Fitting Life Around Writing: Distractions

Our last exciting adventure found our heroes examining Time and how to fit our lives around it and writing. If managing time isn’t difficult enough, Distractions tend to jump on the wagon in force, taking us away from what we want to do. At times, we wonder if we should be diagnosed, medicated , or Hey, Look, a Squirrel… Sometimes the only answer to Distractions is to find a real big Distraction, like putting on some headbanging music at 11, and just jumping into typing up that next chapter, story, or poem…

adhdIs this really the answer? Just put on some music and the Distractions will run away? (Okay, maybe if it’s some real heavy Sabbath…)

Sometimes, believe it or not, I have to just look at the Squirrel… it’s kind of like writing a blog post when I should be really finishing that novel, or meeting friends instead of that short story deadline, or attending a writers’ conference instead of attending to writing – ugh – more on conferences at the end.

The other question I find myself asking all of the time is this: when are Distractions really just one side of the procrastination coin? Are we so easily beset by Facebook, email, a dirty house, those dishes waiting to be washed, or anything technology-related that we can’t write? Or is that our excuse to put off writing? Why would we put off writing? Is our Muse ugly, unreliable, and smells slightly of the Catch of the Day? Do we fear success, or worse, believe we really can’t write, so what’s the point?

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A nod to the late, great Gene Wilder here: it’s a Distraction, a great procrastination meme, and chocolate; Chocolate, Distractions, and Procrastination… we all have problems, but most writers I know share a common bane: procrastination, and Distractions are part of that. I think it might be a good idea here to ask yourself a few questions:

  1. What are my biggest Distractions?
  2. Do my Distractions require my immediate attention (or medication)?
  3. Am I creating Distractions to avoid, and why am I avoiding? Am I afraid of writing, or afraid I’m not a writer, or even afraid of success?
  4. Can I make myself a priority list, a To Do List, including most of my Distractions, manage the Time and Distractions, and stick to it?

Just off the top of my head, the questions may be hard, but #4 is a definite YES! A reference to the last post again here: To start, I find it good to do a reality check. I have to be honest. I look at myself, my laziness or Distractions, and my use of Time. Almost always, I find an hour or two that I’m wasting, sitting around, watching television, surfing the net, mindless Solitaire, or just doing nothing.  

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If we keep a running list of our Distractions for a day or two I think most of us would quickly see that, like Time, Distractions are ruling our lives. I’m not going to diagnose anyone here, or make you lie down on my virtual couch and tell you that you have mommy/daddy issues, self-esteem problems, addictions, or just a plain fear of success. I am not going to joke about medication either because sometimes we do need to be medicated. Those things are for you and a professional to figure out. I’m going to tell you to honestly look at your Distractions, what is taking you away from writing, and what is making it impossible to concentrate. Once you have this list, these ideas, I’m sure you can put this into your Managing Writing Toolbox, along with your tricks to trick Time into being your friend, and get to work.

Now, a couple of things to consider and another list of four things…

Is social media the biggest Distraction? Did you find yourself wanting to share this blog, or any of the memes, or something like that? When you get up in the morning do you have to check your Facebook page, your email, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, your texts, and, and, and… and the next thing you know it’s almost lunch time and your Solitaire score is somewhere near negative $958 (Does anyone play Solitaire anymore?) I think you get the point. Here are a few things I do to manage Distractions:

  1. My email and FB are routed to my phone – I check them several times a day, but within reason (before I start my day) – 5 minutes – if I need a potty break – hopefully less than 5 minutes – when I take a break for lunch – 5 minutes – when I finish writing – 5 minutes – and when I go to bed – 5 minutes. That’s almost a half-hour of time right there. Yes, it usually doesn’t take that long, but I was erring on the side of time. and reason – let’s keep a grip on reality.
  2. I make sure I have a set time to write each day in a location that is relatively Distraction free – if I have to maintain contact with the outside world, I do have my phone, but I set it to stun (silent mode) and put it in my pocket, maybe checking messages for important stuff – bones, blood, death, contract – when I’m taking a natural break/breath in my writing – and by important stuff, I mean I just read the notices or subjects or partial texts – I don’t them unless it’s bones, blood, or death – 10 seconds at most.
  3. Location, location, location – as mentioned, a quiet place with everything I might need – bread and water, notepad, writing utensils, etc., and as few Distractions as possible.
  4. And then I get ‘er done!

Now for a Distraction-related Distraction.

Last weekend, I attended the annual League of Utah Writers Fall Conference in Provo, Utah. I was fortunate enough to be a “Special Guest,” meaning, I taught a couple classes, sat on a few panels, had a great meal, and came away with an honorable mention in the short fiction category.

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I have to say it was a real Distraction from my writing, but it was also an opportunity to break up some monotony, create some new ideas, refresh my memory of why I write in the first place, and the honorable mention kind of made me believe in myself again – we all need to believe in ourselves.

This last piece of advice is simple – manage your Time, manage your Distractions, manage your writing life, but make sure you have a life outside of writing. Good luck! Let me know how it goes!

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