By Heather Fenton
I figured for my first blog post, I would pen something extremely helpful for my fellow writers – How to Write without Distractions. Along with being my first entry into the wonderful world of blogging, this is also my first foray into writing fantasy/sci-fi. Because really, as I’m sure you know, we just cannot write in a vacuum. If anything, we multi-taskers have to write while vacuuming.
Distractions are brought by a spouse asking if “that bump looks normal”; by a child (or four, in my case) needing a snack/something out of reach/an immediate answer to a totally random question; and by a dog who desperately needs to go outside. Of course, these living creatures have needs that must be tended to, and as an at-home mom/writer, that’s my primary job.
But I also get distracted by lesser things, like the intricacies of bird-chipmunk-squirrel-rabbit relations around the bird feeder outside my office window, the photos that need to go in albums, the coffee caramel ice cream in my freezer, and the endless puttering possible around my 124-year-old house.
Since it’s just not feasible to eliminate all of our various distractions, we must somehow manage them. We must balance them carefully with our commitment to the craft of writing. And sometimes, I think we can actually embrace our daily distractions.
First, we can do away with visual distractions. I used to generously share my home office with my children. Basically, I had a computer desk in a playroom filled with toys, art supplies, musical instruments, and my kids. In a moment of clarity last year, I realized that we grown-ups had to reclaim our house, starting with the office. I managed to fit all of the kids’ paraphernalia in their bedrooms. And after eight years in storage, my books and artwork came out of the plastic totes to create an inspiring (and much quieter) writing space for me. My kids know that it’s MY desk and MY space now. And they’re fine with that! Whether your writing space is in an office, in your backyard, or on (or under) your bed, keep it inspiring and as free as possible of clutter (yours or anyone else’s).
Next, we can manage our time distractions. Not quite as easy, but definitely doable – you just need to find a method that works with your schedule. Some people wake up early and write for at least one hour every morning. I’m not that disciplined. I also feel like I need to take care of any outstanding paperwork, appointment-making, and correspondence before I can devote my mind to creativity. Others, especially those with full-time jobs, write well into the evening and overnight hours. These people are superheroes. I don’t know how they do it! Personally, my brain shuts down around 9 pm. Plus, I’d rather be relaxing with my husband in the living room than sitting alone at my desk.
A morning person, I wake up around 6:30 am and check e-mail/texts/Facebook while having my coffee. Although we’re being asked these days to have a more visible presence in electronic media, I really try to limit my online time. It’s like an alternate universe where time evaporates at the speed of light. I even try to set time limits when I’m doing research for my books, or I’ll be hopping from link to related link for hours! Generally, after my “morning chores” I concentrate on writing for 1 to 2 hours. This is official, blocked-off, “don’t talk to me unless you have a critical medical emergency” time. This schedule works especially well during the school year when my kids are in class. Although I have to admit, most of June was lost to end-of-year school functions, scout activities and gymnastics shows. Other than revising a couple of pieces, I didn’t write a single word. But that’s okay. It works the other way too. When I’m suddenly inspired and really in the zone with a manuscript, I’ll let that laundry pile up ‘til the kids are on their last pair of clean skivvies. It’s all about shifting priorities, right?!
Summer vacation means I definitely have to be more flexible – if we do a morning activity, like visiting the aquarium, I’ll take my writing time in the afternoon. And the kids are fine with that too. Even at ages 3, 5, 7, and 8 they understand that even though I’m home, writing books is what I want to do “for my job”, and they’re wonderfully supportive of that. They love books, love to read, and now the older three love writing and illustrating their own little books. They each have their own folders in MS Word with their stories, which means I have to share the computer sometimes, but that’s okay – I’m fine with that (unless one of them gets published first – then I’ll cry).
Which brings me to embracing the distractions. Sometimes, when I’m stuck on a particular piece I’m writing, a distraction is just what I need to return to that piece later with fresh insight. As frustrated as I sometimes get with interruptions, they often bring a nugget of truth or humor or perspective. And sometimes it’s just fun to take five minutes to do The Lost Tooth Tango. When writing for children, we need to inhabit the child’s world, or at least make as many visits there as we can. In another year, all four of my kids will be in school full time. I’ll have six hours a day, five days a week to concentrate on writing. Which will be great, but on the other hand, I won’t have my personal ambassadors to the wonderful, fleeting world of childhood.
So this summer I may be logging a few less hours a week actually writing. But I’m spending time with my children, having little adventures, and looking at the world through their eyes, which will only enhance my writing. Just yesterday we went to a book store. After a grouchy woman shushed my daughter for reading aloud (and after I pointed out that we were in a bookstore, not a library), it gave me an idea for a story. And I know there’s got to be a story in all these animals around the birdfeeder working together to eat us out of house and home. So far, the squirrel seems to be the leader, but the chipmunks are tunneling like mad and the blue jay appears to be organizing the other birds for a mutiny. They’ve
only distracted me for 7 ½ minutes during the writing of this article.
Do you have a unique way of dealing with distractions during your writing time?
A member of SCBWI and three wonderful writing groups, Heather Fenton writes mainly picture books, but is expanding her literary horizons and delving into the world of YA.