As a writer, there are few things that make you feel more aggravated and helpless than outside distractions bursting in and destroying the world you’ve constructed inside your head. They’re something that’s completely outside of your control, and all it takes is one to completely destroy a head of steam that you’re going to have to build up all over again. Distractions suck.
But at the same time, they can be an asset. Good distractions are those that, first and foremost, are within your control. When one of these distractions happens, it’s for better or for worse because you chose to let it happen rather than because someone was careless and inflicted it upon you. Second of all, good distractions are those that are conducive to writing rather than disruptive to it. If you can find an outside element that actually builds up your inner writing zone, rather than bulldozing right through it? That’s a good thing to have.
- 1.) Listen to Instrumental Music
There are few things that will pull you out of your writing headspace faster than overhearing other people talking. When others’ words are coursing through your mind there isn’t room for your own—and “other people” includes your favorite bands and musical artists. (We get it—Bob Dylan writes amazing lyrics! But that’s the problem.)
That said, music can be an absolutely great tool for setting your writing mood provided it’s just music. Without words to distract you, you’re free to open yourself up to the sound of musical instruments and let them carry you away into whatever state of mind you want to be in to do your work. Are you writing a frenetic, jumpy story told by an unreliable narrator? Miles Davis’s Jack Johnson might be just the thing you need to get into that narrator’s head. Are you quietly contemplating a logical puzzle? Any and all of Bach’s pieces for the keyboard will help you write in a way that’s both precise and aesthetically pleasing. Do you want to take your reader to other galaxies? John Williams’s Star Wars soundtrack or a space-rock instrumental by Pink Floyd could be the ticket.
Of course, you don’t want to let your focus on the music that you’re playing overwhelm your focus on the words you’re writing. And there are times when even an atmospheric distraction is too much. But when applied correctly, the proper music can channel your literary state of mind into the proper corridors.
- 2.) Expose Yourself to Sunlight
If you’re anything like us, there are few things more depressing than writing in a completely enclosed space that’s either dimly lit or—horrors—entirely too brightly lit courtesy of a bunch of fluorescent tubes. (Alas, poor incandescent bulbs! We knew them, Horatio: fellows of infinite wattage, of most excellent ambience.) The human brain is calibrated for a select level of sunlight, and if it doesn’t get it? It gets unhappy. Which, on the one hand, could be great if you’re writing a novel about a shut-in who never sees the sun and is incredibly depressed about that fact. But on the other hand, it could just render you so miserable and irritated that you don’t write down much of anything at all.
Get some sun, everyone. We understand—not all of us can choose our living spaces, and you may not have the option of writing in a place that has a nice big picture window that lets the rays stream in. So if you find yourself in a living situation that isn’t amenable to sunbeams kissing your air-conditioned, indoor face, get outside! Find a public park or a friend’s backyard, bring along a laptop with a decent battery or a notebook with a favorite pen, and write. On some days you may find yourself preferring the solitude of your inner sanctum—bright sunny days are magnets for loud children and other such distractions, after all. But you can’t stay in the dark forever. Don’t neglect your friend, the sun. After all, he sends his beams across 93 million miles just to say hello.
- 3.) Take a Break—Read a Good Book
There are days where you feel like it just isn’t worth it. You’ve been slaving over this manuscript for months, and the end isn’t anywhere close in sight. Why do you go on? Why do you try? Why have you been using this stupid word processor for half a year even though it continually crashes and eats your data?
Take a deep breath. Relax. Close your laptop. Back away slowly.
Go make yourself some coffee, take a seat in your favorite comfy chair, and pick up that book you bought weeks ago and still haven’t started on. Open to the flyleaf. Inhale the bookstore smell from the pages. Turn to the first chapter, or the foreword, or the epigraph, and start reading.
This is why you keep going. Why even though frustration after frustration continues to come your way, you know it’s worth it. It’s worth it because things like this are the end result.
You’re holding great art in your hands. It’s something the author invested scads of time and energy into, something the publisher believed in, something that readers liked, something that’s now speaking to you no matter how far away from its author you are in distance or in time. And if you continue to work hard and keep at your writing, no matter how many setbacks you endure, maybe someday a reader will pick up your book and share the same feeling.
Or maybe the book you picked up is the latest Fifty Shades. In which case you’re being confronted by an overwhelming amount of evidence that you can do better than something that became a literary sensation. Use your anger! That’s good too.
Do you have any tips for us on how to distract yourself in ways that are productive rather than destructive? Post them in the comments below!