Tuesday, October 19, 2010

10 Secrets for Dealing with Distractions

By Singe

I was born in chaos. We lived in a house without central heating, so in the winter most everything took place in the kitchen around the pot belly stove. If my father was not chuckling over and reading aloud from what he called his “nut stories” (science fiction) he was fixing a flat, charging a battery or putting together some weird science experiment. Our house was a magnet for clutter. Kitchen shelves might contain anything from crocks of fermenting birch beer, skeletons of animals found on the road, bird's nests, a bucket of nails, ball bearings, a microscope. Years later, I realized that I missed that atmosphere of fun that surrounded my childhood, and that I need a balance of order and chaos to create. Part of me believes that it is distractions that make my life more interesting, while the other is resentful of anything that takes time away from my writing.

This is always a challenge for me. Here are some things that have helped me cut down on distractions that keep me from writing. Maybe they’ll help you.

Immerse, Let Go, Return

Strike a balance between obsession and release. Become immersed in your subject, let the work become part of you, fill notebooks with info and become an expert on your topic. Write letters or blogs to and from your characters, fill pages of journals that he or she might write. Or, if you are going through some angst or major passage in your life, write heartfelt letters and do not send. Glean from these efforts and turn limp passages into words that sing. When I care passionately about a scenario it is like a world opens and I see different events like a movie I live in, pen near at hand.

After you feel spent, then remove yourself and do something else, preferably something you love. This year, I found great pleasure in planting clematis and grew the biggest sunflower ever. When I returned to my writing after gardening, I felt renewed and ready to start again.

Post Calling Hours

Be ruthless about keeping away interruptions. Turn off phones, avoid e-mail, and shut down IMs or any other communication devices. Tell everyone that you are writing between whatever hours, and you love them, but only an emergency qualifies for your attention during that time.

Crisis Happens, Use It

When someone dares to have a crisis, leave your last sentence unfinished. I have found that the restlessness of that jagged edge leaves a place for the imagination - it may help to get you started again. Or rewrite the last paragraph. Any emergency that happens is fair fodder for your writing, too. Exaggerate or tell the truth and change names.


Wear disguises if you must. Go somewhere else, you pick the scene. I escape by haunting internet cafes, some place in nature, my local library or a parking lot if I have to.

Make Lists

A list relieves you from repeating ideas in your head and aids in focus. Keep a notebook handy just for your writing. Keep another notebook to write down chores and people you need to contact later, and get nagging voices out of your way. Prioritize your list into: Imperative, Things That May Go Away If Ignored and Things to Do When You Can’t Get Into Your Writing. Make time for chores so they don't pile up and a separate time for your writing.

Ignore Messes

Neat freaks and clutter maniacs alike can be waylaid by objects out of place. Schedule cleanups away from your writing time and if necessary wear blinders - it works with horses.

Separate Creative Writing Time from Research

If you are writing a piece about a place or time you have never been and the flow is going good, don’t stop to verify a fact until you have squeezed the most out your plot angle or character study. For example, I was writing about an event that took place in 1867, and my character wore a bustle – years before they were invented, but the energy of the story worked. Later, when I did the research I was able to dump the bustle and add in the proper garment.

Write While the World is Asleep

Odd hours, especially for me around 4a.m., “the Hour of the Wolf”, can be a time for chasing dreams and going deeper into your work. Pick a time where your family and friends won't interrupt you.

Create a Writing Ritual

A ritual can be anything you wish that draws you into the mood to do your work. It can be as simple as putting paper in your printer, or playing a certain piece of music or sharpening your pencils. One writer I know takes a walk around the block before setting down to her writing. Make up something specific to your own needs. You might like to try meditations, scents, lighting candles, taking a shower, or whatever resonates for you. Before I sit down at my desk, I like to light a candle, get in touch with my breath and ask to connect with clear writing.


Once you have worked a piece to its end knowing it is as good as it can get, savor that feeling. Remembering it will help propel you forward on your next project.


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  2. Excellent advice - certainly some tips I intend to utilise from here. Keep up the good work and I look forward to further updates (and advice!) in due course...

    The Intolerant Traveller