Do you need to focus? Then listen up!
By chance, have you noticed how difficult it is to focus these days? Climate instability, political threats, social upheaval, and everyday life stress got you down? Sometimes the array of devices within reach make it difficult to focus. Or how about the challenge that every writer faces—what do I write about today?
All of these things can create situations where it is difficult, and sometimes impossible, to focus long enough to write anything.
What can a writer do to improve focus?
I tend to get distracted myself, especially when it comes to my writing. My writing is my personal time that I spend for myself. I don’t make money or gain fame or rub elbows with celebrities because of my writing; it’s what I do to be creative, to feel like my true self. Sometimes, that time is hard to protect. My kids, my job, and my many responsibilities tend to push into that time in an attempt to take it over. Unfortunately, I can’t take focusing for granted. I have to set myself up for success or my mind will wander.
Plug your ears to block out the world
There are a few audio tools that writers can use to support their mental focus. For years, educators have recommended that students listen to quiet classical music while studying. The music creates a background noise that isn’t distracting in itself but allows the writer to have something going on in the background.
If you know anyone who sleeps with a fan running or a white noise machine, the idea is similar. You are creating a soothing background sound that allows the mind to focus elsewhere—on writing or on relaxing.
People who work with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder have suggested that giving the brain something to block out encourages focus. When the brain is in overdrive and scattered, giving it something to push against allows it the energy to focus on a single task. Otherwise, focusing on one task is too challenging.
Some writers wear headphone or earplugs without any sounds, and that can be a technique that works for people who don’t necessarily need to block out sounds to gain focus but just need to block out sounds. When you’re writing at home, the house can be filled with distracting sounds—the dishwasher running, the neighbor’s dog barking, and the phone ringing. Sometimes a cheap set of earplugs can block out the din of the world so writers can get a few words written.
What should writers consider listening to?
People are drawn to different types of music, of course. And your personal tastes in what you enjoy listening to while driving may be totally different than the music that helps you focus to write. Writers oftentimes need to try out a couple of different options before finding the one that works best to get the focus they need, and what works today may be a bust for your next writing session, so you may need a couple of different options.
Jazz is another style that works well for some writers. Of course, jazz can get pretty wild, feature louder horns, and include singers. For many writers that would be too much going on and create a distraction rather than solve the problem. If jazz is your thing, look for a playlist with quieter, mellow jazz that you can play in the background while focusing on your writing.
Quiet classical music
All classical music is not alike. Some can be pretty raucous (Beethoven, Vivaldi) and some is on the lighter side (Mozart). Find a style that suits your listening and give it a try. Personally, I like string instruments like cellos and violins but not pianos, so I look for classical music that I can play in the background that I’ll enjoy the sound of without finding it annoying.
I had not heard of Lofi until recently. This is an electronic music style without lyrics. If you search YouTube for lofi, you’ll find playlists with millions of views. Younger people tend to love Lofi playlists because they include not just the background music that helps them focus but many also include a video with pleasant imagery. One called Lofi Girl on YouTube shows a cartoon-style drawing of a woman who drinks tea and pets her cat. The combination of relaxing music and imagery can be just the right thing to support a writer’s focus.
When my daughter was young, she would fall asleep to the sound of birds chirping in the forest. Many people use the sounds of waves crashing, rain falling, or birds chirping to relax, focus, and improve their environment. Studies have shown that a short time in nature can significantly improve people’s moods and mental health. So, why not use a recorded version to focus better while writing?
What tends not to work?
As luck would have it, not every type of white noise or music will support a writer’s need for focus. Music with lyrics tends to be distracting rather than focusing. When the brain is inputting words from one source, the music, it can be too challenging to compose words for a story. Our poor brains can only handle so much and both inputting and outputting words at the same time is just taxing for the majority of us.
Loud music is another one that tends to backfire. Though any kind of music can be turned up to 11, your writing sessions may not be the best time to try that. Sometimes people confuse the idea of listening to music with listening to loud music. When the music becomes the focal point of the moment, then good writing is less likely to take place.
Finally, really anything with words can be overstimulating for most writers. Spoken word, documentaries, podcasts, radio news, and lectures are great entertainment when you’re driving but can be a right mess when you’re writing. Too many words are sometimes just too much.
Try out a couple of options and see what works for you. If you are the type of person who loves to rock out to Beethoven at high volume on the highway, maybe try quiet nature sounds for your next writing session. Plug in a set of headphones and see if that improves your focus and helps you get more words written on the page.
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