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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.

Too Distracted to Write?

Beware! Here Be Distractions!

map here-be-dragonsDistraction is one of the most common forms of writing resistance. Sometimes distractions force their way into our consciousness. But sometimes we actively go looking for something to distract us from writing. 

Opening email before I’ve put in my Product Time usually means I’m trying to distract myself. Looking at Facebook before I’ve put in my Product Time is predictably distraction-seeking. Sorting my sock drawer is definitely distraction. That’s when I know something is going on and I need to look at why I’m avoiding getting started.

Remember, the point is not to never experience resistance; it’s to know what to do when you run into your resistance. As soon as you recognize the urge to distract yourself, you can respond effectively to it. (The next two posts will discuss how to do that.)

33251232 - goal word on sticky note surrounded by distractions, diversions, confusion, interruptions, and noise to keep you from accomplishing your mission or objectiveBut you don’t have to go looking for distractions; they’re nearly everywhere. And the very nature of distraction is that it’s hard to realize what’s happening once you get distracted. So it helps to identify in advance what type of distractions affect you the most.

First Line of Defense Against Distractions or “Dishes? What dishes?”

I’ve successfully run my business from a home office because I can look past visual distractions. Breakfast dishes in the sink? Magazines sloshing off the table? Laundry piling up in my closet? When I enter my home office, I’m blissfully unaware those things.

Those of us who work from home or write at home before or after the “other job” must learn to tune out a never-ending supply of household tasks and get to the real work of writing.

distracted by houseworkOtherwise, the temptation to throw in a load of laundry when you’re struggling with a query letter or empty the dishwasher when you’re wrestling a tricky transition can be overwhelming. You can keep yourself busy all day and never get to work.

If you’re not careful, you can end up sorting your socks by color and alphabetizing the spices.

Turns out, I’m a natural at ignoring housework. Hey, you leverage whatever strengths you have.

Disclaimer: I’m not a slob. I pick up every day and I clean once a week. I just do those thing outside of work hours.

My ability to ignore visual distractions is part of why I’m not attracted to writing in coffee shops. But leaving home to write elsewhere is an effective strategy if doing house and yard tasks is how you actively avoid writing.

It’s also effective if the sight or thought of a houseful of things to do interferes with your ability to focus on writing.

If people-watching is one of your ways to distract yourself, a coffee shop might not help. Consider a private studio or a library study room instead.

Undeniable Distractions or “What IS that noise?”

I can easily tune out visual distractions and even thoughts about things outside my visual field. I’ve never once popped out of my chair thinking “My God! I’ve got to get the laundry done!”

26692259 - business, technology, internet and office concept - stressed businesswoman with tablet pc computer

But I stink at ignoring noises. This is probably connected to being an audio-learner and my ability to “hear” my characters before I “see” where they are.

A string of hot, humid days when I have to run the AC and ceilings fans almost constantly grates my nerves and shreds my concentration. The constant drone gives me a headache and drives insights and ideas right out of my head.

Retreating to a quiet study room in a library is an appealing option when I can’t control the audio distractions in my office. I need quiet to concentrate.

I also need quiet to let my mind wander creatively. I do my best dreamstorming and imagining when I sit in a quiet room, walk my dogs or swim.

Pick Your Battles

18050918 - mixing work with some coffeeI need respite from auditory distractions. But that may not be the distraction relief you need most.

The background noise of a coffee shop is the last thing I want. The presence of other people chatting is exactly what my writing comrade Sherre thrives on. A quiet library retreat, on the other hand, makes Sherre shudder.

What type of distractions are relatively easy for you to ignore? What types drive you out of your creative mind?

What small action steps can you take to minimize the most damaging distractions in your writing environment? Do you need to take a step to eliminate the distraction or many steps to move away from it?

P.S. The roofers are directly over my head now. It’s definitely time to go to the pool.

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5 Comments on “Too Distracted to Write?”

  1. Deecie June 16, 2016 at 3:40 pm #

    Stacks of dishes do not faze me. What drives me nuts are the humans who share my home, all Neanderthals, who can’t find their own shoelaces without help. They also love noisy war movies on the Surround-Sound TV, and their phones never stop. Rather than ask them to move out, I asked them to turn a garden shed into a writer’s studio at the far end of the backyard. It has no decor, no internet (major distraction), not even a phone or coffee pot. Four white walls and a laptop, and a great chair. I pack up books and print-outs as if I’m going to an office for the day.

    The White Zone has worked wonderfully, for them and me. Nonstop anxiety-grazing is also a big distraction when wrestling with a problem chapter. The shed puts a physical and psychological distance between me and the refrigerator. I can still hear screams or watch for smoke, but I don’t jump up and leave the writing like I used to. The boys spend more time with the elderly revolving-door pets (Distraction #89), and best of all, my writing and concentration have improved. At my age, that’s a big deal.


    • rosannebane June 17, 2016 at 8:22 am #

      Deecie, Thanks for your humorous comment! I get it about Distraction #89, although my dogs have pretty much resigned themselves to the fact that I’m not available when I go to my office and are usually content to lay around on the couch or beds. If you like to expand your comment into a humorous 500 to 800 words, I’d love to publish it as a guest post.



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