I was all set to write about first pages today. Common mistakes, what to do, what not to do, etc. The topic seemed to make the most sense, with the fantabulous #FicFest looming on the horizon. So down I sat with a cup of coffee and good intentions, yet I found myself typing the title atop this post: The Great Distraction. Er, come again? But as you do when your characters decide to take a sharp left when you’d politely asked, in your color-coded outline, for them to take a right, I went with it.
Contemporary writers live in the age of The Great Distraction. It used to be when you wanted to procrastinate from the writing task at hand, you’d go to the pub down the street, or clean your house. Or drink whiskey. Now, we have Twitter. And Facebook. And Instagram. And Snapchat. If you’re like me, you can somewhat justify this sort of meandering by reading the posts of other writers and links to articles about writing. Sometimes, they’re incredibly helpful. Still, not all distractions are created equal, and there are some that seem to linger long after you’ve x’ed out of whatever Internet writing hole you’ve fallen down. Those are the types of distractions I’m talking about: the ones that paralyze you, the ones that well and truly get in the way of productivity—not just for twenty minutes or an hour, but all day—maybe all week.
Here is a list of the Three Big Ones (and a little advice on looking the other way):
1. #1 Writers’ Most Wanted: the Recently Announced Book Deal/Agent/Subrights Alleyoop. Look, I find social media writer communities to be lovely places. There is support here that I, and many others, draw from on the daily. These people get you—they understand the hardships and challenges (and victories, and mini-celebrations) more than your friends and family probably will, because they’re experiencing the very same challenges and, hopefully, triumphs every day. When one of our own gets that elusive book deal/agent/what-have-you, the sincere outpouring of support is not for show. We are truly excited for them—not only do they deserve it, they are also paving the way for our potential victory down the line, too, right? Right.
So when I settle into my own manuscript an hour later, and I can’t stop thinking: when are you going to get that life-changing book deal, you hack? that makes me a monster, right? Wrong. It makes me, and anyone else out there similarly afflicted, human. We call it professional jealousy, and sure, I see that. But what I see most prominently is the root cause: self-doubt. The fear that we will never reach that point, we will never be that good, our own work is simply unworthy of publication, so why try?
Perhaps the better question is: what happens if I don’t try? What then? Unlike the answer to “why try,” this one is simple: NOTHING. Nothing happens if you don’t try. You’ll never get a book deal, never land an agent, never see your name on the cover of a book—that’s a certainty. By trying, you have everything to gain. Just ask any successful, published writer you know who almost didn’t finish their novels because they sometimes wondered, “why try?” One fundamental difference between you and them: they pushed past that question and persevered. You can too.
2. The Book Nerd’s Version of Keeping Up with the Joneses: that growing TBR pile. We accept this as a universal truth: you must read in order to be a good writer. As an editor, this is something I stress ad nauseam! Reading not only broadens your horizons as a writer, it educates you about the genre in which you’re writing, and (I firmly believe) exercises your imagination in a way that TV- and movie-watching just don’t accomplish (regardless of my passion for television).
As a writer/editor, I recognize that there are only twenty-four hours in a day. As much as I wish I’d been blessed with that quick-reading gene, reading is a commitment for me. Therefore, when I see (and mark down) all of the fabulous book recos my fellow reader/writers give online, it can start to feel a little….stressful. And I have a feeling I’m not alone. “I’ll add that to my growing TBR pile!” is a somewhat hyper-exasperated expression I see so often, it’s beginning to compete with “all the things” for space in my timeline (I’m not mocking—I use that expression whenever I get the chance J).
It’s true that reading is important to hone our abilities as writers. When given the choice, reading over interwebbing or watching TV is ideal. It’s also true that we have lives outside of writing and reading: full-time jobs, children, husbands, wives, school commitments, houses and apartments to clean, food to cook, laundry to do, bills to pay. Again, we are human; we have limits. Which means being okay with the fact that we’re still achieving a goal, even if we only read a book every other week, or every month. You’re reading, and even if you’re not reading all the things (see what I did there?), you’re still accomplishing something important and valuable.
3. The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. It’s easy to blame distraction on the Internet. But in truth, that’s only one brand available to us. Some of the most seductive, high-end distraction comes in the form of our loved ones.
Like any creative job, it’s difficult to quantify the value of what we do without a commission of some sort. Loved ones may look at what we’re doing and think it’s a hobby, until we’re paid to do it. When your husband/wife/child walks through that door and offers any number or alluring ways away from the page, it can be so enticing. But unless you’re writing as a hobbyist with no plans to publish, you must remember to put your foot down and, if necessary, educate the people around you. This is your job. Just like you wouldn’t walk away from your desk in the middle of a nine-to-five and skip out on your work, you must give your WIP the same respect.
I remember reading a Sarah Dessen novel once, in which the MC’s mother was a romance writer. She lived in a small house and wrote at her kitchen table. In order to discourage her kids from interrupting her writing time, she put up a beaded curtain in the doorway and when it was closed, her kids took that curtain to mean DO NOT DISTURB. I have always remembered that detail, because I thought it was a brilliant idea.
I wrote this blog because I’m not perfect. I procrastinate when I shouldn’t, I check Twitter when I should be adding words to my WIP, and despite knowing the answer, I do occasionally ask myself why try? Sometimes, we all need a reminder that we are worthwhile, and so are our endeavors to fulfill our dreams. Sometimes, we all need a little nudge to go back to the page and do our jobs so that we may someday have the opportunity to pave the path for others like us, sitting in front of the computer, wondering why try?
We try because it’s the only way to cross the finish line. We try because someday, we will succeed.