How to Stay Focused While Writing

Staying focused sounds simple, but for most of us, it isn’t. I, for one, love writing but I also often struggle to stay focused.

“The spirit is willing but the flesh weak.”

I know that failing to stay focused is one of my worst writing demons, but I also know staying focused is essential for anyone in this writing profession or any other profession.

I don’t think you landed on this page accidentally. You probably have the same problem—and you want to find ways around it.

You’ve landed on the perfect post. I made this post to share some of the tips and techniques that a lot of people (including me) use to gain, improve, and maintain focus while writing.

Let’s get started!

how to stay focused while writing

The Importance of Maintaining Focus When Writing

The truth is: staying focused is more than necessary in every serious endeavor one undertakes—you can’t expect results if you’re not invested in whatever task you’re involved in.

For you to create a masterpiece, you have to stay on track and always make sure that regardless of the circumstances, you are getting some work done.

If anybody asked “how they could become a successful writer,” my answer would be: “staying focused is how you do it.”

It is as simple as that!

It’s all about how bad you want success. Do you want to get published? Impress your boss with a neat, well-cooked report? Do you want to pass your academic assignment perhaps?

In line of work, especially creative work, staying focused will get you far.

How to Build Focus to Write

For you to maintain focus, you need to have that focus already, right? You have to have some strategies to summon that focus—and, I have to say, some are contradictory but it’s because you can’t do all of them at the same time and the context should always be considered.

how to build focus to write

Here are some tips on how you can build your focus to write:

1. Start Free Writing

Freewriting is a simple concept: what one does is set a timer and jot down whatever is on their mind for 5-10 minutes. You can write about random issues, associated things in a particular topic, or write about an idea.

The idea is that when you’re freewriting, you’re also offloading some of your thoughts, feelings, or anything that could have been blocking you from writing.

To utilize this method, writers write about three pages of freewriting each morning or shortly after waking up.

2. Plan ahead

I previously wrote about Pantsers vs. plotters and in that article, I covered the advantages and disadvantages of each habit. One of the disadvantages of being a panther is getting stuck when your story starts to lack direction. When you get to a point where you’re out of ideas because you didn’t plan ahead, your focus dips. To circumvent this problem, you have to plan ahead—and you don’t necessarily have to have your plans in writing.

A lot of writers complain about not having enough time for planning, but it doesn’t have to be a very elaborate plan or plot. You can think about a character’s backstory while driving to work or contemplate some plot twists and structure during your lunch break.

Luckily, we have notes apps and you can add notes to your plot on your phone, which is something I find convenient when a computer or pen and paper aren’t nearby.

3. Meditate

a woman performing her morning meditation routine
A woman performing her morning meditation routine.

On the list of probable causes of writer’s block is a clouded mind, the chaos in your mind might be making you lack focus. Is there a better way to calm your mind than meditation?

There are a lot of writers who use meditation to quiet the mind and build focus. And the good thing is that, nowadays, you don’t need to consult a guru or an instructor to practice meditation, you can just download an app and follow the instructions.

Plus… meditation can help you deal with other kinds of stress not related to writing.

4. Set Writing Goals

To gain focus, you need motivation, and setting a goal can help you set a game mentality that demands focus. You can set daily, weekly, or monthly goals—and you can also choose among word counts, pages, or chapters.

Of course, you won’t be able to meet this goal but it’s the effort that matters because you will eventually finish your manuscript if you keep adding meat to it. Just make sure you set realistic and, preferably, small goals that will help you build your confidence.

5. Change Your Location

New things—no matter how substandard they might be—have the power to inspire people. Take for example, a new soccer coach coming to a club from a sharp dip in form, the team usually becomes a bit more energetic.

This also applies to writing, your focus could be improved just by buying a new pen, a new laptop, or a change of location.

It doesn’t have to be a permanent move, you can change your location temporarily, for an hour or two, or even a day. Go to the park, a café, or the library—anywhere comfortable enough for you.

a writer who chose to write in a cafe to change her environment
A writer who chose to write in a cafe to change her environment.

10 Ways to Stay Focused While Writing

1. Minimize Distractions

Established writers know they will get distracted, that’s a given, and you can’t completely get rid of them all.

Whatever you’re doing, your mind tends to wander about into an unknown cosmos and before you know it, you’ve lost track of whatever you were doing.

You have to accept that there will be distractions and have to take stock of these distractions—mark every one of these and decide on the best way to deal with them. Once you take notice of these weaknesses, you are better equipped to deal with them and stay focused.

turning her phone off to avoid distraction
Turning her phone off to avoid distraction.

If you happen to realize that it’s your phone and computer that are the biggest sources of distractions, you can use apps to help you stay away from online distractions. There are a lot of apps that let you list the websites and apps you want to block, and they’ll be unavailable when you want to write.

2. Use music

Music is good for building and maintaining focus while writing, but I must also point out that it’s not for everybody.

For some, it’s a distraction, but for others, it’s a productivity-inducing thing.  Properly set up your workspace and complement it with smooth, relaxing ambient sounds that will help you heighten your concentration.

