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August 30, 2011

Are All Distractions Bad?

Most writers have day jobs and families to take care of, so our writing time is precious.  Yet the hour we had set aside for writing instead often goes to…something else.

I’m no exception.  I’ve spent too much “writing time” playing on Twitter or reading blog posts, etc.

Sometimes I beat myself up about it.  And sometimes I deserve to be beat up.  *smile*  But sometimes I don’t deserve it.  Like it or not, writing is a career that entails more than simple butt-in-chair drafting and revising.

The Necessary Evils

From the very beginning of our careers, we need to learn the craft, and yes, that means using our time to read craft books and blog articles or attend workshops.  As we progress, the focus of learning broadens to include business aspects, everything from how to write a query letter to how traditional publishing compares to self-publishing.  Add in things like blogging and networking to get our name out there, and we have a full plate of activities that don’t involve writing our stories.

This past weekend was a killer for me.  Because of the time off I’d taken over the previous two weeks for my extended family road trip, day job obligations waited for me when I came home.  My little bit of free time should have been dedicated to drafting my work-in-progress.

Instead, I spent one whole day on miscellaneous writing “stuff” that needed to get done.  I updated my social media bios to integrate my new material (including the “About” page here on my blog), as I talked about in my post about author bios.  And in a lovely exercise of banging my head against the wall, I finally set up the mobile version of my website/blog.  It’s not perfect (which is driving my inner-perfectionist crazy), but it’s functional.

Those checkmarks on my list of things to do should have given me a great sense of accomplishment.  And I do feel that.  Sort of.  Maybe.  A little.

But I also feel like I should have been able to get more writing done too.  How I could have managed to have my cake and eat it too, I don’t know.  *smile*  I’m still waiting for that pause button on life.

Not All Distractions Are Bad

We have blog posts galore about how to avoid the “look, squirrel!” distractions, but I wonder if all that focus on word count leads to us beating ourselves up too much.  There are legitimate activities for our careers that don’t involve writing.

A writer who spent all their writing time pounding out words on a keyboard—but never took the time to learn the craft—would not be more “accomplished” than a writer who studied.  Sure, the first writer might have 10 finished stories under their belt, but if they’re all crap, does it matter?

Or a writer who finishes a novel, but never takes the time to learn about the publishing industry, would probably end up with a bad contract (if they sell at all).  They wouldn’t be more “successful” than a writer who spent time learning the business side of things.

My point is that while we do need to watch out for the shiny distractions taking us away from our writing, we should give ourselves credit for all the writing-related things we accomplish too.  Word count is not the end-all, be-all measure of success.

Do you ever beat yourself up for doing writing-related activities instead of writing?  What “good” distractions steal your writing time?  How much time do you lose on “good” distractions compared to “bad” distractions?

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Comments — What do you think?

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Susan Sipal

Love the cute squirrel pic! 🙂

You know, this is one thing I don’t do much of — beating myself up for other writing related tasks that I do. I know they are important and they take time and they’re all building toward the goal. Even time spent away from the computer in other pursuits, even leisure — in all of it I find something to bring back to my writing. And a writer without a life isn’t much of a writer at all. 🙂

Shain Brown

I use to believe the only thing that mattered was the word count. But it wasn’t long after I discovered how much a writer is responsible to learn or he/she was subject to suffer the wrath of ignorance. I’m kidding but like you pointed out there is so much to learn, to do, and to be responsible for that we have to have a broad vision as writers. As a writer is it important to me that I focus on all aspects of writing, and so as long as I write everyday even if it’s only a paragraph or a page I feel good. Bottom line it is up to me to have the discipline of carving out a few minutes everyday to write.

If you aren’t writing every day your just playing- you aren’t doing anything. I heard that somewhere, I like it.

Nina

This relates perfectly to my blog post this week. I agree with you, BUT, I think we need to be honest with ourselves when the distractions are taking over, or when we’re making excuses for our bad habits.

Jemi Fraser

Good point. I’ve learned an incredible amount about the publishing industry and the craft of writing by reading blogs and other craft related material. I don’t consider it a waste of time at all. But… it is frustrating how little time we all have. I guess we have to keep working for that balance!

Elena

I definitely see blogging as a part of the writing job, and it’s great to be a part of a community.

JA_Paul

I definately do not like missing my writing time in the morning. It’s a sure way to start my day off poorly, but it does happen, and I’m usually in a grumpy mood when it does. So if I get my writing done during my designated writing time (way early, think 4:00am ish) I’m more inclined to participate in all the other writerly activities throughout the day. Less so, if I’m grumpy. I guess that says I’m more involved if I get my writing time in the morning. Make sense?

