How to Actually Concentrate While Writing: 6 Tips from a Tutor
Let’s be honest, most of us tell ourselves we will definitely start writing at a certain time of the day, and by the time it comes, we find ourselves sitting in front of our computer, staring at a blank Word document (almost blank! It probably has our name on it and an earlier date so it looks like we started earlier than the night before it’s due). After a while, you find yourself writing, but soon enough you are checking Instagram, or texting, or doing anything remotely entertaining to distract you from your work. Sound familiar? So how do you remain focused once you’ve started? Here are some tips!
Find a good place to write. This may sound cheesy, but I can’t stress this enough. Find a place that’s conducive to writing for you. Some people get severely distracted in loud places, while some others can’t stand to sit in silence. Figure out what kind of person you are and find that place where you’ll be comfortable and feel like you can conquer anything.
Accept the fact that, yes, you could be doing something more fun, but this assignment needs to get done.Many times, merely knowing that we could be relaxing instead of doing work creates writer’s block, making it impossible to concentrate. Let go of the tension that those feelings are causing and accept the assignment as it is. You’re in college now, you will get through this assignment and many more, so accept it and get to writing!
Try not to think about how much you have left.I completely understand the feeling of dread you get when you look at how much you’ve written and it’s not even close to the page limit. Don’t get stuck! The more time you think about that, the less time you spend writing. Look at what you’ve written, give yourself a pat in the back for getting something done, and keep going!
Give yourself breaks.Let yourself get distracted for 5-10 minutes, but stick to a schedule. Write for a while, then give yourself a break. I know turning off your phone sounds like torture, and I know the urge to check all your social media grows by the minute, but if you stick to a schedule you are more likely to get stuff done. You can even use these shorts breaks as a reward. You go, you!
Get up!Ultimately, if your mind is wandering too much, go take a walk. Get some coffee or water, stretch your legs, and think about something else. By the time you come back to your computer, you are bound to feel recharged and have some fresh ideas.
Visit the Writing Center! Just saying, if you come see us, you’ll have little choice but to focus on your assignment—at least for that hour.
Sometimes writing is a struggle for all of us, and that’s okay. But learning how to concentrate on your writing will help you in the long run. It may not be easy at first, but I’m sure you’ll get there. Good luck!
Mirii Rep, Writing Center Tutor
Is your homework life full of diversions? Having trouble with that paper not because you don’t know what to write but because you can’t concentrate? Here are five simple strategies that, once implemented, may make a world of difference.
Wipe out any distractions
There are several apps and websites designed to block websites for a dedicated amount of time. Some are Mac specific while others are ensured to work in most browsers, no matter the operating system. Regardless of the application you choose, social media, games and other online interferences will be inaccessible.
Be sure to clear both desktops. While these apps may block any digital distractions, you’ll want to make sure your physical space is clear as well. It can be as simple as pushing all of the stuff on your desk into a drawer. If you’re not in the mood to clean (which can also help you focus: fun fact), there are plenty of spots on campus where you can plop down and get to work.
In general, water helps with everything. Dehydration can lead to lost focus, exhaustion, dry mouths and super yellow pee. You don’t want any of that do you? Water and other non-sugar filled drinks are important in keeping you healthy and in making sure your brain, and body, stays as functional as possible. Not only that, drinking water can strengthen your immune system so you aren’t sick while you work.
As you can see, there’s little to no reason to not drink water. And while you’re at it, eat something. Your body, like your paper, needs nourishment. It’s hard to focus on a prompt if your stomach is growling every 2 minutes.
Use Music Many people use music when they’re exercising their bodies, why not use it while you’re working your mind as well? Music can also help block out surrounding noise, like screaming neighbors or the heart warming melodies of Flute Man from the gazebo (which, while beautiful, are also liable to lure you to sleep). Be sure to choose your music correctly. Classical music is often said to motivate people the most during studying but maybe it’s heavy metal, or slow R&B, or country that really gets your energized. Whatever you’re listening to, make sure it’s something that helps you focus.
