Is your work space stopping you reaching your writing potential? Learn what exactly distracts the brain and how to combat it.
Does this sound familiar: you sit down for a writing session and find yourself distracted yet again—by your surroundings, by your computer, by your buzzing, nattering, caffeine-hyped thoughts? I know I recognise a few (okay, all) of those, and the reason for it is quite simple—attention overload.
The thing is, you could unknowingly be sabotaging your writing concentration before you even start to type. How? By not creating the optimal writing space.
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Attention is selective. We can’t pay attention to everything around us so our brains zoom in on particular things. Sometimes we direct our attention towards things (psychologists call this ‘endogenous attention’) and sometimes our attention is captured by things in our environment (i.e., ‘exogenous attention’).
Wherever it is we sit down to write, having a space that’s full of things that will exogenously capture our attention will cause distraction. But what kind of things can break our writing focus?
At a basic level, colour, size and contrast can all snare our attention. For example, these things draw the eye:
- Brightness more than darkness
- Contrast more than evenness
- Large things more than small things
With that in mind, think about your physical writing space. Are there bright, large or contrasting objects around you? If so, these things may be pulling your attention away from writing, consciously or unconsciously. Consider removing them from the area around you, at least while you write.
If you write at a desk or a table, keep as few things on it as possible during your session. Avoid having pictures, photos or posters on the walls near your writing space. If possible, choose a neutral or even-toned colour for the walls or furniture rather than bold patterned wallpaper or fabric.
Keeping your writing space evenly coloured and easy on the eye, if only for the duration of your writing session, can really help to reduce distraction and promote focus.
You don’t even have to remove all distracting items from the room. The closer something is to you, the more attention-grabbing and noticeable it’s going to be, so keep those bright/large/contrasting items beyond arm’s reach at very least (though out of your field of vision is better). The rest of the room can be as striking and flamboyant as you want, as long as you don’t see it.
Does your writing space look out of a window? While that may be great for inspiration, it could be repeatedly drawing your focus away from your writing. If you’re easily distracted, consider moving your desk or writing space to somewhere less visually arresting.
Besides inanimate objects in our writing environment, another thing can distract us: animate ones.
Colours and contrasts catch our eyes, but one thing that engages our attention like no other is biological motion. Humans are hard-wired to spot living things, whether they’re other humans or animals, so when one of them enters our environment, it can demand our attention just like spying a tiger creeping up on us would (because someone encroaching on our writing space often feels like an ambush). So what does that mean for our writing?
Firstly, make sure there’s no one around while you’re working. Even people walking past, without interacting with you, can break your concentration. Don’t write in a communal space if you’re easily distracted (an exception to this may be at a write-in, where everyone is focused on writing). Find somewhere you can be alone, remove those distracting objects we talked about earlier, and settle down to write.
Secondly, guard your writing space. Tell others that you’re going to write and don’t wish to be disturbed. Stick a sign on your door. Lock said door. Do whatever you have to in order to keep distractions (i.e., well-meaning and not-so-well-meaning loved ones and pets) out of the way.
Some people can’t write while listening to music. Some can’t write without it. If you fall into the second category, but struggle to focus while writing, it may be that the music you’re listening to is distracting you. The tracks created by focus@will are specifically designed to enhance your focus and concentration by up to 400% when writing. You can find out more about the science behind this here.
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As a final note on physical writing space, consider choosing somewhere you can write in consistently. In How To Form Good Writing Habits, I list the merits of writing in the same place each time. It can help reduce distracting thoughts and impulses (you know what I’m talking about: ‘must check Twitter’ and the like).
That’s all for Part I of Creating the Optimal Writing Space. Check out Part II for a guide to creating the optimal virtual writing space, including tips for cutting distraction from your computer, and peruse Part III for more information on creating the optimal mental writing space, including ways to improve focus when writing.