WriYe: Let’s Talk Distractions

I’m not doing all of the blog topics, only the ones in which I feel I have something to say. The topic this month though is close to my heart – “Define your biggest distraction and how you deal with it.”

My focus is actually not as terrible as it used to be. Really that’s what distraction is to me – lack of focus. I can’t say a specific person, situation or circumstance is a distraction because it doesn’t matter what it is. I either focus – or I don’t. If I’m not focusing then my attention could be caught by watching paint dry (as an extreme example). It’s never what calls me as the ‘distraction’ because if it wasn’t that, it would be something else. The fault lies with me.

I can list issues. I get very distracted if I am ‘waiting’ for anything. It’s like I am just consumed with counting down/clock watching and all I can think about is whatever the thing is. My thoughts can get rather obsessive. Other people are a distraction obviously. This is less of a problem than it used to be because I now live on my own, but my pocket friends moved with me haha, and we all know the siren song of a notification ding. However, again I have to repeat it doesn’t matter. If I’m in the zone, then distractions are like water off a ducks back.

In conclusion my biggest distraction is my own brain.

So how do I deal with it?

As I said my focus isn’t as terrible as it used to be. A lot of the reasons for this are sort of ‘out of my control’. I think I’m doing better these days because I had a medical procedure, which eased a chronic condition. I don’t do well with other people but I moved into a place of my own, which is now my own sanctuary. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety probably for most of my life, but definitely since my first breakdown end of 2009. These still plague me but they ebb and flow. There are times when I am drowning in them, and times when I do better. This is one of the better times. It is an unfortunate truth that depression and anxiety cloud the mind. How can anyone think when so much of the brain is already busy? I know better than to hope this better time will last forever. Indeed anxiety is still a huge issue, only less so because I avoid all situations which trigger it. If I actually tried to leave my house or do normal people things I’d soon fall to pieces.

Anyway! Those things are mostly beyond my control. I suppose I made decisions that led me to walk this path, and for these things to come about, but they were dependant on others and life factors. They aren’t strategies, but I do have any of those?

  1. Set tasks that are controllable – As a writer I used to do the NaNo thing I guess of asking myself for a certain number of words per day. This is not only far too focused on drafting (and not all the other myriad of tasks writing requires), but it leads to a toxic cycle (or at least it did for me). I would sit there and not focus, and not focus, but I couldn’t stop sitting there because I hadn’t got my words yet. I was miserable, and hating that I was wasting time, and thinking of all the other projects I should be doing. I would sit there all day beating myself for not getting my words. Sometimes I eventually got them but at what cost?

    Solution: timers. I don’t ask myself to achieve anything in particular, I just ask myself to do ‘butt in chair’ for 4 hours. I don’t make that 4 hours every time. It’s a target but if it doesn’t work out that way, then so be it, I’ll just try again tomorrow. I used to be very strict about the timer and flick it off if I went to get a drink etc. but these days I permit that as part of the hours. You don’t clock on and off everytime at a regular office job, so why should I?

    Anyway even though I’m not asking myself to achieve a set number or amount. I am still getting it done. I don’t think I would be doing it any faster if I demanded a certain amount – that never worked in the past.
  2. One project at a time – I want to do all the things. Even if we just constrain it to writing, I have a dozen different novel universes I want to write – dozens and dozens of books. It saddens me sometimes that I could write solidly for ten years and still not run out of ideas I already have (and what about new ideas?) but I guess on the other hand that’s not a bad problem to have. It is frustrating how much time it takes but that’s life. The last decade has been difficult. I barely wrote any original writing between 2016 and 2021. Then once I started again I struggled. I finished a few drafts but they all felt so awful, and I didn’t see any of them through. Instead I started a different project, like I thought that would fix me (spoiler alert – it did not).

