Tag Archives: distractions

Writing Days

Summer is winding to a close. The hot days that press down on the prairie like a sizzling iron have eased to moderate temperatures, thanks to the hurricanes pounding the coasts. My brain is starting to wake up and revive from the stupor that three-digit temperatures always induce in me. (My roses feel the same way, perking up and putting on their fall flush of blooms.) Autumn in the prairie cauldron is a short-lived season, one to be seized with joy and gratitude because finally we feel revived and able to get a few things done.

Like write.

Yeah, I know that the sun is mellowing into the golden radiance that late September and October bring, the kind of light that lures me outdoors despite my best nose-to-the-grindstone intentions.

I know that it’s time to clean up the yard, clear off the patio, put away the lawn chairs, wash the windows, treat the grass, buy pumpkins and pansies, plant tulip bulbs, tarp the AC compressor and cast iron patio table, decorate for Halloween, contemplate how many Christmas trees I might put up in November, find my flannel shirts and–more importantly–my socks, and generally get ready for winter, but I need to write.

So many distractions swirling like the north wind that will soon have brown, red, and golden leaves skipping across the lawn–and yet, I need to write.

I am this close to writing the climax of my current work in progress. It was supposed to be one of two books completed this summer. Alas, that objective was not reached. My sights have lowered to the all-important task of getting this one manuscript finished. I can do it. I just have to ignore the beckoning autumn weather, park myself in my writing chair, and type those final scenes.

Back in the days when every summer was a race against the ticking clock of looming publisher deadlines, involving the writing of long, large-cast, complicated novels before my return to the university campus, I typed like a madwoman. The final days of rough drafting were crazy, nearly round-the-clock sessions of writing, eating, writing, crashing to sleep, and rising to write more. I refuse to count the number of years I spent on that particular work treadmill, and how I pushed myself to meet the challenge again and again.

This manuscript is not that complicated. There is no deadline, except the one I’ve set. I have savored the luxury of taking my time. It doesn’t mean I’m writing better. It doesn’t mean this light adventure has any depth. But I’m writing, and for this year–this summer–that is enough.

Here’s a quote from Louis L’Amour that I like: “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

We can let ourselves freeze up from doubt, anxiety, and uncertainty. We might be facing the kind of story we’ve never done before. We might feel we don’t know what we’re doing. We might feel we’re too rusty, too untrained, or insufficiently talented to write what is filling our heart and imagination. As creative people, we can invent a dozen reasons why we shouldn’t try.

But as L’Amour says, turn on the faucet. Sit at your keyboard and type. Make your protagonist talk to someone, even if it’s the nosy little girl next door that has nothing to do with your plot outline. Type anyway, until your story sense takes over and the real scene starts to flow. You can always cut out the little girl later. Or, you might decide to keep her.

Roll with it.


Enjoy the fall weather after your writing session for the day. Whatever your daily page quota happens to be, meet it, even if some pages are too weak or inane to keep. And during the days when buying pansies beckons, reduce your page quota–if your deadline will allow–so you don’t feel guilty and you don’t miss the fun.

And, for as long as you need to write, do it.




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Time Out!

Once upon a time, I found writing as much a refuge as a joy. Whenever the world became too much for me, I dived into my story world where I — even if my characters weren’t — felt safe and isolated from whatever was raging around me.

Tonight, as I have finally clawed my way to the keyboard for a few stolen moments of expression, I can’t help but wonder when did it become so hard to preserve my writing time?

It’s always been a challenge. I learned it would be early in my writing career. I discovered that I had to protect my creative time zealously because no one else in the world had any interest in doing so.

Fair enough. We make time for the things we truly want to do.

Even so, writers have to struggle to buffer themselves from distractions, disasters, and dilemmas in order to create their best scenes, chapters, and stories. I have friends who warn their children not to burst into their writing office unless “someone is bleeding.” Some of my family members/friends absolutely refuse to be trained to leave me alone when I’m working. As a result, I either vanish completely or pitch wall-eyed fits of temper.

Again, that’s a normal part of the writing life.