The trick is having music that fits well in the background and does have content or lyrics that will be distractive. A lot of my friends use classical music, some use white noise, and others have told me that it’s Jazz—as for me, anything goes.

3. Bribe Yourself

The human mind and body work better when they are given rewards, so give yourself some treats.

Food comes to mind for me. Reward yourself with something that you can eat or drink in between writing sessions. I usually reserve sugary treats or heavy carbohydrates to the end because I just don’t want to be dealing with an unnecessary sugar crash.

4. Join a Writing Sprint

a group of freelancers on a writing sprint
A group of freelancers on a writing sprint.

The concept of a writing sprint is pretty straightforward: You and fellow writers come together (face to face or online) and agree on a focused period of writing, sit down and write throughout the agreed time.

Writing sprints are efficient because the only time you waste is when you’re exchanging pleasantries, which, if you set strict rules, don’t consume a lot of time.

So, writing sprints are a great way to help you regain or maintain focus and speed up your writing process.

That’s not all; at the end of the writing session, you can share writing-related stuff, i.e., things you’ve accomplished thus far and the challenges you’ve encountered.

If you’ve been solo, try to find writing groups or people you can do writing sprints with. And the beauty of modern times is that you don’t have to be in the same geographical area to do a writing sprint, you can have a writing sprint during a zoom call.

5. Don’t Edit As You Go

If you’re trying to be perfect, don’t! No one cares whether your first draft is perfect or not, and neither should you.

It’s a waste of time and you’ll probably get stuck because a lot of things will seem out of place.

What should you do then?

All you need to do is write as many words as you can (fill your paper or screen, which canvas you have, just paint!).

Neither should you edit as you write nor on your breaks. Rather, schedule ample time after you’re done writing your draft and get your blue-penciling mojo and edit, edit, edit!

6. Find a Focused Writing Buddy

two buddies writing together inside the café
Two friends are writing together inside the café.

When I was in college, I used to force myself to read by going to the library with a no-nonsense friend.

Whenever I started my playful antics they always had some harsh words for me, and they quickly put me back in a focused mode.

This can also work for you, all you need is someone who is gung-ho about finishing their writing project. Word of advice, don’t go overboard with your annoying playfulness, they might just label you as a distraction and avoid you, and never want to write with you.

7. Don’t Multitask

Not only does multitasking lead to inefficiency, but it’s also bad for creativity. I see people always boasting that they are good at multitasking, but the truth of the matter is creativity requires total engrossment.

It’s either you want to write or do the other task.

8. Employ a ‘Marshal’

Have someone check if you’re achieving your writing goals or objectives, you can pay them for doing that and—to make their role more relevant to you—promise to pay them some amount if they find out that you’re accomplishing the goals you set.

This adds a little bit of necessary pressure and motivates you to write because the capitalist in you doesn’t want to lose any money or whatever bonus you promised ‘the marshal.’

9. Work Smarter, Not Harder

I always say that writing is one of the hardest things ever—it’s a lot of work. But, it’s a bit harder when “keep your nose to the grindstone.”

Instead of unceasingly beavering away, you can have shorter, ordered, and rhythmic writing sessions. When you take breaks, your body relaxes and your mind is uncluttered, and you can think about what or where your story, essay, the blog post is heading to.

Writing in short sessions that are rapid will help maintain your writing focus and also make the work look simple.

You can develop your own technique, but I advise you to try the Pomodoro technique, a tried and tested method of increasing writing productivity. The Pomodoro technique splits up your writing sessions into 25-minute bursts, with 3-5 minute respites and a longer one after every four short sessions or Pomodoros in short.

the pomodoro technique
The Pomodoro Technique is useful if you get distracted while writing. (Image credit: “Making Pomodoro Work” by Underway in Ireland on Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

10. Look for New Inspiration

If you depend on something for inspiration during writing but you still end up losing focus, then you need something new for inspiration.

Is music no longer working for you? Do those long walks no longer have an impact on your focus?

Maybe you need to find a different source of inspiration.

Traveling to a place you’ve never been to is the best thing you can do when you feel uninspired. And, never forget to have with you a notebook or any device you can use for note-taking because when you go to a new place, it’s a guarantee that a story or two will pop up from somewhere unexpectedly.

It’s Time to maintain that Focus and Get Published

Inspiration and staying focused work hand in hand, you cannot stay focused if you’re uninspired.

Always try to nourish your inspiration before and during a writing session—before starting, you need a spark and during writing, you need to keep the creative juices flowing.

Do whatever keeps your focus levels high, use music, meditate, join a writing sprint, travel, or give yourself some treats.

About Jessica Majewski

Jessica started off as an avid book reader. After reading one too many romance novels (really... is it ever really enough?), she decided to jump to the other side and started writing her own stories.

She now shares what she has learned (the good and the not so good) here at When You Write, hoping she can inspire more up and coming wordsmiths to take the leap and share their own stories with the world.