Last year when I began my monthly turn here at Novel Spaces, one of the things I mentioned in my “all about me” blog posting was that I don’t believe in writer’s block or the notion of waiting for The Muse to strike. To me, these terms always sounded like a fancy way of saying, “I really, really don’t want to write today.”
Now, bear in mind that this is just my way of not letting myself off the hook when it comes to this kind of thing. Of course writing can be hard, and some days it seems like the words just don’t want to come out and play. However, in my experience, what a lot of people try chalking up to “writer’s block” instead can be explained by a simpler yet less exotic-sounding term: distraction. Oh, yes, distraction is as much the enemy of writing as it is any other endeavor, perhaps more so because you’re usually working alone, with no one to spot you. Therefore, distraction, once it seizes hold of you, often is able to maintain its grip because—more often than not—there’s nobody around to call you on your shenanigans. Having regular deadlines is a nice way to battle this demon, but there are those times when even that doesn’t seem to wield a big enough stick.
Distractions are everywhere, aren’t they? Facebook and Twitter, video games, DVDs or Netflix, that Finding Bigfoot marathon on the Animal Planet: Traps, folks! Every single one, and those are just off the top of my head. I’m as susceptible as anyone to such frivolous time sucks, and my home office is an arsenal of bad influences. I write a lot of media tie-in fiction and magazine and web content, so a television in the office is a necessary tool. It’s also a siren, luring me in with promises of a favorite movie or TV series season set from my rather sizable collection. I don’t have a game system in my office, but I do have a fully functional Star Trek arcade game in one corner. Hey, I use it to…uh…research, you know…space combat tactics. Yeah, that’s it.
As for the actual writing, there are times when I experience difficulty with thinking too much about what I’ve already written, and not about what I’m supposed to be writing at the moment. Even though I often preach “Write now, edit later” as a quick, sensible writing tip, it’s another easy trap, and I’m pretty sure every writer at every level has fallen into it at some point. On other occasions, I stall because I realize I haven’t given sufficient thought to the scene I want to write, where I want the character and plot to go from this point, and so on. Or, maybe my original idea for the scene just stinks. I’m not one of those writers who can just sit and figure out those sorts of things, so I go and do something for a little while that doesn’t require a lot of thinking—exercising, cutting the grass, washing the car. More often than not, my little writer brain unknots the problem while I’m engaged in that other activity, and then I run back inside and jot down some notes so that I’m primed the next time I sit down to start banging keys.
Another trick I use is to set aside the project du jour and start a bout of “writing freeplay,” where I just get stuff out of my head and onto the page. Sometimes I don’t even bother with the laptop and go with pen and paper, or one of those composition books like we used to have in school. I have a handful of those things, their pages filled with all sorts of random, nonsensical scribblings I used as a warm-up, and this sort of exercise often helps get my brain into gear for the day’s “real” writing. Maybe it’s notes for another project, or some dialogue snippet, or backstory for a character that might not even make it into the story I’m writing, but at least I’m working the muscles. It’s a quick little self-therapy session that helps me back on task.
What gets in the way of your writing? How do you fight distraction? Do you have your own little tricks or rituals you call upon to get you back on track?