Thursday, January 08, 2009

On Distractions

Ooo, a writing post.
Cory Doctorow's column in the January 2009 Locus inspired this post. Titled "Writing in the Age of Distraction," it offers some of his techniques of avoiding distraction.

He nicely says, this is how he does it. It's not a prescription. I also like that he said the worst writing advice he got was to "stay away from the Internet because it would only waste my time and wouldn't help my writing." But it has been the opposite for him, in that it "informed my creativity and aesthetics, it's benefited me professionally and personally, and for every moment it steals, it gives back a hundred delights."

So, to help maintain a balance, he uses other techniques. I'm going to list them and add my comments, because I have to be my contrary self, as usual. ;)

1. Short, regular work schedule

So never going to happen for me, not with the day job and an apartment to clean and recent health issues and other issues. With work dictating I schedule much of my day, I don't do well with schedules the rest of the time. And as I'm a burst writer, or binge writer, I do best with writing immersion days once or twice a month. When I'm really on a roll, it's weekly. I hope to get back to that. But often, with my for fun writing, it's whenever I can squeeze time in at night or feel inspired.

2. Leave yourself a rough edge

This he said means stopping when you reach a daily word goal. HA! I say. I know there are people who can do this. I know there are people with word goals. Some are on my FL. But me? No way. I'm not even sure how many words are in my average paragraph. I write til I finish saying what I have to say. If I stop before I'm done, the next time, I'll have no clue what I'd meant and end up wasting valuable time rereading everything to that point to try to stimulate my backbrain into coughing up more wordage. And as often as not, I can't recapture the feeling, end up trashing the unfinished scene, and starting over. I live for natural stopping points. I read that way, too; otherwise, I have to do too much rereading before I can read onward.

3. Don't research

He says research isn't writing and vice versa. Bull. True, I can get distracted in looking things up as i write (not everything I need to know comes up prior to writing), but I cannot move forward with the distraction of something unfinished or unknown lurking in previous paragraphs. Placeholders nag at me til I fill them in with the exact name, place, detail. If it's a detail covered earlier in the story, I need to get it right, even if I get distracted by my own lovely prose in doing so, because the risk of screwing things up by misremembering that detail is too great.
4. Don't be ceremonious.

I had to read his explanation to get what he meant. This is atmospheric, folks, the setting of atmosphere to get into writing mode. He might not think it's a distraction, but if it works for you, go for it. I need a few things available, because their absence would be a distraction. Water at the ready, so I don't have to keep getting up to get it. Maybe a snack handy. Music (maybe a ballgame, but nothing on TV I'd need to pay attention to). This is very important to drown out the neighbors' crying baby, the noise of trains rumbling by, the annoying sound of my apartment building settling (or maybe that noise is vermin scurrying in the walls. eek).

5. Kill your word-processor

He finds all the settings and typesettings and auto features a distraction. I don't like many of them and have them turned off, but I'm gonna format my files so I can comfortably read them, on the screen and printed out because, well, I'm the one working on them. After, I can always reformat to suit the guidelines of the publisher I'll be submitting to.

6. Realtime communication tools are deadly

Only if you're a slave to them. I don't do a lot of that, anyway, and I reward myself for scenes completed in draft by playing online, checking email, checking LJ and other blogs, etc. If I don't want to IM, I put up an away message. But if I need to hear from someone, you'd better believe I'll be available to them. I do not like the idea of scheduling personal interactions (I do this for one person only, with our monthly phone calls, and that's to make things easier for her), as it's micromanaging my life and that would bug me more than being momentarily distracted by an IM. And I can always tell someone, Hey, I'm busy writing, can I check in with you when I'm done?

The point of this post is that we all have our distractions, most likely, and we have them for a reason. Sometimes, it might be because we're weak and need to add some discipline. Sometimes, it means we want to be distracted and the solution is to find the cause, not try to manage it away. Is the story a problem? Are we not enjoying the writing process enough to be serious about it? Is it just in writing that we are easily distracted or does it happen for everything we do?

I'm easily distracted. I can focus in and not be distracted -- that binge aspect, where I concentrate almost fully on one thing to the detriment of everything else. Or, I can concentrate only lightly so that anything can distract me from it. When distractions become procrastination is when there's a real problem, I think. Balancing is an act that differs from one person to the next, depending on temperment, obligations, health, personality, wants, needs, motivation, etc. The solutions will be as varied. Me? I usually play reward games with myself (chocolate is a great motivato), but mostly, I block out a large chunk of time when I don't need to do anything but write, and dive right in.


  1. You know what, i agree more with you than i agree with Cory Doctorow. I think that most writers:

    1. Dont do well with schedules
    2. Will not stop saying what they're saying until they are done, because the next day, they'll have completely new ideas and would have forgotten about yesterdays.
    3. Definitely find research is distracting, but if you want to write about something you don't know much about... for example you want to write about b which has to do with a so you want to know more about a to fully write about b. Why wouldn't you research?
    4. are be ceremoniouse. For me my ideal writing atmosphere is my father's beach house in Malibu. Sand and Ocean waves are inspiring to me.
    5. Live on their word processor. Personally, mine is my life support. I cannot go a day without it.
    6. Realtime communication tools are deadly, like you said, only if one is a slave to them

    I really enjoyed this post! hope to see more soon!


  2. Thanks, Becca.

    And I do keep meaning to post more here, but my other blogs tend to get more attention from me. ;)

    I think this place needs a facelift, too!