By Cynthia Ruchti
I admit it. I’m hyper-interested. I find everything fascinating and what isn’t fascinating is distracting.
So imagine trying to focus to write a synopsis, a proposal, a chapter, a grocery list. Maybe you can identify.
Melting icicles drip from the eaves troughs as I key in the words “icicles drip.” And although their rhythm and sparkling beauty is intriguing, other than that, they don’t even relate to the point I’m making.
But they do. Watching them affects my writing. They give me an idea for a scene. They quiet my soul. Beauty does that. And yet, the longer I watch, the fewer words I’m logging in my writing day.
Writing distractions are as plentiful as rats in a New York sewer. Eww. New word picture. As plentiful as maggots on road kill. Double eww.
Distractions are plentiful.
A bad review. Missing the bestseller list again. Epic edits. A boiling oil with an acid chaser critique. Laundry.
I’m heading into the final weeks of a major deadline, excited about the story, but fighting off the temptation to repaint the kitchen. So, I’m heading into foxhole mode.
It’s not any more effective to decide not to be distracted than it is to decide that I no longer smell bacon from three miles away. I need foxhole training to kick in at a time like this.
On my literary agency’s blog, I read these routine-altering words from a military veteran:
“I was trained to remain motionless, yet highly alert and ‘coiled,’ for periods of up to a couple of days, in places replete with unmentionable sensations, smells, and bugs.
“The trick was in developing a mental compartmentalization. Having to be ‘eyes-on’ with attention to detail took precedence, while the centipede crawling up your sleeve had to be ignored.
“How do you ignore a centipede? You ‘turn off’ the part of your brain that is susceptible to irritation. That’s the key – the things we find hard to endure in this line of work tend to be irritants, and not critical nodes.
“It’s also important to consider that we will often want to hold onto our irritations and obstacles – at best, they give us a perceived battle in which we can prove ourselves. At worst, they’re a good excuse for failure.
“We can dial down the sensitivity to irritation, perhaps by consciously placing them in perspective (at least no one is likely to shoot me today) or by putting them out of consciousness (“I’ll think about that tomorrow…tomorrow IS another day!”).
“In the end, the best thing is to simply place the things that try our endurance in the hands of the Almighty, but not many can give them to Him and not be tempted to take them back. Perhaps the exercises above can help weaken them, so we won’t WANT them back!”
Thank you, Andrew Budek-Schmeisser, for a word picture that works. I can be hyper-vigilant – need to be – while ignoring the hoards of centipedes. It’s what writers do.
That, and laundry.
Cynthia Ruchti is an author and speaker who tells stories of Hope-that-glows-in-the-dark through her novels, novellas, devotions, nonfiction, and speaking for women and writers events. Her latest releases are When the Morning Glory Blooms (novel) and Ragged Hope: Surviving the Fallout of Other People’s Choices (nonfiction) from Abingdon Press. A new novel – All My Belongings – releases from Abingdon Press Fiction in May 2014. You can reach Cynthia on her website or Facebook.
Good reminder; the kitchen does need to be repainted. 🙂
But I’ll look for my foxhole first.
Days like today, I hope it has a nice fireplace and a cozy chair. 🙂
Wow, Cynthia, you’ve been peeking through the blinds at my house. “A bad review. Missing the bestseller list again. Epic edits.”
Not only does our writing demand our attention, this thing called life does as well. I don’t do laundry (thank goodness), but I pay bills and keep the checkbook balanced. I don’t cook, but I help run errands. And in between, I crawl into my foxhole and write.
Thanks for sharing.
This is probably the reason that Stephen King’s writing office was in the room under the stairs. (At least that’s the way the story goes.)
Thanks for the inspiration and information. Very timely, as always. 🙂
Love this post, especially Andrew’s word picture! And this is great advice on how to stay focused.
Thanks for the great reminder, Cynthia. I am a pro at distraction. But today I’m heading out for a mini writing retreat. 48 hours with (hopefully) no distractions! Can’t wait.
Richard, Angie, Patricia, Stephanie?Your comments are much appreciated. We’re in this together!