A lot of writers on the internet are likely to tell you the same thing: in order to write, you must turn off the distractions and focus on your writing and your writing alone.
So okay, I know that’s pretty good advice. The best way to focus on what you’re doing is not to multitask. No TV on in the “background”, no Netflix, no Facebook or Instagram or Tumblr or email. Just you and the page set in front of you. And maybe a good instrumental (or otherwise) writing playlist.
And I’ll be the first to say that this is good advice for any writer to follow.
However, I’ll also be the first to say that I very rarely write without distractions.
Like many newer writers (and by newer I mean those who may or may not have published yet but have only recently begun to seriously write… oftentimes juggling writing with a day job and/or family), I work at my job full-time (and previously I was a full-time student). I deal with my problems, health, social life, and expenses on a regular basis. I try to develop healthy habits like exercise and practicing mindfulness and daily time to nourish my relationship with God. And I try to keep some semblance of a writing habit on top of this.
But I’m also a huge nerd with a huge pile of hobbies. I love going to the movies. I get sucked into reading multiple books at a time. I paint, draw, and play piano. I binge shows on TV and on Netflix. And these hobbies take up time.
Now, I am lucky enough to have a job with very set hours, a job where the work doesn’t really come home with me. And now I live less than half an hour away. So I get to leave at 4 in the afternoon (usually) and have until about 11 pm (my bedtime) to do whatever needs to be done. Sometimes all I have time for is meeting with a friend or a group and then using the last hour (or less) to equilibrate my introvert self before I go to sleep. Sometimes I have an entire evening to pile in as many hobbies as I want.
This often leaves me in the dilemma of choosing to read OR watch Netflix OR do something else that requires less divided attention. Oftentimes I will open up my current novel and turn on the TV in the background, leaving both on for the entire night. Would I get more done if I just focused on one for a set amount of time? Sure I would.
But I’ll let you in on a hint about me. It is very rare that I find myself able to focus solely on one thing. Even if I’m writing with nothing else, there’s still the cat. If I’m at my parents’ house, the different environment (and two lovable dogs) are distraction enough to keep me from even pulling out my computer. If I write with music, the music tends to carry me away anyway. And sure, I can focus when I need to. I’ve never had problems meeting deadlines. I know how to pace myself and how I work.
So the truth is, I am a perpetually distracted writer. And I know that. And you know what? That’s okay. Because I still get my work done, little by little, and I get a lot of it accomplished on weekends.
I am unlikely to finish my word count goal for Camp NaNo this year. I’m okay with that. My goal was more being able to get some kind of schedule back, because for a long time I had lost it entirely. I am getting my ability to write regularly back. And it’s regular writing, and not necessarily having a great, focused writing session day in and day out that leads to a completed work. Just always putting one word after another.
Sometimes that’s enough.