Distractions are good, too

My writing process is a pretty consistent and repetitive routine: I get an idea and, if it’s strong enough, I’ll map out the plot, list the main and secondary characters, jot down their main characteristics, and once I’m ready to begin, I sit down and write.

If I’ve started writing a story, I don’t start another; maybe I’ll write the plot but I stop myself from going into character descriptions or figuring out details of the story. I never skip a chapter, no matter how much I may want to, because I know I’ll have a terrible time trying to go back to it and write it from scratch. But just because my writing process is so unvarying, it doesn’t mean everyone else’s is. And just because I’m so structured, it doesn’t mean I don’t need distractions occasionally.

There are two basic moments in my writing process when I welcome getting absent-minded.

The first is before I start writing. Once I have the plot and characters outlined, I like to take a short break before I get a notebook and start scribbling. In a way, I place the story in the back of my mind and leave it there, brewing, until I feel a physical need to get a pen and start writing the story.

The second moment in my process when I look for distractions is when I’ve finished typing the text. Once I’ve saved the document, I leave it. I read a book, plot another story, I start writing another novel, I re-read a previous manuscript, or anything else along those lines. I do this because I need a break; my mind needs a blank start after I’m finished, so that once I go back to the text to edit it, I’m reading it with fresh eyes.

Sometimes, I find myself getting distracted as I’m between chapters or even when I’m in the middle of one. I may start analyzing how much ink is left in my pen and guessing how much more I’ll be able to write with it, I’ll think about previous or future novels or previous or future chapters; I may even start wondering why Pluto is no longer officially a planet.

Clearly, my mind wanders. And I’m more than okay with that. Except that, if I do get distracted when I’m writing, I command myself to focus on the pen in my hand and the notebook on the table in front of me.

Those distractions, though short-lived, often help me get back a good writing rhythm. In my case, and knowing that I get easily distracted, I allow my mind to wander when I need it to, and when I don’t, I rein it in as fast—and as well—as I can. It isn’t a foolproof method, but it works for me.

Do you get distracted a lot? How do you deal with it?

Moira Daly

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