Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Tips for Dealing with Distractions

When you're writing a first draft, a very important thing to do is tell the red pen inside your head to shut up. You do not need to be fixing typos at this point. That will slow you down, distract you. Did Frodo stop to sweep cobwebs out of Shelob’s lair on the way into Mordor? No. He knew his goal: get to Mount Doom.

Of course, there were also plenty of distractions that got poor Frodo distracted against his will. That’s the way life works sometimes. We can be as single-minded and determined as we like, but distractions will come up. Here are a few bits advice about how to deal with them.
  • Good life rule: people are important. Especially people close to you, like your friends and family. Remember that guy in high school who ditched all his friends because he started dating his first girlfriend? Don’t be that guy with your novel. Be realistic in what you can accomplish without becoming an anti-social jerk.
  • When people find out you’re writing a novel, they are going to ask you, “So, what’s it about?” I never have an answer for this one. Summaries, for me, come after I’m done. If you want to avoid answering this one 700 times, only tell a few people what you’re doing. That takes some of the pressure off anyway.
  • Don’t beat yourself up if circumstances come up that make you put your writing on hold for a little while. A new baby, a move, a funeral, a summer full of activities and weddings and graduations…those things happen. If you can write a little bit even in busy times, that’s great. If not, just promise yourself you’ll go back to writing later…and actually follow through.
  • It’s probably not a good idea to let someone read your novel before it’s done. The exception might be if you just want a yes or no answer to something like, “Is this interesting?” But, often, people want to give advice on how to improve. That’s a super important part of the editing process…but you’re not there yet.
  • Writer’s block: This one cannot be shoved aside in just a sentence or two, because there are so many reason that writing might grind to a sudden halt. Lucky for you, I've already written a post about it. And another one. And I'll probably write several more in the future.
  •  For many people, it helps to set aside a consistent time to write. Schedule it into your life. Maybe that’s unrealistic for you. But give it a try. And turn off your phone, for goodness sake. And social media. Checking Facebook every five minutes doesn't help with your word count.
  •  Reward little victories. Celebrate every chapter, even if you don’t know how you could possibly write another one. With each sentence you type, you are getting closer to a goal that most people abandon somewhere before page five. 
Writing is hard work, and can be frustrating, time-consuming, and exhausting.

Maybe it shouldn’t be that way. Maybe writing should be…well…fun. When you loved to do something as a kid, you didn’t have to force yourself to do it. Writing can be like that. It won’t always be. But if you can get back to the place where it feels like snapping one Lego brick on top of another, slowly creating a more complex masterpiece, then do it.

Tune out the internal voices that say you’ll never be good enough for this. Don’t worry about what other people will think. It’s not the time for that, not yet, and maybe not ever.

Just write because you love it. Try things. Take a break from your novel and write something just for the fun of it. Re-read something that turned out just the way you wanted it to. Remember that you’re telling a story, and remind yourself why you want to tell it.


  1. Don't mean to put my pedantic editor hat on, but I think you meant, "Checking Facebook every five minutes does NOT help with your word count. " :)

    1. See, the thing about my original strategy of pretending that wasn't a typo, but instead deliberate that I can't do that and fix it too. Thanks for the catch!