Friday 17 November 2017

Seven Habits of a Highly Distracted Writer

Life gets in the way of living. And it definitely gets in the way of writing, simply because the business of writing involves more than writing. Today’s writers are not just writers, they are publicists, video editors, trailer makers, website builders, social media junkies and sometimes even cashiers at the till when selling books at events. So it’s no surprise that writing time needs to be protected with a fierce loyalty to creativity.

But often when the writing isn’t going well – either because the work in progress is stuck in the middle, the protagonist is acting like a toddler throwing tantrums or new ideas keep edging the work in progress out of the way. When the writing doesn’t seem to happen, I follow what I call the SEVEN HABITS OF A HIGHLY DISTRACTED WRITER.

Habit 1: Do Housework
I hardly do housework when the writing is going well. This is why I have a dozen plates, three dozen spoons and innumerable number of outfits, because washing up and laundry needs to wait. I often step over piles of shoes and mounds of clothes to reach over to my laptop. So when the writing isn’t going well, I suddenly realise I’m living in a dangerous zone full of tripping hazards from shoes and smelly hazards from the green thing that’s growing in my coffee-mug. So I get down to housework and the routine (read boring) nature of the cleaning up rests my creative brain so it could recover its energy soon.

Habit 2: Go on a Photography Trail
Having done all the housework, if the writing still hasn’t returned to its full productive mode, I grab my camera and set off into the sunset to take random photos for my Instagram feed. I do B&W challenges (more than once), take photos of what I’m cooking to what came through the post and whatever else takes my fancy. Changing the medium of expression, looking at angles and colour and light, again inspires the brain and nudges into creative mode again.

Habit 3: Arrange my Bookshelf
If of course it is raining outside (I live in England, after all), then of course, I don’t wander in the cold with a camera on hand. I arrange and re-arrange the books into categories, topics, age-range and sometimes even by colour. Then I imagine a new bookshelf and wander into the Pinterest world of bookshelf design and I find myself getting lost in the maze.

Habit 4: Grab a drink with a friend
If you’ve read biographies of writers from the previous century, you would hear about wild parties, long lunches with agents and editors. Don’t believe that. Most modern writers hardly can afford to buy a pint on a good day – forget expensive whiskeys and fancy cocktails. But if the writing is not going well, it is tempting to find a kindred soul for coffee or gate-crash book launches. So that we can moan about the industry, the latest celebrity book published, the state of politics and of course the hottest topic of the season – Brexit. By then of course we need something much more stronger than coffee to keep back the tears.

Habit 5: Read a Book
If none of the four habits work, then I decide I’m finished as a writer. I have no business to write when I can’t even break through the current sluggish half day I’m having. So I find a book from the newly arranged bookshelf and settle down to read and marvel at how clever other writers are. Often reading a good book triggers a wanton response to write something comparable or even better. The pen wants to dance and the words tumble out except of course if I’ve just returned from the drink with a friend, in which case, my pen can’t walk a straight line.

Habit 6: Rummage Around for Snacks
When I’m not writing, I’m bored. When I’m bored, I eat. The less I write, the more I eat. The trouble is I don’t eat snacks. So I spend hours searching for something to eat – and that something has never been bought off the supermarket shelves and brought home. Then I get desperate and think of food I can cook. The food makes me sleepy and then I resort to the dreaded television and I've given up on the writing more or less at that point.

Habit 7: Think about the next book
And this is the final straw. This is the end of the world. This is when I know that I’ve exhausted all the habits that could help me get back to my book. When I start thinking about the next book after the one I’m writing. I do research, I draw storyboards and start writing opening sentences for the book I’m not meant to write, right then.

But once I flush the new book out of the system and get it on paper in an idea form, I can put it away and go back to the story I’m currently working on. Then the flow is smoother, the words are coming back and I feel like I’ve broken through to the other side.


The trouble with the Seven Habits is that they are so much fun. So sometimes even if the writing is going well, I’m tempted to put it away and practice one or more of these habits.
Do you have distractions when you write? How do you bring yourself back to the writing table when things are sluggish? Tell me about it.

Chitra Soundar divides her time between distractions and writing stories amidst school visits, festivals and book tours. Find out more at and follow her on twitter at @csoundar.


Susan Price said...

I recognise most of your habits, Chitra - and reading and commenting on blogs is, of course, another.
As is changing your garden, cutting down hedges and bushes, lugging great sacks of compost about, digging up lawns to plant roses, levering big stones out of the earth, carrying buckets of water, digging more holes for ponds - repeat until too exhausted to move or write anything anyway.

Savita Kalhan said...

Oh yes! I am guilty of all those seven habits! Plus I have my allotment - the biggest distraction from March to November!

Rowena House said...

If one allows walking the dog to be part of the creative process, Twitter is sadly my go-to-and-stay-there-far-too-long place in the first instance, closely followed by deadheading flowers with a coffee going cold in the kitchen whenever the sun is out. As you say, though, deciding the WIP is utter rubbish, and starting serious planning for something new, is perhaps the most insidious.