seems that every writer I talk with these days is struggling to meet
book deadlines. The enemy?
I once read that distractions
are responsible for 80 percent of the wasted time—and lack of
productivity—in every office, everywhere, regardless of the profession
or industry. No way I believe that. If the number had been 90
percent? Now, that I’d believe.
For me, distractions vary. Some
days, it’s big stuff, like making decisions for an ailing mother-in-law
in a nursing home, or finding time to visit a hospitalized friend. Or
not-so-critical disruptions, such as preparing for an upcoming
conference, or ol’ Uncle Barney, who didn’t mention when he called to
say “. . . love to see you while I’m in Baltimore!” that he’d booked a
one-way ticket from Lalaland.
Other times, it’s small stuff,
like a raging sinus infection, or the books in my teetering “To Be
Read” pile. Birds twittering outside my office window, or the
neighbors, doing god-knows-what with their trash cans (again!) on the
other side of my office wall. The scent of freshly-nuked popcorn
wafting from the kitchen, or memory of those chocolate-covered raisins
hidden way in the back of . . . oops! Didn’t mean to let that
cat out of the bag!
distracts me isn’t as, well, distracting as how the
distractions chisel away at every minute that makes up my work day.
Each nanosecond spent in Distracted Mode is one less I’m spending on my
WIP . . . and one farther from getting it turned in by deadline.
I’ve never been the meditative
type, so when people say things like “Zen” and “Yoga” and “meditate,”
my eyes glaze over. I don’t listen to music or watch TV while working,
so well-intentioned suggestions such as “Wear earplugs” or “Put on a
headset” goes (I apologize in advance for the pun) in one ear and out
“Go for a walk” or “Try working
in a different room, for a change of scenery” might work for other
writers, but I need to be here, where I have easy
access to my research and interview notes, dictionary, and concordance.
“Set ground rules for others in
the household: ‘Work Zone; No Talking!’” (If you knew the people I live
with, you’d giggle at that one, too.)
“Get up and stretch!” (Really?
on something else for a while!” (But this project
is the one I promised to have on my editor’s desk in . . . a minute and
“Make yourself a nice hot cup
of tea!” (Uh-huh. Sure. When it’s 90 degrees outside. A-yup. [But even
if it was twenty-two out there, the tea never stays
hot long enough.])
“Focus on the step-by-step
process of the task you’re avoiding!” (Y’mean, like, “Turn on computer.
Sit on chair. Put fingers on keyboard. Call up WIP file. Stare like
moron at monitor”? Thanks. I already feel plenty stupid without
concentrating on that list.)
“Have a snack!” (Um, have you
seen this rapidly-expanding waistline of mine???)
a list of task goals!”
yourself concentrate!” (I won’t sully your pristine mind with my
reaction to that.)
Seriously, I’m grateful as all
get out to the well-intendeds in my life, but the fact is only one
piece of advice has ever worked for me: “Write down what’s distracting
Some days, ol’ Uncle Barney tops
the list. (Truthfully, he hasn’t even made the list
since I bought him that ticket back to Lalaland, but I digress.) On
other days, it’s my cell phone chirping from the next room, or the
deafening squeal of the trash truck’s brakes. (You’d think with all the
taxes I pay, the county could do something about that. But I digress.
The act of putting pencil to
paper and scribbling all the things that I’m thinking about or focusing
on instead of my WIP? Well, the exercise has a
couple of perks, as I see it.
For one thing, in this day of
cell phones and e-mails and text messages, it isn’t all that often that
I get to practice using a writing implement to, well, to write.
Sister Bertina (that evil old battle-ax) would be so proud!
For another, it clears a pathway
through my crowded brain, and as I’m writing down the problems (i.e.
distractions), solutions present themselves. In my humble opinion, that
is the true definition of Zen.
Before I know it, I’m back at
the keyboard, click-clacking happily along.
Until the dog needs to pee, or
hubby wants to know what’s for supper, or . . .
Quick, hand me my pencil, will