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In today's frenetic, fast-paced lifestyle (especially if writing is not currently your career or means of earning an income), it can be extremely difficult to "make" or find the time that can be set aside and dedicated to writing. Not only that, but in this information age, there are so many distractions ready to destroy what focus there is.

Obviously this hinges on motivation and drive, but nonetheless I have to ask: what means and methods do others use to foster and maintain discipline around their writing?

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up vote 18 down vote accepted

I rely on two tactics to achieve steady progress in writing (I'll answer twice for voting ease).

The first is sort of obvious - write every day. I fell into a trap at one time where I felt that if I couldn't block off at least a few hours for writing that it was better to not bother. As a result, I would sometimes go for weeks without writing (that doesn't make editors too happy).

Eventually, I forced myself to write every day - even if I knew I could only write for 15-30 minutes (which almost always expanded into longer chunks of time). Now, when I have writing projects, I make sure I write every day - even if it's just edits or a sentence or two. For me, a lot of writing happens somewhere in the back of my mind when I'm away from a keyboard, and writing every day keeps those ideas moving.

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I would add, start every day with writing. – Adam Schmideg Nov 20 '10 at 0:04
@Adam - thats just about the only approach that works for me, either that or ending every day with writing. – David LeBauer Dec 1 '10 at 5:48

Quite simply: Block off the Internet as you write. For me, that involves turning off my secondary monitor so I can't see the taskbar. For you, it might involve physically unplugging the ethernet cable from the back of your computer.

I can't even begin to describe the difference this makes for me when I write.

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This is key for me. don't open a browser, no email, no Twitter/FB – way0utwest Nov 19 '10 at 0:20
I shut off my internet connection on my laptop, which takes care of quieting everything (and extends battery life to boot). – Bruce Alderson Nov 19 '10 at 0:24

The second thing that has helped me is the 10x5x2 approach (it may have another name). The theory is that you write for 10 minutes, take 2 mintues off, then repeat 5 times (filling an hour). The idea is that the schedule will make you focus, but give you time to deal with necessary distractions if necessary - often I use the two minutes to stare at the ceiling and think. I wrote a little timer application to help me and use it every time I write now.

At the end of an hour (if I'm going to write more), I'll take a bio-break or get some coffee. I found that I can string up to 3 of these back to back before I need a longer break, but that I can do up to 6 in a day if I'm really pushing.

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Interesting. What do you do during the 2 minutes? Is there a timer involved? – way0utwest Nov 19 '10 at 0:21
Sometimes I glance at email or check sports scores. More often I rest my eyes and stare at the ceiling. When I'm on a roll, it's actually hard to force myself to stop for that break – Alan Nov 19 '10 at 0:35
I do this while coding, and it really helps. I never thought to try it while writing. I use a small timer embedded in my computer's taskbar to track the time. – HedgeMage Nov 19 '10 at 16:54
another version of this is the Pomodoro technique (25min on, 5 off) www.pomodorotechnique.com/ – David LeBauer Dec 1 '10 at 5:49
I did something like this for the last day of NaNoWriMo two years ago. Managed 14.000 words in one day (and won myself six months of tendinosis), so this works really well – erikric Feb 14 '14 at 22:04

Blocking out distractions is the key to doing anything productive. In the case of writing you need to put yourself in a situation where all you can do is write. There are two methods I like to employ, one digital and the other analogue. On my computer I use an application called PyRoom which places a black fullscreen interface over my entire monitor with only a green box in the middle where I type. There is no option to use it in windowed mode, so you can't see notifications happening in the background. PyRoom is a Linux only application, but the paradigm of blacking out the rest of the screen is one that many application developers build upon.

The other method is to take a notepad somewhere and sit down to write. A good place to go is a coffee shop, or a park, or perhaps even oscillate between both. Being away from your computer like this with a non-interactive medium such as paper is a great way to get yourself focused on the task at hand.

In both cases, some lyricless music is also good. It stops your mind from picking up on every little noise that is happening around you. The human mind has a really annoying habit of filling silence with it's own noise when it's not tired, and silencing that noise with music works really well.

Basically, hide your distractions.

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emacs in full screen or terminal mode is similar alternative, platform independent – David LeBauer Dec 1 '10 at 5:50

My most available writing time is between "waking up" and "leaving for work", that usually gives me between 30 and 60 minutes each day, usually good for 300-400 words (and a quick read of the last two days worth of writing). However, I suspect that is not a scalable method.

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I think this is great. Build a habit and structure. I tend to write after lunch for my job. Get admin stuff done early, write in the afternoon. – way0utwest Nov 19 '10 at 0:19

Moving to a location that your mind doesn't associate with leisure is a good method to focusing it on the task at hand. I find it impossible to work at home because it has lot of leisurely baggage hanging around it's neck. I host parties, movie nights, read, play computer games, etc, and this is what my mind, when at home, gears itself up for doing these things. Head out to a library, or an office if you have one, and sit down and do some writing there, or to a coffee shop, or just anywhere at which you don't usually pursue leisurely activities.

Even just setting up a dedicated office in your home can be enough for some people. Closing the door behind them and shutting out the bedroom and living room is enough for many work-at-home writers to get themselves focused.

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I often go to a Starbucks/Borders/B&N, get a cup of coffee, sometimes use headphones, but just be around white noise of people and then go heads down. – way0utwest Nov 19 '10 at 0:20

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