For writers, staying focused can be challenging at the best of times. Sometimes it is hard to tell whether life is the thing that happens between writing sessions or vice versa, but generally everyone has a lot going on. As a result, it is no surprise that life can sometimes distract us and keep us from what we love to do most, so we must persevere.
However, despite an extensive arsenal of techniques to stay focused in putting pen to paper or to keep the computer keys clicking, there are some things that can completely derail my ability to write.
Here they are, the Top 10 things that can short circuit my writing process:
10 – The sound of a vacuum cleaners
At the office in particular, it can sometimes be like a living game of Pac-man as I try to hide from the housekeeping staff running the vacuum cleaner (invariably, at that precise time, I always seem to have an urgent request that requires just the right words at the right time to get the tasking right), yet the vacuum people always seem to find me. I hide in another cubicle, they find me again, and so on.
9 – The sound of leaf blowers
While I am most grateful for the fact that my condo has a lawn maintenance crew, I don’t know how I defy the odds in that whatever day of the week I might choose to take a day off work, it always seems to be the lawn maintenance day that week. I seem to be able to write while they are mowing the lawns but the overpowering wall of sound by leaf blowers is like kryptonite to me.
8 – Hunger
When my stomach growls louder than a leaf blower, words will not flow. Period.
7 – Fatigue/Lack of sleep
When it comes to writing, I am lucky in the sense that it energizes me, so as long as I can get myself to the desk and start writing, I should be OK. However, it’s the long walk up 28 stairs to do it (my bed is at the 21st step) that seems to undermine the best of intentions.
6 – To-do list items
I don’t know why a writing session seems to be a cue for my brain to start contemplating the items for my next grocery list, what to take on my next vacation and a detailed list of every email I need to return. Thus why I have a bit of a thing for keeping lists… Once I have those things committed to paper, they are off my mind and I can move on.
5 – Home maintenance
It’s that moment when I am looking off into the distance waiting for the next brainwave to bring the next sentence that I start noticing the dusty shelf, the thread on the carpet or the dust bunny in the corner. I look out the window to avoid the distraction and see lawn clippings gone astray, a cigarette butt on my driveway and a few leaves under the tree. How can anyone concentrate with this chaos?
4 – The sound of heavy bass music (from outside)
Instant fight or flight response from head to toe. Worse kryptonite than leaf blowers.
3 – TV
Ok Mom, close your eyes for this one… As much as I claimed an ability to do homework and watch TV at the same time, in retrospect, that may not have always produced my best work. Today, I can jot down notes while watching TV, no problem there, but for the words to flow perfectly, whether through inspiration or through the perspiration of meticulous “literary engineering”, I can’t have another story actively playing in the same room.
2 – Music with words
When all else fails, I have been known to throw on some noise cancelling headphones and listen to instrumental tunes (mostly electronica, either chill or trance tunes, depending on my mood) to provide constant beats to keep my brain on a steady pace and to provide a focal point for the ears, which helps block other ambient distractions. The key here is music with no words, otherwise the words coming at me from the songs start fighting with the words coming out of my head. It can get pretty messy.
I do not understand how some famous writers got the reputation of being drinkers. Whether those claims are true or not is not the point of this blog, but the reality is that if I have half a glass of anything, the little “narration” voice in my head goes silent and my ability to string words together suffers exactly like Samantha Stevens (on Bewitched) losing her powers. Maybe it’s just me.
On some Fridays, I come home and as much as I might like a nice glass of wine or a scotch to celebrate and welcome the weekend, if I have a story or blog post begging to come out, writing will trump the cocktail.
While we all have our “happy places” and we know what are our ideal conditions for writing, the truth is we don’t always get that perfect world, and to get the stories out, we have to work within our environment. In that way, writing isn’t much different than anything else. We can mitigate the adversity that we can and try to adapt to the rest, but ultimately, we need to let our passion soar above it all in order to do what we do best and what we love most.
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Sincere thanks for reading!