Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Tips for the Distracted Writer

by Lucinda Secrest McDowell @LucindaSMcDowell

How well I remember hearing the phrase, "Interruptions are my ministry!”

At the time I was on the staff of a large church and I totally got it—at any given time I was called up to meet with a parishioner or counsel a walk-in or fill in for another teacher. I was also mothering four young children and learning that key parenting moments occur when there's a knock on the bedroom door or a phone call from school or a simple cry of "Mama....." from another room.

In all those cases it was the distractions from my immediate task that propelled me to an even more important task. I get that.

However, distractions for the writer rarely lead to a more important task. Real writers know that writing is hard work. There is always, always, always something more enticing or immediate or tempting to see or read or do.

But that won't get the manuscript written or the research completed.

When I'm distracted in my writing I turn to these 5 helpful tips:

1. Unplug. Yes, you heard me right. Type on a computer that is NOT connected to the internet. Turn OFF your cell phone. And unplug the cord of your landline phone, if you happened to be one of the few who still has one. What you will discover (after fidgeting for awhile) is that it is much easier to focus on writing when you are not constantly checking in online with every vibration, beep or trill.

2. Set small goals. I'm much more productive when I have a plan. That small goal might be to write the opening paragraph. Or it might be to finish a whole chapter. Many writers set a goal of a certain number of words written for a time period. The guideline is to have a plan and then do it. When that work is finished, take a break. You will feel a sense of accomplishment, which will encourage you for the next small goal.

3. Go away. If you are able to leave your place of primary responsibility and write for a time at another place where you have few or no responsibilities, you will find many less distractions (well, unless it's a seaside resort at which point all bets are off). During the intense creative process of putting a new book together I will often housesit for a friend way out in the country. All I have to do there is think, pray, focus and write. Yes, it's a luxury but often works with trading places or perhaps renting during the off  season.

4. Take a break. If someone you love is in a crisis and you need to touch base or if the bills are overdue or there is something hanging over your soul that refuses to let go, then take a break and deal with it. Call the person. Pay the bill. Take a walk and ask God to help release you from the nagging concern. Be open to the fact that it might be the Holy Spirit nudging you to do something. Then, return to your writing.

5. Pray. I listed this last, but I actually use it first as my 'go to' response to distractions. Here is one of my favorite prayers in such a situation:

Celtic Prayer for Spiritual Concentration
“God, help my thoughts! They stray from me, setting off on the wildest journeys. My thoughts can cross an ocean with a single leap. They can fly from earth to heaven and back again, in a single second. They come to me for a fleeting moment, and then away they flee. No chains, no locks can hold them back. No threats of punishment can restrain them. Dear holy Christ, who can see into every heart and read every mind: Take hold of my thoughts. Bring my thoughts back to me and clasp me to Yourself. Amen."

I sincerely hope you are having a productive summer of writing, even as you take a break and read this blog. Full confession: I have enjoyed the "distraction" of writing my monthly offering for "The Write Conversation" but now I have to get back to the task at hand—one more chapter on my manuscript before supper break!

Life happens - @LucindaSMcDowel offers 5 tips for the Distracted writer on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Meeting #writing deadlines can be tough, tips form @LucindaSMcDowel on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Lucinda Secrest McDowell, M.T.S., is the author of 11 books, contributing author to 25 books, and has published in more than 50 magazines. A graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Furman University, she studied at the Wheaton Graduate School of Communication and served as Communications Specialist for the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization (Thailand) and Editor for Billy Graham’s International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists (Netherlands). A member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA), she has received “Writer of the Year” awards from both Mt. Hermon and Blue Ridge Writers Conferences. Cindy speaks internationally through her ministry “Encouraging Words” and co-directs the New England Christian Writers Retreat. Known for her ability to convey deep truth in practical and winsome ways, she writes from “Sunnyside” cottage in New England. Visit her online at www.EncouragingWords.net 


  1. Thank you, Lucinda, for this post. One of your tips I should probably use more is to go away. On occasion, I've gone to the library and achieved some good results--it's relatively quiet and I seem to concentrate better without the distractions of home. One tip I use every day: I set a timer on my laptop for one hour and start writing. My goal is to do 500 words in that hour. There must be something in knowing that clock is ticking in the background. I always exceed my 500 words. The days I get three of these writing blasts into a morning are awesome.
    Thanks for the great tips.

  2. Thank you Cindy for this. I love the Celtic Prayer. I have ADHD so my thoughts are continually scattered. As a prayer warrior I have never prayed for focus(Duh). I am going to pray daily for this. I am praying as you write your book this summer.

  3. Thank you, Cindy! I needed this today!!!

  4. Cindy,

    It's interesting that you mentioned house-sitting.

    I recently realized that my most productive times in years past was when I was house-sitting. Before I got married, I house sat every winter for a couple and those evenings and weekends alone were ideal for writing! How I sometimes miss them!

    I, too, like the prayer you shared. I don't have ADHD, but I have a writer's mind and it doesn't take much to start it galloping off like a runaway horse!

    Thank you for sharing and best wishes,