Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Time to Write 4 - Get rid of distractions

Is the time you set aside really for writing? Or is it for brewing coffee or making shopping lists or (ahem) surfing the Web in the guise of "research"?

Once you have recognized and set aside time to write, matched your tasks to the opportunities, and made sure you have your tools at hand, you face two more obstacles -- distractions and interruptions. Beginning the job can be one of the toughest challenges because people (especially creative people) are so good at generating good reasons to do other things. Much in their lives becomes urgent:
  • I need to check my email one more time. 
  • I work better with coffee.
  • I'm a little hungry.
  • I have to make this list of chores before I forget.
  • I have a great idea for a new story.
  • I need to reorganize my files.
  • I wonder how many blog visits I have today.
It's funny how none of this was important before the opportunity for writing or the scheduled writing time arrived.

Interruptions can get in the way, too. Phone calls. Kids, dogs, and spouses with needs. UPS deliveries.

Once in a while, getting distracted and interrupted is no big deal. Tornado warnings, calls from Stephen Spielberg, and arterial bleeds take priority over upping your word count. But if you chronically sacrifice writing time, you're hurting your career.

The first step is understanding the threat. I recommend tracking distractions and interruptions for two weeks. Record what they are and how much time they take away from you. This will help you to understand how big your problem is (adding to your motivation) and will get you started on finding solutions. And what kind of solutions exist?

I have one browser for my mail and social media. I close it when I have writing scheduled or when an opportunity shows up. This is not enough for one writer of my acquaintance who actually rents a room with no connections (including wifi) for her dedicated time. Some people shut off wifi. Some use applications to keep Internet distractions at bay.

Eating and drinking can be scheduled in advance or delayed. For some people, they may even be rewards. If non-writing work pops into your head at inopportune times, put it off or give yourself three minutes (and no more) to record it. If necessary, give it its own creative time slot. New stories can be worked first as long as you never break you promise to bring your work in progress closer to completion. Reorganizing files, sharpening pencils, touching social media in any way, emptying your dishwasher are all strictly forbidden (unless you are working in zen mode).

Phones take messages. People and pets need to be managed. Like death, UPS deliveries come to us all. I don't have any help for you on those. But you do not get to open the boxes until you are finished with your writing. Are we clear?

Fear is probably the main reason why we embrace distractions and interruptions. The same demon in your head that tells you your writing sucks is the one that tells you not to write at all. I keep mine away with appointments to write (which are sacred), writing fast, and building enthusiasm. Ritual and habits can help too. I try to have fun with my writing every day, and I look to other writers for encouragement and support. Fear doesn't have much of a chance in the face of lots of positive thinking.

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