Tuesday, December 9, 2008

More 'What' - What Distracts You and What Helps?

My turn! I don't know what I was thinking when I posted this latest question elsewhere. For shame! And just after the start of our lovely new blog. 

Anyway, here's my question and answer:

Sometimes, I get distracted from writing by my favourite crit site. Or, rather, I'm not sure what to write and that site magically opens in my browser and I begin posting things all over the place. 

But, on the other side of this coin, I often have Forward Motion for Writers website up when I'm writing. This might sound a bit weird, but I like to have it 'background' while I write. It's kinda like drawing support, like a comfort blanket, or holding someone's hand. Just having that little connection with a writing community somehow makes me feel more 'in the zone' for writing. Well, not always, but when FM is really, really, distracting me rather than helping I still keep it open, and that's kinda like when someone quits smoking, but keeps one packet as a trophy or will-test thing. 

The trouble with writing, I find, is that I do it at my PC and the internet, generally, is a huge distraction. Great for doing research, but YouTube also distracts me. Mind you, again, there's a positive, because I like to make little music vids and post them on YouTube, and that's my alternative creative thing for when writing gets a bit too much. Making the vids is pure fun, I don't feel I have to make them good, there's no pressure from myself to raise the bar, so that's a healthy distraction if I'm not going to write anyway. 

And then there's Kongregate - a gamers website where people develop and showcase free flash games. When I'm really in a funk with writing, that's the site that saps away frivolous hours. Very naughty, but I've been a bit of a gamer since the old Commodore 64 days and it's a nice way to either relax, wind down, or test the mental faculties. 

The cat distracts me, too. Little blighter jumps onto the keyboard table and throws itself onto its back when it wants some fussing. I kinda like the cat, it's a cool little beastie, but the whole 'writhing around near/on the keyboard' thing gives me palpitations. Sometimes, I stop to fuss the cat, other times I shut it out of my office. At least you know with cats that you can behave as selfish as you like, because they'd do the same for you!

I have a friend who hates cats on the grounds that 'if you were suddenly six inches tall, your cat would eat you. You dog wouldn't, he'd still be loyal.' Heh, true. Probably why I prefer the cat. 

I like to have music on, too. Either faves from my i-Tunes library, or the radio, just something to burble away while I'm typing, that helps, I think. Just animates the air a little, swings between moods which is amazingly non distractive. I've never found myself writing down a song lyric, or diverting a scene to reflect the mood of what I'm listening to. I don't usually hear the music at all, to be honest, but I like having it on so that when I come up for air there's something to bop to. 

Food is distracting, too. This is a plus/minus thing as well. I'm a sukker for chocolate and goodies and an impromptu trip to the local post office often happens when I'm supposed to be writing. And then, again, if I get carried away it's not unusual for me to forsake food entirely and wind up snacking on toast just before I go to bed. 

Sleep itself! Now that's distracting. I used to be one of these people who needed eight or nine solid hours per night. That seems to be dropping back and is more like six now, but I often forsake sleep to continue with a writing activity, especially if I'm reading back a whole novel after finishing or editing it. I can go right down to one hour of sleep, or none, sometimes. 

Talking of which, the blummin' cat woke me up this morning: decided to batter the side of my bed at some ungodly hour. Ungodly, because I'm working this evening, won't get back until around midnight, so the cat's six am exuberance wasn't entirely welcome. I have a glut of time on my hands now which I hadn't anticipated! So, lots of writing time then... or maybe I'll just check to see how my YouTube vids are doing...


Ink said...

I find procrastination easy... but I'm hard to distract. I find just about anything can delay me starting... and if there's nothing, I might just go looking for something that can properly do the job. Starting something is always the hardest thing, and this goes for both the technical considerations and the personal/emotional ones. I have to build up a certain momentum to start something, to get that first word down. Sometimes the lack of proper momentum is me, a lack of the proper mood, a lack of the proper engagement with the material. But sometimes the lack is indicative of the story, too, in that it reflects my uncertainty about my direction for a piece (or a piece of a piece, as is more often the case). Either way, I sometimes simply have to start writing, thought at times rereading what I've already done (if anything) will help re-engage me in the story. I have to get inside it, to feel it and be inside the dream rather than looking in from the outside. I can't be at the window looking in and thinking about how nice that fire is... I have to be burning my hands on it.

