Distraction-Free Writing

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A writer these days needs more than Virginia Woolf’s “money and a room of one’s own.” She would probably add “and tools for distraction-free writing so I can stop spending the day on Twitter and Facebook.”

Coping with distractions is an important part of the writer’s job. The same inventions that have allowed us to be more productive have also given us the sirens that keep us from doing it.

Word processors make it easier to write and revise text; it’s also given us ways to distract ourselves by hunting for the perfect font and the ability to store (and lose) articles that we must have before we can continue writing this story. The Internet opened new avenues for research and galleries of Kitler photos. Smartphones keep us in touch with people and fresh announcements of each post and tweet and email.

No one is immune to the short-term pleasures of the Internet. As a species, humans are easily distracted. We find it difficult to focus and tune out our surroundings. So we try various tools and see what works.

nick hornby distraction-free writing

Nick Hornby, English author of “High Fidelity” and “About a Boy.”

On the recent Nerdist podcast, Nick Hornby revealed an unusual way to refresh himself when he is fatigued from writing. This eight-minute clip from the podcast describes his solution in detail:

Transcription from The Nerdist podcast:

Hornby: This is a very dark secret, but it’s something I’ve discovered relatively recently. It’s jigsaw puzzles. … So I’ve got a desk like this and another desk here, and this desk has a jigsaw puzzle on it. So I turn round, and I start fiddling, and it’s so cool because it’s just enough to occupy your mind, but it leaves great chunks of your mind free, whereas before what I was doing was messing around on the Internet and I’d get right out of the zone completely.

The rest of the clip talks about his latest puzzle, the cover of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

distraction-free writingNor is Hornby alone in finding ways around the lure of the Internet.

* Many writers, such as Will Self, write their first draft by hand.

zadie smith distraction-free writing

Zadie Smith

* In her 2015 novel “NW,” Zadie Smith thanked two pieces of software, Freedom and Self Control, for “creating the time” in which to write. (Note: Freedom is available for Mac and PC; Self Control for Mac only.)

* Prolific genre writer Dean Wesley Smith uses two computers, one attached to the Internet, the other one not.

* There are also distraction-free or writing software available. They tend to have few options and a plain interface, usually just a blank page and a cursor. Gizmodo recently published a list of 9 products. More can be found by Googling “distraction-free writing.”

[Return]Yes, I know she was writing about women and that it was meant to be taken metaphorically as well. Work with me here.