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Getting back into it; or, on the impact of distraction


toujours gai, archie
After thirty years of living in the same home, my wife and I recently moved. Not only is it to a different house, in a different (though nearby) town, it is to a much smaller place. From the first phases of house hunting, through buying the house (and selling the old one), through packing and then unpacking, our days have been jammed full of non-writing activity. I barely had time to hang out in my favorite social venue!

I knew I wouldn't get much of anything done, so I gave myself permission not to worry, which I've done, in spades. Things are starting to settle now, and I'm finding I'm as nervous as an eight-grade boy at a dance. I want to get out there, but all I do is hang back. As I think about why, I think I'm finding interesting insights.

For one, I was unable to even bear to look at my manuscript (I'm in full edit mode) as long as there were other papers staring at me. I had stacks of old notebooks to go through (because there's no room and they must go), other stacks of papers to file, books on shelves but out of order (*shudder*), tons of email to deal with, phone calls to make or return, and so on. It felt as if all these things had voices and were yammering in my ears. I couldn't think.

So, Resolution One: clear desk, clear mind. And that goes for you, too, computer. I will attack this little scraps of paper, these notes to self, and all the rest, which seem to persistently multiply, like cockroaches, until the decks are clear. Because if I don't, if I sit down and "just write", they whisper from the corners.

Secondly, taking time away has for me not been productive. I'm like a musician who has stepped away in the middle of a song and now returns. I am having trouble picking up the beat. I've missed the changes in key. It doesn't feel like the same song any more.

So, Resolution Two: no vacations for you, buddy. Keep the thing with you, even if it's just to hum the tune. Don't let it go, because you won't ever get that exact feeling back again. Yeah, sure, maybe I'll have some new insights into the story because of the distance. Maybe. Right now, though, it just feels like my dog has wandered off and I can hear him but I can't see him.

Nothing very profound here, but has anyone else had similar experiences and different conclusions? Or even the same ones?


Article Team
I have to take breaks a lot due to my daughters health. Whenever I'm done a draft I email it to myself. That way, when I'm at the hospital, or busy with the kids, or just not able to sit to write I can open up the draft on my phone and read it. Over and over I usually read it, taking notes on a note pad if new ideas come to me or I want to fix something. That way I can still listen to the music and keep it in my heart even if I can't play it.
Sounds like procrastination - because I'm bad at it as well.
I can get into ruts where I do all the 'housekeeping' stuff - clear out the hard drive, answer mail, do a bit of research, etc, rather than what I actually need to do.
The only answer I've found is to do the main work first - before the housekeeping stuff - it's hard but you have to force yourself and NOT DO ANYTHING ELSE even email until after you've done at least a few pages/ hundred words etc (you have to set a minimum).

Also I log progress in excel and plot it as a graph against time - so I can see visually by the slope of the graph if I'm slacking, gaining ground or stagnating. I've found that helps a lot.


Article Team
A while back I had health issues and couldn't write for around six months. This after writing pretty much every day for like 4 years.

It can be tough getting back in once your head is out of the game. Getting anything more than 500 words in a sitting was arduous at first. But the only solution was to keep hammering at it. It took a bit but it got better bit by bit.

Since then I found, for me, it's not the writing that matters. It's keeping my head in that writing space. And the easiest way for me to do that is to read through a chapter and do a quick edit. The simple act of reading through something I'm working on with my writer's face on helps keep the gears from getting too rusty.

It's not 100% effective, but it's better than the alternative.


toujours gai, archie
Penpilot's case is closer to mine--an extended and unavoidable interruption, after some years of steady writing. I'm thinking that the re-read is the best approach. Today got blown up again, but tomorrow or perhaps Sunday (also have elderly in-law health crises ongoing). Re-read, perhaps aloud.

I have just been surprised at the degree to which the interruption has thrown me off, like an athlete who has fallen out of training. There's this sort of psychological resistance to starting again; a surprising eagerness to grasp at more interruptions. A loss of discipline, I suppose, or at least a loss of routine.

Thanks for the comments.

Bekka King

I'm just emerging from a period of procrastination. Two things helped:
1) For one book (my fantasy book), I gave myself a deadline for publication, then started holding myself accountable to several writer friends AND publicized a "launch party" for a date I chose for the book. Now, I have to get it done!
2) For the other book I'm writing (a non-fantasy book), I was on a bus recently and started talking to the two people seated behind me. For some reason, I started telling them about my book. I mentioned that I"m in the final editing phase of the book and "don't have the will to edit." One of the two people I was talking to mentioned that she's a retired book editor. She offered to help me edit the book - for free. That got me going again.
Hope that helps.


Myth Weaver
I will echo Penpilot's sentiment a bit... I can sit around the house, reading and revising, with family jabbering around me, and still be able to interact a bit, but I can't really write "on a roll". This goes for a great many situations in life, work, stress, whatever. Whereas in my history I would get knocked out of rhythm easily and take forever getting back to speed, I'm now a revision junkie, that's my real fix. I write new stuff so I can revise it... or at least I try to make m'self believe that, LOL. Revising keeps me closer to the work than plotting or just thinking of scenes or whatever, the fun daydreaming of story phase, I need my fingers in stirring up the mud to keep myself grounded in the story. Doing that, I can leave fresh writing for weeks at a time and hit back on most cylinders, drop the revising, and even a couple days off can make me chug and blow smoke for a couple weeks. Sad, but true.


Hang in there, Skip. I totally feel your pain. Ever since I had surgery almost two weeks ago, my productivity has declined to a molasses crawl. I do, however, sit to write daily. That's my daily goal for now until I'm no longer under the effects of the medicine making me tired. I' slowly coming out of the drug fog and writing a bit more words each day. So the best advice I can give you is to set a daily goal that makes sense to you. Perhaps it's a little bit of editing, or a few hundred new words, or an outline. Only you know what would be best. Stick to your daily/weekly goals and routine as best you can and that'll help you keep a sense of being productive.

I agree with Penpilot. When we're unable to write or produce at our regular levels because of life, then keeping our head in the game becomes important. Yes, I'm still writing. Yes, I'm still doing something, even if it means writing 2x a week or whatever works. Something is better than nothing.