Thursday, January 28, 2010

Working Through Distractions

Missy Tippens, here. Writing can be tough because most writers work at home. And let's face it, sometimes home isn't the best setting for this creativity on demand. So how do you work thorough everyday distractions?

You're stuck on a plot point, and rather than fight your way through it, you decide it's time to make a fresh pot of coffee.

The phone rings, and it's easier to answer than it is to resist the temptation to talk.

The blank screen is staring at you, and because your stomach just growled (even though you just ate an hour ago) you jump up to make a snack.

You look at your waiting computer and desk chair, but instead of plopping down, you detour to the laundry room and start a load of socks and underwear.

You have set yourself a deadline to finish the darn manuscript by Valentine's Day, and you still have 25k words to write, so you give up and call a friend to go to lunch to drown your sorrows in chips and salsa.

You're in the middle of writing a scene, your character needs to act a certain way, but you realize you should probably do just a little more research on her career before you finish the scene. So you open your browser and see your email box staring at you with a gazillion messages. And you wonder if by some chance maybe your editor has emailed you. Nothing from her, but then you see a Google alert for your book, or an email reminding you to enter a contest, or a digest from your favorite writers loop, or a chatty message from a long lost friend...or an ad for a big sale at Macy's. Before you know it, you're shopping for a cute new purse.

Oh, you don't do that last one? It's just me??
Well, anyway, you get my point. :-)

What do you do to keep writing when there are so many everyday distractions? Or what about when they're more than mere everyday distractions--like illness or family problems?

I'll share some of my ways to battle these scenarios...

1. Pray for focus!
2. Use positive self talk (or even a reward) to get your bottom plopped into that chair!
3. Set a words written goal or chapters revised goal, and you can't get up until you finish. For example, you have to type 1000 new words before you can go make that coffee.
4. Do NOT get online until your goal is met for the day. Or if you have to check for that important email, set a timer for 5 minutes, and when it dings, you have to get off. Even better for me is that I check email on my phone. It's easier to maintain my focus if I'm doing a quick check on that little screen
5. If you're stumped over a plot point or having trouble finding just the right word, mark the page or highlight the line and move on. You can fix it later. Don't let it stop you totally unless you think you have a true problem that'll affect the whole book. And if that's the case, then start brainstorming, jotting ideas. Or call your critique partner for help. I like to play "what if?" and write down all the different directions my story can take. Then I choose one.
6. Do allow a break to eat or move around every now and then. Just don't let yourself get distracted with all the housework or with planning the next week's menu. :) And set a timer if you have to.
7. Think back to the last time you really got into your story. Remember how good that felt and jump in to find that experience again. Even the tough moments in writing can be enjoyable, especially when you come out on the other side and find you have a scene you're happy with. Or you type The End.
8. If, for whatever reason, your goal is no longer unattainable, then reevaluate and set a new goal. Don't throw up your hands and just give up. Pick up right where you are and try again (kind of like dieting!). :)

So how do you stay on track? Please share!


  1. I try to divide my time between working at home and working somewhere in public. A few days a week, I will either get a carrel at the library or go to my local coffee shop. I tend to write with a lot more focus when I'm in public. But the variety also keeps me from getting into too much of a rut.

  2. Great post, Missy, and Rebecca has a great idea too. But what is a carrel???

    I just posted over on my personal blog about the same type of issue, lol. We both hit on self-talk! I also felt it was important to get the distractions that ping around in my head OUT of my head. So I started a new to-do list and dumped them all on that page. Each day I'm looking at that list to make sure I haven't forgotten something important.

    It's helping.

    But I think prayer is really important. Sometimes I'm stuck because I've forgotten who is the one inspiring my work. Clue: NOT ME! It's been given to me to do, but not for me to write outside of God's will.

    I'm getting back my focus because it was not on the right person in the first place.


  3. Carrels are individual desks. They often have blinders on the sides so you can really have privacy, and usually have big surface areas, so you can have multiple books open at the same time. They're made for researching and writing. That's what I love about the library (and even the University library). Lots of desks with privacy, no cel phones allowed, and lots of quiet. :-)

  4. Rebecca, that's a great point! I find I work better when I'm out somewhere. Once at Starbucks I read through my whole manuscript doing copy edits. When I packed up to leave, the worker apologized for all the noise she made. And I was like, huh?? I hadn't heard a thing! :)

    I also went to library once when I was stuck, and it worked great. I should do that again. Thanks for the reminder!

  5. Angie, a to-do list is a great idea. I kind of use my calendar that way. I check each day to make sure I'm not forgetting something. It frees up my mind to work. :)

  6. Thanks for the kick in the pants, Missy! I needed that right now. I'm still working on finding that magic formula for myself. I'll have to let you know when I stumble across it.

  7. Hey, Dianna! Yeah, we just have to try to keep moving ahead any way we can. :)

  8. Missy,
    Once I get started I'm fine. I can work and keep going. But I do tend to find it hard just to sit down at times. I guess the fact that we have to write pushes us.
    And prayer.
    That is a big booster.
    Other than retreats I don't really leave the house to work. Haven't tried that yet.

  9. Oh, how I struggle with these distractions. I go through stages of how I deal with these distractions.

  10. Missy, I'm with you. I am the queen of distraction and procrastination!

    I don't buy purses online, but tend to get distracted by the simplest thing - email/facebook... the other day I ordered make up from a TV commercial I watched for only 5 minutes. Hopefully Cindy Crawford's Meaningful Beauty product will help me look 10 yrs younger. It sure didn't help me finish the task I was working on. I tend to take on too many things at one time.

    And yes, laundry/housework always beckons me when I'm struggling with something in my story.