Something that helps me when I’m feeling distracted is to think about other distracted people and how they coped. One of my favorite writers is P.D. James and I’ve always been fascinated by her life, which seems full of distractions.

She had to leave school when she was only 16 because her family didn’t have much money and her father didn’t like the idea of girls going to college. She found jobs in a tax office and as an assistant stage manager of a theater troupe (both of which she later used in her writing.) She married a doctor in 1941 and had two daughters, but her husband was psychologically injured by the war and she was forced to be both caretaker and primary wage earner.

But meanwhile, she wrote. Her first novel was published when she was 42. One of the things about her writing I’ve always found so compelling is her attention to the characters’ psychological nuances. She wrote about people who’d not been written about before. She brought understanding to people who might earlier have been considered unsympathetic. Clearly she turned her own suffering into something transcendent. She turned what she learned outward, and that’s part of what made readers connect with her. “My most valuable trait is tenacity,” she said, “but what got me where I am now is courage.”

As I grapple with my own distractions, that’s something that I’m struggling to consider. What can I learn? What can I write about? How can I use all this to connect with someone I might not have understood?

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