Members of my writing group claim that it is really really easy to get distracted from writing. Writers on twitter agree, judging by the number of motivational tweets that drift through my timeline. It seems that writers prioritize plenty of other things above the crafting of words. And they need inspiration to get back to the pen or keyboard. And they need moral precepts and finger-wagging little post-it notes of exhortation. Or do they?
Most of the members of our writing group are women, so domestic duties featured high on the list of reasons why they hadn’t achieved what they wanted to do since our last session. [Just in case you think I am, I’m not saying men don’t have domestic duties.] We talked about other reasons as well. Here’s a round-up.
- Household responsibilities
Caring for other people, children, partners and older folk, the constant demands, the pressures of tasks to be done repeatedly by frequent deadlines, mean that our members have great difficulty in finding a decent length of time to devote to their writing. Not just the time, but the time in some quantity, and not when they were exhausted or up early to carve out a few moments. I read about a woman who wrote her first novel in her car while waiting for her children on their various activities.
Other writers in our group got fed up with waiting in for deliveries or tradesmen who never show. Then they have to spend time chasing up alternatives and, in my case, feeling especially pathetic when I fail to get repairs done in the house. A directory of tradesmen for writers (ie reliable, cheap, and local) would help everyone.
And a Domestic Bill of Rights that entitles writers to time for their writing would help some writers, time without interruption, when they still have energy and head space to write, without being cobbled together from five or ten minutes segments. Or other people in the household taking on tasks. Or no doing them.
2. Computer problems
It is surprising how often this came up as an issue for writers. When the computer isn’t working it not only means the classic tool for writing is not available, but time (again) needs to be spent getting someone to sort it out.
And even if the computer is working okay, there are still the distractions of emails and the seductions of the internet. My own weakness is to allow research to take me far, far away from the original enquiry. Apparently there are apps to turn off distractions while writing. Can’t quite see why a person wouldn’t just turn off email, twitter and internet. But it seems from evidence on twitter that they can’t.
3. Overload of ideas
Here’s a more interesting distraction – too many writing ideas. This is about the process of writing, getting the ideas lined up so they can be dealt with. Definitely a notebook is necessary to help with this distraction. A note wont run away, especially if it’s good. Save them up for all those occasions when ideas and motivation disappear. Automatic writing (also called splurging) might help anyone suffering from too many ideas. It helps clear the mind and might clarify writing priorities.
4. Lack of ideas
You hear about writers who have no idea about what to write. They want those starter exercises. Random ideas prompted by a picture (see Write one Picture a post from the past), a randomly selected phrase from a book (page 68 is always good for that), and good old automatic writing. This is when notebooks come into their own. Or the less inspiration –dependant writing activities like formatting, close editing for accuracy.
I wrote a post called 10 things to do when you don’t know what to do. More ideas there.
5. Losing your folder
‘I don’t know where my writing folder is,’ Mavis told us. Small and large disruptions challenge writers. Moving house effectively interrupts writing for a while. So do other life-changing events, like giving birth, a new job, painting the living room.
6. Inner Voice
‘You should be writing’ You should have finished that section by now. You should be writing 3749 words a day. You should. You should. I’m trying to stick to Oliver Burkham’s non-resolution for the New Year: cut yourself a very good measure of slack. (Other people too but I’m thinking of writers here). Writers are too ready to beat themselves up. Be human. Take your pen (or keyboard) and start your line of letters, and they will turn into words, sentences and ultimately into something that you can call writing. And sometimes you cant. Don’t add to your troubles with guilt.
In my non-fiction writing project my fellow writers express some guilt when they go on holidays. Lucky them, they seem to go on more extended and exciting breaks than I do. But they need refreshing too. I should follow their example.
Some very useful related material can be found on Toby Litt’s blog: 9 things you need to write a novel.
Do you have any distractions, correctives or approaches to add and help the distracted writer?
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