Even if you’re deep in the creative zone and you’ve done everything you can to get to the point where you’re ready to start writing, there’s still that tiny little thing called concentration – how do you get it? And once you’ve got it, how do you keep it for a whole writing session? Here are some tools you can try, and yes, some are a little silly, but why not give them a shot?
I have weird ears, I admit it. I can never wear in-ear headphones, as they just slip right out, and because of this I never thought I’d be able to wear earplugs (just bear with me, I do have a point here). When I first started writing properly, I lived with my parents out in the country, and the most noise you’d ever hear would be sheep bleating in the field or birds cheeping outside your window. They were nice country noises, noises that actually helped inspire me to write (at that point I was writing about a group of people who lived in the country). There weren’t many other houses in the direct local area, and there weren’t any kids or arguing couples. When I moved, however, the sounds changed. I didn’t move to an inner city flat or anything – I moved to a townhouse in a nice estate near the town centre – but it was enough. The house is close to a lot of other houses where there are a lot of kids, and it’s pretty close to a retail park where lorries and all sorts come and go all the time. Not to mention all the roadworks that took place on the estate, with the sound of drills drilling into your brain, and on occasion, the house shaking as a digger did its thing or as a train went by in the distance.
It suddenly became quite a lot harder to concentrate on my writing, and while sometimes I could listen to soothing music (as long as it had no lyrics that would sneakily make their way into my manuscript without me realising), at other times I needed absolute silence. Now, for normal people with normal ears, this would be quite easy – just pop some cheapo foam earplugs in and you’re grand. For me, I had to do a little more research, and I found a magical website where all your earplug needs could be met, even if you have strange-shaped ears. The site is www.snorestore.co.uk and it’s helped me a lot. You can buy a taster pack for about £14 that includes a set of each of the earplugs they do, and you can try them out until you find some that work.
I found some silicon ones that mould to your ear shape, and I was amazed when I tried them to find that a) they didn’t fall out and b) they actually worked. It was like being in a soundless vacuum, not something everyone will like but something that definitely works for me. I began using these when I was writing, and then I began using them when I was sleeping. The first night I used them I think I had the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had, which of course is something else you need to consider when trying to be creative: if you’re constantly knackered, you’re not going to be producing your best work. So, get some earplugs, get some sleep, and get some work done.
Right, that’s the strange earplug bit over with, I promise.
Like many British people, I am an avid believer in the power of tea, and no, I’m not even joking. Not a single day goes by (even in the summer – which, let’s face it, doesn’t mean much in England) where I don’t have at least a few cups of tea, and I’m very much of the opinion that a cup of tea will help in almost any situation. I’ll have tea to wake me up, tea to get into the work zone, tea to relax, tea to make me feel better when I’m ill, and tea to commiserate with when I’ve had a bad day. I drink good old builder’s tea and strange-sounding herbal teas, and my favourite one to relax with (in case you were wondering) is Celestial Seasonings’ Sleepytime tea with vanilla.
But what about writing? I almost always have a nice cup of tea before I sit down to write – possibly with a tiny bit of sugar in if I’m not very awake – and I’ve done it so many times now that the very act of putting on the kettle and sitting down at my desk with a brew helps me get in the right headspace. Of course, it doesn’t have to be tea – choose your own favourite drink. A lot of writers swear by coffee for obvious reasons, and some even do their first draft writing with a nice glass of wine on standby (if you’re thinking the same thing, just make sure you don’t do your editing while drinking a glass of wine or two – it probably won’t end well). I find tea soothing, and therefore I find that it helps me concentrate. This may be more of a psychosomatic thing than a physical response, but either way, it works, so that’s good enough for me. In fact, I think it might be time for another cup of tea right now…
If you’re the kind of person who can write while listening to music, it’s a good idea to listen to the same thing (or the same artist if one song gets boring) before you sit down and write. Do it every time and don’t skip it. Once your mind associates that song with sitting down and getting words on the page, it’ll help you get into the right headspace, and hopefully, it should get to the point where even just hearing the start of that song will focus your mind and make you want to write. Of course, some people will be more susceptible to this than others, but why not give it a try? If you don’t have much ‘relaxing’ music, take a look at the playlists/categories on Spotify or YouTube.
Finding A Good Writing Space
In today’s fast-paced world – when there’s always something going on no matter where you are – it can be seemingly impossible to find a space where you can sit quietly and work. It is, however, essential. If you can claim somewhere (whether it’s an office, a spare room, the garage, or a cupboard under the stairs) to sit and write, and where you can keep going back to sit and write, your brain will start associating that place with – you got it – writing, and with being productive. If you use your living room to relax with the family and watch TV and films in, you might not find it the best place to get into a writing headspace.
Of course, people are all different, and whereas one writer might need absolute silence in order to work, another might actually like the hustle and bustle of their favourite coffee shop, or the constant streaming traffic of family members coming in and out of the kitchen while you write at the kitchen table. (You can even get sound apps on your phone that will provide you with the noises of a French café, people talking on a train, or someone walking around a town in high heels. Not even joking). Find what works for you, and stick to it. Many people find that leaving the house before they get to work puts them in the right frame of mind, so if you can work from a café, a friend’s house, or a hired desk in a shared office, this might help you separate your writing from your free time. Perhaps you have a summer house, shed, or garage you can sit in and work – sometimes leaving the house by just a few steps is enough to reset your brain and tell it you’re going to get in the writing zone. Other options include a caravan (if you have one – it’s probably not a good idea to start using other people’s caravans), the loft (unless it’s full of rubbish and spiders, in which case it’s not going to be a good writing environment for anyone), or maybe even random spaces in your house like a utility room. Just find a space and stick to it, and your writing will thank you.
Do you have any good concentration tips?