Writing Distractions


So many everyday distractions. I try to take care of the details, plan ahead to minimize surprises, but they persist, those pesky distractions that steal my time, minutes and hours, and, if I’m not really careful, they become my life. I do my best to keep them at bay so I can spend my time doing what I love: writing, an activity that requires stretches of uninterrupted time.

The funny thing is that once I put the helter-skelter of quotidian concerns aside and carve out the time to write, an entirely different type of distraction shows up. Once I’ve written a few pages and begin to see the characters, hear their voices, and imagine a scene unfolding, let’s say in New York, I get a little nudge to look up something, like, which street borders Central Park on the west side? Or, who does that statue represent that stands just inside the gates near the skating rink? The source of that nudge is to make the setting or social context more realistic, include the particulars.

But the nudge doesn’t remain small and quiet. The volume rises as I write the scene and I become desperate for those details. When I can’t resist any longer, I surrender to it and Google a map of Central Park. That’s just the start of it. A Google-facilitated downpour of distractions ensues. I pore through layers of details. Some are totally fascinating and I convince myself these are essential to the story. Others are boring or useless, but that doesn’t discourage me. I swim deeper. Hours later I emerge, drunk with details, my writing stalled.

This does not happen every time I sit to write. It helps to remember that. These forays mainly occur when I’m considering the particulars of the setting and the context of the story. I search for a telling detail, one that will serve the purpose of giving the reader a sense of time and place. Other times I might go hunting for details on a character’s occupation.

I know these expeditions must ultimately serve the story. But I won’t pretend that I haven’t delved so deeply into a subject, say herbal medicine for example, that I’ve ended up in a protracted study of it, well beyond the requirements of the story. But my primary aim is to write the story, and it is because I’m writing a particular story that I find certain things fascinating, even if they seem only tangentially related to the story at first.

If I go too far afield, I simply step back from my writing desk, unroll my yoga mat onto the floor and explore a few poses. That’s best way I know to quiet my mind and regain a wider perspective on my story. After that, I find I can return to my desk and write for a longer time, unimpeded by the nudges that are temporarily satiated.

About Margaret Graw

At the intersection of writing and yoga
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