Saturday, June 16, 2012

Writing Prep 3 - Highlight your reasons for writing

Isaac Asimov, the author of about 500 books, had an office in his Manhattan apartment that overlooked Central Park. This priceless view was completely blocked off so Dr. Asimov could focus on his job - writing.

On the other hand, Ray Bradbury's writing space was crammed with toys, magazines, posters, statues and photographs - all primed to inspire the next story or scene.

Preparing your writing space is a key to productive writing, but it depends on what your specific needs are. Most writers I know have problems with distractions, and should take a cue from Asimov. Limit the clutterLimit the input. This does not necessarily mean you need to work in a monk's cell, but, if the things around you draw you away from the work, get them out of the way the day before. (Cleaning up before you write is an evil excuse to do something "productive" that is not writing.)

Of course, distractions do not need to be physical. The Internet, especially through social networks like Facebook, is probably the biggest killer of writing efforts on the planet today. Search beckons, chat windows appear. Email arrives with a distinctive chime. If this sucks you away from your writing, fight back. Close applications. Turn off the sound on your computer. Use a screen decluttering program. Or just detach your cable or shut off your wireless connection.

People can be distractions. I'll get into the dangers of husbandus interuptus or wifa interrupta or kidi interrupti in a later post, but the short answer to these is establishing boundaries. But, for many writers, the voices in their heads are the biggest distractions. Not the voices of characters, but the nagging voices that say laundry needs to be done, bills need to be paid, or the garden needs to be watered. All the tasks of career, family and household are important, but writing cannot fall the the bottom of a productive writer's list.

Making your reasons for writing explicit can move it up on the priority list. Write them down. Star, boldface and highlight the ones that are most important. Discuss them with your supporters (and avoid the deniers).

One teacher of mine, a successful novelist told me that her writing time was sacred. How sacred? She heard a scream one day, looked up once from her page and saw her son covered in blood. She almost left her writing desk, but, within a heartbeat, her understanding husband scooped up the child and drove away with him. She went back and finished her sentence.


  1. I'm usually a pretty focused person, but I am finding the internet (emails, FB, and research) to be most distracting (which is why I'm now replying to your blog and not writing). I do best when i get those things out of the way first so they aren't looming, set a time to write for an hour, and then set it again after I've gotten up and stretched. The trick is not getting sidetracked once i start. I like the idea of making that list of why I write and pushing it up the priorities list, peter. Thanks again for the great tips!

  2. Hi, Paula Just separating the writing work from all the Internet lures by using a timer or a schedule can really increase productivity (and is a smart move on your part). It's not easy for many people. When I used to teach an office productivity course, the biggest moans came when I told people they should only look at emails 2-3 times a day.
    Thanks for mentioning the stretching. People often forget that taking care of your body is an essential part of building productivity. :)

  3. Sorry, as sacred as writing or any work may be, your child is a real flesh-and-blood creation and I can't imagine a mother letting a child scream and not offering anything but a cold shoulder, even if daddy is there. She loses in the humanity award there. But it is a good exaggeration for how one needs to get the rest of the family trained. I have to be sure that I've got the real reason down. Thanks for giving us this step; it's easy to lose commitment when we can't remember why we committed.