goals,  writing a novel,  writing fiction

Learn How to Focus

I was once asked by an interviewer if I listened to music while I write. The answer is: not on purpose.

Does that mean I write only when there’s silence? Ha. Far from it.

I write to PJ Masks, Goosebumps, nursery rhymes, Rascal Flatts, Tae Bo, radio stations, countless kid videos, bickering kids, teenage drama, and grandkids squealing.

The truth is, my house is never quiet–not even in the middle of the night. Between kids who talk in their sleep, yelping dogs outside my window, and city sounds (like sirens), there always seems to be commotion.

I write to life.

Learn to Focus

I’ve had to learn to focus. In fact, sometimes I focus so well when I’m in the groove of a story, that my kids stand at my computer and chant my name until I look up. I suppose that’s a bad thing, yet in my house, it’s been a coping mechanism to get things done.

I’d never balance my checkbook, pay bills, write emails, read, clean my house, fold laundry, cook, or write if my family’s organized chaos constantly distracted me.

Learning to focus is a skill. Like any skill, it takes time and effort to learn how to do it. These steps help me:

  • Find a comfortable spot
  • Set my phone and water bottle nearby
  • Set a goal (write for 30 minutes/write 500 words/edit one chapter)
  • Concentrate only on that goal
  • Use noise canceling headphones if I need to (I don’t, but the option is there if I need to)
  • Transport myself mentally into the story
  • Think only about the story (or writing project)
  • Give myself a break when I reach my goal (if I want to)

Concentrating or focusing on writing for a period of time takes practice. Try focusing for ten minutes and then increase that to your goal time.

For me, if I can get a solid 30 minutes at a time, I can make serious headway on my writing project.

What Really Needs My Attention?

There are times when something comes up that supersedes the writing project I’m working on. Through practice, I’ve developed a keen ability to pick up on that which truly needs my attention.

Even if I’m in the “zone” while writing, I can hear a child crying, respond to an important request, or take care of an immediate need. I can even answer the phone if I need to.

I think all of us who write with children still at home have this innate ability. I call it a mom writer’s 6th sense: the ability to discern between immediate needs and that which can wait until after a chapter (or writing goal) is finished.

It’s very important that immediate needs are attended to and not ignored, but, with enough practice, you’ll be able to tell if you need to stop writing and help a child or respond to a call. After you finish taking care of something, you can return and, once again, focus on your writing.

Make Writing a Priority

Since I have such a large family that always seems to be in motion, I’ve learned that if I want to write, I have to make it all work. I’ve honed my focus skills and I’ve learned to use time in the shower, time driving my kids to appointments and extracurricular activities, and time waiting at the dentist or doctor to think through my story so that when I do have a minute at the computer, I can use it effectively.

I’ve written snippets of dialogue on my phone, ideas for descriptions on the back of a deposit slip, and made notes about a character on my grocery list. I do this because writing is a priority.

Some people love to garden or sew or make jewelry. I used to spend time knitting, crocheting, and making crafts, but I learned that if I wanted to write, I had to make it a top priority above the other things I enjoyed.

We make time for that which is important to us. I will admit that I almost always set aside writing for family time. My family is more important to me than writing, so that’s where I spend the bulk of my time. But instead of watching TV or going shopping or surfing the internet, I’ll write.

I’ve gotten up early in the morning or skipped lunch to write. I hear people say they don’t have enough time to write, but they do other hobbies. To me, that means those other hobbies are more important than writing.

Each of us has to determine where we’ll spend our time. We all have the same 24 hours in a day. We just need to decide how we’ll spend those 24 hours.

Use Available Time

If you look at your day, you’ll probably find bits of time that you could devote to writing. I take my laptop with me to all my kids’ orthodontist, dentist, doctor, and therapy appointments. My youngest son has speech therapy every week. During that appointment, I write. And I use my focusing skills while I’m there because there are so many kids in the waiting area and people are constantly coming in and out of the office.

Sometimes I use “downtime” to just think and work out plot problems. I think about my stories while I’m doing dishes, out walking around my neighborhood, or doing yard work. I also think about my stories before I go to sleep at night and write down any ideas in a notebook.

Thinking about my stories when I’m not able to actually get any “writing” time helps me to be more productive and better able to focus when I do have time to work on my laptop.

Writing To Life

I don’t write to music, I write to life.

Learning to focus, determining what really needs my attention, making writing a priority, and using available time helps me to get as much writing done as I can. Admittedly, there are writers who are much more productive than I am and can spend much more time on writing than I can. And that’s okay.

Everyone needs to find that balance. But, when I do have that time to write, being able to focus and concentrate on my story helps me get the most out of my time.

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  • Henderson

    Motivational and top top educative post here. I also write and honestly distractions come every time. It might not be a kid like in my own case but sometimes I get pop ups of messages, calls or occasional blasts of music from my sister. I think focus is something I need to practice and I need to set priorities right. Overall, great post and very helpful. I should too write to life.

    • Rebecca Talley

      Thank you for your comments! I’ve had to learn to write around the distractions because there are so many! Good luck!

