Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

media. music. feminism. food. city-dwelling. story-telling. and other things.

Writing, Organizing & Distractions

with 3 comments

I really like the advice Cory Doctorow gives here about “writing in the age of distraction.”

Don’t research: Researching isn’t writing and vice-versa. When you come to a factual matter that you could google in a matter of seconds, don’t. Don’t give in and look up the length of the Brooklyn Bridge, the population of Rhode Island, or the distance to the Sun. That way lies distraction — an endless click-trance that will turn your 20 minutes of composing into a half-day’s idyll through the web. Instead, do what journalists do: type “TK” where your fact should go, as in “The Brooklyn bridge, all TK feet of it, sailed into the air like a kite.” “TK” appears in very few English words (the one I get tripped up on is “Atkins”) so a quick search through your document for “TK” will tell you whether you have any fact-checking to do afterwards. And your editor and copyeditor will recognize it if you miss it and bring it to your attention.

He gives a lot of other good advice, too, like don’t write in Word because all the word-processing extras (like spell check and formatting) can be distracting, and TURN OFF YOUR G-CHAT, for godssakes, because “realtime communications tools are deadly.”

I’ve been big on trying to be more productive and organized in 2009, and so I’ll share two of the really silly, really simple things that have helped me.

1) Not keeping a Gmail tab open all day long.

The urge to click over everytime that Inbox (1) shows up on the tab is too great, and it’s usually just some sort of mailing list near-spam that I don’t even want to read, or a notification from facebook. But all that clicking back and forth totally takes you out of the moment of what you’re doing. I think deciding to only check my email at specified times during the day—to, you know, let 10 or so emails build up before I attend to them—not only saves time but helps me focus more, too.

2) Making “Weekly Focus Lists” at the beginning of the month

This is something only a type-A person like me could love, but I’ve started coming up with a “weekly focus” for each week of the month, be it a writing idea, or some household project, or whatever. Then, when I have free time, I’m not as prone to thinking “well, I could be working on this, but there’s this other thing I wanted to think about/do, and maybe it’d be better if I switched to that for a little while and …” Bleh. Having some predetermined project I’ve decided to focus on for the week helps me squelch that voice, ’cause I can tell myself  “this is what I need to think about/work on right now, and everything else can wait.”


Written by Elizabeth

January 19, 2009 at 4:26 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Amen to that. GChat is the single greatest threat to me completing a piece to write.


    January 19, 2009 at 7:03 pm

  2. Excellent tips and I’m so glad that it is working for you. By finding ways to focus you will be sure to get your projects completed faster and have better end results.

    I have also found that using an egg timer to remind me to take a short stretch helps to revive me and I get even more writing inspiration.
    To your success!
    Productive & Organized – We’ll help you find your way! tm

    Stephanie LH Calahan

    January 24, 2009 at 2:06 pm

  3. Yes! FOCUS – it is THE most productive and one of the hardest things to do with distractions aplenty. Love it!

    Martha Clouse

    March 7, 2009 at 11:55 am

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