I can’t be the only one who’s sat in front of a blank screen with the text icon flashing, looking for anything else to do but write. OK, sometimes I’ll manage a title, something like ‘The Next Bestselling Novel About Some Shit or Other’ but this is as far as it gets.
It’s not writer’s block (I don’t think) which I’m sure is a lot more intense and frustrating, it’s more a case of lack of focus. Maybe.
So here are 7 distractions I face and how I try to prevent them. Others may share these, and I’m sure there are many different distractions that I’ve not even considered. Best not tell me these, though, I don’t want to make to list any bigger than seven. Seven might not be a vey rounded number for this topic, but even the Bible couldn’t think of ten bad things.
- Aim for quietness. I’m talking no TV and no music. The only music I can get away with is some Sunn 0))) whose atmospheric soundscapes are simple enough to be good for the background, and not get you thinking about catchy choruses or anything.People talking on the TV, or in real life, makes it impossible to write anything. I’m a man so find it very difficult to do two things at once. Another tip for this section – and this may sound a little counter-productive if you’re writing horror – is to make sure any torture victims are gagged and the kill-room door is closed. Constant moans and pained whingeing is not as motivating as you may think. It’s just more annoying than anything.
- Put your phone away. These days, with the internet safely compacted in a pocket-sized shiny box that you can also talk in to, it’s so easy to just click a button to check whether you’ve received any calls, or messages, or ‘likes’, or requests, or anything else that you desperately crave, to prove to yourself that you’re loved. Not that I ever get any, but it’s still a good idea to keep the temptation-to-look demons at bay. Leave it in the torture cellar. On charge.
- Don’t look at the fire. OK, this point may be moot for people who a. don’t have a fire, and b. live somewhere where a fire is the last thing you’d consider putting on (because it’s warm, I mean). Lighting a wood burning stove, for me, is an event. Placing the kindling and the newspaper and the firelighters is like a ritual. And when it’s lit? Wow, I could stare at the flames for hours, engrossed by the hungry flames engulfing the luckless pieces of wood I feed to it. I’m even more of a sucker for watching human remains, though. So much so that I end up staring at the fire and not at the screen.OK, light the fire if it’s cold, but turn away from it. Or just live somewhere warm. Sorted.
- Try to clear your head of other story or blog ideas. Without being a complete thoughts-Nazi, it is better to try and concentrate on the project you’re currently working on and not the next one or the one after that. I find I’m the same with books, I can’t have more than one on-the-go at the same time, it’s just confusing. When writing, you don’t want to jumble two characters’ motivations just because you’re eyeing up that next story that’s trying to poke its head out of your ever-creative mind-hole. My advice is to scribble the ideas down and then return to what you were working on. Just make sure you don’t write them down too hastily, though, only to return to them at a later date and wonder just what the hell you were going on about.
- Hide away any other books and records. It’s so tempting to stare at the awesome cover of a book or album while you attempt to get inspiration, but beware. Before you know it you can draw the band’s logo in your sleep, or memorize exactly how may drops of blood are on the floor of the killer in the novel’s lair. Even admiring your bookshelf can take your attention away (I do this a lot), and before you know it, it’s been half an hour and you’ve only pressed TAB to set up your new paragraph. It’s not ‘becoming inspired’, it’s called ‘daydreaming’.
- Tape up your fingers. It’s so easy if, like me, you’re a finger or nail picker, to be distracted by this pastime. Sometimes it’s like a mission, “I’ll just get this bit of nail off, then I’ll carry on. Ooh, actually, this finger needs a bit of a tidy up, too.” If you’ve ever been a picker you’ll understand. If not, you’ll be shaking your head wondering who this nutter is giving you these ‘writing’ tips.
- Don’t ‘people-watch’ out of the window. So you’re typing away, the scene is really taking shape and the hero is about to work out the truth about the alien race he’s been pursuing all over the galaxy, when from out of the corner of your eye, you spot someone walking along the road. Is it that neighbour you fell out with, or maybe that cute girl from down the road, or is it a delivery man bringing you that package of chloroform you ordered? So you check, only to find out that its none of those and is actually someone you don’t recognise and have little interest in. Having brought yourself out of ‘story mode’ you turn back to the screen. “Hold on, aliens? Something about aliens, now what was it…?”My solution is draw the curtains or, if possible, just live out in the sticks so you don’t have anyone walking past anyway. Or preferably, an old log cabin in the woods, just think how they would get your inspiration juices flowing, if you are a writer of horror, of course.
So that’s my list, I do have many more things that allow my mind to wander, but they all pretty much fall into these seven. I suppose it’s human nature to be get distracted, it’s the way our minds work, always yearning to expand horizons and perceive everything possible around us. You just have to be strong-willed, I suppose.
If you keep getting distracted whilst writing, you probably have to admit to yourself that you’re looking for excuses to not write. And that’s OK, you can’t always be in the mindset to type away and make coherent sense (you may think that I’m not in that mindset at this moment). Distraction is usually a sign that its time to give it a rest for a bit. Try shutting down the computer, putting away your pen and parchment, and do exactly what was distracting you in the first place. Stare at that fire, put on some music, read that book, check your phone, etc. Chances are you’ll soon be wanting to get back to the writing, using that as the distraction.
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