Being a writer can be tough. It’s a huge balancing act — you’re trying to focus on school, your social life, your job, and more. So when you need to sit down and write that essay for a class or you want to work on that passion project during your free time, you likely want to use your writing time wisely to reach your goals.
Here are a few ways to help yourself focus so you can achieve your goals as a writer and student.
Set the Expectations and Parameters
First and foremost, you’ll want to set clear expectations for yourself and your projects. When you have a project for class, your teacher will give you instructions. Examine these carefully so you know what expectations to set for yourself, especially if you’re working on your own project outside of school.
To understand what you need to do each day or week, you may need to create a schedule that allows you to spend ample time on both projects while balancing all your other responsibilities. You might also want to set specific due dates for parts of each project, such as your outline, research, or first draft.
Once you understand your teacher’s expectations and your own, make sure to refer to them often. These steps will help you make time for both your school writing assignments and your own passion projects.
Next, establish a few parameters to guide you and keep you focused. You must give yourself the best chance of success you can. If you find that something isn’t working for you, try something else. Get started with a few of these ideas and determine what works for you.
If you’re writing an essay for school, you’ll want to spread it out so you have time to devote to each step of the writing process. For example, if you’re given three weeks until the assignment has to be turned in, start your first draft during the first or second week so you have plenty of time for revisions.
The same goes for fun projects. Even though passion projects often don’t have due dates, you can set some yourself so you can achieve your goals — whether it’s write a blog post or finish draft two of your novel.
It often helps to outline your essay or novel so you can set “goal posts” of what you expect to finish by which date. Your outline will guide your thoughts, helping you to focus more. For example, if you’re having a hard time with a certain scene or part of your essay, you could skip to another part of the project that you feel more prepared to write on.
Have a set time to write.
If you want or need to write every day, it’s ideal to build a habit which will allow your brain to use “muscle memory” to focus on the task at hand. This means that if you notice that you write better in the morning, then you should carve out morning time to write. If you’re more of a night owl, set aside some time each night to focus on writing. Do what works best for you.
Keep everything you need (research, outlines, teacher expectations, books, etc.) nearby so you don’t break your train of thought to get it. If you like to keep things digitally, set up a document folder that you can access easily. A binder, folder, or notebook can also help you stay organized if you prefer physical resources.
If possible, back up your digital files! It’s not necessarily a tip for focusing, but it certainly enhances your peace of mind. There’s nothing worse than being on schedule and losing an essay or a novel manuscript days before your due date.
Use Sounds & Smells That Work for You
Writers know the importance of using the senses for descriptive passages, but your own senses can actually help you write as well. Some people like to use music or sounds when writing.
Luckily, there are a lot of great options for music and sounds while working. Maybe you’re wishing you could be writing in the Hogwarts library? Check out ASMR Rooms on YouTube. This channel has a lot of fun, fictional, ambient sounds from movies and books like Sherlock, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings.
If you like music, try to stick to soundtracks to epic movies — I love working/writing to anything by John Williams or Hans Zimmer. Video game soundtracks can also help keep you focused since they’re designed to help gamers stay “in the zone” while playing.
If plain instrumental music just isn’t your thing, you can always listen to songs in other languages. You won’t get distracted by the lyrics this way. Another option is to use noise-blocking headphones so you can’t hear anything.
Smells can help you focus, too. Essential oils are not only popular right now, but they also offer some benefits you may want to take advantage of. There are lots of different essential oils that can help with focus and brain power. You can also use oils like peppermint, frankincense, and citrus. Put a few drops on a cotton ball next to you while you work. Be careful to use quality oils, and remember that a little goes a long way.
If essential oils aren’t your thing, consider getting candles or incense that can radiate smells that aren’t distracting or off-putting. Many people have even created candles for writing or reading fans that want a candle that reminds them of a certain book series, character, or setting.
Create a Productive Environment
As you start writing, think about what strategies work for you. Do you need natural lighting or a full stomach to stay in the zone? Give yourself the best chance for success. If you find something isn’t working for you, stop it and do something else. However, to avoid wasting further time, don’t get out of your routine or habit to try something new when it’s crunch time.
Once you’ve set a writing routine, you can then ensure you aren’t distracted by others. For example, if you’re writing at home, tell your family or roommates what you’re doing. Make sure they understand you don’t want to be bothered. You can even put a sign up on your bedroom or office door to remind them to let you work without interruption.
If you’re writing in public, find a place where you won’t be distracted. That cute coffee shop downtown might have the perfect writer aesthetic. However, if the busy environment keeps drawing your eyes away from your blank page, think about using a private room at the library instead.
While you work, make sure to stay away from social media. It can be tempting to check Instagram for just a few seconds. But use social media as a reward after you’ve written for a set amount of time. If you know you’ll get distracted by the Internet, turn on filters so you can’t access certain sites while you work.
Being a student writer can be tough, but planning accordingly can really help you get the job done. Establish clear expectations, a positive headspace, and a productive environment to ensure you’re not wasting precious writing time.
As a student and a writer, do you have more tips for better focus? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments!