Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Distractions vs. Discipline


One of the most important elements for a writer to learn is discipline or structure or whatever else you want to call it. Discipline is different from perseverance. A writer has a story. The story isn’t working out; she perseveres until she finishes it. But what happens when she gets up in the morning to work.

I can tell you what happens to me, and I hate to admit it. I have my coffee and raisin toast at the computer. My home page is Yahoo. I know, I’d have fewer distractions if I had Google or some other blank home page. I just looked at Yahoo and saw that Savannah Guthrie got married, and she’s four months pregnant. Then I got hooked on an article about Nicole Kidman’s relationship with her children with Tom Cruise, and then flipped through all the photos of the eclectic Malibu house Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell sold for 9 million, then… you see where I’m going.

These were distractions while I was trying to write this blog post. Never mind the mornings after an awards show when I spend too long looking at the gowns on the red carpet, and don’t get me started on political stuff. I get hooked reading that too.

I hate myself, I really do.

In all fairness, I don’t read People magazine or watch reality TV. I watch very little television, period. Justified and Homeland are my never-miss shows, even if I watch them marathon-style. So Internet gossip is my guilty pleasure. Oh, and I may play a game or two of Spider Solitaire or do an online Sudoku puzzle when my brain freezes, but these are all distractions that cut into my writing time, no matter how I try to justify them.

Then it’s business. I open the first of my two email accounts. I belong to a few writers’ loops, so I scan those, check the other emails, delete the ones I don’t want to read or think I’ll read later and never do. My second account has all my professional and Twitter business. I tweet, but I’m not crazy about doing it. Tweeting has worked to boost book sales of a few of my friends. I really can’t tell if I’ve had the same results. I don’t think so, but I still do it. I try to limit my time to an hour, sometimes less, but I check throughout the day to keep me updated and try to convince myself I like Twitter.

On to Facebook. This is the worst because I like it best. I’ve made friends there, post two to three times a day, read other posts, and hope I don’t get hooked on something, which I always seem to do. When I finish all that, it’s lunchtime. I eat early because I’m hungry early.

If I can resist all the other distractions, I get to work. But first I have to listen to the audio chapters to approve for the audio book of Mind Games.

Now, work—after I take the dogs for a walk.

By the way, my house is a wreck. Maybe a few minutes for dusting and laundry.

Now it’s late afternoon, and I should start thinking about something for dinner.

I really must be more disciplined. I will be. I promise.

Tomorrow I’m shutting off the Internet and getting down to work. Really.


Polly Iyer is the author of six novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder D�j� Vu, Threads, and two books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games and Goddess of the Moon. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

24 comments :

  1. Long ago, Polly, I discovered that the ONLY way for me to avoid these types of distractions is to make writing the very first thing I do, as soon as I rise in the morning. Everything else must come later. That way, my prime energy and time are used to create and the rest has to put up with whatever is left of me when I've finished the important job of the day!

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    1. I admire your discipline, Stuart. Obviously, I can learn from you. I always think I'm going to miss something if I don't check everything. Today it's taxes. I doubt anyone will hold that one against me. I'd rather do anything than that.

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  2. Ditto, Stuart. Although I don't have the luxury of writing as soon as I get up as I have two little ones claiming my attention first, I do make my WIP writing my very first activity as soon as I am able to turn on my computer.

    Polly, I keep the phrase "paying attention" in mind as much as possible. Since I don't have much in terms of monetary earnings just yet, attention (i.e., my use of my time) is about the only currency I do have. If I'm paying too much attention to Facebook and other Internet rabbit-holes, I'm paying in some form. I try to stick by the notion of paying myself first - I find that creativity generates its own energy and if I work on my WIP first before anything else my whole mindset is different to a day that starts with email and/or Facebook. I get a lot more done. It's my investment in myself. I owe it to myself. :-)

    I now also use the Firefox Add-on called Leechblock, and use it to limit the amount of time I spend on the Internet.

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    1. I'd be better off if I never turned on the Internet, Elle. Part of my problem is my WIP, which isn't flowing like I want it to, which might be because I'm letting these outside influences take over my day. Thanks for you input.

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  3. Well, here I am with my coffee (cup #1) sitting at my computer and using the Internet to catch up on things. I don't spend time on the "who's doing what" on social media; in fact my daughter tells e I use Facebook all backward because I check my own page and see if anyone's added comments. I do check email, and deal with those things that are likely to be nagging at me when I try to concentrate -- like what if I'd missed the email from Amazon saying I had to reformat one of my books because there was no TOC (never bothered them before) and I was missing a page break. That became task 1, because that world's longest river can simply "disappear" your book if it doesn't meet their standards. I do my best writing when I know I have a clean plate. The job is knowing what belongs on my plate and what doesn't.

