I’m a worrier. Always have been, probably always will be. One of my recent worries concerns all the new writers doing their best to break into the field. My worries might not be what you’d expect. Sure, many will become frustrated and quit, but that’s not my biggest worry. Sure, helping new writers break in as I do might mean that I help launch someone who will ultimately be my competitor. Eh, so be it. No, my big concern of late is how many aspiring writers spend much of their time doing things other than writing—things that seem related to writing.
Distraction has always been a problem for writers. We tend to be interested in too many things. A writer friend once complained about how much writing time he loses when he does research online. Sure it’s a fast way to get information but it comes with hours of temptation. “Ooh, that’s interesting,” and off he would go to research something that interested him but had nothing to do with his project. A couple hours later, he’s behind on his work. I suffer from the same disease.
We live in an age that is wonderful, empowering, and able to pull the strongest person down a rabbit hole. One such problem is social media. Don’t get me wrong. Social media can be a great help to a writer. (Follow Edie Melson’s advice on this.) There one can find other writers, ask questions, and promote your latest work. However, it can (and does) keep writers from doing the real work of writing.
Add to that television (I can spend a week watching documentaries. I like them that much.), movies, smart phones, reading blogs, listening to podcasts, and more, and soon the writer has nothing to show for the week.
Many times, I reach the end of the day, look at my output and realized I did a lot of e-mail, blog writing, answering questions, researching unrelated material, doing favors for others, and very little writing.
Perhaps it’s because writing is difficult. At times it hurts the brain. It’s lonely too. At least with Twitter, Facebook, and their ilk, we can that there are other humans out there. The temptation is enormous and our writing often suffers.
One important skill every writer needs is power to say, “No.” No, to intrusions, no to too much social media, no projects that don’t help you reach your goal.
Don’t get me wrong on this. I’m not saying give up social media. I’m saying put it in its place. How many work hours have you spent working on things that will not move your project closer to the finish line?
A well known and very successful author I know has a special office he uses when he composes. It has a phone only his wife can ring. It has a computer that is little more than a word processor—it doesn’t connect to the Internet. If he needs to do research on what he’s writing, he makes a note of it for later and continues pounding the keyboard until he meets that day’s goal.
Edie Melson has been promoting, very wisely I think, setting aside a small amount of the day to social media then getting to work.
If your writing gets burdensome and you need a break, take a day or two off but then get back to it.
If writing for publication is the goal then it needs to take priority over things. Not family. Not your health. But certainly over distraction. Writing takes commitment. Writing takes sacrifice.
It’s a bit of a stretch, but I’m reminded of Mary and Martha in the New Testament. You know the story. Jesus came to visit and was teaching in their home. Mary sat at His feet and took it all in; Martha was doing her best to be a good host. It required juggling other things—important things to be sure, but not the most important thing. She was missing Jesus because she was so involved in the social pressure and customs of the day.
To make it as a writer, you will have to put your head down and your fingers on the keyboard. I’ve met many who talk about being a writer; I’ve met fewer who become writers by their dedication to the goal.
Is it time to set some things aside and get back to the real goal?
Alton Gansky has a black belt in time wasting and holds the record for riding a wave of distraction. Still, he feels his best and does his best work when he focuses on one thing.