Reflections In Hindsight

Grace in the Rearview Mirror…it's closer than it appears

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Distraction in Action

Posted by Ben Erlichman on October 27, 2011

You’re sitting in that ideal setting that we mentioned last week. You’ve got your elixir, your nepenthe, your ambrosia in a steaming mug next to you (or in a chilled glass). The sounds of nature, or silence, or rock and roll surround you as your fingers tap the keyboard or write longhand. The computer screen is alive with color, but mostly just white and black text. You type word after glorious word, and the story unfolds before your very eyes like a flower blossoming in the springtime (or, if you write action/adventure, like a swelling explosion from a rocket-propelled grenade).

Everything is perfect, just the way you like it.

Then the phone rings. The dog next door starts barking. Your kids charge into the room and shout at the top of their lungs. The over beeps because your frozen pizza is cooked. Your next-door neighbor shoots his dog because it was barking too much. A meteor strikes the Earth in Africa and knocks your juice/coffee/soda/water all over your keyboard.

All is lost.

What happened? You got distracted.

“But–that’s not what happened! It wasn’t my fault!” you cry, furious that I would hazard to suggest that the African meteor was somehow your fault. “I couldn’t help being distracted.”

Sometimes, that’s exactly how it is. You don’t really have much of a choice–stuff will happen and it will distract you.

Sorry for the pause. I had to go get a frozen pizza out of the oven. Seriously, I actually got up and did that while I was typing this post. But it’s 11:47 at night and I’ve only eaten once today, so I have to take care of that. For me, that was an example of a necessary distraction.

As I was saying, there are some things you just can’t help. The neighbor’s dog barking, for example. Unless that neighbor really does find some way to shut Fido up (or if you’re cavalier enough to do it for him), you’re stuck with it. That doesn’t mean, of course, that you have to let it distract you. Put on some headphones, or put in some earplugs, or both, and get back to writing.

It’s not always so simple. You have kids. They neeeeeeed you every second of every day. Can’t get rid of them, can you? Sure, if they’re older, you can ship them off to school for eight hours, but if they’re babies (like the one I’m expecting in March), what do you do then? Since I don’t have kids that age (yet), I really don’t have a good answer except to say what I would TRY to do.

James Scott Bell has a dandy book called The Art of War for Writers (which I highly recommend). In it, he explains that he often “snatches time” when he writes. He explains that he makes sure he is still productive in spite of distractions by snatching time to write whenever he can. He mentions that he writes in some weird places at some weird times, primarily on a portable typing thingy–not hi-tech like an iPad, but something simpler called an AlphaSmart Neo, which he says runs on two AA batteries. He stresses that no matter how you do it, make sure that you ARE doing it.

So, when the kids are screaming, attend to them, and then sneak back to snatch a few words here and there until you find time to dedicate to writing. That’s my theory, anyway.

It will also help if you rid yourself of the distractions you can control. How much time, would you say, you spend online? On Facebook? Checking emails? Playing games? Playing video games? Watching TV? The list could go on forever, I’m sure, but my point is simple: make writing a priority, and you’ll find that many of those other things won’t matter quite as much in relation to your writing. Find a way to box them out, to isolate your writing time as your writing time.

This is all easier said than done, but you can do it. It takes time, practice, and discipline, all dirty words in our modern age of instantaneous gratification.

I’m going to leave you with a few different action steps today. Use the ones you can, ignore the others.

1. Identify things that distract you on a regular basis. This could be anything from jumping on Facebook every seven seconds, reading articles online, that incessant beeping from your cell phone because you haven’t opened your last text message yet–anything that you know will distract you.

2. Rid yourself of these things if you can. Turn off/unplug your internet connection, and switch off your cell phone’s sound. Put those earplugs in and block out Fido’s incessant barking, etc.

3. Create a plan of action for dealing with unforeseen distraction (like public rhyming). This should include dealing with said distraction, but more importantly carving a path to getting back into your writing groove.

4. Snatch that time. Get an AlphaSmart Neo, or a notebook and paper, and write. Or, get an iPad, and write on that thing. How you do it isn’t so important–actually doing it is what’s important.

5. Celebrate your victories. Before you know it, you’ll have a thousand more words on the page than you had ever dared hope for. That calls for a bit of celebration, right? Treat yourself to a movie, a TV show, or a snack/beverage that you wouldn’t normally enjoy, and enjoy a period of rest.

I hope this helps.

-Ben

2 Responses to “Distraction in Action”

  1. joannesher said

    Fabulous advice (and points), Ben! I needed this. A TON.

  2. Great—and practical—ideas, Ben. I love the meteor striking…some days it sort of feels that way! LOL!

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