Distractions and Writing (Day 17)

I keep a writer’s log, one of the purposes of which is to write out my goals (daily, weekly, + end goal), track my progress, and write a few words as to my “writing mood” on any given day. On the whole, I reach my weekly landmarks, but one of the things that continues to boggle my mind is how I can be so ultra-productive on Tuesday, and then lethargic beyond belief on Wednesday.

What makes me feel like I am in a rat race is that no matter how prolific I am one day, it can never make up for the time I lose on the days when I am not. That means that I am often running in “recovery mode,” trying to recuperate for all that lost time. And, as you may have guessed, instead of using that energy to actually write, I spend it procrastinating.

Some days I wake up bright and early, full of the most noble intentions, totally determined to work on my novel. Because I have become a master in delaying tactics, I may convince myself that I deserve to read a few chapters of a book I am reading before starting on my own work. Then the phone rings and it is an old friend and I chat for an hour. One thing leads to another, and by the time I am physically ready to work on my art, I am mentally exhausted, and no longer in the “mood.”

Distractions are to writing what pests are to crops: numerous, dreadful, and potentially deadly. Once an artist enters that gracious state of “flow,” what could be more detrimental than the ringing of the phone or the beep of an email notification? And yet, we succumb. It is as if we are constantly looking to sabotage our own work and productivity, and so we answer the phone, check the email, and from then on we are tempted with even more distractions.

External distractions

External distractions are everywhere: from your cell phone to your computer, from your family to your friends, these types of distractions can lure you like sirens away from your duty. Thankfully, most of these are easily conquered with discipline (i.e. putting your phone on silent), planning ahead (i.e. escaping to the library when you know that there will be a full house), and a little bit of help from programs devoted

to helping you manage the very human vice of wasting time (i.e. Freedom, SelfControl, Anti-Social and StayFocused can block the internet or just specific sites).

Internal distractions

Regrettably, the greatest source of distractions is not external, but internal. Even if your phone is not on silent and you hear a beep, you could very easily ignore it and go on with your writing. The problem is that the majority of us simply cannot resist a distraction, and so we are almost excited when we get one.

Let’s look at a common predicament. Writers often have to do research, and of course, the Internet is readily available to meet our needs. The problem is that researching a simple detail, even if it is completely extraneous to the heart of our story, can end up frittering away hours of our day. I would tell you how to better manage your time in such a situation, but you do not need me to tell you that—the answer is obvious and of course you know it instinctively.

The truth is that most of us are deeply reactive, and not proactive, creatures. We sit and twiddle our thumbs, waiting for the someone out there to come to us and tell us what to do next. Perhaps this is reason why we chase after distractions: we half-expect that in it there will be some message, some how-to-guide on how to proceed with our novel, our portfolio, our sculpture, our life, our everything…

And of course, the only way out is to break free from this imprisoning paradigm and to create goals that have such purpose for us that we cannot help but do otherwise. We have to ensure that our motivation is intrinsic and that we understand, fully and without reservation, that nobody, no matter how much people love us and want to help us, will or can even show us the path that will lead us to our greatest fulfillment.

I certainly do not have the magic formula to eradicating internal distractions, but I will say this: even though today was a major set-back for me in terms of moving forward with my novel, I still wrote this entry. I got it done because not only did I commit myself to one per weekday, but also because I know that there are people who are waiting for it. Perhaps I am fooling myself and no one is actually waiting for me to hit the “publish” button on my website. But that is superfluous; what matters in such circumstances how we perceive the matter. The point is that I have visualized a bunch of readers who are anxious to read what I will write because they find it useful and interesting, and so I feel motivated by this sense of duty to them.

It is the sense of responsibility that intrinsically motivates people. When we know that we are needed, we rise to the occasion, and nothing else matters but our obligation to those to whom we are entrusted.