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Distractions and Curiosity

by Ramona Richards

I ran late with this blog post because distractions seem to be a rule of thumb at work right now. We’ve had a lot of transitions, and I’ve taken over the Christian Living line as well as the fiction line. Finding my way with new projects, many already in progress, has been slightly chaotic. In addition, I’ve been preparing to teach a fiction continuity class at the Florida Christian Writers Conference, which starts on Wednesday.

I make lists to help keep me on track, which, of course, doesn’t do any good if I don’t look at them once they’re made.

But isn’t that like the writing life in all stages? We all know that the idea of the writer working in isolation is a myth. Most of us have families; some have day jobs. Small children have their own demands, but – as in my case – a recently filled birdfeeder can be the cause of my wandering attention. Some days it doesn’t take much.

Why are distractions such a common issue with writers? Well…it’s because we’re writers! This isn’t a circular argument: The same characteristics that make us want to write are the same ones that cause us to pause at birdfeeders, suddenly notice the pattern of the wind, or find the antics of our cats fascinating. Writers are infinitely curious creatures; we are insatiable seekers of new information. Which is why the search for an authentic lacing on a seventeenth century corset can wind up being an article on shoes of the Victorian era.

So how do we stop these distractions? The easy answer is…we don’t. Nor should we try. I’ve too often seen writers chastising themselves for a quality that is, in fact, one of their greatest strengths. To curtail distractions is to curtail the very curiosity that drives our writer’s spirit.

Instead, I believe that we should take steps to channel the distractions into productivity with a few easy steps.

1) If you’re distracted while writing, you may need to give yourself a break. Set a timer (every smartphone has one) and give yourself permission to wander for a few minutes. Read something related to what you’re working on. But be strict about getting back to work when the time is up.

2) Avoid social media during your best times of day. Don’t deny visits to social media, but limit them to times when you’re naturally low. If you’re more productive in the mornings, don’t waste it on Facebook. If you’re a night owl, visit Twitter right after dinner, when the food’s got you sluggish and you haven’t caught your second wind of the day.

3) Work facing a wall or a plotting board. Don’t turn your computer toward the window. And unless you can do 1,000 words an hour in Starbucks, use coffee houses for breaks, social media, and inspiration – not the down and dirty work of writing. If you’re doing a write-in with other writers, that’s one thing. But most folks don’t get nearly the work done in coffee houses that they think they do.

I’m sure you can find your own methods, but the bottom line is that distractions are a way of life for a writer. Embrace them and see them for the inspiration that they can be.

Ramona Richards Nov 2014Ramona Richards is the Senior Acquisitions Editor for Abingdon Press, the author of seven novels, and a frequent conference speaker. She can be found online at www.ramonarichards.com.

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8 Responses to Distractions and Curiosity

  1. I was snowed in last week worked downstairs facing a bay window. The piling snow was a distraction. I would have accomplished much more upstairs in my writing corner. Great advice.

  2. Kathy Harris says:

    I feel so much better now, knowing that I’m a normal writer (if there is such a creature)! Great points, Ramona!

  3. Well, I wish you’d written this a month ago, Ramona…maybe I wouldn’t have had to ask for that extra week on my rewrite! 😉 Great post though. I’d never thought about it that way…that our greatest weakness might also be our greatest strength if properly channeled.

  4. Ramona, thanks for making me feel less lonely out on that island of distractions. And although some writers use Starbucks as their “office,” I prefer the (relative) peace and quiet of home. I appreciate your sharing.

  5. I enjoyed this article. And totally agree with the computer not facing a window…never works for me, way too many distractions!

  6. I needed to read this! It seems lately all I’ve done is follow distractions. In the morning no FB until after 10. May not even check my email until then. Ohhhh, how hard that will be.

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