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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Squirrel!


Dug, the quintessential illustration of distraction

One of the primary forms of writing resistance is distraction. And one of my favorite illustrations of distraction is in the movie Up when the dog Dug explains how his collar vocalizes his thoughts:

“My master made me this collar. He is a good and smart master and he made me this collar so that I may talk – Squirrel!” Dug’s explanation is abandoned and his attention is entirely focused on the squirrel.

It’s a great illustration because it shows how quickly and completely Dug’s instinctual nature overpowers his language-based, logical thinking. Of course dogs don’t have language or logic (or at least what we recognize as language or logic), so it’s not surprising that a dog should be overcome by the sight of a squirrel. But this also happens to humans. It’s funny because it’s such an exaggeration of what we do. If there was nothing of human nature in Dug’s response, there’d be no joke.

As if the metaphorical squirrels that life throws at us from time to time weren’t distracting enough, we create our own squirrels in the form of email, twitter, Facebook, Google searches, TV, videos, games, podcasts, blog posts, phone calls, meetings, etc. etc. etc. Every time you invest your time and money in an electronic gadget, you breed squirrels. Every time you let your time be overtaken by someone else’s agenda, you breed squirrels.

And just like Dug cannot carry on his conversation and pay attention to the squirrel at the same time, we can’t split our focus either. As I’ve said in previous posts and as brain experts have asserted, multitasking is a myth.

The challenge is to acknowledge our tendency to be distracted by squirrels (or as a friend of mine says “Oh look, a bright and shiny object!”). And then to do what Dug cannot: make a choice about where to focus our attention.

The great part of living in an abundant universe is that there is so much to choose from and you get to make choices. The hard part of living in an abundant universe is that you must make choices and there is so much to choose from.

You have to choose. You really can’t have it all, do it all and be it all. You get to have, do and be some of it, and you get to choose a great deal about what you’ll have, do and be, but you can NOT have, do and be it all.

To choose – and to keep choosing – your writing, you have to stop following squirrels. When your instinctual nature zeros in on a squirrel, bring your conscious attention back to your writing as soon as you notice you’ve been distracted. Make a commitment to yourself that you will NOT follow squirrels of any kind in the time you’re giving your writing. (One of the advantages of the 15 Magic Minutes is that it’s easier to imagine not chasing squirrels for a short time.) And for heaven’s sake, stop breeding squirrels!

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