“There’s a crack in everything, that’s how light gets in.” Leonard Cohen.
That was the first thing I saw on Facebook this morning. A sign from God, or possibly Mark Zuckerberg. But one way or another, I love it. I’ve spent this week thinking over the distractions that have filled my mind as I prepare to start chemo this Monday, and I asked my fellow Miss Demeanors for some advice. My main takeaway is that life is a lot better when you have a loving circle of friends. Thank you, fellow Miss Demeanors!
Cate: I can only write between the hours of nine and two, and then—if I don’t finish the chapter goal that I had—between the hours of ten and four a.m. Iknow that any distraction means less sleep, so the narrow window keeps me pretty focused. I have five hours to write and I have to make the most of them, trying to fit in an eight hour day in those five.
I also find that all the plotting I do before hand helps keep me on target.
That said, everyone gets distracted. I try not to indulge myself in going down Internet rabbit holes that absorb my time. But it happens, and then I pay for it at night.
Paula: I guess this is terrible to admit out loud but I tend to indulge what I consider good distractions: books calling me to read, yoga mats calling me to practice, museums calling me to visit, the woods calling me to walk, the garden calling me to dig, kids and dogs and cats calling me to play.
I think of it as priming the pump of my creativity. I always come back to my real work—telling and selling stories—with renewed vigor and focus and determination.
Tracee: I completely agree with Paula. Embracing distractions gives them legitimacy and we learn and relax. (I’ve been known to use ironing as a “palate cleanser”) on the other hand, truly unwelcome distractions, illness, fire, flooding and the like are in a different category. Still, fighting them – resenting the time spend dealing with it- only brings more emotional trauma. So… in the end the only way to move through distraction is to say today will be different and embrace it.
Connie: Distractions—man, I’m the most distractible person in the bunch. Dangle a shiny object in front of me, and I’m hooked. This may have to do with ADD—or it may have to do with a bad case of procrastination—but when I’m writing I have to steel myself against distractions. Why is it that when I’m supposed to be focusing, activities that I normally hate appear so appealing: weeding, cleaning bathrooms, organizing stacks of papers. I’ll even stop writing to pay bills. To counteract this, I have to get myself in the groove, as they say. And the best way to do this, I’ve found, is to spend time revising the previous chapter. Then I’m good to go. True confession time here.
Laurie: For your excellent question, there are the adorable distractions like the photo below…:). Sometimes that is really procrastination in disguise. But other times, they can lead to creativity and great mental health. But for real-life distractions, the tough or mundane stuff, like illness, my kids STILL have to eat constantly (every day!!), and other household chores… they can become obstacles. So I agree with Tracee and Paula. I have to embrace them otherwise I get bitter and resentful.
I started to try to figure out how to do writing activities while doing those things that can be drudgery. I think about getting my characters in a pickle, then while I’m doing the SIX loads of laundry in one fell swoop, I ponder about a creative way to get them out of it. Or I dream up other ideas like places I’d love to write about, a new character type that I’d like to delve into, should I take my Art Deco Mystery crew to Chicago one year? L.A.? Etc… Honestly, it’s made those times at doctor’s offices or emptying the dishwasher the millionth time that week a much more interesting time that feels like I haven’t really stepped that far away from my computer. It becomes built-in time to wonder. I’m a big fan of cultivating wonder and gratitude in every day life.
Thanks for the great question!
The adorable distraction: Monty. My ultimate writing partner.
Alison: Here’s me seconding what all of you have already said. My two cents? The longer I’ve been on this planet, the less I see the world as “either this or that,” by which I mean that there was a time (finishing my dissertation, studying for the bar, running my one-and-only marathon) when I felt pride simply because I was focused, i.e., not distracted. I now see gifts in both distraction and focus. IA build time into my day to be distracted by art, cooking, books, nature, really good chocolate. It’s my time to wander, in real life and in my imagination. Because I value time for distraction, I need to be efficient when I’m focused. There’s nothing quite like the power of single-minded discipline to get stuff done. Whenever I find myself not jumping right into my work, I set a timer. That ticking clock gets my head in the game, and the flow of work overtakes my resistance to getting started.
Paula: I have an hourglass for the same purpose. I tell myself I’ll write–even if it’s nonsense–until the sands run out. About 15 minutes….by then I’m usually off and running.
Connie: Susan, if it’s not too late, I just realized my biggest distraction: research! I love research, and if I’m not careful, I can follow rabbit trails from research related to my story all the way to obscure facts with no bearing whatsoever on my story. Last week I had a phone interview with the Director of Operations for the National Trust (England). He just sent me some documents to review. Now all I want to do is look into the history and culture of the National Trust. Meanwhile, my WIP waits for me….
Michele: I am sorry you have to endure another round of chemo and the fears that come when our bodies don’t perform ideally. I thought about your question and kept coming up with an answer that might not quite fit the definition of “distraction.” I kept thinking about the term “folding into it,” which I learned primarily when dealing with conflict resolution in mediation. In your situation, maybe that means not necessarily being distracted but folding into the fear and anger and turning it into your best writing ever. Maybe you take what you have unfortunately been served and dish it back in the form of a story or character that uses those primal emotions and says “F*** you” to those cells that are trying to mess with you. Maybe your distraction is to fold into the edginess you deserve to feel and inject it into your writing. Whatever you do,
Alexia: I don’t handle distractions as well as I used to. In college and med school I had little social life and even less money so it was easier to laser focus on work. Nowadays, I often let the distractions handle me instead of the other way around. I used to beat myself up about this. Then I decided to take a look at why. I’ve noticed that the “distractions” are actually signals–my WIP isn’t working, I’m anxious/worried, I’m angry, I’m overextended, headed for overwhelmed. Sometimes the distraction is the tonic I need to calm me down or help me relax. (The power of 1970s/80s TV series to cure what psychically ails you should not be underestimated. I recommend Adam-12, Columbo, and Murder She Wrote.) Other times, the distraction is the reset button I need to help me reexamine my work and figure out what needs redoing. And sometimes the distraction turns out to be a plot element–I call that kind of distraction “research “.
Robin: When I think back on the single-minded focus with which I pursued my career as an investigator, it seems like such a luxury. My life now is a series of shiny objects constantly vying for my attention. Avoiding distractions isn’t an option so I prioritize. The fact that I can do that is my new luxury so put me in the “embrace it” camp. When the distraction is unpleasant or unwanted, I look for the little bits of goodness I can draw from it. Sometimes it’s just knowing the moment is temporary. If there’s another person or people involved I may shift my focus to them, to share the moment with them or see it through their eyes. I guess I look for distractions from the distraction until I can get back to whatever it is that I’d rather be doing.