Go deep to beat distraction

You’re going to get some really great advice from my fellow Debs this week. Anyone who writes a book while living a normal human life has already won the productivity game.

I wish I had some good answers to the question of how to be a less distracted writer, but I don’t, because there’s no one solution that fits every writer out there, or even most writers. Lives are just too messy, and prescriptions have to be personalized. I have a three-month-old and a small photography business, so my life is full of distraction. It’s all bottles and formula and funny faces and washing burp cloths and grabbing my computer as soon as she falls asleep so I can get some work in. It’s not like it was before, when I had long stretches of uninterrupted time. I don’t remember the last time I was distracted by something completely unimportant, like television. I’d love to be able to give up Twitter or Slack or Facebook entirely like the productivity gurus suggest, but let’s be honest, compared to my previous consumption, I already have.

Coffee is the one substance standing between me and the abyss.

When you’re really distracted, there are many things you can do to keep your brain focused on getting words down on the page. There’s the Pomodoro Method, which I’m using to write this column (20 minutes on, 5 minutes off, no cheating on the Internet), the Covey method (start with what’s urgent and important) and apps like Forest and Habitica, which gamify productivity in a delightful manner. I’ve tried all of these methods and they’re all great.

In the end, though, those are all Band-aids for minor “busy-ness”— the useless kind that holds you back, I know that given enough time, I will eventually fall off all of these methods, choosing instead to return to my ways of sitting on the couch wondering how Sam Esmail comes up with such awesome plot twists. No. Sometimes the problem is deeper than a pomodoro or needs a little more thought than a to-do list.

And I don’t have that answer.

Lately, I’ve been thinking that the only for distraction is to remember why you’re doing this in the first place.

It’s certainly not for the money. Making a living wage as a writer of fiction is difficult these days. It’s certainly not for the fame. For every George R. R. Martin, there are thousands writing in obscurity. All of have deeper motives.

So maybe there’s actually a single prescription, after all.

Find those deeper motives. For me, I want to write to make my daughter proud — and, more importantly, I want to write to make myself proud, to know that I’ve thrown everything at the wall and tried as hard as I could. For you, maybe it’s for the work itself—the words you put on the page and the dreams you write into reality. Maybe it’s the person the work helps you become—an achiever, an idealist, a stargazer. Maybe it’s something you do for the people you love—your children, your partner, your friends. Maybe you do it because you can’t imagine doing anything else.

Whatever it is, focus on it. Make it central. Then you’ll be able to whittle down the “busy-ness.” Remember what’s important, turn off the Internet, and breathe.

Then write.

Author: Karen Osborne

KAREN OSBORNE is a writer, visual storyteller and violinist. Her short fiction appears in Escape Pod, Robot Dinosaurs, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Uncanny and Fireside. She is a member of the DC/MD-based Homespun Ceilidh Band, emcees the Charm City Spec reading series, and once won a major event filmmaking award for taping a Klingon wedding. Her debut novel, Architects of Memory, is forthcoming in 2020 from Tor Books.