We all have our own personal distractions. Here is my partial list: emails, neighbors, phone calls, “earning a living, for God’s sake,” cooking dinner, posting on blogs, Words with Friends, Bejeweled Deluxe on the iPod Touch, and watching the news. What are yours?
We always have a choice—the distraction or the Zone—but in the middle of the distraction, the Zone is the last thing on my mind. My solution to this problem is the old “Stop, look, and listen” adage:
- Stop. Don’t go immediately into the distraction—and don’t force myself immediately back to the computer.
- Look. What’s going on? Is the distraction just a way to avoid the challenge of writing, or something I need to handle? Ultimately, do I need to attend to the distraction or would I rather get on with finishing up the writing?
- Listen. Take the course of action that will make me feel better in the long run, rather than the sugar high that distractions sometimes provide.
Temptations aren’t quite as serious as distractions. Distractions are already underway when we notice them. Temptations are something to which we might yield. It’s harder to make the argument that we absolutely cannot write because we must play tennis, read a novel, play computer games, sink into a Facebook binge, go to a movie, or chat or text for hours with a friend.
My best antidote to temptations is to identify ahead of time what they might be so that when they show up, I don’t think they are some new and original idea that must be pursued immediately. Rather, they are one of the standard ways I tempt myself away from the computer. Then, again, it’s a choice: the Zone or the temptation. The key thing to remember is that, in the moment, that will never seem like the choice. The choice will seem like: the fun temptation or the sloggy, hard, drudgery of work. I have to remind myself that sometimes I can only get to the Zone through writing; I can’t expect that it will always be there before I start to write.
Here, I’m not talking about regular old writer’s block. (For info on this, check out “The 4 Top Causes of Writer’s Block, and How to Fix Them.”) I’m talking about more general, society-approved obstacles to writing like:
- Having a full-time job that we can’t quit
- Having kids at home
- Being in school
Some of these obstacles seem insurmountable. It’s easy to argue for the limitations they impose, but I know several people who have finished books with at least two of these blocks in place. When we really want to make something happen, it’s amazing how clever and creative we can be.
The solution here is to make a choice between the obstacle and the writing—and choosing the block is just as valid as choosing the writing. Either way is fine. What doesn’t work very well is to insist that you should be writing, but also to insist that you can’t possibly do so because of the block. If you need to choose the obstacle for now, give yourself permission to do that. When you make that choice, you are the source of what is happening in your life. Either way, you get an enormous amount of relief and a big shot of self esteem.
The Zone is our natural state. When we get rid of the distractions temptations and blocks, all that’s left is the Zone.
What do you do to work through distractions, temptations, and blocks?