Making Pearls

In past posts, I’ve written about the dangers of distraction and how it can sabotage your story-in-progress. There are two primary types of distraction: those out of our control and those we create for ourselves.

The first camp includes such things as weather, nuclear attack, doorbells, phone calls, electricity cuts on a clear summer’s day, neighbors, and repairmen. (To name only a few.)

My patio since the roofers, guttering men, and fence repairers came. Nothing like a hail storm to help your book along.

Some of these are more out of our control than others. Can you go without a hot-water tank until your chapter is written? Yes! Can I go without air conditioning in this plus-100-degree weather? No!

Setting possible nuclear attack aside as the facetious nonsense it is, there are ways to mitigate the effect of most of these distractions that come at us from the blue.

Installing a battery backup for your computer gear helps with weather and electricity cuts. I’ve used such a system for years. It won’t handle everything, much less eliminate the distraction, but it helps you stay calmer than you would be otherwise. Last year, when I moved to my present abode, I tried to save money by purchasing a backup that’s too small to do its job properly. Sitting down for a writing session with the worry that at any moment an electrical spike could DESTROY ALL is certainly a distraction. A few days ago, I finally got a bigger system. Now to find time to connect it ….

This is not an endorsement for this product. It just happens to be what I bought. I've probably gone too large this time, but we'll see.

Phone calls can be handled via discipline. You don’t install a phone in your writing room or you let the voicemail pick up. Both solutions require iron-hard willpower–easier to discuss than to maintain. There are certainly moments in my writing time when I’d be thrilled to have the distraction of a phone call.  (Beware such impulses. If you can’t control them, remove the phone.)

As for distractions that we create for ourselves, I’ll include computer games, Internet and emails, lunch dates, overscheduling, hobbies, and rewards.

These can all be dealt with, provided we’re firm. Computer distractions can be controlled in a variety of ways–everything from turning off the little chime that announces you have a new email to writing on a computer that’s never online. I take the latter route. It seems extreme, I know, but let’s chalk it up to my artistic, dramatic temperament. Besides, once I attach myself to my favorite blog (myoldhistorichouse.blogspot.com) I can lose myself for an hour or more. But if I have to wait for the online computer to boot up (so s-l-o-w!) and switch chairs, I have time to feel guilty and make myself behave.

Now, the true reason I set up two computers in my writing office years ago was for security purposes. I keep my book and my income tax records on the writing computer that’s never online to protect it against viruses and hackers, to help it last longer, and to circumvent distractions like computer mah jongg. I don’t know how old the machine is–ten years? It boots in a flash because it’s not clogged to death with patches, updates, cookies, pop ups, and all the endless junk that assails my online computer. It’s never crashed and never had to go in for a tune up or repair. When I’m ready to write, I switch on the tower and the machine is ready in seconds. Less distraction.

Convenient? Not when I need to check emails or send off an attachment or research something. Which is better? No distractions or convenience? You know what I’ve chosen.

Lunch dates? A problem? Really?

Yes.

Several years ago, when my career was young, I was lunching with the very successful mystery author Carolyn Hart. I suggested that we meet again in a few weeks, and she refused because she was about to start a new book. She said she didn’t go out to lunch when she was writing.

I didn’t understand at the time. Lunch is important. At least to me! I’m going to stop writing in order to eat. What’s distracting about that?

Eventually wisdom and understanding dawned on me. Set a lunch date or any appointment, and you have it in the back of your mind. It may be something pleasurable that you’re looking forward to rather than something you dread. Even so, it can be a distraction. It takes time. It removes your thoughts from the job at hand.

I haven’t given up all lunch dates, but I limit them to whatever day of the week I reserve for errands rather than writing.

Overscheduling can involve any number of things. You have a day job, family, friends, movies to see, events to attend, birthdays or celebrations, errands, etc. The list goes on and on to formidable lengths.

Schedule one additional activity to a writing day and see how many other appointments will attach themselves. I like to make out to-do lists to help myself stay organized. Usually the list will start with something “critical,” like Bank, Post Office, Haircut, Vet’s Office, and Writing. Why does writing always get listed at the bottom?

My writing teacher, Jack Bickham, recommended that any to-do list be flipped over, so that you began your day with Writing and later got to whatever else remained on the list.

Hobbies? Sure, I love them. I think writers need them to help spur creativity. But if they eat into writing time, or if you’re thinking about that train diorama you want to build or that quilt you want to stitch instead of the scene you’re about to write, then you’re allowing yourself to be distracted unnecessarily.

I bought these at the flea market. Now they need polishing.

Same thing goes for rewards. There have been books that I haven’t been very passionate about writing and projects that I contracted for solely to earn money. In those circumstances, I’ve often employed the carrot-and-stick method of discipline in order to meet my deadline. But even when I’m writing a book that I care intensely about, there are going to be sections where the passion fades. I may be thinking, If I meet my page quota by noon, I’ll have time to drive to the City and shop at the bookstore. A distraction? You betcha!

Are you thinking by now that I intend for you to be a robotic writer, a Vulcan robotic writer that never feels, never deviates from the plan, never sneaks a little game of Solitaire, never wastes two precious hours of writing time on eBay?

Not at all!

We are, after all, humans first and then writers. Just beware the distractions that don’t have to be in your life. Ask yourself why you’re letting them hinder you instead of getting on with the story at hand.

This morning, the fence guys arrived at 7:30 a.m. to continue powerwashing my fence before it’s stained. For hours I’ve listened to the throb of that machine outside my office wall. Have I written on my book? Not as yet today.

So small a machine, so loud a noise.

I could have. Instead, I’ve chosen to let the powerwasher “distract” me. Why? Because I really don’t want to write the next scene and I’ve chosen not to crack the whip of discipline.

I’ll pay for it later when I have to catch up on my page quota.

Where we are by noon. To quote the pope when Michaelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel: WHEN WILL IT BE FINISHED?

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