Don’t distract me– I am writing!

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If you Google the word “Distraction”, the first result links to Wikipedia. This is not really surprising. The second result links to a page that promises to help you minimize distractions.

On the one hand this is nothing but great SEO, Search Engine Optimization, but on the other hand it correctly points us to the fact that many things distract us.

As authors we know what this means. We sit down to write a few hundred words. But excuses and valid reasons keep jumping at us. The best distraction excuse story I have heard is about a student who felt utterly convinced that he had to paint the washing line that very moment, before he could study for his finals.

Perhaps we should have a competition to find the Best Author Distraction story? What do you say?

The bottom line is that we are easily distracted. What are the different tools and strategies we can use to stay more focused on our work? The one obvious option would be to improve our time management skills.

Another option, and this is what we will be looking at, would be distraction-free writing tools (it’s ironic that the two dedicated tools mentioned here don’t exist (one is the ghost of Christmas Past and one is the ghost of Christmas Future) – which goes to show how much distraction rules our reality:


Discontinued in September 2013, this tool is a very cute portable, battery powered, word-processing keyboard. It didn’t stand a chance as a typewriter sort of word processor is nothing but a relic but for a short while it was a hit among NaNoWriMers. It’s small and doesn’t allow too much editing as you don’t see the whole manuscript that you type in and so instead of worrying about what you type, you just type it out. Since you don’t check your twitter and facebook feed, it helps you finish what you started. It has a good battery life too.

It’s a writing tool that should come back on the shelves.


The Hemingwrite is not yet in production, and the whole project is, technically, still a pipe-dream looking for financing.

This will perhaps be one of the most hardcore tools you will find out there for writers– the Bear Grylls-tool of writing if you want.

This is an E-Ink screen, think Kindle or Kobo attached to a mechanical typewriter keyboard, think mechanical keyboard with a battery, memory, WiFi and Bluetooth-  allowing backup on the Cloud.

I can actually picture Bear Grylls writing about his later adventure on his Hemingwrite while hanging from a cliff, surrounded by his support team, the camera team, the helicopter that carries the camera team, the emergency health care team, etc. It just feels so real!

Alright, I will admit that it does look cute and the mechanical keyboard does create a certain amount of nostalgia. I remember how I struggled for a whole year to learn to type on a fancy Olivetti with a golf-ball typing head.

Whether you will like this “thing” or not, you can see that typing on a modified Kindle will definitely cut down on your distractions, especially as it does not do Facebook, emails or games.

Software solutions

Blocking Apps

The Hemingwrite takes away possible distractions by being technologically incapable of allowing them. No email or IM notifications, no Facebook, nothing.

One option would be to disable your Internet connection while writing. While it is true that we sometimes need to research a fact, it is not very often that we need to do it exactly that second.

Disconnecting the WiFi connection will mean no notifications from Twitter or Google+. Stumbleupon will not be able to send you an email telling you that they found something tailor-made for your taste.

There are various apps available that allow you to do the same, or something similar, without actually disconnecting from the ether.

Anti-Social is one of these apps. Another would be SelfControl.

Both these apps allow you to define which sites to block. You can also block your email server, Twitter and other IM services from updating.

You set a time, a few minutes to a few hours, during which access to all “naughty” sites that distract you are blocked.

Timing Apps

This strategy focuses more on the carrot (more psychological) than the stick.

Again, you will be flooded with choice. Orzeszek Timer, Focus Booster and CookTimer are but a few of the free apps out there.
Commit yourself to a specific time– 5 minutes or 30 minutes. Yan easily convince yourself that a few more minutes won’t kill you but will greatly enhance the chances of your novel being written.

Scrivener and Co

When it comes to software there is no niche with only one option. Just like in writing, there is no genre with just one (completed) book in it.

With this in mind a whole bunch of developers have come up with software aimed specifically at authors.  OmmWriter, iAWriter, Byword, and Ulysses III come to mind.

I prefer Scrivener primarily because of its distraction-free composition mode. While in this mode, you have basically a single page in front of you on the screen and nothing else. And as easy as that you get rid of a whole load of distractions. The only problem is that Scrivener is not free and will set you back about $40.


In my opinion these tools and techniques can all play an important role in upping or sticking to your daily word count.

English: George R.R. Martin signing books in a...

George R.R. Martin signing books in a bookstore. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But it is also possible that these are used as nothing more than quick fixes. It is possible that you are not disciplined enough or that you do not manage your time as well as you could.

These tools may help you to not be indisciplined (not to be disciplined though). These might prevent you from wasting time but not necessarily using time wisely.

George R.R. Martin, author of A Song of Ice and Fire, is a case in point, I would argue from my privileged position of ignorance. In an interview with Conan O’Brien he says that he uses a Dos machine and WordStar 4.0 because he wants to write and does not want to be distracted. The publication of Winds of Winter, the sixth book in the series, has been postponed and delayed repeatedly. Okay – I am not insinuating anything!

Combine these anti-distraction tools with a self-actualization process for the best results and, of course, with your best writing.

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