Novel Ideas #2: “Find Your Quiet Place”

[20 quick steps to writing success]

“Will you kids PLEASE keep it down? I’m trying to write here!”

Find your quiet place to write

How many times have you said this, or something like it?

You know you need QUIET time when it’s time to write. But LIFE goes on all around you. What can you do? (There is hope…)

And it’s not just the kids or your spouse. Or your dog. Or the TV. Perhaps even more than anything else in your life, the Omnipresent Internet is killing your quiet.

*Pop* New Facebook message! *Ding* New Email! *Blip* New Twitter interaction! New text message, new Like on Instagram, new Weather Alert, New Updates Available: Click here to Update All [must Accept to continue].

Good heavens, it never stops! Does it? It’s enough to drive the sanest person to the brink of madness, isn’t it? But we can’t give a bit of it up. Oh, no we can’t! We MUST keep in touch!

But we can’t, really. We can’t keep in touch with everything AND write with power and passion. We can only write in fits and starts, losing our trains of thought and making silly errors caused only by distractions.

What’s a writer to do?

When I sat down initially to write what turned out to be an award-winning guest post, I tackled this problem right away. Here’s what I wrote:

  1. Shut the door. Great writing is best done alone.

  2. Turn off the TV. Music is okay. “White noise” can help you concentrate.

I know, I know: easy for me to say. Not so easy to do. We have become a society of multi-tasking wizards, balancing a slew of unrelated endeavors with the conviction that we are somehow, magically, “good at it.” Almost none of us are. We are, however, expected not only to be available on demand but also to be 100% up-to-date with damned near everything that’s going on around us.

Admit it: the whole concept is absurd.

Would you like to get more writing done, and do it better and faster than you ever thought possible? Okay, then write this down:

“I suck at multi-tasking.”

Seriously. Go ahead and write it down. Now read it aloud. Now repeat it to yourself silently, with conviction. And smile! Let the weight of those silly expectations slough right off your tired shoulders. Here’s the thing:

We all suck at multi-tasking. That’s a true fact, so there.

Okay, that was the hard part. The rest is easy.

Here’s a handy step-by-step guide that will lead you to your Quiet Place, where you can get some serious writing done — and then get back to all of that other crap.

  1. Before you begin, set a reachable goal. One page, one article, 1000 words — whatever is practical.
  2. Next, based on your goal, set a reasonable amount of time in which to meet your goal. This could be one hour, two 20-minute sessions, a half-day, etc.
  3. Determine an appropriate reward for meeting your goal. This is critical. What good is a goal without a pay-off? Keep it simple: a treat, a walk, a favorite guilty-pleasure TV show, a half-hour to read a romance novel. You decide.
  4. Now, carefully choose what time your writing will happen. Dictate your circumstances, based on reality. Know yourself and your family’s dynamics; be realistic and smart. Don’t set yourself up to fail — set yourself up to succeed instead.
  5. Inform your family of your decision. Put them on your side, and get them to agree to leave you alone as requested. Make whatever promises you have to offer for “after I’m done.” This includes your dog, who might need to go outside to pee before she’ll agree.
  6. Equally important, pick a place that gives you the best chance for peace and quiet. This might not be your comfy chair opposite the television. It might not even be your desk, or your dining room table. Think: “this is the place where I know I can write without distractions.” (The place you choose could be somewhere outside your home, too. Maybe the library, but probably not Starbucks.)
  7. If there is a television in the same room, you must turn it off. If you simply cannot do it, then mute the sound. If you have a DVR, then you have no excuses; turn the TV off.
  8. Gather your drinks and goodies. If you’re like me and need food and drink at hand, get that stuff together before you sit down to write. It’s one less thing to force you out of your chair once you’ve begun writing.
  9. Now check your email, then close it. Don’t answer anything; just check to see what you’ll come back to later on.
  10. Likewise, check all of the other crap that always distracts you — Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Periscope, YouTube, and all the rest of them. Every one of these “social” sites has done its damnedest to make sure you are well and truly addicted. Stop in, say hello, then walk away.
  11. Done with all that? Make sure you are. Now, put your smart phone at least TEN FEET away from you. If you feel comfortable turning it off, do that instead. If your sick gramma might call you for help, assign a special ring tone for her and leave the phone on.
  12. If you’re still using a land-line home phone, turn the ringer volume down to its lowest level. Let your answering machine screen your calls, just like your grandfather does when he’s watching baseball and wants to be left alone. (Not so silly after all, is he, your grampa?)
  13. Pee before you sit down. (’nuff said.)
  14. If it works for you, use music as white noise. Many of us are built this way, and it’s effective. Others prefer the sound of a fan or window air-conditioner. Some like quiet music, while others prefer Quiet Riot on Volume Level 9. You might also try one of those background-noise soundtracks: crackling fire, ocean waves, etc. Those are kind of cool. (Do a Google Search, or buy the CDs.)
  15. Ideally, write offline. I don’t, but that doesn’t make my way the right way. If you must write while connected and with a browser open, then make sure the only tabs you have up are directly related to writing. NO email or social media. If you don’t understand how important this is, then perhaps all is lost after all. (Scroll back up and look at the phrase I asked you to write down.)
  16. Tune out the rest of the world like you promised you would, and begin writing.
  17. Just write.
  18. Don’t edit. It’s okay to correct your crappy typing as you go, but DO NOT self-edit when you’re writing a first draft. Just write. Consult research sources if you must, but don’t rewrite or revise on the fly. Do that later, after you’ve reached your stated goal. AFTER. Got it?
  19. When you reach your goal, STOP. Celebrate. Take a moment to acknowledge and bask in your success. It might sound silly, but this is an important part of the process. When you’ve done what you said you would do, you should consciously make note of your achievement and gather the reward you promised yourself.
  20. “But wait, I was in THE ZONE!” That’s fine, and you can keep going if the conditions are right. Let the dog out again for a minute, refill your coffee, eat that piece of chocolate cream pie you set as your reward, and then get right back into writing. But be sure to go back to the first three steps I listed above: Goal, Time, Reward. It’s a simple recipe, and it will produce results.

