Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Interruptions Kill

Ever had a nice flow of words going, a story or essay unfolding as if in real time on the computer screen in front of you, and then someone knocks on your door? Or comes in to ask a question? Or rings a phone that you have to answer? Or yells from the other room, "you've gotta see this!"

I'm sure you have, so you know the almost audible pop of inspiration disappearing. You respond to the interruption, do whatever is needed to get back to your work. But suddenly your fingers are like sausages on the keyboard and your thoughts are nothing more than eddies where a moment before they were a rushing stream.

As a teacher who sometimes tries to write during work hours when I don't have students in the office, I've had this experience frequently. On occassion the flow returns to me quickly. More often it takes a while of tapping on the keys with clumsy fingers before I get back into the groove.

These kinds of interruptions are well known to writers, and often there is little we can do about them other than isolating ourselves, hiding out with the phone unplugged. But there is another kind of interruption that we bring on ourselves. We sit down to write and realize that we want a drink. Or a snack. Or we forgot to turn our music on, or off. Or... Well, you get the picture.

Sometimes I get irritated with myself because I seem to find too many little things that I need to do now that I should have done before I began the day's writing. I have a strategy for dealing with this, though. I have a mental checklist that I go through before I actually sit to write. I check to see that I have water on my desk. I check that the TV/stereo is off. I put the book that I'm reading somewhere out of reach behind me where I can't see the cover. I put a pen and notepad close at hand. I close down my email and all websites, except for Google so I can quickly fact check if need be. I tell myself that I'm not allowed to snack before I finish at least a couple of pages.

Of course, I still find ways to distract myself from the hard work of writing, but by arranging my environment ahead of time I at least minimize the interruptions and increase the chances that I'll be able to paddle my writing canoe into mid-stream where the flow is crisp and clear and swift between the shoals.


Sidney said...

Talking can be one of the worst distractions when you're trying to formulate a thought.

The web is both a blessing (for research) and a curse (random surfing.

I occasionally work on a laptop w/out web access so there's not an opportunity to check headlines or my Netflix queue.

Steve Malley said...

My ancient enemy is Minesweeper. TV, music, conversations around me, the screams of my passengers, none of these interrupt the flow.

BUt that damn Minesweeper...

Erik Donald France said...

Here is to the lists and to solitude. I have my Bunker.

the walking man said...

The only distraction I have when writing is when I have to change a disc I am ripping into the lap top.

That and the constant forgetting to capitalize i. It makes me crazy and I have to fix it right now. but for flow and continuity, I learned not to write when the wife is around, play with the dog for a half hour outside, turn the TV on for her and put my headphones on and listen to the music rather than the words coming from my fingers.

Take frequent coffee breaks and smoke a lot of cigarettes, or better said light a lot because once I am writing there is usually a three inch ash and a partially burned filter in the tray.

Unfortunately Motor City Marks is a no smoking joint so I have to go outside to smoke, which means the dog follows and it's play time again.

Writing yeah, disturbances in the flow of thought, fortunately for me,I only have nine brain cells left so getting the flow back just means capturing the right one, then I am back where i started...well it's time to get a cup of coffee and write something because i think this is the last blog I am responding to today...yeah i know I didn't capitalize all the I's but I did press the button unfortunately I tend to let it go before I hit the i.

i guess I will leave that to the editor.

shoals are good, especially when you get your pants wet getting your canoe unstuck from them.

Peace Charles is the best weapon against interruptions.


Stewart Sternberg (half of L.P. Styles) said...

Actually Charles, I sometimes let writing get in the way of my interruptions.

I know what you mean though, Charles. We live in a real world and reality isn't always conducive to creativity. That's one reason why I think I would like to take psychosis inducing drugs. Anyone got some?

RK Sterling said...

Oh, and don't forget to have the dictionary/thesaurus/grammar & punctuation references handy. I lose mine at least three times a week and have to go searching.

(And Stewart, I don't know about drugs, but my daughter can induce psychosis fairly quickly. I can send her your way. Keep as long as you like. Free of charge.)

Lucas Pederson said...

Ah yes, distractions...
Plenty of those in my life as well. IT seems like I can never get enough time to myself. I've gotta do this, do that, answer the flippin phone!, work my day job, ect.
The real world blows. But we have to make do. Push onward.

Recently, I just about got wrote up for writing while I was at work. They said I needed to be focusing on my machine, which pretty much runs itself unless there are parts that tend to flip up and get in the way of cutting, if the mahcine's running and doing fine I should sweep, do anything work related. I said, well, how is that fair when everyone else gets to stand around and chatter when their supposed to be working? My supervisor told me that I'm not supposed to worry about them adn worry about myself. The entire thing was stupid, really. IF i've got a sudden urge to write, I have to, or I lose the urgency of my idea or a certain passage. They don't understand this, they don't want to.
Anyway, great post!

cs harris said...

Interruptions by the phone, the doorbell, or a family member drive me nuts. But I don't interrupt myself, in the sense that if I go get a drink of water or put clothes in the washing machine or whatever, I can keep my mind focused on my story, so I'm not jerked out of it. In fact, I'll often get up and do something if I'm stuck. Somehow it helps.

Susan Miller said...

I think this is one of the main reasons that I write at 3am. The rest of the world is out of the way. What I have found to be interesting is that sometimes I have to get up from the computer, walk away, maybe sit somewhere else, stop looking at a glaring screen. Then the story plays out in my head, and I rush back to the computer to get it down.

Interestingly enough, I'm more comfortable with my desk cluttered.

Michelle's Spell said...


You're singing my song, here! I hate the distractions I bring on myself and have made my office as distraction-free as possible. One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever got was that you should spend as much time as possible in the place that you write and you should make that place as comfortable as possible. Once I started doing that, I noticed a real difference.

Bernita said...

I'm with CS on self- interruptions - as if the physical chore unlocks a stuck gear.

Charles Gramlich said...

I do frequently get up from my desk and walk around my room while writing, and that often does seem to shake something out. But I'm thinking about the piece while moving around, and in my case I don't allow myself to get caught up in a chore or I seem to lose my track of things. I wonder if there's potentially a difference between men and women here. I've always read that women are better multi-taskers than men and that might be why CS and Bernita can do chores while still working at the same time on the book. Interesting.

AvDB said...

I try to make sure I have all of my necessary objects surrounding me before I begin, but it doesn't do much to keep me focused. If I calculated the time I've wasted in random surfing, it wouldn't be pretty. I go on to check one fact and suddenly I'm on YouTube watching clips of Robot Chicken.

ZZZZZZZ said...

My dad is always the one that yells "hey, no really, come here! You have to see this!" It doesn't matter what I'm doing. Writing. Reading. Watching TV. Trying to sleep. And he doesn't give up the yelling until you've come out and seen whatever it was that he wanted to show you. It's worse now that we have a DVR.

writtenwyrdd said...

Because my job is one of those strange ones where you have to sit and wait for the work to show up, I tried to write at work. My co-worker, bless his heart, is CHATTY, and keeps talking to me and jolting me out of the writing fugue. I gave it up as a bad job.

Lana Gramlich said...

Eep...Sorry. *bites lip*