Once I get going, though, I'm hard to distract. I have that sort of tunnel vision going for me. I'm like that with a lot of things. My wife despairs. When she talks to me while I'm doing something the words often skim right past as I obliviously continue with what I'm doing. If we're at a bookstore, and she says "Honey, I'm taking the kids, meet me at the GAP in half an hour", I'll look up thirty seconds later and say "What?" And then I'll look blankly around the bookstore wondering where my family went, and then wander off to blindly search through the mall looking for them.

Bad, but good... as it also keeps me locked onto a story once I start getting the words down. And it's good too, as if I was easily knocked out of a story I'd be in trouble, writing in the bookshop as I do. Customers and phonecalls and the occasional online order... I can step away and come right back and drop into a sentence. Needed, really, considering. I take what I can get, and that's my time, so I try to make the most of it.

Ink said...

And how do I find your youtube vids? You can't write that down and not expect me to look...

Wanu said...

Ooh, no probs! I'm kinda proud of my YouTube antics. My handle on YouTube is MusicalDudeMayhem, and here's my stuff: http://uk.youtube.com/user/MusicalDudeMayhem

My personal faves are right there on the main page, but there's some twenty others.

I hope you find something enjoyable! Book will almost definitely find something he likes because there's a load of Dr Who and Matrix stuff that I played with.


Wanu said...

Oh yes, if you want to see a YouTube vid with higher quality, just put &fmt=18 at the end of the url.

(what appears to be a squiggle there is just an 'and' sign).

e.g, the address of my Light Sabers vid is http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=gMRmlShC6dQ

But it'd be clearer as http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=gMRmlShC6dQ&fmt=18

Bookworm1605 said...

Ink, you are blessed indeed with your tunnel vision. I count it as my greatest weakness that I'm so easily distracted. Like Wanu, I find so much that comes between me and the blank screen every time I try to work, not the least of which is a Jack Russel terrier, chocolate chip cookies and two little girls who always want to wrestle. Outside of that, I could throw in...pretty much everything else, including writing on this blog. FM is always a lurking temptation, too. I'm never in such a mood to offer critique as when I've set a deadline for myself to get some writing done.

This is more of a problem than simply not getting things done. You see, I feel like I have a lot more words between where I'm at now and where I want to be as a writer. Creativity and talent may be a magical gift from the muse but craft evolves like a finely honed manufacturing process. Make a hundred widgets and they may be rough around the edges. But make ten thousand and refinement is gained with economies of scale. So it is with the manufacturing of sentences and paragraphs as well.

What helps? I don't know. I wish I did. Discipline, I suppose. Coming up with a schedule and sticking to it. I thought about getting one of those Neo keyboards--basically a highly portable wordprocessor--to remove the internet as a distraction. Because, any time I fire up the old laptop to write I've just GOT to check out FM and CC and Facebook and then I've got to watch that Death Star cantina lego thingee and now I'm wondering if Wanu has a lightsaber, so it's back to you-tube to check and so on and so on...

Yeah, curbing my surfing would help. Music helps too. I almost always have some kind of music playing when I write. Every story I've written has a song associated with it. Anytime I hear that particular song I'm immediately transported into the story. And playing the guitar helps me calm down and strip my mind of distractions before I write.

I think it ultimately comes down to discipline. Making yourself clear the distractions and put the time in. If you don't put the time in, you'll never be the writer you could be. That's how you learn the process of writing--through an investment of time. I don't belive that anyone issues from the womb fully formed as a brilliant writer.

"It's none of their business that you have to learn how to write. Let them think you were born that way." -Ernest Hemingway

Although, some may lead you to believe it.

Bookworm1605 said...

BTW, Wanu, I didn't realize they had light sabers in Princess Bride. Cool.

Ink said...

Oooh, lightsabers! Flashy. And I thought I'd memorized the Princess Bride... strange I don't recall any lightsaber battles...

"My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

How could I NOT quote, I ask you?