Invest in the Reward System.
The Reward System is a simple way to boost your morale and you can customize it for whatever you’re doing. For every hour of work, give yourself 15 minutes of the Kim Kardashian game (does anyone still play that?). Or a gummy bear for every page read. The Reward System should be used sparingly, you don’t want to go overboard and end up indulging when you should be working. But, when used in moderation, it can still be used to self-motivate.
Get up. Get up and go away.
Sometimes the best thing you can do to complete your paper is to stop working on it. Breaks can not only help prevent your head from spontaneously combusting but also allow you to look at your paper differently once you return to it.
—Melanie, peer tutor
Decongesting Your Clogged Mind: Tips for Dealing with Writer’s Block
“How’s your paper coming along? How many pages do you have by now?” A fellow classmate inquires in a friendly, conversational tone.
“Umm…I have one page…” I reply.
(Insert eye-rolling from the other party here.)
“But it’s due tomorrow! I never understood how people can wait until the last minute to work on their papers.”
“No! It’s not like that! I actually started a week ago, but ummm… ermmm… I know what I’m going to say; I just haven’t actually written it down yet.”
Yeah…likely story, the classmate implies with her supposedly knowing smile.
I originally wrote a page or two on what I thought I was going to say, but decided later that it was a predominantly a piece of disheveled crap. Well, maybe there’s one solid idea hidden inside the incomprehensible text like a tricky Easter egg, but I still end up deciding to erase most of it and essentially start over. I KNOW the ideas are lurking around in some secret mental corridor. I just can’t happen to find them in that moment.
I mean, I can’t just open a blank word document and magically churn out a polished paper. Stare at the screen. Throw a pen across the room. Ergh, so aggravating! So how do you deal with a congested mind? Perhaps you’ve struggled with the daunting enigma that writer’s block is yourself. In fact, Writer’s block often shares a intrinsic relationship with the overall writing process. What follows are a few tips to combat writer’s block by relating it to some of the various stages constituting the writing process.
1. Experiment with Outlines and Handwriting
Already stuck before you’ve even started? Experiment with outlines, maps, and writing by hand. Scour the web for new and unusual frameworks in which you can brainstorm and sort your ideas. Organizing that amorphous mass of ideas into a new, appealing structure may prove beneficial.
2. Write or Die!
Write or Die is a free, twisted little internet application that draws from principles of operant conditioning you probably learned in your intro to psyche class. In other words, punishment is warranted if you stop writing. I personally prefer kamikaze mode, which erases your writing word by word if you stop for even just a few seconds. Write or Die is actually intended for creative writing but I’ve found it to be an incredibly useful tool for freewriting preliminary drafts.
The objective of Write or Die and freewriting in general is to capture your stream of thoughts on paper before they escape from you and disappear forever. Rawness is key, while refinement will eventually follow.You may find it liberating to spit out a torrent of words without consciousness of editing or grammar. However, there is usually at least one solid idea you can extract from that jumble of nonsensical words typed under the inevitable pressure and doom that Write or Die imposes on you. In fact, I am typing this on Write or Die at this very moment.
3. Write on Your Own
Keep your train of thought flowing as a writer to help loosen your condensed blob of ideas. Keep a journal, a blog, or try your hand at creative writing. You may find that scribbling a page in your journal or adding a new blog post can help diminish your paper anxiety and loosen up your chunk of thoughts, however random or irrelevant it might be. It is all about learning by doing.
4. Devise Your Own Idiosyncratic Habits
Develop fun and/or idiosyncratic techniques to help keep your waterfall of inspiration flowing. I prefer wearing a hat when I write because hats are awesome. I guess you could call it a literal “thinking cap” if you want to be corny about it. Dig out your lucky pair of writing socks and make it a a technique of self-motivation. You can ascribe meaning to any article of clothing by remembering all of those difficult moments of writer’s block you’ve already surmounted in the past when you wore that special hat or lucky sock. You have overcome writer’s block before, and you are certainly capable of triumphing again!