Runners start out small and work their way up to longer distances over time. As a writer, you should copy this concept for yourself. One of the most common paths to failure is to make your goals too large, setting yourself up for disappointment. Set goals you can meet, and you will succeed.

Goal, Time, Reward.

That’s the basic premise. Think about it. It works for training dogs; surely it will work for you, an intelligent adult human writer.


questionWhat special tricks have you used to find your Quiet Place? Have you tried any of the techniques I’ve outlined above, or have you found other approaches that work even better? I’d love to hear your reflections about this and related Novel Ideas.  Share your thoughts in Comments, below.

[Note: This series contains Affiliate Links (green). If you click them and buy something, I might get paid. If you’d rather I didn’t earn a dollar or two, please use your favorite search engine instead. ~Jim]

 

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Comments

  1. I’m home alone most days, so it’s quiet here, except the noise of a guilty conscience, telling me of other things I must also do. Therefore, for me, the writing is the reward. I reward myself, for starting the kitchen and laundry machines, with time to write. Their silence is my timer sounding off to get up, walk, feed animals, do more chores, etc. Then back I come to the pencil. When I really need to get away, I use the guest house, but it’s cold there. I do write better when I’m cold, though, so I bundle up and go for it. Sometimes.

    • That’s a great twist on writing and reward conditions, Katharine!
      For me, “cold” has always been a game-stopper — my fingers freeze up first, even at temps in the sixties.

      • Living in the Deep South, I’d have to admit “cold” is relative. I actually meant that to heat it, I’d have to like a fire, and that would take a while to get the chill off, so I don’t bother, but it’s probably far warmer that where you live. 🙂

    • That’s a great twist on writing and reward conditions, Katharine!
      For me, “cold” has always been a game-stopper — my fingers freeze up first, even at temps in the sixties.

  2. Great article, Jim, handy hints…and yes, these ideas do work individually and a planned program like this is very helpful and productive. No wonder this is a prize-winning article, Jim –great stuff, you nailed it. Now if only we knew what to do when the pups sit down and watch you write. Staring intently. ‘We know we’ve been out to pee, to walk, explore, to play, but we want to watch you, you’ll be finished in a minute, won’tcha?” “How about sharing that snack we can see on your desk?” “We gotta play more now.” “We need a cookie”. “Are you sure there aren’t deer outside?” “How about a belly-rub?”
    That’s a worse distraction than noise, internet, or the phone ringing. As they say, “Ya gotta love the writing life….” haha!

  3. Finally, being a luddite pays off. I have none of the distractions you mention above about updates popping up and my phone is the opposite of smart. I do check my email and CNN before writing (and sometimes my blog). I never try to write unless my kids are at school. I wish I could write with music on, but silence seems to work better.

    • Based on the caliber of your writing, Tammy, it’s obvious that whatever you’re doing works perfectly. I should have consulted you as THE expert on this topic before I finished this post! What are you working on these days?

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