Driven to Distraction

 

Ideal distraction-free writing space

Tips to keep your writing distractions to a minimum:

  1. Don’t have children.
  2. Download one of those apps like FocusMe that let you forbid yourself internet for a certain block of time.
  3. See number 1.
  4. Alternatively, book a babysitter/bribe your partner/friend to watch the kids you chose to have so you can have uninterrupted time. Kids will not let you write. I repeat: they will not. You will put your kid down for a nap, but if you pick up a pen five minutes later, they will wake up. It’s like magic. If you have older kids, they will suddenly begin to choke/get in a sibling screaming match/desperately need help with fifty pages of algebra you don’t remember how to do if they sense that you have started to write. 
  5. Find a quiet spot in your house/apartment/hermit cave and visit this spot when you know you’re guaranteed a block of time to focus.
  6. You should never write in a room with a window.** Windows are distractions. Get rid of them (or buy blackout curtains). The hermit cave from number 5 is great for this, except I don’t know what you do about the cave entrance. Maybe sit with your back to it.
  7. Make yourself an “I am going to write now routine,” meaning you light a candle, visit the bathroom (hey, it works for toddlers going on trips), fix yourself the beverage/snack of choice so you can’t use the “I’m thirsty/hungry” excuse to get up. Play your writing music. Say a prayer. Meditate. Then get started. Make this routine your own—as you get used to doing it, it will signal to your brain that it’s time to write and your brain will respond to the stimulus like a Pavlovian dog.
  8. Maybe invest in noise-canceling headphones, if background music isn’t your thing.

**(I tried to find out which famous author said this, but spent ninety minutes googling and still couldn’t find it, so not giving credit. Just mentioning so we’re all clear on the fact that googling can be an enormous distraction.) 

Good to go?

Great. 

I don’t do any of these things. 

The more I write on this blog, the more convinced I become that I’m actually a terrible role model for other writers and shouldn’t be dispensing advice under any circumstances. Unless, as above, it’s great advice that I would never actually follow.

I write well with distractions. I’m the kind of person who loves going to a coffee shop and watching the people and eavesdropping on their conversations while I piddle out one more scene, or just a few hundred more words. My favorite place to write is actually outside, where the whole world is basically one big ol’ window around me. And yes, I do spend too much time staring at the trees in my backyard and enjoying the grand movements of the sky. That’s how I like it. 

MY ideal writing space

Maybe I’m not the best person to ask about writing through distractions because I have the luxury of time. I’ve gone from being a full-time mother to a mother whose kids are in school. That job is now only part-time. And that means I can daydream out the window while I’m writing, or eat cake at the coffee shop, or put Gilmore Girls on tv in the background while I type up my first draft. (Yes, I do that. I wish I could say I’m making it up.) I’m not limited to one precious hour in the day, an hour when I really need to focus so I can get as much work done as possible. I’m so lucky it’s sickening.

And I do things slowly. I’d rather not work under pressure. I walk slowly. I eat slowly. I read slowly. Everything I enjoy doing, I savor it. Maybe that’s why I don’t mind if it takes me three days to finish one scene because I allowed myself to get distracted. Distractions, especially great ones like watching the fall leaves pull away from the trees in the wind, or listening to my daughter practice her clarinet where I’m working, are part of my process. If I love what I’m working on, they just mean I get to stay in that place a bit longer. They keep me from burning out. They force me to come away from the work and let my brain idle.

If you’re not like me, and you really only have twenty minutes a day, then hopefully some of the suggestions in my list will work for you. Luckily, unlike that kid you decided to have, writing is not going to bolt and run into traffic the second you become distracted. It’ll still be there when you call yourself back to it.

Or maybe it might help to flip things around: sometimes writing IS the distraction.

L. M. Montgomery wrote to provide herself with an escape when caring for her chronically ill husband became overwhelming. Writing can be an escape from all kinds of prisons, real or imagined. If work or life or relationships are getting you down, why not distract yourself with some writing? Disappear into a world of your own invention, where you control everything. Let’s not think of writing as the duty from which we long to be distracted, but the pleasure we sink into when the world is just too much. Instead of worrying about the siren songs of Twitter or Netflix or Cheesecake, let’s give our writing its due…as the guilty pleasure it really is.

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Martine Fournier Watson is originally from Montreal, Canada, where she earned her master's degree in art history after a year spent in Chicago as a Fulbright scholar. She currently lives in Michigan with her husband and two children. The Dream Peddler is her first novel.

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