Suzanne Johnson

Great post, Jami! The parts of our writing jobs that aren’t actual writing are important, but it’s hard to balance everything–especially with these darn day jobs. I’m not a word-count watcher, although knowing I have to finish a new book (which isn’t started) and have it in submit-to-editor condition by March 1 is starting to freak me out. I have a feeling I will disappear from the Webworld around January 🙂

CMStewart

SQUEE! Squirrel!

I swear I was going edit my WIP but that squirrel-

>^..^<

Oh look! Cat! SQUEE!

Kerry Meacham

We have to do more than write. We have to do other things, like…..studying grammar. Arghh. I think I’ve gone from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence, but I’m a long way from conscious competence, and unconscious competence isn’t even on the horizon yet. I think the main thing is to write, but it’s not the only thing. My goals for ROW80 are split between structure (one assignment per week), blogging (three time per week), social media (15 comments/links per week), studying (three books in 80 days), and writing (six days per week). I’m hitting about 90%-95% of my goals each week, and I know that will eventually get me to that unconscious competence horizon.

Sarah Pearson

I have to get ‘some’ writing done each day but how much, varies. I do tell myself off a lot (and sometimes I deserve it) but I think you’re right about ‘useful’ distractions. A salesman has to do more than knock on doors, a designer has to do more than draw a dress so it is so unreasonable to assume that an author must do more than just write?

Gene Lempp

Balance is like standing on the point of a thin cone. Surrounding the cone are the embodiments of all the varied aspects of our lives, throwing tennis balls at us. Some throw harder than others and maintaining balance is always precarious. I often think that clinging to the side of the cone would be better 🙂

I am still seeking the right balance and drift between irritation over not getting sufficient time and mild depression over the never-ending task list with brief moments of exuberance when I actually manage to get something accomplished. You make excellent points about good vs. bad distractions and I would say that between those two I have a fairly even balance. However, most of the bad distractions are external or beyond my control and most of the good ones exist by choice so, overall, I’m okay with it all.

I know that if I continue to strive for balance that one day I will find it.

Michele Shaw

Great reminder, Jami! I do beat myself up sometimes, but when I look at all I’ve learned from those “distractions,” I realize it was time well spent. It has helped my writing. I think I went overboard at first when I discovered Twitter, blogs, and other writers, but once I settled in and learned to balance (not perfectly, I’m still trying), it worked out for the positive. I’ve had to learn to police my own time, and let’s just say, some days I am stricter than others. (It’s much more fun being good cop. Then I get cookies.)

Julia

I think distractions are great as long as they are the exception rather than the rule — I actually posted a blog today about how my writing has suffered because I rarely do write, distracted by almost anything instead of writing. For me I think this is a matter of creating distractions because there’s some problem with sitting down and doing what needs to be done…. and I’m not sure why. Otherwise, I think–as you say–we all need to have well rounded writing life.

Todd Moody

Hi Jami, I have may too many things to spend my time on, so finding a distraction is easy. I used to feel a lot of guilt over it, but taking that long hiatus from writing has given me a new perspective. I write because I want to. If something else is grabbing my attention I go with the flow and do the writing later, when it feels right. I’m hoping that my life will provide more opportunities to write, if not, it wasn’t meant to be I reckon. I know I have a plan, but the only sure thing I have found in life is that things change. Right now, my passion is for writing, and I hope it continues to be, but life is too short to beat ourselves up over silly stuff. =)

Todd Moody

BTW, I love your new bio! =)

Laura Pauling

If that’s all I was doing maybe but the business of writing is more than just writing. We need to be prepared.

Irene Vernardis
Irene Vernardis

Hi Jami 🙂

Vacation is vacation and writing is a job too, so one needs free time from writing too…You don’t seem to have had much of a vacation though 🙂

As for word count, it’s important up to a point. It’s useless to write 10 k words per day if it’s nonsense…Better to write 1 k and full of substance.

Regarding beating myself up, I stopped doing that a long time ago. Life gets in the way, no matter what I do, so I don’t see any point to lose even more time and energy by beating myself for what I couldn’t do. I try to do the best with what resources I can have, time and energy included.

When men make plans, the universe laughs…:D

Kyla

It’s the “bad” distractions that really beat me up, but the “good” distractions eat into my writing time a little too much, too. “Bad” distractions would be listed as: talking with boy I’m in love with (sadly, there will be less of this in my near future, a lot less), cooking, cleaning, job-hunting, babysitting, farming, animal care, reading (fun books), watching television, etc. I do a lot of those. Lots and lots and lots.

But the “good” distractions can be just as bad, if not worse. I’m on twitter, getting more followers, writing a blog post, reading interesting articles that pop-up (something twitter is AWESOME for), and generally doing writerly things without writing. Bleh. What good is getting my name out there if I never finish the book?

Of course, I remind myself, the reverse is true, too: What good is finishing the book, if no one wants to read it? *Sigh* I still wish for more balance in my life. I guess the rest of my life will be spent riding the see-saw.

Great article, by the way, have a great day, and happy writing!

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