Destruct the Distraction

…or how discipline and austerity became my new best friend!

It’s a no brainer: I’m happiest when I am writing and when I have written. My close friend Amanda says she always knows when I’ve been writing—apparently my eyes twinkle!

Yet I allow things to keep me from writing.

CHOKING

I’ve struggled to find the writing mojo this year. Behind the scene I’ve been consumed with family issues—the sort that wring you out and then come back for seconds and thirds. It’s no surprise I haven’t been writing on one level. But once upon a time, writing was the most successful form of escapism I had.

Last year I wanted the whole body, alternate consciousness experience of writing. And I got it—especially with POST MARKED: PIPER’S REACH, but with everything I worked on from ELYORA to  short script adaptations.

I haven’t been able to recreate the same experience or even feel a flutter of the same energy for my current WIP.

THE FIRST PROBLEM

Since the start of February I’ve been trying to work on the first novella in the BYRTHED series (the poorly named, Sylvie’s Story). I started writing it in 2009. I promised I would return to it in 2010, 2011 and again in 2012 (though I at least did some plotting, character development and wrote a short story set in the world last year). I’d liken it to the pointless act of breathing into a long-dead corpse if it weren’t for the success I had last year picking up ‘cold-case’ stories and not just finishing them, but pushing them through to publication.

SYLVIE’S STORY is tough going for a number of reasons. I’ve never had to build a “big world” for a long work. While I continue to believe (as a pantser) the hard yards of world building occur in the second draft, I have to have some idea of the world my characters are traversing. I have some idea of the worlds above and below Rosslin but it has been slow going watching the world unfold through Sylvie, Joseph and Sophie’s eyes.

The process has been amply supported by Rob Cook who has sent through articles on futuristic worlds and he really groks the world I’m trying to write. If not for Rob I may have thrown my hands up in the air and decided it was all too hard. Especially when I realised I had the wrong voice, perspective, tense. Talk about getting it wrong—really wrong!

WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH…

I promised I would keep turning up to the page until something happened. I read this inspiring Order to the Chaos of Life by Isabel Allende several weeks ago at Brain Pickings. I’ve steeled myself to the fact it’s hard in the beginning and turning up to the page will eventually provide a breakthrough. A little Dory voice in my head sings: just keeping swimming, swimming, swimming.

Last week I changed the POV and sparked a little momentum but there were so many other more (temporarily) fulfilling things to do…like mop the floor!

THE SECOND PROBLEM

Last week Dr Kim Wilkins publicised a Writing Resilience survey. I opened it, started answering the questions and the full destructive nature of my social media interaction (ie. distraction-cum-interruption) hit me. It’s not just Facebook and Twitter; an incessant (and unnecessary) compulsion to check email is a close second. I’m the consummate creator of interruption and disruption, especially when I’m floundering.

I jokingly said to a friend last week I needed another Rabbit Hole—to be sequestered away with nothing but writing (believe me, the Rabbit Hole gets mighty boring after an hour of not writing).

So I emulated the Rabbit Hole to the best of my ability this morning, coupling the leaving of the house with the leaving behind of my phone: no Twitter, Facebook, email, text messaging—just me, the computer, my manuscript and the old iPod cranking out  time-tested writing tunes.

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AN INTERESTING OBSERVATION

In 2003 I was in my second year of uni and I was the kind of student who made over-achievers look like slackers! Dave and I were shacked up in a two-bedroom townhouse and there was a little bit more money hanging around than there had been the year previous. This meant I could keep a packet of Tim Tams in the fridge downstairs during assessment hot spots. When I hit a tough bit in an essay or prac report, I’d go down, grab one biscuit and usually, that was all it took to unknot my brain and for the words to follow.

This morning I slowly sunk into the opening section of the novella. It took almost half an hour to thump the opening paragraph into submission. As soon as the words refused to comply, when the concepts broadsided me, I reached into the front of my satchel for my phone.

My phone has become my Tim Tams.

The thing is; the Tim Tams were only ever intended as a micro break for headspace. Diving into social media is not that, it is the most insidious type of distraction.

It takes 20-25 minutes to regain pre-interruption focus. Ouch! When I add up the number of times I’m ‘distracted’ or ‘interrupted’ in a single morning, ‘squirrel’ becomes the sound of nails being hammered into the coffin of progress.

HABIT FORMING

21 is the number of days experts say is optimal for habit forming. So for the next 21 days I am committing to one hour of distraction free writing in the morning. This means turning the internet off if I’m home, leaving my phone at home if I am going out, and slowly weaning myself off the ‘phone as safety blanket’. (Just in case you are wondering, I’m not taking up Tim Tams!)

When I finished writing this morning my blood was warm again. True, it had taken longer than the hour I had budgeted for, but at the end I had 948 almost brand new words. Better than that, I just wanted to keep writing (dang that midday appointment!)

The thrill of a story unfolding infused me. And still does.

The novella feels do-able now.

What are your major distractions to writing? How do you deal with them? Especially when writing is tough going?

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6 thoughts on “Destruct the Distraction

  1. Understand where you’re at. I’ve been at this for too long to mention publicly. To the point I doubted if I was even a writer any longer. It can be hard to define the boundary and give ourselves permission to be lost in words.

    My major distractions? Well, I’m learning to diminish the familial/parental ones (which after a long time feels w-e-i-r-d). I also have long had issues with “time” – tricky one to conquer and social media is a dead giveaway if I’m battling (the bigger the battle, the longer I’m online). I am also learning to give myself pats on the back for tiny milestones of achievement. No matter how small.

  2. “My phone has become my Tim Tams” is one of those phrases that needs to be up on a billboard somewhere, it’s brilliant & funny & true! I know I’m a serial self-distractor, but you’ve helped me to *know* that I know, & everything in this post is further confirmation, so I think I might have to nick your ‘hour a day for 21 days’ thing & see if that works.

    As for BYRTHED, it seems appropriate that it should have a long & tricky delivery. But you *are* going to finish it because I want to know what happens!

  3. My main distractions are things like baby, older children, housework and “depression” (I don’t think it’s clinical depression but it functions similarly I guess). I get so little time to myself, so when I get a moment I have a long to-do list and writing sometimes gets pushed to the bottom. I have found a good way to get out of a funk though: formatting stories ;). I spent 30 mins this morning re-formatting a story to sub to a market with specific formatting guidelines and that was almost meditative. Bizarre!

  4. Pingback: 11 Ways to Create Momentum In Writing | A Fullness in Brevity - Adam Byatt

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