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Nikheel Gorolay: Tips for staying disciplined

by Nikheel Gorolay

To be honest, I haven’t learnt any new writing tips or tricks over the past year and a half – just finding the time to write at all has often been a challenge. The pandemic has been tough, both personally with the loss of friends and family, and professionally, as what was already set to be a busy time for me was compounded by an inflated workload, as a direct result of the actions taken by the government in response to the outbreak. 

As a professional, overworked though I was, I realised how fortunate I was to be in a job that was insulated from the economic effects of lockdown. But, as a creative, I was frustrated at the demands work was placing on my time, and the consequences for my writing. In the scant moments I did confront the page, I felt barely coherent, wanting for ideas and lacking rhythm. After trying and often failing to write, I remembered an old friend who wouldn’t demand provoking themes, beautifully crafted prose or even a modicum of coherence. A friend I should never have forgotten, and desperately needed to reach out to. I remembered morning pages

If you’re not familiar with them, morning pages are three pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness writing done first thing in the morning. Those three pages exist for you to unburden yourself of all the junk sat in your head in the moments after you’ve awoken – the remnants of dreams you had, the chores you put off the day before, whatever – with the idea being that, by getting rid of all the words you don’t need, you can return to the page later the same day with greater clarity, and channel that into your creative writing. Morning pages don’t judge you – they don’t ask if you’ve brushed your teeth before you start writing them, or if your head is so fuzzy from the weight of what you’ve had to deal with the day before that you can barely muster the strength to hold the pen snug in your hand. To the contrary, morning pages welcome you at your unsanitised, filter-free best.

And so I dug out an old notebook and got to work, writing my three pages each morning. But, on the occasions where I was able to follow up with some writing in the evening, I still had a problem. Although the flow of words had become steadier, I couldn’t focus for very long without giving in to my urge to browse the news for the latest updates. I’ve always been prone to getting distracted by the internet whilst writing on my laptop (and I’m sure I’m not the only one), but it had become much more of an issue during the various lockdowns, perhaps precisely because it was so difficult to otherwise feel connected to what was happening around the world when my own world had become so small. I needed something that would help me to focus by blocking out any online distractions. I needed yet another friend who had proved helpful before, and that this time I shouldn’t have had to remember because it was sat right there in an icon at the top of my laptop screen, begging me to use it. I needed Freedom (in so many ways, of course, but in a very specific way in this case).  

Freedom is an app that blocks your internet connection or specific websites/apps for a set amount of time (it’s up to you how long for). It’s meant not just for writers, but anyone looking to reclaim focus and productivity. It’s very much a blunt instrument, given that the only way to manually override it before the timer has elapsed is to restart your computer/device, but it was that bluntness that I needed to ward off distractions. I had already installed Freedom many years ago and had purchased a lifetime subscription at the time, so once I opened it up again it was ready to go, simply asking me how long I wished to set the timer for. I started with 20, then 30 minutes at a time, writing in concentrated bursts, and soon rediscovered a sense of discipline. After a period, I even found that I could easily ignore the temptation to switch back to browsing the news once the app had stopped blocking my internet, and instead just continue focusing on writing.

Perhaps you’ve found yourself in a similar position in struggling to write or focus. If so, consider giving morning pages or Freedom a try. I’m not saying they’re the magic answer to getting your project finished, but maybe, like me, they’ll give you the kickstart you need. After all, some progress is better than none, and, as writers, whatever helps us get words on the page is always worthwhile taking a chance on, right?

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