This is a guest post by Selena Chambers, who writes in Florida. Selena is co-author of the Hugo and World-Fantasy nominated THE STEAMPUNK BIBLE (Abrams Image), and is currently writing a travel guide to STEAMPUNK PARIS (Pelekenisis Press) with Arthur Morgan out later this year. You can follow her at: www.selenachambers.wordpress.com or steampunkparis.com.
Distraction is the greatest form of resistance a writer faces on a daily basis. I’ve been struggling with it for years, and have come close to throwing my laptop in the trash and running as far away from the publishing game as possible. What kept me from giving up? Slowly realizing that other writers (especially those who seem like they have their act together in the public eye) and creatives struggle with the same issues. Evading distraction and finding focus is, of course, a personal journey and you have to find what works for you and your environment, but in speaking with my friends and gazing into my own navel, I have realized that distraction comes in two forms: that which takes you closer to writing, and that which takes you away from it.
The former is Life and all its abstracts: birth, death, health, sickness, economy, employment, politics, friendship, family, solitude, love, sex, hate, education, and travel. True, not much writing is happening while undergoing these experiences, but they all inform it by putting you physically in the world to observe, absorb, and feel. It shapes your perspective, gives you an impulse and ultimately grants you something to say.
The other kind of distraction, that which takes you away from your writing, are the activities designed for amusement and instant gratification and while relaxing, do very little to inform the work, even though we may trick ourselves in to thinking so. For some, it may be playing video games, binging on Girls, fingernails that need clipping, or in my case, going online.
By no means is this some kind of Jonathan Franzen rant. I love the internet. It is ubiquitous with all the things, and while that is a modern-day marvel, its pervasiveness can be a modern-day time sink. When I sit down to write, I have no problem ignoring my eyebrows and the cat bunnies blowing by like tumbleweeds under the A/C vents, because I can resist the urge to get up from my desk to go handle them. Not so the online “to-do” list, which is much harder to disregard because all the tools are right here at my fingertips.
More often than not, on days when the writing is like digging into dry Georgia clay, I find myself mulling over this list. With a few clicks, I am out of Scrivener’s composition mode, and am in Safari riding the instant gratification wave of multitasking immediacy. I’ll send out queries, answer e-mails, answer social media direct messages, respond to tags and mentions, make a blog post, share the blog post, console in friends and families tribulations, cheer on peers and colleagues triumphs, read this timely article and discuss that timely article, read this stupid drama and discuss even more, scan recent calls for submissions, research a story idea, seek source texts, and when all of that is done, pay bills. I can kill a whole day checking things like this off and feel pretty good about myself. The next day, however, when I am back with that blank page, I would realize how much was left undone and how much more was now left to do.
On on that next day, I try to unplug. To do this, I have to get completely away from the computer. Sure, you can deactivate your Facebook, turn off wi-fi, unplug the router, or install some sort of time management or focus software, all of which can be turned back on, plugged in, or disabled. If I really want to avoid distraction, I scrawl in longhand or peck on a typewriter. Even with these two methods, I inevitably come back to computer when I have to transcribe into Word, which sometimes feels redundant and archaic. Even so, at the end of the day I feel more accomplished and nearer to my true writing goals than all the networking, posting, and chasing I do online. Social media and the writer’s platform is one of the puzzle pieces to gaining and maintaining a successful writing career, but what has become even more bewildering is that unplugging and working with focus and without noise is even harder for the twenty-first century writer to navigate.