Writing Time Free From Distractions

A child’s scream cuts through the air so high pitched that it shoots right through my brain and into my bones. It leaves behind a silence so blanketing that even breathing seems loud. The air is shattered a second, third, and fourth time as the girl’s shrieking gets amazingly louder and longer.

I figured it must be some emergency so I rose away from my chair and the half-written story on the computer and venture forth. Did the child find her mother passed out on the driveway? Is her house engulfed in flames? Are three or more bullies threatening to rearrange her young features?

None of the above.

She is riding her bike around in a circle while playing with her slightly older brother. The high squeals continue off and on again as I grind my teeth and think dirty words about her parents. I return to my story but the flow has crumpled, my focus gone, and the next brilliant line evaporates before I return to the keyboard.

The irritation about this is two-fold. I raised my children under a strict blood-or-fire rule as in “if I hear you screaming like that again, you’d better be bloody or on fire!” While some parents may not restrict their children’s soprano leanings, the screams are as bad as a constantly barking dog. In some ways it is worse because you fear ignoring the yelling may put someone in serious danger.

The second irritation is that the event represents another distraction during my precious creative time. If you are like me, then the distractions include a dozen different sources from the little email pop-up window, the social media button, or a pet that needs to go in or out 10 20 30 times a day. Your writing time ends with little productivity on the page and a lot of frustration.

So how do you fight distractions? Sometimes you can’t (such as when little kids are active). The best course of action is to rise from the manuscript and try again later in the day/night.

However, you can control some factors through sheer discipline. For instance, set a timer for a large friends and family that you will not answer the phone, do chores, or Skype chat during that solid one to two hours of creativity. And Mean It.

When you sit down during that time, be already working on your story in your head. Ban yourself from any other activity, including writing letters to agents or answering emails. Jump headfirst into your story and don’t come up for air until the allotted time has passed.

For me, the best creative time is in the early morning after kids go to school and the husband drives off to work. Skype is off and social media updates are banned. I still deal with our dogs but they are also parked outside for as long as possible. Few things are as ongoing or annoying as a golden retriever noisily licking his nuts near your feet.

On many days my plan works well. On others, I wish I could put my office in a shack in the backyard, dig out a moat, and stock it will alligators or piranha. Sometimes I even wish for trainable gators that feature a taste for screaming kids and barking dogs. When the distractions are too much, I relocate to a local coffee shop or bookstore, paying my table tax in terms of multiple cups of hot tea.

However, creative time is not always that simple.

While raising kids, I carried a journal type book with me everywhere. Writing occurred on my knees during soccer practice, doctors’ appointments, piano lessons, and car waiting times before the school released its inmates. If I had 15 minutes, I wrote. It wasn’t smooth and coherent until I typed it into the computer (an act that takes less concentration) and I edited as I transcribed the material. The work was slow but I did eventually produce a book, several short stories, and a bevy of articles.

The moral here is don’t wait for the perfect time and place to write. Make it whenever and wherever you can.

As ever, happy writing!

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