your boss ever let you work from home? 🙂

      I think the social media/writing balance is a tough one for most writers to strike. I’ve always erred on the side of writing. My kingdom for a full-time social media assistant (and the money to afford paying this person) :)!

      • Ah, but I do work from home. 🙂 But I do need to be up and on the system/phone every morning, and then keep my family busy, lol. And oh yes, I’d give quite a lot for someone to handle the social media for me, or at least pare it down. 🙂

  4. Bryan–
    Thanks for your article. As I think you would agree, each writer must find his or her own way to “getting the work out.” But productivity in quantitative terms does not always keep company with “the best writing.” As for freewriting, I’m sure it works for some, and I wish it worked for me–but it doesn’t. I think in terms of story ideas choosing or finding me, not the other way around. When this happens, I am freed, so to speak, to get to work.

    • I completely agree, Barry. My best writing does not come from my freewriting. It comes after many revisions of my “productive writing.” I’m glad you’ve found your way!

  5. Procrastinating and being blocked by distractions are a huge problem for me. These ideas are great, I’ll have to try them. Thanks!

  6. Cool idea 🙂 See, I’m actually lucky in the fact that I have a lot of time to write, since I’m homeschooled; but it’s more like I’m good at procrastinating. There’s always something else to do, especially when I’m stuck like I am right now. I probably need to set a timer and free write ideas to get un-stuck 🙂
    Thanks for the post!

    • Thanks, Anastasia! Definitely try it out. As a full-time freelance writer, I’m kind of in the same boat. The more I schedule out my time, the better I seem to do.

  7. Timothy J. Suder says

    The incorporation of the distraction…unfortunately your girl/boyfriend, friend/relative, associate doesn’t always make the phone ring at the moment when you can write; ” and somewhere in the distance the melodic tones of her untimely timed song rang true to remind me of things I had long since forgotten”. If one could only learn to master the art of utilizing distractions, distractions themselves would cease to exist…if only.

  8. andre harris says

    First it is good to know that being distractable is part of being a creative. Look up ‘negative latent inhibition’ to see what I mean. If you are creative, it is always going to be a struggle to focus, but it can also be a sign of that genius you always suspected was lurking inside somewhere.
    As a consummate genius myself, I have needed to take extensive steps to curb my distractions.
    Firstly,through use of software;
    I have the ‘Freedom’ program to lock myself out of the internet (also apparently used by Nick Hornby and Zadie Smith). (about $10)
    I have Pomodairo from Adobe (free) which is a fancy version of the pomodoro technique, where you can programme your whole work session and breaks. I find this particularly useful when I’m brainstorming rather than writing.
    I have a program called Write or Die ($10) which I use for timed writes. I like this because it knows when you haven’t been typing for a while and nags you to keep going with sounds.
    I use a prompt list to get myself going in the morning so I can quickly get through all the early decisions I have to make (open the manuscript, set my Freedom program etc).
    I use a mind-mapping program called Freemind (free) to additionally help me to focus when I’m brainstorming, because I find when I’m moving rather than simply thinking I focus better ( it has been said that writing is done with the hands and not the brain).
    Another useful technique- and this one comes from Tony Robbins, is to get your physiology right. If you hold your body like you would if you were really focused you are halfway there -so no slouching!

  9. Thanks for this spot on advice. Since whenever I sit to write, I start to daydream about my future glories by being a writer and completely forget that to get those glories, I will have to produce first.


  1. […] UPDATE am 11. Dezember: K.M. Weiland hat einen Beitrag von Bryan Cohen auf ihrem Blog dazu veröffentlicht, wie man sich nicht ablenken lässt, sondern auf den Schreibprozess fokussiert: How to Think Away Writing Distractions […]

  2. […] creatives often have trouble with organization, but never fear! Bryan Cohen tells us how to think away writing distractions, while Roz Morris shares how to get organized when you wear a lot of […]

  3. […] UPDATE am 11. Dezember: K.M. Weiland hat einen Beitrag von Bryan Cohen auf ihrem Blog dazu veröffentlicht, wie man sich nicht ablenken lässt, sondern auf den Schreibprozess fokussiert: How to Think Away Writing Distractions […]

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