What’s stopping you from being a better writer?
OK – so you want to be a better writer. Who doesn’t! If you want to make money blogging, writing eBooks, copywriting or from freelance writing jobs, I guess it goes without saying. Who wouldn’t want to be able to write more fluently, more creatively, more brilliantly – and more quickly? That’s certainly my ambition.
Well, here’s the thing – even accepting the fact that we can’t all be best selling novelists or Nobel prize winners, chances are you’re nowhere near reaching your own true potential as a writer.
So what’s stopping you?
What’s preventing you from being the best writer you can possibly be? If we brainstormed this, you could probably come up with a long list issues to account for your under-achievement. But the aim of this article is to put the spotlight on one very common habit, which is often the numero uno bad guy:
The ‘magic buttons’ in the title of this post are some quick fixes to help you put the kibosh on this time wasting, debilitating practice, which can be the death of your writing.
But first, let’s take a look at why multitasking is such a killer.
Why Multitasking Will Never Make You a Better Writer
I’ve always felt, instinctively, that multitasking’s a bad thing; and yet there’s a constant pressure to do it. You even hear people talking about it as if it’s a badge of honour – what a superstar, to be able to check your emails, respond to text messages, share witty posts on Facebook, tweet like the dawn chorus and write stunning blog posts, all at one go. If you’re ultra-cool and multi-talented, perhaps you even manage to churn out a few video blogs between tweets.
Isn’t that what super-bloggers do?
Well – actually, NO! I’ve been relieved to read, in a brilliant post on productivity just published by Greg Ciotti of Sparring Mind, that there is scientific evidence to back up my gut feeling that multitasking is NOT a good idea. Greg quotes two research studies, which show that although multitasking creates an illusion of productivity, that’s all it is – an illusion.
One study found that multitaskers are, on average, actually likely to be less productive. Another concluded that multitaskers are seriously bad at filtering information, switching between tasks and maintaining a high working memory. The researchers involved in the second study were apparently “absolutely shocked” at these results – but I can’t help wondering why we should find this so surprising.
My professional background is in mental health and I’ve often treated people suffering from anxiety. One of the most effective strategies, for someone who’s plagued by anxious thoughts, is to use distraction in order to get their mind off their worries. The rationale behind this technique is that your mind can’t entirely focus on more than one thing at a time. When an anxiety sufferer engages in some distraction activity, their obsessional, worrying thoughts lose their power – they can’t continue to run on full throttle because the person’s mind is, at least partially, otherwise engaged.
So why is it we delude ourselves into believing we can focus properly on umpteen jobs at once? It’s a nonsense. I’ll grant you, there may be some habitual tasks you can perform, to some extent, on auto-pilot – like walking, driving a car or riding a bike. Mind you, having said that, I almost bumped into a lamp-post the other day while talking on the phone as I strolled down the road; and it’s a well known fact that you’re more likely to have an accident if you drive while using a mobile.
If you’re doing something that really requires your full attention, then that’s exactly what it needs – your FULL attention. Unless you’re the man with two brains, you really can’t do two things at once – not properly, anyway.
I hope you’ll agree that writing great content – whether that’s blog posts, articles, eBooks or whatever – is a task that does warrant your wholehearted engagement. Writing isn’t an automatic, mechanical, habitual task – it’s a creative process. You need to give it your all.
If Multitasking’s So Bad For Us, Why Do We Do It?
Multitasking is a habit it’s very easy to slip into when you’re working online – and, as you’ll know if you’ve ever chewed your fingernails or smoked cigarettes, ingrained habits are notoriously hard to break.
Once you’ve got into the habit of multitasking, there are a number of instant ‘pay-offs’ or ‘highs’, which encourage you to keep at it:
- It’s emotionally rewarding. One research study found that even though multitaskers usually get less done, they derive emotional satisfaction from the false belief that they’re being highly productive. When you multitask you feel as if you’re achieving a lot, even though you’re not.
