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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.

My Name is Rosanne, I’m a Writer and Distraction Addict

sunset-at-cabinTwo weeks ago, Claudia and I drove to a vacation cabin near Grand Rapids. We arrived in late afternoon, got settled in and listened to the loons as the sun set.

The next morning, I slept in. We enjoyed breakfast on the deck and walked the dogs. I read a bit. I flipped through magazines. I determined the lake wouldn’t be warm enough to swim in until afternoon. When I mentioned a trip into town, Claudia reminded me we’d agreed not to drive that day.

We unplug when we vacation. I don’t bring a computer; we don’t watch TV on vacation (except for one evening of watching Doctor Who DVDs); I rarely use my phone and when I do, I use it only as a phone or camera (not any other apps).

Ironically, the next chapter in the book I was reading, Cal Newport’s Deep Work: Rules for Focuses Success in a Distracted World, was “Embrace Boredom.” I tossed the book aside. I wandered up to the road, then down to the lake. I was restless, even anxious.

To put it bluntly, it was Day 2 of vacation and I was jonesing for a distraction

When was Your Last Distraction?

mass-distractionHow many hours have you spent with your phone, tablet, computer, TV, game system, etc. so far today?

What percentage of your average day is spent in the blue glow of electronics? I was going to say ‘what percentage of your waking hours’ but that would fail to account for the hours so many people spend sleeping with their phones.

New Distractions in Old Wineskins

Being constantly distracted by, engaged with, entertained by and enslaved to input from omnipresent electronics is undeniably new in human evolution. Our awareness of the consequences of perpetually shifting our attention and fracturing our focus is only just beginning.

Yet, the tendency to fall prey to the short-term pleasure of avoiding boredom at the expense of long-term accomplishment and satisfaction has been part of the human condition since the Romans.

In 1930, Bertrand Russell wrote in The Conquest of Happiness: [modern equivalences are mine]

“A life too full of excitement [aka distraction and the dopamine hit that accompanies novel input] is an exhausting life, in which continually stronger stimuli [aka more frequent distractions] are needed to give the thrill that has come to be thought an essential part of pleasure.

“A person accustomed to too much excitement [distraction] is like a person with a morbid craving for pepper, who comes at last to be unable even to taste a quantity of pepper which would cause anyone else to choke.

“There is an element of boredom which is inseparable from the avoidance of too much excitement [distraction], and too much excitement not only undermines the health, but dulls the palate for every kind of pleasure, substituting titillations [dopamine hits] for profound organic satisfactions, cleverness [and instantaneous Google searches on casual, fleeting and inconsequential questions] for wisdom, and jagged surprises for beauty.” [And I would add, substituting Likes and Followers for real human connection.]

addicted-to-distractionTo cultivate our capacity to focus our attention the way writing and other creative work demands, we must develop our tolerance for, even enjoyment of, that inseparable boredom.

Let’s Embrace Boredom Together

In upcoming posts, we’ll explore “deep work,” what Cal Newport defines as: “Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill and are hard to replicate.”

This week, I offer you two challenges:

  1. Track how many hours you spend in the presence of electronics (include, for example, the hours you spend with the internet or TV running in the background and the time you keep your phone handy ‘just in case’)
  2. See how long you can stand to do nothing without external distractions of any kind (no social media, no reading, no Sudoku, etc.) – just you and your thoughts.

Please post your observations (or objections) in a comment.

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6 Comments on “My Name is Rosanne, I’m a Writer and Distraction Addict”

  1. kperrymn September 16, 2016 at 11:22 am #

    Now I am inspired to get back to doing some of my favorite things–reading, taking walks, daydreaming. But first, I gotta tweet the link to this amazing post!


  2. Michaeline Duskova September 15, 2016 at 8:53 pm #

    Oh, my dear, I am simply not ready for that level of self-awareness! I think writing is a great distraction in and of itself. And unfortunately, the internet provides a faster (and satisfying, but not quite as satisfying) distraction than writing does. So, the internet ban (actually all media and screen ban) makes sense. Bored out of my skull, of course I’d resort to creating my own stories.

    But, oh, the pain! It’s not really that painful, but the absence of distraction/excitement begins to feel like pain when one has been immersed in it for too long.

    Great post!


    • rosannebane September 19, 2016 at 10:05 am #

      I’m with you Michaline on the discomfort of letting go of distraction. Just to be clear, though, I’m not recommending a total ban on the internet. More about that in an upcoming post.


  3. Joel D Canfield September 15, 2016 at 4:54 pm #

    After reading Mark McGuinness’ Resilience I started spending 5-10 minutes in mindfulness every morning. Everything in my life gets better as ripples spread from my increased self-awareness. When I forget, or as I have the past 9 months, temporarily abandon the practice, I feel it.

    It’s also an integral part of my creativity, which will come as no surprise to you.


    • rosannebane September 19, 2016 at 10:07 am #

      Hi Joel, You’re right — I’m not surprised that 5 to 10 minutes of mindfulness is part of how you structure your life to enhance your creativity. And such creativity! Can’t wait to read your next ebook!


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