If you struggle to rock into a consistent rhythm while writing amidst inevitable distractions, here are two steps to cut through to solid work, no matter what the world is doing around you.
How many times do you picture yourself getting your shit together, sitting down in a peaceful spot, playing your favorite working music, and pounding out a solid session of really great prose?
And how many times does that imagined experience translate into reality? If your life is anything like mine, mundanity and irritating obligation do a lot to intrude and destroy your peaceful work habits, and that’s not even including whatever psychological barriers you may be wrestling with at any time.
For example, I’m working on a gangster stairwell scene right now, and owing to the fact that it was really late when I did the first draft and had a slight case of brain sludge, I accidentally flopped the power between the two gang leaders’ personalities and have to start over on the scene today.
Overwhelm, Noise, Demanding Humans, and Money Problems Can Destroy Your Work Session
I used to have pretty rigid conditions for how I wanted to write, and when. Spoiler alert: I got very little writing done at that time in my life. After that, I got a strong dose of reality and hello-I’m-failing, eventually got my shit together, and started to experiment, by which I mean I started to write through everything.
I started to write through money problems, and handle distracting humans while I was tapping little bits at a time. I started to stay up absurdly late or to get up very early, to catch quiet.
I started to train myself to write with a constant, concentration-shattering veneer of noise going on.
I’ve said before on this blog (I don’t remember if that post made the last ye-olde-purge-scythe roll-through, so you might not be able to read it now), that I often write novels while playing Spongebob Squarepants episodes on half of my screen.
Embrace The Right Kind of Chaos
The first time I was ever in a large dance performance, I remember being backstage when the leading ballerina darted into the wings and started to desperately strip off all her clothes. Two or three useful persons descended like rabid hyenas and helped her shuffle manically into her next gossamer tutu.
Not having observed a true down-to-skin costume change involving pointe shoes ever before in my life, I was somewhat startled by her total lack of concern with modesty (which is saying something, because I’ve been doing costume-heavy drama with period garters and stockings for a while, and have assisted a fellow actor with a quick-lingerie change for weeks at a time before).
Having Children Made Me A Much Better Writer
Have you ever gotten yourself set up to write, to have a really great work session, and found that it just–is too quiet? That there’s too much space and attention available for your work and you’re a little set adrift by the way in which you can concentrate?
This is why I started using Spongebob. Well, I didn’t set out to use Spongebob; what happened was that I had to entertain my toddlers while I was working, so I learned how to split my screen and play Bob the Builder or Sesame Street while I typed as quickly as I could.
And It Turns Out . . .
It turns out that a moderate level of controllable distraction does a lot to settle my mind. I started to experiment with pacing and music types, and Spongebob Squarepants has exactly the right pace and auditory combination to keep my prose flowing.
The First Part of the Shortcut:
Find a distraction that works for you. This might be ugly music (I’m serious; the agitation of something that drives you crazy usually helps you type a little faster), or it might be Youtube videos of people wrapping gifts (because apparently, that’s a thing).
The point of this first part is to establish a base-level, white noise distraction that you begin to establish and associate with working. You control the distraction, and you condition your mind to think you’d better be writing while it’s going on.
The distraction works better if you kind of enjoy it, or find it soothing on some level, but don’t do anything that’s going to make you fall asleep. The distraction needs to be an agitating thing.
Part Two of the Shortcut:
Over time, you can teach yourself to associate chaos with deep productivity.
Life, unless you are super special and lucky, is never going to slow down in terms of emotional and psychological intensity. Something is going to be a problem, always, and obstacles are always going to present themselves, whether they are crushing bills, very loud neighbors, or persistent feelings of inferiority or failure.
Part two of the shortcut is to gradually train yourself to control your poison, to get in charge of something that seems to stop you from working.
And then you use that thing (in my example, Spongebob Squarepants), to get a lot more work done.
Most Problems Come Down To Control
If you are having a hard time, and I don’t care if it’s a tiny hard time or a soul-shattering “I cannot do this right now” hard time, much of your resistance to knocking out a solid session of writing comes down to your feeling, deep in your heart, that you are not really in control.
So, in the two-part shortcut, you take back control.
If you’re anything like I was, or like most of the writers I’ve known throughout my life, you’ve been stalling and/or throwing strike-type resistance to combat the out-of-control feelings in your heart.
Having a strike or putting work off gets zero words written.
Our goal here is to write words, and more words, and even more words so that we can learn and grow and become the best writer ever in the history of language. Or to finish a spanking good novel.
If you’re having a hard time getting regular, strong work sessions out of your available writing time, try this two-part shortcut to settle down and get right to work.
- Find a distraction that works for you.
- Teach yourself to associate your chosen, deliberate chaos with deep productivity.
Take back control over your process, your exposure to irritating distractions, and your writing time by first
- acknowledging that there will always be distractions or obstacles
- accepting that you can’t make all the physical or emotional or psychological barriers go away
- actively choosing an acceptable, hopefully-pleasant distraction to subject yourself to
- getting right down to work with a more peaceful and much more productive heart.
You’re reading Victor Poole. It’s not nearly as cold outside as it was forecasted to be, which I’m sort of glad about. My Christmas tree is getting a tiny bit wilty, which I think is adorable.