What’s far from fair and normal is when a writer must exhaust herself just to hold the distractions at bay. There is a clamor and a buzz in our world that grows ever more strident. Thoreau’s pond can be found temporarily for a weekend in some lakeside cabin, but otherwise we are expected to be available to distractions and obligations 24/7.

I don’t know about you, but I need a lot of processing time. My writer’s senses are wide open to the world. I’m constantly observing, constantly noticing details, and constantly being intrigued by all sorts of tidbits of information. My reception scoop is large, and I hesitate to narrow it because I never know when I’m going to stumble across something marvelous that will spark an idea.

The downside of this is that I need a chance to sift and sort through what’s coming at me. Yet lately, that processing function never seems to happen. It’s overwhelmed, and I feel as though my writer’s circuits have been fried by the overload.

Do you?

Presently, thanks to eye surgery last week, I am spending time at home. I can’t drive, can’t read, and am able to work at the computer for limited bursts of time regulated by a kitchen timer. Writing with one eye shut is tiring.

Even relatively painless outpatient surgery is still an assault on one’s body, and recovery time is needed. Yet I was at work the next day, feeling feeble and exhausted yet soldiering on at the day job because things needed doing.

Was I crazy? Yes! I needed to take care of myself, and hang the rest. The fact that it took me so long to acknowledge this is indicative of how much momentum propels me from day to day.

However, thanks to the current situation, I catch glimpses of down time. As I sit, timing how long to wait between eye drops of mysterious stuff in small bottles bearing unpronounceable names, I have only my thoughts for company. And within these fifteen-minute spans, I remember what it was like when I did nothing but float inside my imagination.

It’s taken me almost ten days to slow down, but I’m starting to remember what my writing world once was. Back when I had time to write, to think, to imagine, to dream. When I wasn’t scrambling so hard among so many responsibilities and obligations. Am I whining? Yes, I think I am.

What’s to be done?

First of all, amputate tasks and to-do lists.

However, that’s easier said than done. I have another surgery next week. My plan was to clear the week so that I can truly rest. Yet already I’m scheduled for a marketing meeting via phone. There are backlist e-books to proofread and a mountain of tasks piling up as fast as dirty laundry. I was raised to finish what I start, to get my work DONE. I’m a completer, and it bugs me to have unfinished projects hanging over me.

(That quality is helpful to a novelist because it drives me to finish book manuscripts. Still … some things have to wait. And because the list never ends, stronger solutions have to be found.)

Second of all, create bubbles of calm.

As I push the clamor away a little just to recuperate, I’m taken back to another time and place, a time when I could lop off too many obligations quickly. Maybe I had fewer demands back then or maybe I was more ruthless in slicing off the encroaching tendrils of too much busyness.

At the moment, I want a broadsword, an ax, and a dagger to STAB botherations away. I want a giant in front of me, roaring for peace and quiet with such a terrifying voice that the whole crowd falls silent. I want to duck into Mr. Baggins’s hobbit hole and enjoy a cup of tea without feeling rushed or guilty.

I want to listen to my own thoughts, to see if I can recall the few frail, half-forgotten ideas that keep trying to break to the surface and sunshine yet are trampled too often by the rush, rush, rush of my world.

Is this you, as well?

Then all I can say is, hang on, my writing friends. Hang on and be fierce toward anything or anyone trying to trample you. Don’t sync your emails and don’t feel guilty when you turn off your smartphones for the evening or leave dishes piled in the sink or the checkbook unbalanced.

Think of a moment in your past when you were supremely content and blissfully happy. Close your eyes and conjure up where you were and what you were doing. Experience again that emotion of calm delight in yourself or your world. Bathe in the memory. Give yourself ten minutes to go back to that time and place.

If you can’t remember it or can’t find it, then try again. And again. Eventually it will come to you. It doesn’t have to be a profound experience or an insightful one. It doesn’t have to be fancy.

My memory of being completely happy, peaceful, and satisfied is a vivid one. I was perhaps eleven years old and spending the summer at my grandparents’ cattle ranch in New Mexico. My cousins and I liked to play in the sandy draw some distance behind the house, out in the pasture. The sand was coarse and gravely, but it still made a good site for digging and tunneling.

