How To Turn Distraction Into Your Best Writing Session Ever

I am a writer.

I also have ADD.

But I suspect this experience is not entirely unfamiliar to other writers:

I’m working on a story, and then—BAM—I’m hit with a brilliant idea for another project, or a scene for later on in the piece, or a detail I want to make sure to include somewhere, etc.

The problem?

I either get so absorbed in the new idea that I completely lose focus on what I was working on, or I tell myself I’ll remember the new idea (but never, ever do).

Worse still, I sometimes try to maintain focus on both at the same time, trying to remember the new idea while still working on the original piece, rendering both efforts frustratingly inaccessible and mediocre.

My hands already cramp up trying to keep up with the speed of my thoughts; now I’m trying to hold onto an idea (or more than one!) while also pursuing a separate thread of attention. It’s simply not possible.

Writing on its own is hard enough—and research reflects this.

We’re not only keeping track of the words we’re putting on the page, but we’re also challenging the retrieval and capacity of both our short-term and long-term memories. Writing means constantly solving the problem of what to say and how to say it—this consumes our working memory and places an incredible cognitive burden on our writerly brains. And the longer and more complex the project, the greater the cognitive load.

Now you want me to keep track of all of that AND another idea? Forgetaboutit.

Enter: the distraction pad.

A distraction pad can be any form of writing appliance: a small notebook, a stack of post-its, even an app like Evernote or Google Keep.

Place it next to you while you’re writing, and then, when you think of something that’s perhaps separate from your current scribblings, you write it down so you don’t forget, and then keep going along your original trajectory.

It seems simple—and it is.

But this simple change absolutely revolutionized the pacing of my writing practice.

I’m able to stay focused on the task at hand without worrying that I’m going to forget those random thoughts that can pop up unexpectedly.

In the geekiest of science terms, the distraction pad reduces the cognitive load of writing because we’re not depending on our working memory to keep track of multiple projects and ideas at once.

The best part:

This strategy is ridiculously easy to implement.

Do what you normally do—just add the distraction pad. You may even already carry around a notebook as you go about your day. Now don’t put it away just because you’ve opened your laptop, and BOOM. Distraction pad.

Using a distraction pad allows us to shift the way we think about distraction. Instead of getting frustrated when bombarded with new ideas, we can celebrate them again.

Embrace distraction. Give yourself permission to be distracted. Write it down. And keep moving.

Your brain will thank you.


Want more tips to keep your writing going, even when facing the gnarliest blocks? Download our free writer’s block cheat sheet!

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