My entire life is a distraction. From the moment my children wake up in the morning to the moment they fall asleep, it seems their sole goal in life is to make sure I never complete a task from start-to-finish without being called away from it at least once. When it comes to (“There is a spider in the bathroom and no one can pee until you get it”) writing, I don’t have the luxury of closing a door and letting someone else manage the house and their needs (“The dog is chewing on a sock again”). I’m it.
So how do I write amidst the (“Can you keep me company in the bath?”) chaos?
Step 1: Wake up obscenely (“These noodles aren’t very good. Can I have soup instead?”) early. My kids are early risers, so I had to pick a time that would guarantee me at least an hour of quiet. There is a #5amwriters group on Twitter…but by 5, I’m finishing up for the day. (How do you spell metamorphosis?)
Step 2: Find a job with children. The younger the better. My “ignore” muscles are strong. Honed over twenty years of (<long, drawn-out summary of a book Older is reading>) teaching, I’m very good at thinking critically amidst shrieking and (occasionally) crying children. The noise (<long, drawn-out narration of a 3-minute video game battle from Younger that lasts 12 minutes>) doesn’t bother me. I can tune it out with laser focus.
Step 3: Practice. Once you get good at ignoring the noise of other people’s children, you need to start practicing ignoring the noise of your own. (“Can I have a Popsicle? Can I have two?”) Start small, with reading. I spent years immersed in books while my own children jumped off furniture, spilled their orange juice, and argued over Star Wars Lego pieces. I developed the ability to set my book down—often multiple times in a five-minute span—to address their needs and then get back to reading (The dog just threw up on the couch) without losing a beat.
Which ultimately transitioned me to writing amidst the same distractions. I don’t need long stretches of uninterrupted time to craft (“Hey, check out my base in Minecraft”) a scene. If I can get all my thinking done in the early morning, I can jump in and out as needed. Write a paragraph, then cook some noodles. Revise the paragraph, then find someone’s shoes. Yes, my kids sometimes need to be told I’m working and they need to solve their own problems. But this usually inspires them to argue, or to have the sudden urge to tell me what happened in math class last Tuesday. (“I need an ice pack, I hit my knee on the corner of the chair when I was jumping off of it.”) And so, I don’t recommend it.
Distraction is a part of life. You have to learn how to handle it. Writers who need conditions to be just so before they sit down to write have one big problem: They probably don’t write.
“In truth, I’ve found that any day’s routine interruptions and distractions don’t much hurt a work in progress and may actually help it in some ways. It is, after all, the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster’s shell that makes the pearl, not pearl-making seminars with other oysters.”
-On Writing, by Stephen King
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