  • RoDarrick

    Wow! Focusing is an act that very few have mastery over. I have this problem in my life right now, I just don’t know how to dedicate myself to focus on a particular thing. I stay at home most times because I am an online entrepreneur but then, getting to focus has become an ordeal for me. But reading through this post, I learnt a lot on how to dedicate my time and setting priorities right. Wow! Thanks for this

  • Feochadan

    I couldn’t agree with you more.  I find it so rude when someone tells me they will do something “if they have the time”.  This basically means “if something better doesn’t come up.”  We don’t just “have the time” we need to “make the time”.  You’ve given excellent pointers on where that time can come from.

    When I get into writing, I go right into a zone like you describe.  Only certain important things will immediately snap me out of it.  Although I am not a mom, I do believe we can all develop that 6th sense of when something is important or something can be ignored until later.  People who say that they cannot write because of distractions are not putting enough of a priority on their writing.

    If you WANT to write badly enough, you will find that zone an just do it.  If you don’t then you will allow any little distraction to break that necessary concentration and get nothing done.

  • Vincent

    The best time for me to get focused is in the morning. At that time we don’t get many distractions and we feel most energized in the morning.

    I could literally write for hours on end and I discovered that I had made more work than the past week! I actually implement everything you mentioned to focus and it works wonders. One of the best things you can do is to set a goal as you mentioned. It doesn’t need to be big. It needs to be a small goal. That way it is easier to actually get work done!

    • Rebecca Talley

      I also feel more productive in the morning, especially if it’s before my kids are up. And setting goals helps me tremendously. Thanks for your comments!

  • Nice Gal Nikki

    Hi Rebecca! I definetly needed to read this article! I lose my focus so often lol. I get distracted so easiliy. I don’t want to be this way at all. It stops me from reaching my goals in life. I appreciate that you chose to write about this topic, I am sure there are many people out there that feel the same as myself. I like how you mentioned priorities because I think that’s what it comes down to. We need to make things that are important to us a priority and stop making excuses.

    • Rebecca Talley

      I hope this article helped. Sometimes, I have to reprioritize things depending on what else is going on, but prioritizing helps me get the most important things done first. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Darren

    I like your advice on Learning to Focus.  I have just started out with my new website and have not done much writing for a good few years.  Probably the last time I did this was when I was at University 10 years ago.  I totally agree with your focus tips especially setting goals to reach certain targets.  

    • Rebecca Talley

      Thank you! I’ve found that goal-setting really, really helps me. It’s the motivation I need to get things done.

  • Jordan Smith

    Just what I needed this time. I’ve being finding it hard to focus on my research for some time now, I mean very hard. I’m glad I found this awesome post.these tips are really very helpful to me. I believe there will be a drastic change in my concentration.thank you so much for suggesting excellent tips.


    • Rebecca Talley

      Thanks for stopping by! I hope these tips are helpful. My life is pretty much organized chaos, so I’ve had to learn to focus to get anything done. 

  • Twack Romero

    Hi Rebecca, you are so ‘next level’ As I was reading through I was thinking ‘Yes, that’s me and that’s me’ then I just fell by the wayside. I was uplifted at the end though, with your reference to finding that balance. We’re a family of six and as yet, the only place I have access to a computer is in the lounge, where everyone congregates. I manage to ‘zone out’ or in, depending on your perspective, for about sixty percent of the time. I have my headphones on, for the most part, usually listening to something without words and playing at 432Hz, which helps me tune in better. I have found that my ‘focus’ is much more intense when I am writing about something that I’m more passionate about. If it’s something I have to write, I am easily distracted. I have a tendency to loose my thread after to long away. My best work is normally done in one, possibly two, sittings.

    I have only been writing on a daily basis for the last six months, so it’s still early days. I will say that, already I have a strong sense of where I want to be concentrating my efforts in the future. I have promised myself a laptop at some point, so I can take myself away when things get too hectic. Maybe also a voice recorder, instead of trying to finds scraps of paper whilst walking the dogs, not ideal.  

    • admin

      I find it to also be true that my focus is much better when I want to write something as opposed to having to write something. Thanks for your thoughts and for stopping by!  And, yes, scraps of paper while walking the dogs probably isn’t the best way to keep notes, haha.

  • Ron Mendoza

    Hi Rebecca,

    What you wrote here is very helpful.  I find that the “use available time” as the most important.  

    We all indeed have the same amount of time in a day, and it’s up to us to set our priorities straight to get our work done.

    However, I think the challenge, at least to me, is sometimes the process of forming the ideas into words.  

    On certain instances, despite having an abundance of time and even with the intention of purely focusing on the task in front of me, I still find it hard to write away.  Any tips for overcoming this?

    Thank you so much!

    • Rebecca Talley

      Thank you for stopping by. I find that if I’m stuck if I try some freewriting for 10-15 minutes that helps. I just write whatever is in my head without doing any editing. Once I get some words out, I find it easier to focus on what I need to write. Freewrtiing frees up my mind. Maybe that would help you, too. 

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