Handling Distractions?

I’ve been reading Stephen King’s “On Writing” the past week, and a topic he touched on in one section, and periodically throughout the rest, is how important it is to have a writing space (also a reading space, but that’s not the focus of this post.)  So I wanted to discuss this topic along with another similar in theme.

Let’s start with the writing space.  What Mr. King talks about in the book is having your own little safe haven for writing.  Allowing you a quiet place with little to no distractions for you to hammer on your manuscripts in peace.  His advice is to not have games, TV, or any other form of disturbance in this room.  He also suggests having a door that you can close, essentially telling the world “I’m writing, leave me alone.”  If I understood his description correctly, he has little more than an over sized desk in his office (though keep in mind this book was written more than a decade ago, that may not be the case for him today).

Well let’s face it, many of us may not have the luxury to have a large room dedicated to housing half of a tree that’s shaped neatly into a desk.  I know that, and so did King when he brings this topic up.  He talks specifically about converting a laundry room in his double wide trailer to be his writer’s haven.  This of course was before he got his first big deal with ‘Carrie.’  The point is, no matter the circumstances, it’s possible to find that magical spot where you, as a writer, can be most effective with your thoughts and creativity.  Whether it’s a converted bedroom/office, out on your deck, or sitting at a vanity in your master bathroom, figure out what suits you best and make it a habit to write in there as often as you can.

Let me clarify though, I am not at all saying you should ONLY write in there.  Some people like to write on the go with a net book or laptop.  You may have multiple locations where you get a focused surge to write out your best work.  I personally have multiple spots.  I found a lonely picnic table underneath a canopy of trees in the middle of the parking lot at my office.  It was usually deserted and available on my lunch breaks.  I did some great writing out there while I sipped on some Mountain Dew.  For me it was being able to get outside, away from the fluorescent farm work, and into nature.  Unfortunately we’ve moved offices since then, and that perfect spot outdoors is a thing of the past.  I now use a conference room that’s rarely being used over lunch; I close the door and pop open the laptop.  I feel my focus is equally as high, but I do miss the sunlight and the nice breeze.

So find that location for you that allows you to do the best and most focused writing.  I also believe it may not just be the where, but the when.  Figure out what time of day the creative juices pump through your veins the most.  I tend to write better at night, with headphones.  What it boils down to is eliminating the distractions that will cause you to constantly leave the world which you are trying to create.  Which leads me to my next discussion point.

Distractions!  I wrote about 75% of my first novella (which I am hoping to have out by the end of next week) in that said conference room mentioned above.  The story was flowing through my finger tips; rarely did I lose momentum.  It took me a while to figure out why I was so much more effective in a conference room at work (which by nature isn’t really a comfortable place for me to begin with) than I was at my home office.  Sadly the most likely answer is often the one most overlooked.

I realized that when I went into that conference room, I would take my laptop, my lunch and shut the door.  Though I had the laptop hooked up to the studio’s WiFi, this was purely for streaming some music and opening/saving files from Dropbox.  I very rarely signed on to Instant Messenger or checked social websites.  My sole purpose of using the computer was to write.  At home, it’s quite the contrary.  IMs are often shooting at me like machine guns in a battle, and the Facebook/Twitter updates are bombarding me like artillery from the distance.  Even while writing this blog post I’ve probably checked Twitter a bazillion times seeing what my fellow book lovers are cooking up.  There’s nothing wrong with being chatty and social, if you are just kickin’ back for the night.  However, if your objective for the night is to buckle down and write 2,000 words this evening, then you should probably close the web browser and disconnect from AOL.

My biggest temptation with this is that I don’t do twitter really at all while at work, and many of my friends I like to speak to are not online during the day for me to catch up with.  This is why I turn it on at night.  This is something I still struggle with, even when I have a goal for the night that is being slowed by my distractions.  I’m the type of guy who likes to walk his talk, so I will be doing this from now on, and I encourage you to do the same if this is a problem for you.  Again, there are people who can multitask like this, and that’s great.  I won’t knock ya for doing both.  But if you find yourself wanting to get 2k words written, and you barely get to the 500 mark in a night, perhaps it’s time to fly beneath the radar until you hit your goal.

My wife, who is also an aspiring writer, will try to avoid interrupting me as I work on my tasks.  Not that I get upset if she does have to talk with me about something, but it’s a common courtesy we both share for each other (as I try to do the same when she’s writing, or working on lesson plans for her class).  It shouldn’t be taken as rude, or as a sign that one may not want to spend time with you.  It’s focusing on a project or a goal you’ve set out for yourself and doing your best to complete the task.  If I’m working on the lawn, or out in the garage, I can be chatty with someone.  When I am trying to create a universe, characters, and a story… Well the more I get pulled out of it in a night, the less cohesive and fluid it will be with what little I do actually scribble down.

Just some food for thought really.  At the end of the day, if all of what I mentioned above doesn’t seem to bother you or hamper your effective writing, feel free to ignore it.  But if you are like me, and find yourself moving forward with a lot of momentum, only to wonder at the end of the night how I got so little finished, take a look around and see what kind of distractions might be around.  It might not even be internet related, but having a TV on, or noisy neighbors (both of which can be solved with headphones or ear plugs).

One last thought: Embrace the things that help with the creativity.  Some people prefer a nice glass of wine to sip on as they write.  I prefer an iced coffee or soda myself.  Some might like to listen to classical music, while others listen to hard rock (much to my surprise King talks about listening to Metallica a lot while writing).  I think that by eliminating distractions coupled with welcoming the things that relax you and help set you in the world you’re building one word at a time, you might be surprised how much more you can accomplish in a night.


About AJ Powers

I am a professional game developer during the day, but at night, my true passion comes to life when I read and write books.
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3 Responses to Handling Distractions?

  1. jfhilborne says:

    Helpful comments. Always good to have a designated workplace, away from distractions

  2. Spot on regarding web distractions. Way too easy to get pulled off into an email exchange or sucked into the football scores. If Mr King wrote the same book today the emphasis may well be on closing your web browser than closing the door.

    As you make clear in your post it’s subjective. Personally, I write best sat in the corner of a bar or coffee shop with Elbow blaring out of my iPod full blast. For others this would be a killer.

  3. AJ Powers says:

    Definitely agree. It’s crazy how distracting being online is, and a lot of the time, you don’t even really realize you’re being distracted. It’s just so second nature anymore.

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