    Solution: This January I picked one series and made a commitment. I have written Book One (it’s been sent to beta/editor), and I will start on Book Two next week. As much as I want to write other things, I will not. Making a decision is hard. I have a lot of innate resistance to making the commitment (I don’t like choosing) but once a choice is made, I think it makes something click in the brain. It sort of settles things. There is no more indecision, there is only the work. Speaking of work…
  3. One step at a time – I intimidate myself out of doing things quite often. I see the mountain, I see how far I have to go, and it feels hopeless. It feels like I will never get there. I get into a depression spiral of “what’s the point? why bother? I’ll never be good enough” etc. and that is a huge distraction. I have lost literal years to that despair. This is a hard one because it depends on something in the brain (something that feels out of control) clicking but…

    Solution: Don’t dwell on the future. I have marked so many things as future!Me’s problem. When I become future!Me I’m going to be very unhappy about it all I’m sure. However, in regards to publishing I’m trying very hard not to think about it. It does intrude on my thoughts, and I have had some nebulous notions about it, but I actively refuse to contemplate it too much. I’m aces at self-sabotage and publishing will never happen if I don’t write the books, so right now all that matters is writing the books. Everything that scares the hell out of me is future!Me’s problem.

    I’m not setting deadlines. That sounds counter-intuitive I know but I beat myself up when I fail to reach them, and honestly it’s hard to know how long things take. I hate how long everything takes, but maybe that’s just how long it takes? I could be unreasonable in my wishes, and setting myself up for failure is not helpful. So I’m not setting goals for the year exactly. Each month I’m taking as it comes. I work on the current task, and then I go onto the next step. I finish that and go onto the next. As I said – one step at a time.
  4. Forgiveness/compassion – this is the hardest one I think. I have no issue extending this to anyone else but I am always notoriously hard on myself. However, I feel like I lost an extra year or two, or perpetuated the really dark times, by being so angry and bitter about the years I had already lost. Maybe I had to do my time grieving for that lost time, I don’t know but I do know that I can’t get that time back. However much I wish I could. I have to let go of losing all that time, of missed opportunities, of everything that I wish had gone differently.
  5. Realise what you can’t change – the state of the world terrifies me. Politics, climate change, AI – it’s a nightmare. However, being consumed by fear about it all, doesn’t do a damn thing. I’m one person who basically can’t leave my house. I do what little I can to make the world a better place, but I have very little power. Feeling powerless sucks, and leads to feeling hopeless. I have termed it a “ride I wish I could get off” because this world is scary. However, it’s the world we have to live in.

    Solution: I wrote a list of everything that terrified me, that I couldn’t do anything about. Let go of what you can’t change and focus on what you can type deal. The list was ‘this is what I can’t control’ but then ‘this is what I can’. I can’t fix the world but I can choose how I spend my days. I also blocked all the news sites through my router because I was compulsively checking them everytime I picked up my phone. It’s a habit I got into after November 2016. Everyday asking ‘how is the world going to end?’ because it really feels like that. I stay broadly informed, because I think that’s important, but I can’t marinate in the compulsion of seeing all the badness in the world. It was killing me.
  6. Let go of what doesn’t serve you – There is a lot of advice out there about “daily habits”. Like 4thewords has the 444 goal everyday, and there are other writing services. However, two things. 1) the daily grind is exhausting, and 2) drafting isn’t the only aspect of writing. WriYe has monthly challenges, both the regular ones (FMM, NMM, WriDay 5k weekend etc.) and also monthly one-offs (KWIF, Magical May, What’s in a name etc.). I remember when I first signed up I had this ambition to one day get a clean sweep. Those 4 monthly challenges, I had to always have a story that needed words because I had to get the badge etc. But writing is more than drafting and splitting my focus like that wasn’t helping me. Those challenges are supposed to motivate and support but they were personally holding me back.

    Solution: basically the title – let go of what doesn’t serve you. I don’t have 4thewords anymore – cool idea, doesn’t help me. I barely do the WriYe challenges – I feel bad about this like I’m not engaging properly with the event anymore but it’s about what helps me. What do I want most? Badges or a finished novel? Obviously the finished novel. Experiment, try things, see what works and chuck what doesn’t.

So that’s it. I don’t know if this is what the prompt had in mind but it’s what I needed to say. Distractions are numerous but (for me) they are a symptom and not the root cause. I am only distracted because my brain isn’t focused and is seizing upon the distraction as a self-sabotage/procrastination thing. So tackling my brain is how I tackle distractions.