Sometimes writer’s block is a sign that you need to refresh your mind. Take a break. Indulge in some quality “me-time.” Utilize those off-moments as a source of inspiration. The shower, for instance, is brimming with intellectual revelations. Take a walk. Ponder deep writing thoughts in glar. Or if you are simply too exhausted to engage in any of the above…
Never underestimate the value of a high quality nap. Naps can actually help diffuse all that clutter that’s clogging your flow of thoughts. I confess that that is based on personal experience and not a research study, but naps are still worth considering if you are desperate!
6. Create the Right Atmosphere
There are many excellent blog posts on creating the “write” atmosphere available for you to check out, so I won’t divulge into verbose detail. Acquire self-knowledge by assessing the relative values of different spots on campus and determining the environment(s) in which you can concentrate. Experiment with additional elements of atmosphere, such as classical music. Figure out the time of day or night you work best.
7. Employ Writing Center Techniques!
You can emulate several of the techniques you find here at the writing center, such as reading out loud. Try discussing your topic with friends and classmates. Simply discussing (or ranting, whichever you prefer) your struggles and frustrations with friends can also serve as a mental decongestant.
8.) Make a Writing Center Appointment!
The Writing Center is here for you during any stage of the writing process. We can assist you in your struggle with writer’s block and help you transform your stagnant stream of thoughts into a waterfall flowing with inspiration.
—Sarah F, peer tutor
The Invisible Gorilla; An Exercise in Attention
In the following video, there are three people dressed in white and three dressed in black. Count how many times the people in white pass the ball to one another.
You should have counted 15 passes. But that isn’t the important part.
The real question is: did you see the gorilla?
Some of you may respond with, “Well, of COURSE I saw the gorilla. How could I miss it?” However, according to the study conducted at Harvard University by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, a full half of the people who took part in the experiment were so focused on counting the passes that they completely missed the gorilla. That’s 50% for whom the gorilla was completely invisible. (Even more crazily, in this recently conducted study, 83% of radiologists missed a rather large gorilla hidden in x-ray images!) Thus, we have the name of the experiment, “The Invisible Gorilla.” (Check out their site for more information!)
“The Invisible Gorilla”
This says a lot about the human ability to focus on things to the exclusion of all else. This ability can be great, for example, when the person down the hall is blaring heavy metal while you’re trying to study for an exam. However, this intense focus can also pose a bit of a problem, say, when you become so focused on the fact that one friend has not texted you back that you don’t realize that your other friends are waiting on you to go out.
Or, when you’re so focused on fixing all the little flaws in your latest essay that you miss some of the really large issues.
Many of you know how the Writing Center here at McDaniel works: you bring us your paper, and we sit down with you and talk about whatever you need help with. However, we have always made it a priority to focus on the biggest areas and issues. Some of you may be familiar with our Writing Center’s adage,
“If the Titanic is sinking, you don’t rearrange the deck chairs.”
Basically, this means that you shouldn’t worry about the little stuff (grammar, spelling, etcetera) if your paper needs, say, a thesis, or organization and structure. Focus first on the big, and work your way to the little.
Editors sometimes go bananas. (source: http://pschenk.wordpress.com/)
Sometimes, though, its hard to even see the big if you’re so focused on the little. Just like we miss the gorilla in counting the basketball passes, we might also miss the fact that our paper has no supporting evidence if we’re too distracted by trying to fix commas.
At the Writing Center, we want to help you track down those gorillas! That is why we always suggest reading your paper aloud; you’ll really pick up on places where the organization is awkward, or the sentences don’t make sense! Even if you can’t make it in for an appointment with us, you can still do your own gorilla tracking.
Of course, we do recommend making an appointment! As trained Gorilla Trackers, its our job to help you make your paper as strong as possible by weeding out both big and little issues. Even if you’re a strong writer, having another person involved can really help you catch some of those larger snags; that’s why even our own tutors make appointments with each other once in a while!
Don’t let those gorillas slip by ya. Book an appointment with a trained Gorilla Tracker today!