Sunday, 4 December 2011


If you're serious about being a writer it helps to identify what distracts you and develop strategies for avoiding or dealing with them at the time. Writing takes a lot of stamina as I said before. It's very easy to become distracted and procrastinate. The only way to avoid this pitfall, I've found, is to have a set working regime.

From waking up I have to set the right tone, make the right environment to have a productive day. Even though I know this is somewhat OCD in its structure.

I wake, switch on my laptop - which is beside my bed - and then get a cup of tea. Once my computer is on I check my emails, look at facebook to see if there is anything I need to respond to, I usually post a status, then I come off and open my working document. (At the moment that is the fifth Vampire Gene novel 'Silent Sand' but I am also working on the second book in a new fantasy series as well.)

I usually get myself back into my novel by reading and editing the previous chapter. This helps me to recapture the flow and mood I was in the previous day. If you finish working in the middle of a chapter or after starting a new one this can make starting work for the day much easier. 

So, I've done all of the usual things. Wake, tea, proof-read, edit, continue a chapter. Then I have to start to dodge the distractions.

My distractions:
  • Dogs barking all day in the house next door.
  • Telos orders are coming in thick and fast. 
  • Meal times.
  • Phone ringing.
  • Facebook notifications on my phone.
  • Twitter on my phone.
How I deal with them:
  • Shout through the wall at the dogs to shut up/ or try to ignore them.
  • Ignore emails - don't check for them until after the working day is done.
  • David brings me a yogurt for breakfast most mornings/ sometimes we eat breakfast before I start working. I stop for lunch but this can affect the flow so I try to work until at least 1pm first.
  • I do usually let David answer the phone - often it's not for me anyway.
  • Come off the Internet straight after checking FB, Twitter etc.
  • Ignore my phone vibrating and force myself not to answer the notifications or twitters until lunch time.
One of the things I need to learn to do is shut down my hotmail email. That way, when I'm working, a little box won't be popping up to tell me that an email has arrived. (I'm OCD about answering them immediately and so this is a habit I really need to change).

This is where the next part of a strict regime comes in:
  • Set word count targets. For example I like to write between 3000 and 5000 words a day. If I've only written 1000 then I'm disappointed with myself as this means I've done no more than an hours actual writing time in any one day. 
This varies for all writers so don't take my routine as being the only one. We all work differently. I know writers who are delighted with 1000 to 2000 words a day for example. These will be excellently crafted words that are edited until the writer feels they are perfect. Some writers don't like to move forward until the previous work is as close to perfection as they can get. For me this is quite frustrating though. I used to work like that, and now realise that I need to just write the story, finish it and then I can luxuriate in perfecting and polishing. Also - constantly editing is a distraction and can be a form of procrastination (at least it is in my case).Can you imagine continuously tweaking but never actually finishing anything?

Another thing that distracts me is housework. I handle this in a variety of ways.
  • Don't leave the room I work in until I've finished writing for the day then I don't see the mess and I'm not distracted by it.
  • Set days/times to clean that are separate form work days and times and then you know you have organised and can stop worrying about it.
  • If you achieve your word count target by 1pm you are then free to go off and do other things in the afternoon such as washing, ironing, cleaning, shopping if you feel you want to.
If I've achieved 5000 before lunch, I'm happy to go away and do other things for the day. If I haven't achieved the set amount, then sometimes after lunch I read and tweak that morning's work. Invariably the word count grows and improves with each edit, and it certainly is better for the extra attention. Being strict about work times has another positive influence on writing. I don't lapse into total stream of consciousness. I think this style of writing can be self-indulgent. Having a break can help you see the faults in your narrative and also gives you opportunity to reflect on where you need to sow important seeds because of something that occurs later in the text.

An unavoidable distraction is research. Recently I was writing a Cthulhu story and I had to research different things at different points in the story before I could move on. Once you start trawling the Internet for information you can actually forget what you were doing. Research is important though. It can mean the different between making a plot plausible and making it appear weak and lazy because it is too vague.

For all of my books and stories I usually have some form of research to do and this does take you away from the actual writing. However, doing the research at the point when you need it can really help the flow of the narrative as you use it. I was researching something science based recently. I have a photographic memory and so I read the research, tried to make sense of it, went away and thought about it, and then when it came to writing it into the piece the information just flowed in naturally. So this was one distraction that paid off in the end.

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