Write It Sideways

5 Online Distraction-Busters for Writers

Today’s post is written by Krissy Brady, a semi-finalist in the Write It Sideways regular contributor search. Thanks, Krissy!

“Being a good writer is 3 percent talent, and 97 percent not being distracted by the Internet.” ~Anonymous

With the enormous number of responsibilities writers now face while they’re online—e-mails, research, interviews, blogging, social networking—never mind the external distractions faced while working at home, it’s no wonder so many of us end the day with barely a paragraph written.

Here are five tips to minimize online distractions, so you can get back to writing:

1. Know What You Have Control Over, and What You Don’t

We have more than our share of external distractions: unexpected visitors, phone calls, text messages, personal chores, errands, family obligations. These are items on our agenda we do not have control over; they will always be in our lives. However, on the Internet, we have full control over exactly how we spend our time.

The fact is we can appear offline on MSN Messenger and Facebook; we can choose when we check our e-mail; we can choose when we update our social networking accounts. The only interruption we have on the Internet is ourselves.

2. Create Separate E-mail Addresses for Separate Tasks

One distraction-buster that has increased my productivity by 300% is how I have organized my e-mail accounts. There is nothing more overwhelming than an inbox that never seems to reduce in size, and this is one of the most consistent distractions we face.

To alleviate this distraction, I did two things:

  1. I set up four separate e-mail accounts. My main e-mail address is to keep in touch with my writer friends and blog followers; the second account I use to subscribe to blogs; the third to subscribe to publication mailing lists; and the fourth I use specifically for my writing submissions, to keep my pitches and assignments organized. This way, I know what e-mails to prioritize, and my social networking subscriptions do not interfere with my writing projects.
  2. I disabled the automatic download feature on my Windows Live program. Now, I download my e-mails when I’m ready to download them (goodbye intrusive notifications!). It also helps give a small sense of accomplishment before the next torrent of e-mails roll in (on my terms).

3. Befriend Your Favorites Menu

The best thing about the Internet is the endless number of resources and information right at our fingertips, especially when we’re on the hunt for new markets to submit our writing to.

However, this can easily become the worst thing if we spend more time randomly browsing for opportunities than we do actually following through on opportunities we’ve already found.

That’s where your Favorites (bookmarks) menu will come in handy.

Create a folder specifically for those websites you want to look into further, to eliminate potential wandering. Name the website you’re saving after the reason why you’re saving it, e.g. print submission guidelines, join mailing list, send query to health editor, etc., so you can finish these new tasks efficiently at a more appropriate time.

4. Create a Social Networking System

With how important social networking has become for building a successful author platform, the line between constructive networking and procrastinating is very blurry. Creating a system for your social networking tasks will help you to decipher between productive social networking and not-so-productive.

For example, you could comment on your favorite blogs Mondays and Wednesdays, and network in writing forums Tuesdays and Thursdays, leaving Fridays for loose ends (perhaps you could work on that Favorites folder you’ve been stashing information in).

Or, you could fully focus on your writing and blogging during the week, leaving social networking for the weekend. Make sure to continue tweaking your system until you get it just right. (I have been running my blog since December of 2010, and I only recently solidified my social networking system. It’s a process, but an important one.)

5. Disconnect and Find Your Happy Place

Once you have completed your online tasks, disconnect the Internet, and consider it a mental disconnection as well so you can fully focus on your writing.

During our work day and other obligations, there are times when we have to suppress our creative energy in order to focus, and it can be difficult to revive it, especially if we’ve been suppressing it for a long period of time.

In The Freelance Writer’s Bible, David Trottier suggests picturing a safe harbor to open your mind—a calm and peaceful location, real or fictional, that makes you feel safe and relaxed:

“Retreating to your safe harbor is a mental device that will calm your thinking mind and summon your subconscious mind to bring forth insights and push them into consciousness. The truths of your soul and the source of your creativity are inside you; they just need a way to reveal themselves.” (p. 7)

Sometimes it only takes a few minutes to get back into your creative zone, and sometimes it takes longer, but the important thing is it will happen. Trusting the process means trusting yourself as a writer.

So now that you’re taking charge of your online distractions (wink, wink), it’s time to take a deep breath and visit your safe harbor. Once your creativity vault has been reopened, you will be amazed at how much writing you’ll be able to accomplish.

Krissy Brady is a freelance writer located in Gravenhurst, Ontario, Canada. She is a blogger dedicated to keeping the passion for writing alive, and is currently working on her first novel, poetry collection and screenplay. To learn more and keep in touch with Krissy, visit her blog, and follow her through RSS, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn for the latest writing-related information.