Know your enemy. If you’re a writer, the enemy is distraction. For me, I’m much more likely to be pulled away from my story by a distraction than by running out of juice. I have found it helpful to identify my distractions so I can actively work to minimize them during my writing time.
Distraction 1 – Family
Before you stab me with a pitchfork, distractions are dangerous because they are things we love. As a husband and father to a five month old (as well as a needy Cockapoo, a parkour-practicing cat, and a closet-dwelling pervert cat) I have a lot to distract me around the house. I can’t exactly reason with my pets or my daughter, but I have talked to my wife about disturbing me while I write. She knows I won’t snap at her or get angry, but that she’s likely going to break me out of my writing. She’s also kind enough to grab my daughter if she starts crying when she knows I’m writing.
So whether your family is big or small, take the steps within your power to keep it from slowing you down once you get behind the keyboard.
Distraction 2 – Hobbies
I’m lumping hobbies together because it all falls within the group of “the first thing that comes to my mind when I’m in a difficult place in a story”. If I can’t think of what to have a character say next, where to have a scene jump to, how to fix a problem I just introduced, what to name some sort of creature or idea, hobbies are the first thing that pop in my head. Usually I get tempted to pop open a game on the computer or my phone. If not that, it’s opening the internet browser and checking Reddit or watching some random cooking videos on Youtube. Sometimes I convince myself that getting up to exercise is a nobler goal so I’ll go play tennis.
To help minimize this, I have a laptop devoted entirely to writing. It’s a little extreme, but I have no games on it and I turn off the wi-fi when I sit down to write. Even though it’s just adding the small obstacle of getting up to go somewhere else if I want to play a game, it’s often enough to squeeze out a few more minutes of writing. Speaking of which, I haven’t been using my laptop for the past week and my productivity is way down. I wonder why?
Distraction 3 – Work
I don’t know any kind of full-time job that doesn’t follow people home. As a teacher, my job doesn’t just follow me home, it stalks me and watches me sleep. Seriously though, I have about 80 essays I should be grading right now instead of writing this post. Either way, work distracts me in a different way from writing in that it often uses some of the same energy that writing does. Hobbies tempt to pull me away from my writing, but work usually causes me to never start writing. If I just finished grading a bunch of essays or planning a lesson, my mind feels too fried to do anything creative.
It’s not always possible, but to avoid this, I try to get as much work done as I can at work, and I go in early in the morning to do most of the rest. This helps keep me from doing it after work when I should be writing.
Distraction 4 – Ego
My own insecurities and expectations for my writing are often the real nail in the coffin. Family, hobbies, and work might push me off the track here and there, but nothing will bring a halt to a story faster than doubt. For me, it creeps up around 25,000 words. Once I’ve had time to hit speed and transition into the point of my story where I can really look back at what I’ve put down on paper, doubt sets in. I’ll start to ask myself if the story is really turning out as I planned. I’ll tell myself that it should be better than it is. I’ll even feel that what I have written doesn’t honor the great idea I had for the story. These thoughts will come, but I’ve learned to have a plan in place when they do.
I don’t let myself read backward more than necessary to remind myself of where I left off. This keeps my eyes forward. I also remind myself that my favorite stories once existed in a muddy pile of questionable material like my own. It’s only through multiple rounds of editing that the real story comes through. That idea is particularly helpful for me when I get stuck in a moment because it reminds me that putting down something I know I’ll edit later is better than closing the word processor and losing the 500 or more words I might have gone on to type after the speed bump.
If everything else fails, I just think on all the mistakes, plotholes, typos, bad dialogue, and long-winded description I’ve read in otherwise amazing books. Nobody is perfect; granted, that’s no excuse not to try to be. Just remember that perfection comes in the editing. Just create a secret word for yourself (mine is rhubarb). Type this word near any extremely questionable moments. I can force myself to keep moving because I know that when I come back to edit, I just need to type ctrl+F and enter “rhubarb” to find all those terrible moments that were painful to push past. Yes, I would’ve found them anyway, but there’s a power in peace of mind. Sometimes I have seven rhubarbs in one writing session, but there’s a lot of delicious, delicious bacon in between (did that even make sense?)