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    1. Thanks, Terry. I forgot all those nitpicky things we who do our own formatting get caught up in. There's always something to "fix" or redo. In doing the audios, my narrators found this nit or that, and I fixed them in both ebook and paper. I consider those distractions good distractions, similar to reading a blog post about self-publishing or the mechanics of writing. Those are things I wouldn't find if I didn't open the Internet. So damned if you do and damned if you don't.

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  4. All of us have different circumstances, but we have one thing in common: we all get an allotment of 24-hour days in each seven-day week.

    Where does writing fit into that 24-hour time frame? As an author who has allowed too many interferences to consume her time (some of which were necessary, some of which—as I look back—I realize were choices), I speak from the vantage point of experience on this topic. Now, as my energy wanes with age, I question a number of those choices. Some of them could certainly have taken a back seat to early morning writing time, and I wouldn't currently have half-dozen or more manuscripts waiting in the wings to be finished. When time is not used to the best advantage, it tends to one day bite us in the backside.

    Moral of story: Polly nailed it with this post. We live in a crazy world that abounds with distractions to keep us unfocused and unproductive. We need to put on blinders and pursue the goals we want to accomplish; otherwise, we may never see the books in our heads in the hands of our readers.

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    1. Linda, I, too, have books half-finished. I plan to go back to them once I finish my WIP. I guess I stopped them when something else took precedence. Doing my own covers is not a distraction as much as an obsession. I love doing them. But you're right. I need to focus on the hours I have to produce. Funny, time didn't go this fast when I was in school. Thanks for stopping by.

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  5. I'm the wrong guy to comment on distractions ... but, I will comment on the guilt associated with it ... let it go! Don't beat yourself up for being human, Polly ... oh, hey ... SQUIRREL ...

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    1. That made me laugh, Christopher. I have a tree right outside my office window where a squirrel sits and eats his nuts. So, yes, another distraction. :-)

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  6. I nearly giggle when someone asks if I have a regular writing schedule. My day sounds a lot like yours except I try to fit yoga in each morning and afternoons go to a grandchild. So there I am at ten at night wondering why I didn't get more written.

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    1. Judy, I've been thinking about yoga, but I'm afraid that would be one more thing to keep me from writing. My exercise is walking the dogs. I know, pitiful. Good for you. You're more disciplined than I am.

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  7. My best time of the day to write is as soon as I get up (okay--a cup of coffee later). I go online to read, catch up with everyone on the social media and email in the afternoon when I've finished what I can write that day. It's easy to get distracted. Too easy.

    I didn't wee Goldie's house, I saw Kid Rock's house, which he must not really live in because it has no personal items around. Lovely, but it would have been better if a beer can sat on the bar or a lip sticked message had been scrawled on a mirror. Oh well, guess he doesn't have to live up to my expectations!

    Write On, Polly!

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    1. I need to take a lesson from you, Elaine. What's worse with the Yahoo articles, is I read the comments. The political ones make me nuts. Gotta stop doing that. Thanks for posting.

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  8. YES. My only solution is to turn off the internet. Does it sting? Yes. But then I only have to battle the lure of the laundry and the housework. Trust me, there are days when doing that instead of buckling down and writing seems mighty attractive. I'm obviously in need of therapy.

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    1. My problem recently, and why I'm prone to procrastinating, is I'm having trouble with my WIP. This is a first for me. It's the third in a series, and I'm really a stand-alone writer. I will persevere, and I will take your welcome advice, Elspeth, and turn off the Internet.

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  9. That about sums up my mornings. The only way to write is to make the time. I hear a lot of excuses, but we always find time for the things we need to do. Is writing a need or a want?

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    1. Good question, Diana. (The name of my protagonist in my series is Diana.) It has always been a need for me until lately. I do think social media has a lot to do with it. All these things writers are supposed to do are time sucks, and after all that, I did better when no one knew my name--not that they do now, but I've been more visible. Does it help sales? Sometimes, but not enough to give these sites so much time and my work so little. Thanks for posting.

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  10. Oh, Polly, you hit the nail right on the head! I KNOW I should write first before checking e-mail etc... Aacckk!

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    1. There's room for you in my club, Heidi. We have to change our ways. No doubt about it.

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  11. And here's me dealing with spring fever - am I the only person on the planet who can't get on-task because of the season? This is an annual event for me.

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    1. I doubt you're the only person, Dani. Spring is a perfect reason to forget about working. Me? I'm doing taxes. Another distraction at springtime. Aaargh!

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  12. Social media like Facebook and Twitter I can take or leave, but email and blogging are time sucks. Although I only blog once a week, visiting other blogs seems to take up an inordinate amount of time.

    I have tried using Freedom, which blocks the Internet, but it seems there's always something pressing I need to confirm, and I end up on my phone or iPad trying to verify. It's difficult to escape the world we live in.


    VR Barkowski

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    1. I agree, VR, though I opted right from the beginning not to blog. It's a decision I haven't regretted. Blogging here is perfect, and I'm so glad I was invited to "mouth off" once a month. I don't blog hop, either, although I do stop at yours most weeks. :-)

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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