Dealing with Distractions

Our modern society and world offer more distractions than any previous generation had to face. With social media, the internet, streaming services, and instant global communications, our world has shrunk. When it comes to the creative process and the concentration needed to be productive, the seduction of the distraction can be a huge problem for new and experienced writers.

Hey, I’m like everyone else. When I feel “stuck”, that next episode of the latest Netflix show can be extremely alluring. “Just one more,” I tell myself as I turn from the computer and press the play button on my TV remote. Unless we’re careful, one more turns into several more episodes and soon that writing project is forgotten; a guilty obligation in our mind. And when you add family obligations, well, the list of things that can distract us from our creative goals is monumental.

But here’s a curious thing I’ve noticed in myself and many of my students. The more time a student has, the worse they seem at organizing themselves. I found that students with family obligations tend to be more efficient in finding those moments to focus. Maybe it’s because they are regularly responsible for other people and they’ve learned to compartmentalize. But those of us with fewer family obligations, where our time is generally our own, distractions are a huge issue. We are often the biggest excuse-makers for not writing consistently. So, if you’re in that latter camp, this blog is especially for you.

I had a friend, who like me, was single and could organize her schedule on a more or less free manner. Yet, she often found distraction after distraction to her writing, Now, of course, she didn’t see her choices as distractions. They were all needed chores that she had to do. Sensing the evasion, I asked about her writing time. What was a typical writing session like for her? Eventually, my friend confessed that other things often intruded on her thoughts a few minutes into a writing session and she would change directions and take care of that other activity.

One evening, while having dinner at a local restaurant, she told me about this show (one of the distractions) that she’d just watched. It focused on this main character who needed to finish writing his book. The character discovered that he had to take a break from his friends and normal activities while he wrote. It occurred to him that he could always pick up with his friends after he finished the novel. In short, he needed to avoid the distractions and focus on his work.

Shocked and pleased that my friend relayed this information, I asked her what she thought of the show. With a little embarrassment, she admitted to the need to do the same thing with her works. Now, whether she followed through or not, I can’t say, but at least she recognized the problem in herself. And I had to recognize the distractions to my writing. For example, I know when I write, the TV has to be off, the social media closed, and I put on some good noise-canceling headphones and play music. With all of these precautions, it only takes ten minutes before I’m in the zone and focused. 

Are you having problems concentrating on your writing because of distractions? What steps can you take to eliminate the distractions? Do you have to relocate to a private place away from family and friends to avoid distractions?

I’m reminded of what J.K. Rowling did when completing the final Harry Potter novel. She checked herself into a nice hotel, ordered room service, and completed the manuscript. Most of us probably can’t do that, but what about a local coffee shop or library study room? Whatever steps you take to manage the distractions will be worth the effort toward achieving that goal of a completed writing project.

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