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!

Pantser or Plotter?

While at the Pikes Peak Writer’s Conference this last April, a friendly woman sat beside me at lunchtime and launched into conversation with “pantser or plotter?”

“Arrr…What?” My creative and deeply thought-out reply must have clued her into the fact that I have never heard those terms before.

“Do you plot your stories or write by the seat of your pants?”

My thoughts flowed. I write unstopping for hours when the inspiration pours through me like lava in an ice cream factory. “Pantser.”

When I related the story to my husband, he said “plotter” before I even finished. I glared at him as he continued. “You make flow charts and mind maps of everything. You even fill out whole character sheets for minor characters.”

Okay, he may have a point.

The truth is, the question is misleading. Everyone should write as fast and furiously as possible when a revelation hits. White-hot moments of pure brilliance and surety are so rare that you shouldn’t screw with it. You will have plenty of time later to hone off the rough edges and clean up the grammar.

However, all writers should do some plotting in the story’s development. It is a sure-fire way to understand and make sure all the elements drive the action forward and all extraneous stuff that mucks up the story is deleted.

Check out some summer reading with my book.

Check out some summer reading with my book.

But pants-writing is preferable. When my muse Laurel-Ann whispers in my brain, I feel something close to rising sexual energy brewing somewhere between my imagination and my fingers. BUT when she slinks away to sleep off her Oreo overindulgence in the cold light of reality (most of the time), then plotting takes over. Every scene must be critical to the hero’s path.

For instance, your cross-dressing noir detective races through the streets to stop the sixth armed robbery in a string of incidences. He gets into an accident instead with a drunk driver. This scene should do more than add pages of emergency medical procedures and angry dialogue. The event causes him to miss the robbery, true, but it should also add some critical element that connects later. For instance, consider these options.

A. It may injure him in some way that makes later action harder/impossible or gives the villain an advantage.

B. It ruins his car so he must borrow or rent another. Why is this important? The villain misses the hero’s presence later because he doesn’t recognize the car.

C. The hero loses some critical evidence in the ruined car when it is towed away. This heavily affects his ability to solve the case.

Inspiration allows us to get the beauty of the tale down. Plotting adds cohesiveness and clarity to the story.

So whatever answer you have to the plotter-versus-pantser question, realize at some point that you need both: organization and inspiration. What factor leads your writing is completely up to you.