New “Writer Problems” Series, Topic #9: Distractions, Disruptions & Disturbances

by | Sep 20, 2021 | Articles | 0 comments

This week’s blog post has three sections: distractions, disruptions and disturbances, as if they were three unique items—which, of course, they can be.

There’s a common “writer” meme that reads, “Being a good writer is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the internet.” I think it was likely adapted from an old quote from E.L Konigsburg, “The difference between being a writer and being a person of talent is the discipline it takes to apply the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair and finish.” Or Roald Dahl, “Writing is mainly perspiration, not inspiration.”

Whatever the source, it’s easy to get distracted. I’ve seen a zillion suggestions on how to avoid the lure of the internet: write by hand, write on a typewriter, and, my personal favorite impractical suggestion, write on a word processor (presumably purchased in 1993) with no internet connection.

 

But What About Legitimate Disruptions?

In many ways, I find disruptions even more challenging than distractions. Whereas a distraction can come from within—your own habit of thinking about anything other than your WIP, a tendency to jump over to check Facebook “just for a second”—a disruption can be anything that comes from without. Phone calls, minor emergencies, illness…in short, any interruption that isn’t self-generated.

At times, such disruptions are brutal. If they take you away from your work too long, you can lose something valuable…from a dialogue scene that flowed like water to a plot hole you were about to resolve.

And then there are the disturbances.

 

“When Angry, Count to Four; When Very Angry, Swear”

Mark Twain’s famous quote was practically a mantra for most of my adult life, and at my age I’ve probably sworn more times than Frank Zappa. But there are disturbances of types other than anger. Worry, in particular, is a character defect of mine that started in childhood and lasted well into adulthood.

One thing that has helped me a lot with the external disturbances I make internal is a quote from a 12-step group. I first read it in 1989, and it’s helped me occasionally. The sooner I remember it, the sooner I can calm myself the heck down:

“When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situationsome fact of my lifeunacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.”

And yes, I hate the expression “It is what it is.” (No kidding, Captain Obvious!) Still, if I can tweak it to “This is where we are,” or “This is the situation,” it helps me deal with it. 

To sum up:

Distractions: Because I find these are usually self-inflicted, I have to be disciplined enough to steer myself back to the task at hand. Scheduling blocks of time for writing helps in this regard. 

Disruptions: Can’t be predicted. Again, I try to steer myself back to where I was. If that doesn’t work, I take a break, and hope I can pick up the thread upon returning a second time.

Disturbances: Perhaps the most challenging, as they can appear any time, and range from physical problems to garden-variety worry. For these, I take a break for as long as I need to, and focus on self-care, reading positive stuff, and so on, until I have to move on to the next task.

That’s it for me. What about you? Any suggestions for writers on dealing with distractions, disruptions, and disturbances? Feel free to comment below.

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