WWD: Writing While Distracted


How do you overcome scattered wits and compromised emotions?
By Elizabeth Cutright

This week I’ve been distracted.  Not only are all the usual issues of daily life tugging at my feet, but unanticipated events are also throwing me for a loop.  Unexpected lunch dates…Mis-calendared meetings (“you mean they’re waiting for me in the conference room right now?  I thought we were meeting next Tuesday!”)… Flirty eyes and wayward hearts…. and too many cocktails at a Tuesday happy hour…

It’s been a heady start to the year.

Now that the holidays are a hazy memory, I expected to be laser focused, so I’m a bit disappointed that my words and paragraphs haven’t spilled out onto page after page of brilliant prose.  Instead I finger a ballpoint pen, stare at the postcard from Sevilla I’ve pinned to my office bulletin board, and daydream about café-con-leche and cobblestoned streets.

And the cursor just keeps right on blinking, it’s demanding little rhythm an accusation.

“Write, write, write” it thrums in some pre-programmed algorithm, and I sigh some more.

Over at the NaNoWriMo forum “Writing When You’re Emotionally Distracted”  , a participant TheInkCaster asked, “what are your emotional distractions (whether silly or serious, giddifying or depressing)? And how do you push them aside to immerse yourself in your characters, if you don’t have the luck to be writing a character with an identical drama?”

The answers ranged from cutting off all communication to channeling your emotions into your work to taking your frustrations and emotional outbursts and using them to enhance your story.

For Sovay, an angry fight with her mother morphed into a scene in her NaNoWriMo manuscript. “I had a rather explosive fight with my mother a few days ago, right before she was supposed to have surgery,” she explains, “So I spent all day worried out of my mind that something would happen to her and the last thing I said to her was something along the lines of “fine, get the heck out of my apartment!’”

“Anyways, she continues, “I wrote a very similar situation into my story. Apparently, my character, who knew the murder victim before she died, had also had a similarly explosive fight. I’ll tone it down later, but for now, that’s how it is. I just wrote it in.

Participant xb16b2 lets her feelings feed her work. “So I’ve had a rather tumultuous past-seven-years,” she writes “and I basically ended up coping with a lot of my emotions by channeling them into whatever I was writing. It’s easier to write scenes where your character is concerned when you yourself are; that sort of thing. “

But not all emotion is the same, as xb161b2 discovered. “This does not seem to work well with hyperactive happiness,” she writes, “which I’m realizing for the first time. But for the other stuff, I’ve found it helpful to just write the things I’m feeling into appropriate snippets of my story and piece them together when I’m feeling more neutral.”

Moodle King says, “try killing someone off. That always makes me feel at least a little better!”

While AFox advocates the same solution I’m always harping on – when the writing feels hard, write more.

“The more I write the easier it becomes. You train yourself to let go of your everyday life and immerse yourself in the story, even if you can only manage small chunks at a time.”

Over at Jeff Goins’s website, Goins offers additional solutions to overcome distraction.  Goins, the author of Wrecked: When a broken world slams into your comfortable life, advocates the Pomodoro Technique, which involves focusing on one task for 25 minutes , then pausing for five before starting again.  For writers, obviously, that task should involve writing.

Because in the end, the writing’s the thing, right?  And when our lives feel tumultuous or manic or we just can’t settle down, writing is what can ground us and help us make sense of what’s happening and how we can use our circumstances to learn and grow.

“This isn’t about forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to do,” Goins writes “ It’s about using your energy in short bursts to create your best work.”

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