Distraction-free reading is not a fully solved problem–which is why the last article was so long. Distraction-free writing is a solved problem, which is why this article is short.
As mentioned previously (here), FilterJoe aims to be a starting point for anyone wanting to enhance their ability to effectively focus, process information, and get work done. Some content will be original, while other content (like this post) will summarize and reference the great work others have already done.
For many people, the key to being able to write something lengthy or complex is to eliminate distractions, just as with reading. For some people, using pen and paper in a room without a computer or telephone may be the best answer. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.
For those who can type faster than they write, or just plain prefer word processors over paper, read on.
Get Rid of the Interface with Full Screen Mode
Full screen mode is the answer to many computer distraction issues, and so it is with writing on a computer. Most major word processors have a full screen mode which gets rid of all toolbars and menus. Use it. Avoid formatting, spelling correction, researching fine points, etc. until the first draft is done. Just keep your word processor in full screen mode and keep writing.
To elaborate, here’s a simple checklist:
- Research until ready to write a first draft
- Invoke full screen mode of your word processor
- Write, and then . . .
- Don’t style your text: stay in full screen mode
- Do not research: stay in full screen mode
- Write zzz to mark places that need further research
- When done first draft, revise (replace each zzz)
Word Processors that Support Full Screen Mode
Following is a link to a post with many different products that support full screen mode:
Note that Microsoft Word is on the list – choose “full screen” from the view menu to blank out everything except the text area.
I personally use Google Docs’ word processor (with fixed-width page view selected from the view menu), so I can access the document from home, work, or elsewhere. Control-Shift-F, F11, and I’m ready to write.
Get Rid of External Distractions
Getting rid of external distractions can be the hardest part to implement, as it may involve habit change for some – such as not answering the phone. Here are two articles with a number of good suggestions:
The Lure of Research
A common reason for writers to take so long to write (myself included) is the need for research when writing. The research is necessary, but even a simple look-up can lead to endless surfing once you’re on the web. Here’s a way to keep working, while noting the need for research:
Do enough research to get a decent amount of background. Then write your first draft. Do not look up anything while doing this draft. If you’re unsure of a fact, mark “tk” or “zzz” or some other nonsense letters where you need to do further research or revision to a certain part of your text. After the draft is finished, you can look up every instance of “zzz” and research or revise as necessary.
I didn’t mention how to block out every possible source of distraction. I didn’t tell you about a piece of software that automatically writes for you. But for those who haven’t yet worked out their own system for staying focused while writing, perhaps some ideas in this post and in the above-mentioned articles will help reduce distraction.
If you have any further thoughts, questions, or links to other great articles, please leave a comment – that will help make this post an even better starting point for people just learning to write without distraction.