Distracting Myself from Distraction

Things that have distracted me from writing this post (and it isn’t even noon yet):

  • GIFs of this hot dude from American Horror Story several of my friends are currently obsessed with
  • Shopping for Star Wars sheets and duvet covers for my grown-ass adult bedroom
  • Reading a book about how social media is ruining your life
  • Petting my dog (you know what, I’m going to stand by this one as a good use of my time, just look at him)
  • Checking to see if I have any notifications on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter…nope, okay, well, better go back and check Facebook again, maybe I have some now…

I am so easily distracted, my brain often feels like a rubber ball careening around and bouncing off of every available surface. I love writing, really I do, but most days when it’s time to sit down and do it, I immediately remember All This Other Shit that I should probably do first. Sometimes it’s quasi-productive, like washing the dishes or organizing the linen closet (I call this “procrasticomplishment”). Other times it’s just a complete waste of time and life-force, like looking at houses I can’t afford on Zillow or diving headfirst into a black pit of despair by reading about the latest presidential trashfire.

It took me a long time to realize that anxiety was at the core of this behavior. As we established last week, writing is scary, so my brain tries to protect me from it by pointing me in another direction (or sometimes, twenty different directions at once). If I can force myself to sit down and focus for one damn minute, the anxiety usually falls away, and it’s replaced by the soothing rhythm of flow state. But first I have to sit down and open that Scrivener file and start typing.

My favorite technique for getting over the hump of actually starting is an app called Forest, which I first heard about when I was procrastinating by reading V.E. Schwab’s tweets (honestly, a pretty stellar way to spend your time, I regret nothing).

The concept of Forest is simple: you set a timer for the amount of time you want to work (up to 2 hours), and the app plants an adorable little cartoon tree. If you leave your phone alone until the timer runs out, the tree grows. If you click away from the app, the tree dies.

When I originally tried Forest, I was like, this is cute and all, but why would I, a thirty-four year-old professional novelist, give a damn about what happens to a cartoon tree? But let me tell you, I CARE ABOUT THOSE GODDAMN TREES. The thought of killing one wounds my very soul. LOOK HOW SAD IT IS:

(Please note: I pulled this image off of Google, no trees in my Forest app were harmed for this blog post, I’m not a monster)

I also like to use Forest to work with the Pomodoro Technique, which involves 25 minute spurts of focused work, followed by a short break. My attention tends to fray after about 25 minutes of real focus anyway, so this system works well for me (although I struggle with keeping my breaks under the recommended 5 minutes…).

For me, so much of the writing process is tricking my brain into getting out of its own way so I can actually do the work. Some days I feel bad about this, like I should be over it by now and just able to sit down at my laptop and bang out hours of flawless prose without needing timers or cartoon trees to motivate me. But you know what? Feeling bad about how I get my work done is just another time-wasting distraction. And I have books to write.

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Layne Fargo

Layne Fargo is a thriller author with a background in theater and library science. She’s a Pitch Wars mentor, a member of the Chicagoland chapter of Sisters in Crime, and the cocreator of the podcast Unlikeable Female Characters. Layne lives in Chicago with her partner and their pets.

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This article has 1 Comment

  1. I love Forest! The pain of a killed tree is so real.
    And I feel you on the guilt that we even need these tools in the first place. But the world we live in is a strange one, and the words gotta get out one way or another.

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