In the engaging Pixar movie Up, there's a dog character whose best intentions are constantly thwarted by a sudden flash of "Squirrel!" every time an enticing rodent zooms by. It doesn't matter what the dog is doing or thinking at the time; "Squirrel!" takes over his entire canine brain.
Sometimes I feel like that dog when I'm trying to write; I'm constantly bombarded with distractions, mostly of my own making. My personal version of "Squirrel!" could be anything from "New e-mail!" to "Sunny day outside!" to "Leftover pie in fridge!"
I'm most easily distractible when the writing is not going well, when I'm wrestling with an awkward phrase or seeking some fresh, non-hackneyed way to express an idea--or simply trying come up with an idea worth expressing in the first place. Suddenly I'll find myself magically transported to the kitchen to see what's in the fridge (nothing different from the last three times I checked) or compulsively checking e-mail and Facebook as an escape from the prison of my own thoughts.
Recently I posted a little sign on my office door that says "Where are you going?" It's purpose is to make me think twice about wandering away from the writing. Do I need to go to the kitchen? Do I need to get the newspaper? Probably not.
To curb electronic wandering, I temporarily disconnect from the Internet, which feels akin to cutting off my oxygen supply, but is sometimes necessary to get any writing done at all.
When you're writing, what makes you yell "Squirrel!"? And what do you do to stay focused?