Distraction Free Writing in a Busy Home

dealing with distractions

Our house buzzes with activity from around 7.00am until 10.00pm. As I write this post our four children are having multiple conversations and toy fights, my wife is cooking dinner and there is a decorator upstairs whom I supply with a constant stream coffee.

Yet I write – undistracted.

Many of us have busy lives and it is all too easy to blame the mayhem of family existence for our own lack of productivity. For those of us who just can’t get the work done there is another writer with a busier life, less time and more words on the page. If you want to become a more productive writer then consider some of the following tips to help win the war on distraction.

Internal vs. External distractions

As I write this sentence my 3 year old daughter is screaming in the next room. There have been people at the door, and I have been interrupted several times. These are all external distractions. They can be annoying but they are easy to deal with when you implement the following methods.

There is another, more pernicious type of distraction however. I just googled “how to avoid distractions” in order to research articles for this post. Within 5 minutes of reading an article I found myself perusing e-courses on computer programming and was on the verge of signing up to another blog. Although I’m interested in it programming is completely unrelated to my goals and this blog post. This is an example of internal distraction and it is a dangerous threat to your writing.

Which is worst?

The truth is all distractions are really internal. This is because we allow our minds to wander – and we choose how to react to our external circumstances. Thus a constant noise can become an annoyance to an unfocused mind – or a challenge to one determined enough to see the job through.

Remove as many distractions as possible

  • First let others know that you are going to be working for a certain period of time. Your family should acknowledge this and be respectful so long as you don’t neglect your duties before and after your creative period.
  • Second you want to remove as many physical distractions as possible when we sit to write. Find as quiet a place as possible. Create a clear working environment – remove all but the essentials from your desk. Light, paper and pen or computer screen.
  • Switch your phone off – or put it on silent.
  • Close down your internet browser, email client and any other applications – with the exception of reference materials.
  • Use a basic text editor. When writing I like to use a basic text editor such as darkroom. You can use Writeroom if you have a mac or Pyroom for Linux.I have also been experimenting with Focus Writer and Writemonkey – these are similar to darkroom but have added features such as spellcheckers. With the exception of Writeroom these programs are all free and open-source. Darkroom doesn’t even have a spellchecker – I like this because it allows me to write fast – without the typo’s being highlighted. When finished my first draft I’ll copy and paste the document into Word for editing.
  • Fight fire with fire – or noise with sound. For dealing with noise levels in the house I use USB headphones and listen to progressive house or trance music. I find this type of music to be uplifting and energizing and the steady beat helps create flow to the writing process. You can listen to any kind of music – although it is probably better to listen to music with as few vocals as possible. Some people say they can’t write while listening to music. I suggest you give it a proper chance – at least for half an hour to experience the zone. Surely it must be easier to write with music rather than children crying and fighting!
  • Alternatively you might try to find some noise cancelling headphones so at least you have slightly less disturbance.


It goes without saying that you must focus to achieve good results. This is even more important in a distracting environment. By clearing the workspace, using plain text and having a steady beat focus should come more easily.

Forget about what is going on around you – it is already taken care of and if you are needed you will be interrupted anyway so don’t fret about it.
If you are still struggling then just aim to write the first sentence – and brush all criticisms of style away for the time being. Keep on writing until you reach that sense of flow. When you get there, stay in that zone. If you are interrupted keep that same focus on the person who comes in and listen to them. Why? Because if you listen and communicate that you understand then the interruption will pass quickly and smoothly and you will adjust back to your project. If you keep trying to “write in your head” when someone is talking to you – it will only prolong and aggravate the interruption and your focus.

Deal appropriately with interruptions

Remember your values.  Earlier on my parents dropped by for a visit. My value system places my parents very high on my priority list and I remembered this. I closed my project and went out to make tea and talk with them for an hour.

My wife interrupted me and asked if I could give her sister a lift into Edinburgh Airport the next day. I said yes and made a mental note of it and got on with this article. I didn’t start making talking and have coffee and a bite to eat and allow another hour of unproductivity to pass.

If the interruptions are below the task priority – treat them as such. That is – give them your full attention for the minute or two they deserve and don’t let them pull you away from your work.

No distraction has been significant enough to pull me from my chair yet.

Phone calls can wait – you can call later or text if need be.

Sometimes we are interrupted by people or events on a low order of priority. They can be dealt with most effectively by the means such as this.

Get angry – take it on

If you have removed all your distractions but find you are still annoyed by the goings on then allow yourself to get angry. Anger is a source of mental energy and it can be utilized in your writing.

Let your anger come out in a writing rant and give yourself have free reign no matter how offensive – but stay sure to keep within the boundaries of your goal. Sometimes writing in anger can get a bit personal and you wouldn’t want anyone else to read it. For this you could use a piece of free open source journal software.

This program is encrypted with your own unique password and is saved automatically even when you close it down. It still requires your password when you go to open it up again.

I also use this just to keep a private journal but it can be useful for these mega rants.

So embrace the anger. Your sentences may not be the most eloquent or coherent but you’d be surprised how prolific this can be and how many little gems it can produce for ideas – especially if you write fiction and expressive language.


How to Deal With Annoying Interruptions — powered by Cracked.com

Final Word

I hope you found this useful. If you have any other tips people trying to create in busy houses please leave a comment.

3 Comments on "Distraction Free Writing in a Busy Home"

  1. Great post! I have 3 kids so I’m really relating here. That video is funny, not that I condone violence. But we should all make our loved ones top priority. ;-)
    I use MarsEdit for writing blog posts and highly recommend something simple on your desktop like that — don’t trust the cloud! Too much writing work has been lost writing directly on the blogging platform when the Internet fritzes out.

  2. Hmmm..where’s the RT button??? Guess I have to hand-paste it…but you should get one of those. Seriously.

  3. Jamie says:

    Hi Carol

    Wow my first comment. I agree – I’m old skool too, I like my hard drive.
    I have installed twitter buttons as recommended and will soon be updating the blog with a new theme.
    Look forward to seeing you in the Den:)

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