How to minimize distractions and disruptions while writing
Unlike most writing disciplines, textbook and academic writing must be balanced with the distractions and disruptions of the many demands of academic life, including teaching, committee assignments, and research.
Five TAA members share how they minimize distractions and disruptions while writing, including how they eliminate electronic distractions, make time for writing, use music to focus, and edit later.
Eliminate electronic distractions
Medical terminology textbook author David Allan identified one of the greatest distraction sources for many of us–our phones. His advice: “To avoid distractions when writing, place your phone turned off in another room.”
Alia Sheety, an associate professor of education at Cabrini University, said email is her electronic distraction. She signs out of email when using her computer for writing.
Federico Rossi, research-professor of Argentina’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET) at the School of Politics and Government of the Universidad Nacional de San Martín (UNSAM), feeds his electronic habits before he starts writing by checking the news, reading and replying to emails, going on Facebook a bit, and doing anything else that might be a distraction before turning off the Internet on his phone and remaining available only for important calls.
Andrew Pomerantz, a professor of psychology and director of the clinical psychology graduate program at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE), turns off all “alerts” for texts, calls, and email that may interrupt the writing process.
Make time for writing (or recognize when the time’s not right)
Sheety said that she prefers writing in the early morning or late at night to avoid the inevitable distractions of daily business, but when she does write in her office, she locks the door. “I find that even if a colleague stops for one question, it takes me time to get back to concentrate on writing and, in many cases, it provides the good excuse to stop writing and turn to other work that I need to complete,” she said.
Audrey Cohan, a professor of education at Molloy College, blocks out writing time on her calendar and won’t let anything take its place. She says that her personal rule is “never to replace that time with another activity even if it means I am sitting at my computer and not writing a word.” Disciplined enough to keep a drink in the other room so that breaks are quick and include a brief stretch before returning right back to the computer, she feels that “distractions and disruptions are inevitable and so [her] goal is not to try and eliminate them but rather plan around them.”
Rossi, on the other hand, says, “If I’m not inspired to write, I stay a bit more, and see what happens. If nothing interesting emerges, I simply go out of my office and do another thing – it’s not the right day to write. The next day I will try again.”
Both Cohan and Sheety schedule around deadlines, while Alia adds that using a check list with due dates has made her more efficient in planning and execution while reducing daily distractions.
Write to your own beat (or that of others)
Both Rossi and Pomerantz turn to music in their efforts to focus while writing. Pomerantz has a specific approach to using music in his writing routine: “I like to listen when I write, but I deliberately choose music without vocals, since I find it less distracting than music with vocals. And I try to create long playlists so I can write for a long time without the need to stop to select something new.”
Sheety, however, enjoys the cadence that others provide to maintain her writing momentum: “Accountability to colleagues make me prioritize to allocate the time to complete writing since any delays affect all co-authors. When I write with co-authors (which is my favorite) I make sure to have a structured timeline. At the end of each meeting we set time for our next meeting. It worked excellent in international collaboration as well as with local ones.”
Write now, edit later
With English as her third language, Sheety has found focusing on the content first and language second to be a great strategy. She said that trying to edit while writing disrupts the rhythm of the creative process and makes it harder to continue working. She works from a SOAR framework–“’strength, opportunities, aspirations and results’ instead of the threats. Not that I ignore dealing with threats (language) but I don’t let it disturb me moving on with writing.”
Whatever the strategy, I hope you find ways to focus on your writing and minimize distractions and disruptions when you do.