Bring on the Ski Flicks and Planet Earth

Two things of which I’m sure: 1) drinking water helps cure many ailments, 2) distractions help me write.

I have a docking station for my laptop which gives me the luxury of connecting to two computer monitors simultaneously. Unless I’m editing something which requires a bit more screen space, I typically use one for the Word doc and the other for entertainment. I’m presently watching YouTube music videos, though Pandora is another favorite.

Sometimes not even music is enough of a distraction, and for those times, I reserve the Planet Earth documentary series or ski flicks like Warren Miller, or my favorite “Paradise Waits.” Watching these movies on my second monitor means that one moment I’m worried over my own words – or maybe even in a panic over my lack of words – and the next I’m transported to the most beautiful places in the world. Other than the hunting scenes, they’re peaceful. They calm me. They’re a place to go while I think of the next word or line, a bit like looking out a window, though a more exciting window than my own.

Plus when I’m writing the really hard stuff, the stuff the makes me feel like I hate the world, I look over and see how beautiful it is and I remember it’s not all 100% terrible.

For me, distractions relieve the pressure of writing. When I sit down to write the blank white space feels like a monumental expectation, and I put a heap of unfair expectations on myself about how quickly I’ll write or how instantaneously wonderful the result will be. When I do that I end up just sitting there, watching the cursor.  Adding a Planet Earth in the background helps me to relax. The distraction takes off the pressure.

As soon as I give myself permission to turn away from the writing, to watch what is on the second screen, that’s when I hit my stride. Usually I’ll re-watch the same episode over and over because in the course of a whole day, I’ll see each clip an average of once or twice. There’ve been times I’ve noticed something new in an episode I’ve seen dozens of times.

By the way, this principle of “distraction helps the writing” does NOT apply to social media, and yet I always have those browsers open when I work too. Do not follow this example.

The last thing about writing with media in the background is that as a memoirist, music can be enormously helpful. When I was writing Caged Eyes, I made a spreadsheet of the songs I was listening to during that time period of my life, and I’d play those songs when I felt stuck. The music helps trigger memories and feelings, and plus I put together a photo album for myself for the same reason. I listen to music to help trigger memories for my second memoir, too, though not in the same overly-organized way. No spreadsheets this time.

Happy watching! Er, I mean, writing!

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Lynn Hall is a memoirist, activist in the movement to end sexual violence, ultra-runner, and crazy cat lady. Her memoir, CAGED EYES: AN AIR FORCE CADET’S STORY OF RAPE AND RESILIENCE, was published by Beacon Press in February 2017. Her writing has previously appeared in the New York Times, The LA Times, Hippocampus Magazine, The Sexual Assault Report, The Manifest-Station, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, and elsewhere. In the summers, Lynn copes with publication anxiety by spending too many days in the Colorado mountains, and in the winters, with pans of brownies. She lives in Boulder with her partner and their 23 cats. Just kidding…she only has five.

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