There’s a great skit in Portlandia where Fred Armison plays a character working on his computer, getting calls and messages on his cell phone, alerts on his iPad, and “Netflix” style DVDs in the mail, all of which drives him to distraction.
It was hilarious at the time. Who would let themselves be sucked into dealing with so many devices at once?
Now a decade later, this is my life.
My computer is my window into the world at work. I am constantly checking my email box (twelve separate email addresses and counting), my Facebook comments, and the news – has the world imploded yet? Is covid rising again? What’s Musk doing today to kill Twitter?
My phone dings and flashes, and there’s a new sms message. A friend from Italy has contacted me via What’s App. CNN, Apple News and the New York Times are all vying to be the first to tell me about the latest school shooting. And one of my writer friends is live on Facebook.
Instagram, which I barely use, wants me to know that someone I knew in high school when the dinosaurs roamed the Earth is now following me.
Oh and the timer I have set to remind me to post my next thing to Facebook (separated by half an hour from the last batch so I don’t get thrown into FB jail) is going off like a deranged bird.
Thank god my iPad is typically closed and silenced.
In the face of all of this, I am trying to finish edits on my current WIP, and I am having a hard time concentrating on it for more than a page at a time.
In some ways, this is nothing new. There have always been distractions, and writers are more prone to–
What was I saying? Oh yeah, we writers have always been more prone to letting ourselves be distracted from, you know, actually writing than the average person is from their work.
This issue has taken on added importance to me as I close in on finishing the four – count them, four! – books in my new series that I have been working on in tandem, and prepare to start writing new stories again.
So it’s time to revisit my playbook for being a productive writer, and working to avoiding as many temptations as I can to keep me on track:
- Start Right Away in the Morning: I write first thing once I get up just after 5 AM, throw on cleanish clothes (I mean, I only wore them for a couple hours last night), make my hair a little less scary, and grab some iced tea and my writing chocolate. At least that’s the theory. In reality, I usually check my email and Facebook messages first, and sometimes end up running across a customer issue that knocks off half an hour off my writing time. Better to deal with it when I’m done. It can wait until seven.
- Use an air-gapped Computer: In spy movies, they use brand new air-gapped computers (ie not connected to the internet or any other data source). OK, so mine’s not technically air-gapped. But I do have an old laptop that isn’t robust enough to run things like Photoshop or stream video, but is perfectly fine for writing. The problem here is that it still has a browser, and even though I am purposely not logged into Facebook on that old laptop, I can still check the news. So I have to do better and stick to–
- Sorry about that. …I need to remember to stick to writing during my writing time.
- Change Up My Location: We live in a small two bedroom rental, so there’s no room for a private writing den. Oh how I wish! During the worst of the pandemic, I tried once to write outside, seduced by the idyllic idea of working in the arms of Mother Nature. We have a big redwood tree out in a grassy circle next to the house, which seemed like the perfect place to get a bit of work done. I settled in and started writing, happily soaking up the fresh air and sunshine. Then the spider horde descended upon me. I can still feel them crawling on my arms. Oh, and did I mention there was a–
- Ahem. So… now I go to the kitchen to write. Only the kitchen is so far from the heater that it’s always cold in there unless you use a space heater in the winter to make it bearable. Sigh.
- Set My Phone to Do Not Disturb: Modern pocket computers… I mean cell phones have tools to help you block out unwanted intrusions. Which is great, in theory. It’s something many productivity specialists recommend. So DnD is on, and now I can play some writing-friendly music to accompany my work. Right? What they don’t tell you is that, even when your apps can’t get to you, you can still get to them. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, CNN, the New York Times, Outlook, Mail, Words With Friends and all the rest are just sitting there, waiting for me to open them. So many apps, sending their siren calls right into my brain. Surely it can’t hurt if I take a quick break to check my email. Oooh look, Carolyn send me a cute photo of a–
- Sigh again.
- Just Write: Okay, now that all the things that might jostle me out of my writing groove have been well and truly throttled. So now I can write in peace. Right? Right??? Except… I don’t wanna. I’m just not feeling it today. That brilliant idea I had at midnight and woke up to jot down on my bedside notepad? It just sounds stupid now. It sucks. I suck. This part I’m at is boring, and I don’t wanna write it. Who made me do this stoopid writing thing anyhow?
So yeah. as a writer, I am clearly my own worst enemy. It’s not only that the world has become more distracting, but that I have become addicted to these distractions, if only to put off writing for just a little longer.
When the stars align and the writing flows out of my fingers like sweet, sweet honey, there’s nothing better in the world.
So in a few more days I’ll try my hand at it again, and see if I can stay on task. Wish me luck. And lock up all the–
And if not?
To my writing friends, how do you deal with distraction when you’re trying to write?