3 Rules for Writing in a Time of Distraction

It seems that discussion around distraction and writing is coming up more and more lately.

Three good posts about it are:

Cory Doctorow’s Locus Magazine article: Writing in the Age of Distraction
and Jeff VanderMeer’s White Noise, Solitude, and Writing and the follow-up Channels and White Noise/Dark Noise Revisited

Both discuss the ease in which we can find ourselves distracted and how that can hamper writing progress and the creative engine. This is something I’ve been battling for some time and have found my own ways around it, which I’ve been able to somewhat hone. And it’s not easy. With a full-time day job,  3 young kids at home, a wonderful wife who enjoys my attention (yes, it is shockingly amazing) and a bustling calendar, it’s no wonder why I’ve struggled with finding “writing time”, and when I do, not being distracted by the myriad ways one can find to deter the process.

And I’ve fallen off the wagon at times myself. It’s hard. For me it’s routine, routine, routine… wash, rinese, repeat. And if that routine gets out of whack, it can be tough to get back in the motions, just like going to the gym or going for that daily walk. But once in the routine, I find I can continue to surprise myself at just what I can get accomplished.

I’ve been a bit lax over the past two months or so. With a freshly completed novel, I figured I didn’t have work hard to maintain the routine. That I could take some “time off”, which quickly turned into a bit of a vacation from the routine, which then turned into a more serious hiatus — and hence, a trip off the wagon. But as of this morning, I’m back on. I am back to following my own anti-distraction guidelines and they rewarded me with the start of a brand new novel.

And sure, what works for me may not work for you, but these simple things  can be twisted into something that can work for you. The key is you have to want them to work, or they won’t.

So this is it. Quite simply:

  • Ass In Chair. Yup, that’s it, and that is always Number One on my list of things I must do. Without sitting down nothing is going to get done. I know, it sounds silly and obvious, but it’s amazing how many people don’t do that and wonder where the time has gone, or why they haven’t finished that book they started a decade ago. The words will not happen if you don’t sit down so you can put them down.
  • Set a regular writing time. This may not work for some, but for me, with a household of craziness, I need to do this. And I need to do it before the house becomes the aforementioned craziness. I do this at 5AM. Yup, 5AM when the house is silent and visions of pancakes and waterfalls of syrup are dancing in my kids heads. I sit down to write at 5am because that is the only time I can guarantee that I will have a good couple of hours alone. There are no white noise distractions, no shouting, and no Dora the Explorer playing in the background. I set my coffeemaker to start brewing before I walk down the stairs (which takes planning the night before, so I’m already in the early morning mindset), and I have a light snack ready, such as a bran bar, to give me some quick sustenance. I pour myself a glorious cup of coffee and then I am off to the word generation races.
  • Turn off the internet. This one took me some time to learn, and I still fight with it at times. It’s hard to hit the shut-off switch. It is so very easy to be drawn in. Oh, just a quick check of email, oh just a quick check to see some news, oh I wonder what my friends are doing? No. NO. Don’t do it. If you feel compelled to look something up while writing, put in a highlight in your manuscript and move on. This is the part that is hard for me. I like to have my details, and I like to have them now. I don’t like going back. But I’m learning to do just that, as one quick query to check what type of Victorian homes used whitewash can send you into a downward spiral of neverending clickety-clicks. So just don’t do it. Come back to the detail later. How do I avoid it? I disable my internet connection. It works wonders. And guess what? All those emails, all those news items, and all  your friends will be right there waiting for you when you get back.

And that’s it. 3 simple rules that I try to follow. Anything beyond the above is gold. Any extra words, any extra time I can get is all bonus word count.

It’s amazing what you can accomplish — and ignore — when you set your mind to it, and you set yourself to routine.

Author: Derek Silver

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