Just in time for the November issue, a press release appeared in the Hippocampus Magazine in box with the headline: “A new survey of 1,500 US writers has discovered what is most likely to distract them from writing their novel.” Perfect fodder for a craft column this month, I thought.
Smart timing on behalf of productivity application Stop Procrastinating, the company that sponsored the research study, to release these stats to coincide with Nanowrimo – November writing month. The release states its intentions are “to help inspire hundreds of thousands of Americans who are preparing to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days.”
Writing a book-length work — if you are a Hippocampus reader perhaps it’s a memoir, not a novel — in just 30 days is an insanely admirable feat, especially if the writer also has a day job, a family, or any other responsibility outside of the page. If distractions are always an issue, November’s writing challenge is a good time to start kicking those habits to the side. At least for 30 days.
“Nanowrimo is a great celebration of writing, but sometimes even with the best of intentions writers become distracted,” Will Little, creator of stopprocrastinatingapp.com, said in the press release, citing that warm gestures like a cup of coffee or the stroke of a pet’s fur can lure writers away from the keyboard.
The survey discovered a range of domestic and life issues that distracted the most creatives “from fulfilling their dreams and finishing their novel”
By far, digital distractions top the list of Stop Procrastinating’s survey: social media, email and, in general, the Internet. Fifty-two percent of survey respondents claimed turning to the Internet for inspiration, only to “lose hours reading articles or watching YouTube videos.” Of those who responded that they were distracted by the Internet, 45 percent said they watched a funny animal video to help get them through a creative block, and 15 percent were distracted by a dating website.
“…often the distraction is staring them in the face,” Little said in the press release. “The writer’s tool, the computer, is part of an interconnected planet that exists, it seems, to distract and toy with our concentration. It can take only seconds from typing a lyrical sentence to answering an email or watching a funny animal video on YouTube, and the creative moment is lost.”
According to the survey, these are some of the other culprits:
- Staying late at work
- Pizza and ice cream
- Partner distracting them by offering a drink, turning on TV or talking
- Pets jumping on lap or turning off the computer
- Family argument
To dig into this list a bit more, seven percent said their pets’ desire for affection or knocking a power cord out distracted them, while 17 percent stopped writing to grab an edible reward, like pizza or ice cream. Our partners and families can unintentionally distract us, too. According to the survey 14 percent were distracted by a partner suggesting to watch a TV show as a “creative break” or coming into the room to deliver a drink or ask a quick question that leads to an hour conversation. Finally, perhaps a more fun partner distraction, four percent of writers have opted to leave the keyboard to have sex. (One respondent said she had to; she was ovulating! But the others, it was just for the nookie.)
But sometimes it’s not other people or blinking things that distract us; sometimes it ourselves. The survey showed that 22 percent of writers are often too tired to write, and 32 percent didn’t have time because they stayed late at work.
“…sometimes writers need that extra push – to turn off the Internet completely or at least filter out social media…” — Little
The first step in overcoming our distractions is to know what they are–and admitting that they are, indeed distractions. This survey brings to light some of the most common challenges writers face, and while these results might seem like a no-brainer, it’s a good reminder. Of that list, and outside of digital distractions, I can say that staying late at work is my biggest issue.
I’ve been struggling to leave at 5:30 p.m., my official end time. I love my day job and am very busy, but I’m not getting my writing done; I come home mentally exhausted. There’s usually no good reason to stay late. I’ve tried creating an Outlook event for “LEAVE WORK NOW” and I only hit snooze. Also, I love my husband, but he inadvertently distracts me. We’ve talked about it, and he tries hard–but we have a small place and it’s just inevitable sometimes. But I’ve decided that since I use my home office and desktop computer so much to do Hippocampus work and, sometimes, work from home, that maybe I need new surroundings for my own creative writing. So, if I make an “appointment” for myself to leave work ON TIME and spend an hour or two writing somewhere outside the home on a dedicated laptop, I would feasibly get home at the same time as if I’d stayed at work late where, let’s face it, I’m not being super productive anyway at that hour. Same amount of time away from home, but a more fruitful day!
So, along with my little anecdote, we return to the press release for some insight from Little.
“Sometimes all it takes is for the writer to set down their goals – how many words they want to write and how long it will take them. Goal setting is hard-wired into our brains and when we set them we are more likely to achieve our objectives. But sometimes writers need that extra push – to turn off the Internet completely or at least filter out social media or the most distracting websites,” he said.
Little’s app, Stop Procrastinating, is one tool to help writers stay focused; it is compatible with Mac OS and Windows and allows users the option to block the Internet for a period of time in two ways, depending on how much self-discipline they have, for example, blocking it entirely, or just specific websites. The app also gives users the option to write down their works goals before disconnecting from the Internet and chart their progress over time.
In addition to Stop Procrastinating, which sponsored the writing distraction survey and inspired us to share the results, there are many other low-cost or free productivity tools available to creative professionals including Toggl (a time tracking tool), Freedom (Mac only Internet blocker), RescueTime, WriteRoom, and Anti-Social.