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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.

Can Distractions Actually Help Your Writing?

squirrel creative ideaWe are more easily distracted than we were ten years ago. Every day, far more things compete for our attention than at any other time in history. Most of those things are distractions and irrelevant tangents.

So how can you navigate through all the opportunities to distract yourself? How can you reserve time for writing? And how can you keep your focus on your writing in that reserved time?

The Power of No

The key is knowing when to say “no.”

Daniel Pink (author of the bestselling Drive) offers a simple heuristic for discerning what’s worthy of your time and what’s a distraction. And in the name of efficiency, he does this in less than two minutes.

The Power of Yes

distractionBut the other end of the polarity is just as important. You need to know when to say to “yes” to distraction. Not only the “Hell, yes” Pink mentions; sometimes you need to say “Hmm, that might be interesting” and follow a completely random tangent.

Studies show that students who are diagnosed with ADHD are more creative and often more successful later in life. Which is not to say we should be envious of people with attention deficits. (Read more about the superpowers of ADHD and why it still isn’t as marvelous as it might sound…) 

But these studies do demonstrate a link between creativity and distractibility.

The Power Of Both

In fact, creativity is linked both to the ability to focus on one thing and the ability and willingness to follow apparently random distractions. As I’ve said before and will explore further in an upcoming post, we need random.

“Hell yes or no” is a great guide for staying on task, focusing on one thing and improving productivity. It’s valuable for writers some of the time, maybe even most, but certainly not all of the time.

creative uncertainitiesEfficiency is not the goal for those of us who want to create. Creativity is never efficient. (More about this is an upcoming post.)  An effective (not efficient) blend of focused productivity and random distraction is what we need to shoot for.

Every once in a while, surrender your quest for efficiency and embrace random distractions.

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One Comment on “Can Distractions Actually Help Your Writing?”

  1. Joel D Canfield August 18, 2016 at 12:01 pm #

    “Efficiency is not the goal for those of us who want to create.”

    Excellent reminder. Separating our two minds, the creative wild one and the focused relentless one, seems to be a theme among those who get it (you, Pressfield, Mark McGuinness, Seth Godin) yet still seems to be a challenge for my clients and peers.


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