I read once that air traffic controllers must be able to concentrate in a room where multiple conversations are going on simultaneously. For example, in a large airport tower, the room could be filled with the sounds of controllers speaking with several pilots about all manner of clearance, changing frequency, taxiways, takeoff, etc. Controllers must be able to make quick decisions and not be distracted by the conversations of their counterparts.
As a writer I’ve often thought that the skills of an air traffic controller would serve me well. It’s rare that I have complete solitude for my writing. Because my day is so full, I have to squeeze in writing when I can. That means I try to concentrate over the sounds of co-workers in nearby cubicles during my lunch hour, the banter on the subway, and the neighbors who blast the TV in my condo building so loudly that the sound bleeds through the walls.
Here are my suggestions for writers wrestling with distraction:
- Invest in a good set of earplugs. I wouldn’t have finished my novel, The Talking Drum, without them. Early on in my writing I purchased a 40-count jar of Mack’s Thermal Fit Soft Foam Earplugs. They are described by the manufacturer as comfortable for sleeping, snoring, work, and travel. I agree. I have spent four- and five-hour sessions in Panera Bread working on a chapter and those plugs sufficiently blocked out the restaurant chatter while allowing in enough ambient sound in case I needed to hear something from the wait staff or a request from another diner to watch their laptop while they took a bathroom break.
- Check into a hotel. I did this once for a weekend alone. I went onto one of those bargain websites and got the room for $69 per night. It was me, my laptop, and the box of food I brought. If I’d wanted to, I could have taken breaks using the hotel’s amenities—the pool, the gym. It got a little lonely but the downside was worth it. I made significant progress in my writing that weekend.
- Go on a writing retreat. The one I went on in Taos, New Mexico, last year provided me with the right balance of time to engage with the other writers, rehearse and participate in open mike nights, attend craft classes, and have hours each day for writing. What’s critical is making sure that the retreat you choose includes sufficient time for writing.
- Tune into study music. YouTube offers dozens and dozens of choices for study music, which can help block out chatter, much like the earplugs, and also help improve on writing and your mood. My favorites include “Classical Music for Studying and Concentration,” “Study Music Alpha Waves” and “Calm Piano Music.”
- Schedule your distractions. I find that if I schedule blocks of time for the activities that normally distract me when I’m writing—laundry, cooking, TV shows I’ve been wanting to binge watch, my activity tracker that alerts me that I need to take a walk—I will work diligently on my writing, knowing that I have a “break” coming up.
Learning ways to gain control of your distractions can lead to much more satisfaction as a writer. You’ll feel a sense of pride at your discipline, all the while keeping your writing on track.
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