Writing

The Attraction of Distraction

“It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a serious writer in possession of a looming deadline, must be in want of a distraction.”

That’s how the quote goes, right?

Well, it’s how I feel right now, dealing with my first ever contractually obligated deadline. Over the next few weeks, I have to revise my entire novel and deliver it on time to my editor. So, naturally, I’m looking for anything else to do besides write.

The mantra of distraction: just do it later.Of course, I’m aware this is a common phenomenon among authors. Even though we love writing more than anything else in this whole wide world, we’ll look for any reason not to write. We get easily distracted by shiny objects or Twitter feuds. That’s why programs like Write or Die exist. They force you to do nothing except churn out the sentences, endlessly putting one word after another. If you stop for any reason, they’ll start deleting what you’ve already written.

I know. Terrifying.

Thing is, they don’t work for me. At least, they haven’t so far. Even when I’m completely focused on my writing project, my natural process is to pause, stare at the screen, and flip through my mental Rolodex until I figure out exactly what it is I want to say. This is especially true in the revision phase, when I’m not drafting and exploring, but (supposedly) delivering a finely crafted, thoughtful, polished piece. So when I’m using a productivity program and I hit one of those temporary breaks in my word turnout to stare at the keyboard and ponder my next move, all of a sudden, I look up and WHAT IS GOING ON WHERE ARE MY WORDS NO THAT TOOK ME A LONG TIME TO FIGURE OUT PLEASE TELL ME THIS IS BACKED UP SOMEWHERE ON GOOGLE DRIVE OR I MIGHT LOSE IT.

So, I don’t use them anymore.

Fortunately, though, I’ve found some other tactics that do work for me when I just can’t stop procrastinating.

How I (Try to) Eliminate Distractions and Get Things Done

Selectively blocking the Internet. I don’t like to turn off my Wi-Fi completely, especially when I’m revising, just in case I need to look up a colloquialism or verify a fact. But I can block out the websites that are my #1 procrastination go-tos. Twitter. Facebook. Pinterest. I have no justifiable need to access these sites when I’m writing. So I use a Chrome extension called Citrus to block them out. It’s amazing how much my productivity improves when I do.

Getting out of the house. Sometimes, blocking the Internet is not enough. Sometimes, I’ll stare mindlessly into space, silently working myself into a panic, jittery with Imposter Syndrome. When this happens, I’ll pack up my laptop, head over to my local library, and set up shop on one of their many couches or desks. Just the simple act of being around other working individuals lends an air of credibility to what I’m doing. See? I’m not loafing around the house in my pajamas. I’m out in the real world, with real people, doing real work! Time to make this novel shine!

Compiling a checklist. When all else fails, I create a to-do list. Just like Susie in The Wild Woman’s Guide to Traveling the World, I’m a big fan of lists. Checking off boxes gives me a sense of accomplishment, which in turns motivates me to check off even more boxes. If I have a huge, seemingly insurmountable task to complete (such as, I don’t know, “Revise this whole novel”), I like to break it down into small, achievable goals. Instead of “Write 5,000 words” or “Fix this confusing disaster of a scene,” I’ll outline the specific changes I have to make, and turn each bullet point into a checkable task. (This method works because I’m a pretty hardcore plotter, but that’s a post for another day.)

Of course, sometimes even these tricks don’t work. Like, right now, for example, I’ve found a very creative way to procrastinate. By writing this blog post.

Okay, that’s enough distraction for one day. Time to get back to revisions.

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