Distractions

As I sit here writing this, my husband is on the phone talking to his dad about retirement, my fourteen-year-old is cursing his math teacher under his breath while loudly sniffling from the cold he insists he doesn’t have, and my twelve-year-old daughter is making motions I don’t think she should know yet to film music videos on Musically. Meanwhile, my cat, who came in from outside this afternoon with a mysterious bloody scratch across his nose, has been trying to perform a Vulcan Mind Meld on me for the past fifteen minutes so I’ll change his food. Oh wait. He just jumped up and settled his chin across the upper right quadrant of my keyboard, his latest trick. Which is now making my fourteen-year-old stop cursing his math teacher long enough to look up and laugh, and my daughter to gently remind me for the fifteenth time that I promised to play a game with her. But at least my nine-year-old is in the shower! He’s just finishing the fourth Harry Potter book, and likes to give me a blow-by-blow of every development the moment after he reads it.

Let me be clear: I have never been happier, and my family is 95% of the reason behind that. But also, the life I’ve gladly created for myself makes a writing practice just a tiny bit challenging to create.

Usually, I avoid doing what I’ve just done: namely, taking stock of all the distractions in my life that, when added together, clearly point toward my having no chance of having a complete thought until at least 2031. Indeed, when I think of all these distractions, when I let them Mean something, it feels like my writing is going to have to go under for good.

As a species, we have never been more distracted. And of course distractions can sabotage all the best creative intentions. But there’s a big difference between letting them build into a larger sign that your writing practice will never get off the ground, and just navigating them as they come. It’s a subtle difference, but enormously helpful. There are certainly days when no act of God or man will help you protect the writing time you set aside, but on most days, if you don’t let what’s already distracted you affect how you feel when you do get time aside, even five minutes alone can keep you connected to your practice. And you’d be surprised what even five minutes a day devoted to tuning everything else out and visiting your creative mind space can do toward keeping your writing practice – and your writing itself – alive. It might only happen at 11:30 when you’re doing the dishes and thinking through that latest plot twist, but that counts, too. One minute of quality time devoted to a work when that’s all you have is no less significant than one minute of quality time devoted to a work when you have a hundred minutes to spare.

Like any lifelong activity, your practice must be resilient. It must be built up to flourish not only during those mythical weeks of time we all dream of having one day in the unspecified future to write, but in the moments between parenting or teaching or earning the money you need to keep a roof over your head. And believing in its resiliency – not deciding that you can’t write because you have children or a job to hold down or are otherwise occupied in the service of staying afloat and earning your keep – can do wonders to actually make it resilient. So don’t let the distractions or discouragements or roadblocks infect you; just see them for what they are, and get creative about sidestepping them – or using them for the inspiration and humor and life experience that are essential to all great works of art.

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