Ask LH: How Can I Write Without Getting Constantly Distracted?

What is the best device for a monkish/writerly existence? I want to get some serious writing on, without distractions or bloat. But I would rather not use a pen and paper, as I need the output to be digital. Do you have a recommendation for a modern day typewriter? Absent-Minded Author

Remote laptop user image from Shutterstock

Dear AA,

As a journalist working in the madcap, Nerf gun-totting Allure Media office, I can certainly relate to your plight. Distractions to the writing process tend to come in two main guises — annoying co-workers/family members and the constant allure of online time-wasters.

The latter is easy enough to curtail with a little forethought and self-discipline. One solution is to turn an old bare-bones laptop or word processor into a dedicated writing platform. Famously, Game Of Thrones author George RR Martin uses WordStar running on an old DOS machine.

While we don't suggest going quite that old school, there are obvious benefits to using a dedicated platform that isn't pre-loaded with distractions. As an added bonus, this will also make the task of writing feel more "official" which should help to get you into the right mindset. (i.e. — it's not your everyday PC that you use for everything.)

For best results, plump for a device that doesn't connect to the internet but can plug into your computer via USB to download your writing. Alternatively, you might be better served by a low-powered device such as a netbook. This will provide internet connectivity when you really need it, but will be too slow for the likes of YouTube and Facebook. (Just make sure it's reliable!)

You might also want to consider a dedicated web application designed to keep you on task. This guide looks at some of our favourite distraction-free writing applications. If you're on Windows, the recently overhauled Write! is also well worth considering. Crucially, it includes a borderless window so there are no tabs or popups to throw you off track.

When it comes to removing human distraction, I find a big pair of piss-off headphones usually do the trick — even if you don't like listening to music while writing, their presence will discourage people from pestering you with things that aren't important.

If any readers have suggestions of their own, let AA know in the comments section below.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    Perfect timing for this article as i am struggling with this at the moment, although not important yet as i am just doing writing to help with a uni application having distractions around me is hard, even harder when they are of the child variety.

    I would like a dedicated writing computer.

    - It would need to sync with Dropbox and Evernote (for backup and research notes)
    - It must not have access to a browser (or if it does, have only a few whitelisted sites, such as Trove or Factiva).
    - It needs a text editor, Word with EndNote would be good, but not essential
    - It must not be an admin user (so it's not possible to take away restrictions or install other apps)
    - There must not be an option to login with unrestricted accounts (the admin account would need to be an account solely for administering the writing computer, and the password would need to be something you could never remember, but keep on a piece of paper at home, or with a friend, or have a friend as the admin)
    - must be able to use mechanical keyboard

    I'd like to stick with Windows but nothing seems to work well enough. Freedom is way too easy to bypass, especially the new one. The new version of Microsoft Family Safety has fewer options now, and AppLocker only works on Enterprise or Education versions of Win 10. Maybe installing Win 10 Education and using AppLocker is the way to go... is Win10 Education free?

    I was thinking an old Android phone, with hub for keyboard, mouse, monitor, etc. Or a ChromeBit. There are lots of options for restricting things in ChromeOS.

    Highly recommend this for closing off avenues of potential distraction when writing.

      Brilliant. I'm going to try this on a machine with a limited user account for writing, and an admin account for which I keep the password with a friend.

    I turn the wi-fi off and use ia Writer in focus mode. I also find music greatly helps, but only stuff that won't distract you such as ambient or chill.

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