It was a summer morning. The sky was dark blue and cloudless, and the sun wasn’t yet hot. I was on my stomach, crawling beneath a barbed wire fence to reach the sand. Partway under, I stopped and rolled over on my back to stare at that intensely blue sky. I was barefooted and carefree. I was lying in dirt. I hadn’t a care in the world. No one wanted me to do anything. I could just … be.

It was perhaps my first true awareness of happiness. I don’t think I’ve ever felt it quite that intensely since despite a lifetime of other wonderful experiences.

Yet I still believe that I can find it again, even if I’m not eleven and without a single care. If nothing else, I have the memory. I just have to remember to push the world aside and go there. It’s a place to breathe.

And if I can breathe, then I can find the strength to fend off too many to-do lists so that writing — and dreaming — can enjoy the quiet space they deserve.

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Longing For a Pond

In times of hardship or extreme interference, it can be helpful to the writing process to adopt mottoes. Anything that will boost our fragile writer egos and keep us going, right?


Here’s one that I’ve always liked: Illegitimi non carborundum.

It’s catchy. It looks swanky and erudite if you post it on your wall or desk. It’s even possible to remember so that you can mutter it beneath your breath as you put up with yet another distraction.

Translation: a quote from a Kris Kristofferson song with the lyrics “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

The language: pseudo-Latin cooked up as a joke to make us smile when things get tough.

People who enjoy such things have also translated the saying into real Latin. Here are two versions: Noli sinere nothos te opprimere, and Noli nothis permittere te terere.

So what … is … the … point?

The Thanksgiving holiday gave me a much-needed respite, a little time off to loaf, visit family, and relax. On the nine-hour drive home I left the radio off and just experienced the peace of my own thoughts. About halfway through the journey, I decided to solve a minor plot hiccup in my current work-in-progress.

I gave it some thought and came up with a solution. With no distractions except keeping my eyes on the road and minding my mirrors, I found it easy to decide on a plausible, simple motivation for this particular character’s actions.

The problem has been that I’ve been home for two days. Forty-eight hours have gone by, and I’ve yet to find a moment to jot down my solution, much less actually write it into the manuscript.

All I can do is be thankful for the peace and quiet around me when I thought it up. That’s enabled me to be very clear in my mind about what I want my character to do. The clarity has stamped it firmly on my memory. So often, when I’m plotting while on the run in my daily course, I forget what I came up with. Too distracted to remember more than, I HAD it, and it was perfect!

Yesterday, while heaving groceries through my front door, I found myself thinking of Thoreau and longing for a pond of my own. Oh, Walden, Walden, wherefore art thou and why can’t I have you?

There was a time, a long-ago age, when poets and bards had patrons who fed them in exchange for good stories. It wasn’t a perfect system. What system is? Were these storytellers given a chance to gnaw on their quill pens in peace while they cooked up the next installment of “The Distress of the Dying Damsel?”

I’d like to think so, but the cynical side of me wonders if maybe they weren’t wedged into a corner of the Great Hall with their lord and master yelling at his minions and belching over the stewed onions while a pack of flea-bitten hounds bayed at the cat crouched in the rafters.

Well, okay. Let’s choose someone from a more civilized age. Nathaniel Hawthorne was surely left in peace. No emails to answer. No text messages beeping for attention. No minivan of children clamoring for soccer games and piano recitals. Just a gabled house and a snowy afternoon, the quiet drawn close like a warm shawl around the shoulders.

Maybe. I’m going to think so. Surely Mr. Hawthorne wasn’t afflicted with the butcher pounding on the door to be paid or termites in his attic.

I need some hope that someday, somehow I’ll find a way to enforce more of that peace and quiet, that mental space around me similar to what I enjoyed on my long drive home.

I need that pond. I need someone to deliver my groceries in silence. I need all the paperwork, bank statements, and mail to blow to the winds of perdition for a while. I need the housework done. I need the dogs washed and the Christmas tree put up. I need the larger battery backup connected to my writing computer. I need a thousand hours to my day. And I would like more chocolate in my life, thank you.

Meanwhile, I’m hunting for a scrap of paper so I can write down that character motivation …


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