Tips For Writing An Article When You Live In A Chaotic, High-Interruption Environment

How to make progress when “The Zone” is a distant, aspirational fantasy

Interesting coincidence: All my 1-on-1 clients have babies at the moment. 

 

The youngest child making cameos on our Zoom calls is about six weeks old, and the others are either infants or toddlers. All of them are absolutely adorable. I’m not a parent myself, but I imagine when you become one your benchmarks for productivity and focus quickly get flipped upside-down.

 

In one recent client conversation, we joked back and forth about the challenges of working in this so-called “high-interruption” environment. Do defined time blocks really matter when you have to keep one eye on your kid at all times to make sure they don’t try to eat their Legos?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that a high-interruption setup is pretty common for both parents and non-parents alike. Perhaps you have roommates or a loud neighbor. Or maybe you’re trying to bring your online dreams to life in pockets of downtime you have during your workday, but get pinged by Slack notifications every ten minutes.

 

We all wish we had a Walden-esque cabin by the lake in which our tortured artist selves can break through and finally pen a masterpiece. 

 

But for most of us… that’s never going to happen.

Tips For Writing An Article When You Live In A Chaotic, High-Interruption Environment – Post Outline

 

>>> #1: Shorten Your “Thoughts-To-Words” Latency

>>> #2: Tighten Your Outline On The Go

>>> #3: Talk Your Way Through Clutter

The usual productivity advice you read ‘round these parts usually goes something like this:

    • “Wake up early and seize the day”
    • “Block off a measly five hours each morning to meditate, read, exercise, eat a healthy breakfast, and write in your bullet journal to live your best life”
    • “A pristine workspace with no clutter is vital for productivity”

This advice is aspirational, but often unachievable. I’m guilty of writing about flow state myself and how great it is, but as my online business grows, I have more people to tend to and more in-the-moment decisions to make throughout each day to nudge projects along. 

 

Interruptions are inevitable. So instead of resenting that which will never go away, adjust your approach instead; here are 3 ideas on how to bolster your writing momentum without succumbing to distraction hell.

#1: Shorten Your “Thoughts-To-Words” Latency

In network technology, latency refers to how long the delay is in a data transfer once the command to transfer data has been given. Example: Online interactive video games are unplayable if there’s too much latency, which is why video games are one of the biggest drivers of 5G technology.

 

Imagine that your writing also has a latency. You think about words, sentences, or ideas, and then there is a gap between your thoughts and what actually goes on the page. Strive to shorten this gap.

 

Here’s my tip for shortening latency: Think less.

 

Sounds shallow, I know. But if you’re someone who replays a sentence 30 times in your head to convince yourself it’s worth writing…you’ll freeze up often. 

 

This is normal, especially for analytical people, because you want to think about your writing while you write it. Stop thinking so much.

 

Try this 

 

Write about nothing for 5-10 minutes. I use 750words for this – best $5/month I’ve ever spent. No rules, no regulations. One time I wrote 750 words entirely about a blueberry muffin

 

The reason I find this process helpful is that it shortens the time window between thinking about an idea and actually writing about it. Stream-of-consciousness writing is uncomfortably honest and nonsensical, but we need to practice shortening that gap. 

 

In the same way that you would detox your body by drinking lots of water or doing some deep breathing exercises, detox the overthinking from your writing.

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#2: Tighten Your Outline On The Go

Some of you are familiar with my approach to article writing, which is to loosely outline an article and then “ladder” it in a Google document to give some initial scaffolding. When you’re being interrupted constantly, however, you’re still not sure 

    • What you’re saying, 
    • How you want to say it, and/or
    • The order you want to say everything in.

When this happens, I take a step back and reassess my outline. I zero in one subsection, which often is only a few paragraphs, and ask myself “What do I want to say here?” I keep the Google Docs app on my phone for this so that I can stare at one small section while I’m cooking, commuting, or otherwise waiting on something.
 
When you’re crystal clear on what you want to say and the order you need to say it in for your content to make sense, it becomes way easier to write this stuff. Your outline morphs into a set of instructions for yourself; follow your marching orders and you’re done.
 
Technical and explanatory writing are my focus, not fiction, so you may need to adapt this approach to meet your individual storytelling needs. When in doubt, make the task at hand smaller; zero in on one small section and chisel away at its logic until it’s a beautiful, refined statue.

#3: Talk Your Way Through Clutter

Okay, this one might be annoying to your loved ones. But if you can swing it, speaking your text aloud as though you’re telling a story to a friend can often jostle the cobwebs and create clarity.

 

Most of us don’t write very often, and virtually all of us write less often than we speak. Lean into the most frequent way you use language and you might be surprised at what happens. 

 

My approach for articles is usually three drafts: A mega-sloppy first draft, a “surgical” second draft (Which is usually demoralizing), and then a third draft where I read through aloud to make any phrasing adjustments. I find this helps the rhythm of my articles and makes them more conversational and approachable; you might like to do the same.

 

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If a massive block of time with zero interruptions is unrealistic for you, stop making yourself wrong about it. Instead, lean into other approaches or tricks to make progress when your focus is fractured. Dial in the work patterns that work best for you and you’ll have what you need to make real progress in the long run.

Thanks for reading. 🙏🏼

 

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Nick Wolny is a media and marketing strategist for entrepreneurs. Named a “40 Under 40” by the Houston Business Journal, he’s a contributor for Entrepreneur and Fast Company and a technology commentator for NBC and FOX with over 60 live TV appearances.