Writing In Chaos: Thoughts On Distraction Management
Hope dies in loud rooms after long days. We let the noises, the pressures, the demands take over to the point that we look at our writing projects and say: “I’ll get back to it tomorrow.”
Yeah. Do I really have to tell you that “tomorrow” is the same as “some day,” and both are the same as “never?”
Time management is a legitimate concern for writers. But so is distraction management. And there is precious little out there that gives writers any real, concrete tools to cope with meowy-as-hell cats, neighbors who crank the stereo to 11 while they wash their cars, and spouses who wonder why we’re not spending as much time with them as we used to.
Most of the answers I get are of the abusem variety, as in tell everybody to shut up, deal with it, and leave you the hell alone. Or they are of the ignorem line of “just don’t pay any attention and stay focused.”
I find such advice about as helpful as the pitching coach who says “Hey, if you throw 81 straight strikes, you’ll have a perfect game.” Practically speaking, most of us don’t like to be abusive to people who share our living and working quarters, so the idea of telling our wives, kids, and cats to take a hike isn’t a real option.
Nor is just not paying attention to the distractions. I’ve found that trying to ignore noisy neighbors, ringing phones, and television sets is about as effective as trying to ignore the need to go potty. It’s going to win, it’s just a matter of how bad you want it to make you look.
No, the best way to deal with distraction is to incorporate it. Writing fiction is about writing conflict and solutions. All those voices in the other room, all the electronic chatter, all the flickering light bulbs and hunger pangs and mosquitoes that got into the house are all obstacles to your writing. So learn to recognize them for the gifts they are.
I admit I’m surprised by the number of writers who do not seem observant. The world around you never stops, never slows. There are ideas everywhere, you just need to know how to look at them the right way. You’re working on a story? Why not work in the neighbor who always walks around shirtless, even though he should be really, really ashamed of doing so? Or how about making a character who has to deal with the ceaseless, seemingly small annoyance of her kids?
What was once a distraction becomes your chance to control it. And, depending on the story you’re writing, you can make these distractions look as big or small or foolish as you want. Once you reinterpret distractions, they are in your world now and you are no longer at their mercy.
If your eyes are open, you will see that The Muse is not so evasive as you might think. You just have to see her for more than a beauty. She’s ugly and irritating too. But she’s always there to help you.
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