- It can give you convenient excuses to avoid doing the difficult stuff – like writing! Writer’s block? Stuck for words? Let’s not bother with that for now, I’ve got all these emails to see to……
- Then there’s the instant gratification you get from doing something that’s easier and more enjoyable than the hard stuff – like chatting on Skype, tweeting and sharing yet more funny cat videos on Facebook.
Like cigarettes, alcohol and drugs, multitasking can give you an addictive buzz that’s hard to resist. Added to which, if you’re working online, you’re constantly bombarded by temptations that perpetuate the habit, in the form of highly seductive distractions.
Which is where those magic buttons come in…..
The Magic Buttons That Will Make You a Better Writer
One of the best ways to eliminate a bad habit is to create a new one that’s incompatible with it. If you’re serious about becoming a better writer, one of your first steps should be to make a habit of setting aside protected writing time – blocks of time you commit to doing absolutely nothing else but WRITE.
Your next step is to create a distraction free environment for those scheduled writing periods – the idea is to shield yourself from anything that’s likely to divert you.
There may be a number of things you can do to minimize the impact of real-world distractions, depending on your working environment – for example, switching off the rolling news, letting other people know you don’t want to be disturbed and leaving your phone on voicemail.
But how you can protect yourself from those tantalizing online diversions that so easily destroy your concentration?
These are the buttons you need to locate…
- The ‘OFF’ switch for any applications you don’t need for your writing project.
Close down your email accounts, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media programs that are likely to buzz in your ear or flash up on screen, demanding your attention. If you’re seriously addicted to checking your emails and social media feeds at all hours of the day and night, I realize this might lead to some withdrawal symptoms, but it’s really not difficult to do – so take a deep breath and SWITCH THEM OFF!
- Buttons that give you the ‘full screen’ option.
This is a great way to minimize on screen distractions when you’re writing online.
If you’re writing straight into the WordPress dashboard, there’s an option in the visual editor that turns your screen into a distraction free writing environment. One of my weaknesses, when I’m writing in WordPress, is to start playing with visual stuff, such as images and fonts, if I get bored or stuck in the middle of writing a post. There are endless opportunities for distraction inside the WordPress dashboard – comments, plugins, all those other settings to play with…..
Operating in full screen mode can help you resist these temptations, allowing you to focus exclusively on your writing. Simply toggle the button in the visual editor’s toolbar, as shown in the image below:
Hovering your mouse over the top of the screen brings up an ‘Exit fullscreen’ option when you want to return to normal view.
If you want even less distractions, the F11 Key, in Windows 7 and Windows XP, will take you into a complete full screen view. This works in the WordPress dashboard and many other applications, hiding the title bar and taskbar at the top and bottom of your screen. When you want to return to normal view, just press the F11 Key again.
I’ve also just discovered a great keyboard shortcut for anyone using Word 2007. The ‘full screen’ option in Word’s ‘view’ menu is no use – it’s only for reading and won’t let you enter text. However, pressing Alt+V+U takes you to a full screen mode in which you can type without any distracting toolbars – it just leaves your document showing on screen. Simply press the escape key (Esc), located at the top of your keyboard, when you want to return to normal view.
If you’re using other operating systems or word processing programs, there may be other keyboard shortcuts to achieve this effect – it’s well worth checking them out.
Another option is to download ZenWriter – this is a free program that creates a lovely peaceful, distraction free on screen environment. If you’re interested in exploring this, I’ve written a post about it here.
What are your strategies for becoming a better writer?
Improving your writing begins by treating it with a bit of respect. If you just shoe-horn it in here and there, between tweets, facebook messages and emails, how can you possibly expect to do your best?
When it comes to kicking the multitasking habit, I think the magical ‘off’ switch is hard to beat. The satisfaction you get from seeing your writing blossom should more than compensate you for any social media-related ‘cold turkey’ you have to endure.
I also find it helps enormously to work in full screen mode – apart from anything else, it’s just a nice feeling, not having all that clutter in your face as you write.
What strategies do you use to help you focus when you’re writing? Do you have any tips you’d be willing to share? Please leave a comment below – I’d love to hear your views. And as always, if you’ve enjoyed this post, it would be great if you’d share it with your friends.
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