Learning to Write — Kill the Distraction Vampires with a Break to the Heart

The more I write for clients and not just myself, or for anonymous Internet consumption, the more I learn about myself and the process of writing. And the business of writing. And the people who need written content.

I also learn lessons about my writing abilities and what I need to have or do to create good copy and content. There are the obvious needs, like a comfortable chair and decent monitor, or a good breakfast. Or the little rubber dude whose eyes pop out when I squeeze him while I’m thinking.

And then there are the oddities, like music without lyrics. I can’t even have music playing that once had lyrics, such as instrumental versions of songs I know. Lyrics make me subconsciously sing along no matter how hard I try not to, and I can not write when I’m that distracted.

Some of this stuff is not obvious until you finally notice their effect on you. You may not realize how much they interfere with your ability to be creative. Until you do.

However, I don’t know a single writer who would disagree — it is extremely important to eliminate distractions if you want to write consistently.

Aside from the fact that we practice our craft on the ultimate distraction machine, there are a million other things around us that work hard for our attention. The Internet, bills, family, the phone, anything and everything wants a piece of us all day long.

“I don’t know a single writer who would disagree — it is extremely important to eliminate distractions if you want to write consistently.”

However, distractions sort of follow the rules in the old vampire lore, meaning they can’t come in unless you invite them. If you hang garlic over the windows and doors (turn off the phone) and close the door to your office with a strict Do Not Disturb policy (crucifixes on the walls) you’ll have taken a big step toward eliminating distractions. I know this is easier said than done, but don’t invite distraction vampires in to suck up your time and creative energy.

If something is on your mind, buried so deeply in your thoughts that you can’t work freely around it, then you need to deal with it and put it to rest. If you need to remember it, write it down. If you need to pick someone or something up, create an appointment in your calendar. Get it out of your mind and into a form that will allow you to stop worrying about it.

I have battled back and forth with some process issues too, such as editing while I write, or worrying too much about word count in a first draft. They are both distractions, and will make me crazy if I let them.

If I am constantly stopping to correct spelling or verify my word count, that constant distraction is disrupting my thoughts. Those two things will make me jump back and forth on the page instead of working my way forward to the end. I have learned to stop worrying about word count until it’s time to edit and to turn off spellcheck until I am ready to proof.

Yesterday, an article I was working on with a deadline taught me something new. I was struggling with the ending, and kept going back and forth to get the wrap up just right. No matter how hard I tried, I hated the last sentence. Or sometimes the last paragraph. Then back to the last sentence.

I finally got up and walked away. I went upstairs and out to my car to get a notebook I needed for my next project. That whole adventure might have taken a total of ten minutes, if you count the Gatorade detour.

FINE. It was Oreos and milk, and it was fifteen minutes. But that’s all. As far as you know.

“There have to be rules even though I’m the only one who will know if I break them.”

The truly amazing thing was — when I sat back down, the end just flowed right out. In the next few minutes I closed out what I couldn’t seem to make happen for the previous forty-five.

I have always believed that walking away from an unfinished article would kill that writing session. The ultimate distraction. I thought that getting up from my desk was the same as letting the muse out of the bottle to stretch her legs too, only that one taste of freedom would send her running, or flapping, for the hills. I’d be done until she reappeared.

But, when I sat back down, so did she. Not only did the muse come back but she was refreshed and really ready to go. My eyes were also clearer from getting away from the monitor and the pain in my back was reduced by just those few minutes. It wasn’t a distraction, or the death of the writing session, it brushed away the cobwebs and let me recharge.

This lesson gets filed in the same drawer as learning to treat writing as a job and not hobby anymore. I need to have limits, which means no open ended breaks. There have to be rules even though I’m the only one who will know if I break them.

I have to associate real value with the work, and know that I’m cheating myself by lingering at the refrigerator, or on a social media site, or by daydreaming at the window. I have a job to do, and I need to get it done on time.

But sometimes we need to take a break. If things aren’t going well, step away from the keyboard and reset your mind. Go for a short walk, or just move to a different chair. Take your eyes off the screen and reboot your head.

However, don’t grab a tablet or your cell phone while you’re “on a break.” Don’t hit Facebook to see what’s going on, you need to keep your connection to the work alive. Just pull back a little to regroup. Any content consumption will fill your head with more distraction and make it harder to reconnect to your writing project when break time is over.

Take a break when you get stuck. Don’t open the door to distraction and invite the vampires in to chew on your neck. But, if you can’t focus on your project any longer, or if you are so stuck in one spot that you’re going around in a circle, you need to consider that a distraction as well. Do what it takes to stay on track and take a break.

Now get to work, break time’s over. I’m headed back myself, because every day I write to learn, and every day I learn to write.

(ps — no vampires were injured during the making of this post)