My biggest distraction from writing is other writing…

eyes up distractionFor better and for worse, my greatest time suck from writing is…other writing. As a profoundly extroverted person, I simply feel more drawn to writing that has a more immediate hope of engaging with other people. Which is why I get distracted from my big projects to write blog posts and pieces for different media outlets. I long to be part of the immediate public conversation, and steal time away from my book projects. In reality, they have the potential to have a greater impact. But the lack of immediate gratification (two decades in) fails to sustain my interest on the day-to-day.

It’s the same problem my students sometimes have. I give them feedback on a piece of writing and instead of revising, they write a whole new piece. It’s been said a million times that writing is really revising. But for many of us, it’s much easier to write with inspiration than to face the abyss of revision. Some are terrified by the blank page. Not me. I’m terrified by the blankness in my mind when someone asks me to “say more about that” and I have nothing more to say. The piece felt complete the way it was. And yet I can see by their feedback that I’ve failed to communicate something important to my reader. The picture in my mind has not been received clearly in their head. I need to expand, embellish, re-imagine, reorganize something about how I’m sending the information. This is my terrifying blank page.

I’d rather jump into the public debate about Amber Rose and how she’s getting dragged on the internet for encouraging women to seduce their partners to get money. Did I do that last Thursday while I was supposed to be revising my essay collection? I plead the fifth. But why blame Amber Rose? Haven’t women been encouraged to channel their ambition through men since the beginning of Western Civilization? What about Lady MacBeth? What about Kay Jewelers? Every kiss begins with Kay? Are you encouraging men to buy romantic considerations from their partners with jewelry? See, I’m even doing it now…

But I’m bored by the words I wrote a year ago. Five years ago. So, every few months I find myself talking to a friend and I vow: no pitching new stories! I’ll only work on my big projects and write for my blog and the Deb Ball. I promise. But…of course, there’s always an exception. George Marcy found guilty of sexual harassment? At my very own university? I have a great angle! Here’s my chance to get a piece in The Toast (and it was). BuzzFeed is looking for LGBT profiles? Here’s my chance to get Carolina De Robertis’ Gods of Tango into a millennial venue (and it was). But what about my essay collection? The one that’s due to my agent. And how I have to finish that before I can start on novel #2. Yes, the novel that I already sold and is due in the spring, sometime. I’m keeping the date purposely vague because I don’t want to know…

Aaack! I checked. It’s due in February. I think I can push it back to April, but still. I only have an outline. This is the moment where the addict realizes she’s spent all her money on the drug of choice. This is the moment when the extrovert realizes she’s spent all her time trying to get into a public conversation when she needs to be in a deeper conversation with herself that generates books. So…other than the pieces I pitched to Bustle and Mother Jones at BinderCon (if the newshooks pan out) and the piece I’m writing for Bitch Magazine about feminist heist, and the piece I promised to Madison Young for her anthology, and my WriterMomPortraits series for Mutha Magazine, and whatever the PR people ask me to write to promote the book, and the blogging for Deb Ball and my own blog—other than that—no more short pieces. This time I mean it.

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Aya de Leon directs the Poetry for the People program in the African American Studies Department at UC Berkeley. Her work has appeared in Essence Magazine, xojane, Ebony, Guernica, Writers Digest, Mutha Magazine, Movement Strategy Center, My Brown Baby, KQED Pop, Bitch Magazine, Racialicious, Fusion, and she has been a guest on HuffPostLive. She is the author of the children's picture book PUFFY: PEOPLE WHOSE HAIR DEFIES GRAVITY. Kensington Books will be publishing her debut feminist heist novel, UPTOWN THIEF, in 2016. For more info, go to

This article has 3 Comments

  1. This really speaks to me. Though I only write novel length pieces, I’m always churning through ideas. When I get to about 80% complete and I’m faced with the reality of making all the pieces actually fit together, I have to fight the urge to start something new. And totally different. I gave in two months ago, but I’m so close to finishing a rough draft in 10 weeks that I’m fighting the desire to get distracted with writing.

  2. I’m an utter monogamist when it comes to writing. But in my life? I’m just like this. I read somewhere that single-taskers will do 100% of five things where multi-taskers will do 80% of ten things. Which is better? Considering I want to read all of the short pieces you’ve just described but haven’t written, I think you should continue to multi-task (hopefully without driving yourself insane)!

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