4 Ways to Improve Your Creative Focus

It’s probably not much of a surprise to you that I write a lot. Between all of my weekly projects–paid columns and feature articles, blog posts, ebooks, social media posts, emails, and myriad other obligations–I’d estimate I log anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 words per week. That’s about 8 to 16 or so pages. I’m not trying to brag. Ok, maybe I am a little. I’ve never done the math and I’m astonished at how much I can produce.

However, despite my many wishes and prayers, those words don’t magically flow from my fingertips with ease. Writing takes focus. I’m going to get really honest here:

Focus is a bitch.

Thankfully, I learned how to control it.

But before I did,

* not a single email, Facebook post, Twitter message, and Instagram photo got by me;
* the kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom were always immaculately clean;
* grocery store runs to stock up on essentials despite a full refrigerator were more frequent;
* and I’d catch up on phone calls to mom, my best friend, and anyone other available person.

As a writer or creator, does any of this sound familiar to you?

I can’t tell you the lengths I’ve gone to avoid sitting down to my laptop to write. However, throughout the past 20 or so years as a writer I’ve figured out how to wrestle my focus into submission. Because I like you, I’m going to tell you how I did it, too. Proceed with caution–your kitchen may never sparkle again.

Focus Tip #1: Schedule It. This is a tip that hearkens back to my lowly days as a college student. Nearly all of my professors told me that I needed to schedule time to write. And then, just write. This is the same tip that made me want to punch my professors in the face. But I didn’t. Instead, I listened to them and learned how right they were. The thing is that you can’t wait for the creativity gods to bless you. You will never write a word if you wait for them. Instead, you have to make an appointment. This will be tough at first, and all of those nonessential chores will start calling your name. Don’t listen to them. Even if you don’t write a single word, you must sit there for the time allotted. It’s like training yourself to get to bed by 10 every night. It’s a struggle at first, but then your body gets used to it and no longer resists you. Be sure to schedule your sessions at the exact time each day. Your body and mind will eventually recognize the routine and the words will flow more easily.

Focus Tip #2: Shut It Down. Turn off your cell phone, push notifications, email alerts, and any other element of distraction. You may think you’re strong enough to resist the “dings” and “bells,” but you’re not. Unless I’ve got a pressing phone call I place my phone in another room or somewhere out of sight so that I’m not tempted to pick it up. Turn off your internet for the ultimate safeguard.

Focus Tip #3: Set the Stage. In a previous post I suggested setting up an environment that promotes creativity. This might take the form of your favorite pictures or sayings. Or maybe light an aromatic candle. I’m from a small, rural town, but live in a large, urban city. So I like to surround myself with plants; I might also play some sounds of nature. I’m kooky like that. This also dovetails with tip 1 in that the more “routine” you create around your writing time–within reason, of course; don’t let your routine become distraction–the quicker your brain and body will get with the program.

Focus Tip #4: Warm Up. You wouldn’t go into a workout with a cold body because you increase injury potential and decrease performance potential. The same goes for writing. Once your stage is set and you’re ready to write, pull out a stop watch and set it for 2 or 3 minutes. Hit start and write about anything and everything that comes to mind until the bell rings. Don’t censor yourself and forget about grammar and punctuation. Just go. Don’t even write about your topic. You’ll be surprised by the great content you produce.

I want you to know that I still struggle with focus every time I sit down to write. Some days it’s easy to sit down and finish a writing project while other days pose far greater challenges. Success comes from patience and persistence.

And it might be comforting for you to know that the greats also struggle . . .

As Maya Angelou says, “What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat,’… And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.’”

Do you have any focus tips that I didn’t include here? I’d love to hear about it. Post them in the comments section below.

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