It’s a given, sometimes a much regretted one, that you can’t spend all of your time writing. Distractions abound and life is one of them. But there are good distractions, there are bad distractions and then there are the downright destructive distractions. So which is which?
The good types of distractions are the ones that fuel you, both literally and metaphorically, to get on with your writing. There are the obvious ones: eating, exercising and sleeping. A writer who neglects their physical health will see the consequences in their writing and it’s very rarely pretty.
There are also a number of social writing distractions: interacting with other writers on a personal basis and attending lectures, musicals, plays, etc. These are also good because you are exposing yourself to how others operate when they approach their own writing as well as seeing how people respond to the writing of others.
And then there are the socially isolating distractions that are nevertheless important to a rounded writing experience: reading (all types of written materials including fiction, non-fiction, poetry, etc), watching mediums that spring from the written form (television shows, documentaries, films, etc) and studying (preferably something related to writing but I’m a firm believer that learning anything new can be useful to a writer – you never know when it might suit your writing purposes to be proficient in car maintenance, first aid or jewellery making).
Any of these types of distractions should be embraced, although in moderation because it must be remembered that they are still distractions. You can’t spend all your time being distracted by them. Eventually, you need to get back to your writing. But you don’t need to regret these types of distractions as much as the ones that are to follow.
Many of the bad types of distractions relate to those people we choose to have in our lives such as partners, children, siblings, friends, neighbours (although sometimes neighbours aren’t much of a choice). As much as the social interaction with these people enriches our lives, when personal trauma happens it can be a devastating and lengthy distraction from any good intentions you might have towards your writing.
Personal trauma, when looked back on in retrospect and when the height of emotions has subsided, can be harnessed as great material for writing. Just look at how many writers have gotten their start by using their sob story (and I mean this in the nicest possible way) as a platform for their careers.
But at the time when experiencing that personal trauma, it can be a very great distraction from any writing goals you may have set for yourself. There is often no way over, under or around these personal traumas. As the nursery rhyme goes, you just have to go through them. And once you’re through, make the best of the bad by using it in your writing.
The ugly types of distractions are those that you struggle to find any sort of positives in and I’ve identified two specific areas. The first is drinking to excess. Alcoholism and writing often seem to go hand in hand (think Stephen King, Patricia Highsmith, Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, Dorothy Parker, Edgar Allan Poe) and while these are some very successful writers, they succeeded despite not because of their alcoholism. For those of us who haven’t made it yet, it certainly isn’t a path that will lead to where we hope our writing will take us. And in terms of being a distraction, if you have drunk so much the previous night that you can’t even remember what happened, then it’s also pretty useless as inspiration.
The second is that sometimes necessary evil of work. Yes, we’re writers but most of us are also realists without the inheritances, sugar daddies or lottery wins that make an ongoing source of income avoidable. The lucky ones get jobs with some sort of link to their writing – teaching, editing, corporate communications, advertising, copywriting, etc – but many are stuck doing work that is the double edged sword – time consuming and with no hint of relevance or connection to what we’d rather be spending our days doing. In this situation, although the money is appreciated so we have a roof over our heads, food in our bellies and electricity to recharge our laptops, over the longer term it becomes very easy to resent the ongoing intrusion into our writing lives and to regret the amount of time wasted doing menial or unimportant tasks.
I’m not going to recommend anyone quit their job because only you know your responsibilities and often not meeting them is worse than not having time available in your schedule to write. It’s easier for me to be selfish because I only have cats but my frequent decisions to take extended work breaks might be less frequent if I had children to consider. But it’s important to be aware. When you look at the things that are distracting you from your writing, work is likely to be right at the top of the list.