In Defense of Distractions

Distractions have a bad rep in the writing world. Schedule time for writing. Stick to it. Don’t let yourself be distracted. It’s the insidious, ubiquitous, guilt-causing meme that drives writers to disconnect from the internet, turn off their phones, close the blinds, chain themselves to their keyboards, and shut themselves away until they’ve achieved their daily quota of words. And it works.

The only thing wrong with it is that it doesn’t work for everyone. It certainly doesn’t work for me. There are days when, if it wasn’t for distractions, I wouldn’t write at all. Those are the days when the words won’t come, the plot won’t resolve, the characters don’t know what the heck they want to do next, the days when I can’t get my brain to work for more than a few minutes at a time.

What do distractions do for me? They give me a break from the frustrations, the mental fatigue, the feeling that I’m never going to be able to finish this monster of a WIP and I might as well trash it. Some distractions, the mindless ones like washing the dishes, let my mind run free while problems work themselves out in the background without my having to pay attention to them. Other distractions, like reading blog posts, tweets, articles, provide input that can serendipitously trigger inspiration, the solutions to writing problems, a change in perspective.

Yes, distractions can carry you away into a black hole of a time-sink where nothing at all gets done. But it’s less likely to happen if you know yourself, as a writer and a person. If you don’t know yourself, you’re probably not going to make it as a writer, anyway, so maybe distractions can also be teachers. But for the most part, think of distractions as breaks that give your brain time and space to reset itself.

Finished reading? Good. Now get back to work. You have a WIP to finish.

4 thoughts on “In Defense of Distractions

  1. Sometimes when you’re stuck the only way to get your thoughts to resolve is to stop actively thinking. Indulging in distractions lets your thought go to the back of your mind and work themselves out.

    You’re right that it’s all about knowing yourself. It’s also about being sensible. When I’m sitting down to write I turn off my instant notifications so they don’t pull me out of a thought, but I’m not afraid to step away and do something else. As long as you control the distractions and don’t let them control you, you’re good.

  2. I was just thinking about this fact this morning before I read your post, and it’s so true. So often we hear advice about “butt-in-the-chair” writing which is great for some occasions, but almost no one ever talks about “give-yourself-a-break-and-take-your-dog-for-a-walk” writing. Because sometimes when you’ve stared at the screen for too long your mind starts to go blank. You can only see the words in front of you, and that’s not a good thing. Writing depends on inspiration and inspiration always comes from outside.
    Excellent post!

  3. Much thanks for that comment, and for the RT. What I should have added to the post, but got distracted, was that the brain actually needs time off so it can do its work at a subconscious level. There are very good neurological reasons why inspiration will come in a flash when the person is thinking about something else entirely.

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