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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.

How to Make Reality Fit the Writing Plan

sirenWe’ve all had days when the writing reality didn’t match the plan. We’ve all started out with great intentions to write but somehow ended up listening to the siren’s call and crashing ourselves on the rocks of social media, email and other e-stimuli.

It’s not the fault of your will power or a character flaw. For millennia, our brains evolved to seek new information that could help us find valuable resources and avoid danger. The brain’s reward system releases dopamine every time we find something new, and that feel-good neurotransmitter keeps us coming back.

Unlike the natural environments we evolved to respond to, social media is an unending source of “new.” In an electronic environment, “new” doesn’t mean “useful” nearly often as it does in nature. But even when the new stops being useful, our reward system lags behind and continues to release dopamine.

You can’t change how this reward system works; once you’re get sucked in, you’re stuck. You — current you — need to protect yourself in advance by making conscious decisions that future-you won’t be able to veto when future-you gets plugged into a dopamine-high of Youtube or Pinterest.

Options to Sustain Your Writing

antisocial_windows2We have plenty of options. We can set specific times when we will and when we won’t respond to email, texts, pings and pokes. We can set specific times when we will and won’t access the internet. We can use software to set limits on what websites we access, when and for how long.

We can put our phones and other devices on silent, not just when we get on a plane or go to a movie, but when we spend time with family and friends. We can deliberately stop processing electronic data to fully experience what it is to eat a meal, play, meditate, sleep, walk or relax. At the bare minimum we can stop taking our phones, tablets and readers to bed with us.

unplugfromtech-1024x1005We need regular, repeated “screen-free” times and places in our lives. (Screen free week is laudable, but one week a year is nowhere near enough.)

We can commit to specific start times for our Product Time (aka writing time) and honor those commitments no matter what’s happening on our phones, in our email or our social media.

For the best results, we can start Product Time before we splitter our attention and fracture our focus. One of my clients starts her day on a designated “writing computer” that has no email or internet access so she can’t be distracted.

I always show up for Product Time on the days I commit to. And I do a pretty good job of showing up when I say I will. The day I wrote Part 1 of this post, I slipped. Fortunately I recognized it before too much time passed.

The sooner we recognize a slip, the better. The less time we spend following e-distractions down the rabbit hole, the faster we can recover our brain’s ability to focus.

We can forgive ourselves and get back to the routines and habits that sustain the life we really want to live.

should be writingI’m going to go work on my novel now. Don’t you have a writing project you want to pay attention to, too?

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5 Comments on “How to Make Reality Fit the Writing Plan”

  1. Joel D Canfield October 1, 2014 at 11:46 am #

    Curiosity, like everything else, needs balance. I tend to make excuses for my mental meandering, because after all, curiosity is a sign of genius, right?


    • rosannebane October 1, 2014 at 2:47 pm #

      Curiosity (letting our minds wander) is a sign of genius! So is the ability to focus. So much of a creative life is moving from one end of a polarity to the other end — from wandering curiosity to focused attention, from input to output, from naive to expert, from chaos to order. Creative people must be willing and able to move. I see that in you Joel.


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