Thanks to one of my favorite blogs, Inkygirl, I found this excellent article by Cory Doctorow, with tips for avoiding writing distractions.
I like that Cory says right off the bat that avoiding the Internet entirely is not necessarily the answer. He has some great ideas for getting your work done without denying yourself the pleasure and the potential growth that writers can get from the Internet.
Some of the tips — such as writing just a few pages a day, stopping when you meet your quota, and leaving yourself a "rough edge" to work with when you start up again the next day — are geared primarily toward novel writing. Nonfiction freelance writers who write articles and short marketing copy have shorter projects and therefore more of them, and as a result our goals ought to be a little different. (Though the couple pages a day goal would be good for those of us who are writing novels and doing a bunch of smaller projects at the same time.)
The other tips apply to all writers, such as working shorter periods. I myself found a long time ago that working a "normal" workday isn't realistic for me as a freelance writer. On average, billable work takes up only about half of my work hours — more or less according to my workload at the time. The rest is spent on marketing, administrative duties, and maintaining my own websites and blogs. And honestly, I love this arrangement — it breaks up the monotony of working eight (or more) straight hours, day in and day out, the way you would in a full-time job.
I've also found, as Cory suggests, that emailing is the best way to keep in touch with friends and family. Not only can I determine whether I'm too busy to respond right away, I can also see what they want and how important it is, and make my decision accordingly.
The suggestion of waiting to do the research is also pertinent for all writers. Putting in a filler of some sort to replace later on is a good way to avoid interrupting the flow of words when you are in the zone — I personally use three astericks in a row, because not being letters they jump out at me more than "TK" would. However, I think it's also important to suggest that you do all the necessary background research — the stuff you know you'll need, such as research for a historical novel or interviews for an article — before you start writing.
The only tip that I don't agree with is ditching the word processor. I personally love writing in Word, and I think it's also important to note that you can turn off any of the annoying features Cory notes, such as automatic grammar checks and special character corrections. I've also found that most clients use Word themselves, and the last thing I want is to create formatting problems by sending them a text file instead of us both using Word.
In any case, Cory's article is a great compilation of tips for avoiding distractions while writing. I don't think I necessarily have anything to add, though I might be trying out a couple of tips in the comments — Write or Die tool for keeping you focused, as I usually find myself wandering back into my email or onto the Internet without even fully realizing I'm doing it.
What tools or techniques do you use to avoid getting distracted from your writing?