As for distractions... I'm not sure why I'm easy to distract before... and hard to distract during. Seems odd, in a way. But I'll take it, I guess. Actually, one of the things I like about writing novels is that continued immersion/involvement in the story. It makes it easier to write, at least for me. I write a short piece, I finish it, and then the next day... I dink around. I could start something new, but that Lego Star Wars Canteen thing is calling me (again...). But writing a novel, where the next day I know what scene I'm going to write, and I have the whole force of the story behind me and pushing me on... that's good, because I can step up and get right to it. I'm in rhythm. It's like reading a good book for three straight days... on the next day you're eager to pick it up and keep going, eager to see what happens. Same with writing a novel. Put that book down for a week or two... and suddenly web surfing might be calling in ahead of reading and writing.

It's about momentum, I think. Momentum is big with me. Writing regularly, trying to have that discipline, is so important because that's how I build up some momentum. You have to force yourself sometimes, like pushing your car to get it going... but then the engine kicks in and you're off (at least until you stop again).

At the same time, some distractions are better than others. I like reading and writing about what we do, because it's an avenue of learning, it's part of how I hope to develop my craft. It's valuable, and helps me as a writer to get better. So if I'm reading and writing about the process in some way, well, that's a much better sort of distraction than mindless surfing. To me that time is valuable... though, of course, I don't want it to overshadow the actual writing time. It's a complement to the writing, but not a replacement for it.

And now to stop procrastinating and get some editing done...

Wanu said...

Actually, for me, momentum is a lot to do with the quality of my first draft material. This is why I'm a tweaker, and not a rusher, the first time around. If I can read the last few paras of what I was doing, and get a feel for where I'm up to, getting back to work isn't too difficult. Easy, in fact.

And *snikkers* about The Princess Bride and light sabers. You know, ther are guys out there who would map a lightsaber onto just about anything. That vid also features Pirates of the Caribbean, 300, Lord of the Rings and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

There's potential for further discussion here, though. Remember, about five months ago I posted a very short story on Roving entitled Not to Reason Why? That was my experiment in trying to bring the immediacy of emotional impact which music creates, into prose.

Clearly, music and prose quite often meet in the area of songs and lyrics, but music has this amazing power to induce mood almost immediately. To some extent, prose can achieve the same thing, but it isn't as immediate. I'd love to be able to generate as much emotion from three minutes of a reader's time, as a song can from the same duration spent with a listener.

I sort of don't think it's possible, but then there are a lof of short forms of writing which are very clear, direct, and do pack a punch. I'd guess that the most extreme example is haiku which, if it does its job properly, conjures a very pure sensation in a very short amount of words.

Music and writing are two very different mediums. I think my experiment with Not to Reason Why brought the two close together, but it really didn't combine them.

I wonder if it's possible for these two types of things to be even more closely intertwined, and not in the way that prose serves music, but in the way that music can be brought to serve prose.

I genuinely think that Anne Rice struggled to capture the power of music in her novel 'The Queen of the Damned'. Indeed, the film has an excellent rock soundtrack, and while it cuts a lot of corners story wise, I'd regard it as at least as good a presentation of the material as the original novel. Partly, because the music blasts it into the right zone.

Bookworm1605 said...

Music...yes, music is important. It's critical to my processes. It's the lifeblood of creativity. I don't know if it's possible to have a story convey the same...level of emotion that a song can. It's an intriguing thought, though. And a worthy goal.

For me reading and listening to music are two very different sides of the same experience. Reading engages the logical, thinking part of my brain. When I listen to music my eyes glaze over (not good when I'm driving) and a deeper, subconscious part of me is touched. Music reaches down and dredges up emotions that I didn't know were there and gives them life. Then, if I'm quick enough, I can tranmogrify that emotion into something written.

On procrastination... I was watching Ellen Degeneres today at lunch and she was talking about this topic. She said procrastination is your mind's subconscious way of saying, "Hey, dummy! You're too busy. Slow it down."

Of course I know procrastination is evil. But she makes an interesting point. Still, I'll never get a hundred stories written if I continue to procrastinate.

"If you write one story, it may be bad; if you write a hundred, you have the odds in your favor."
- Edgar Rice Burroughs

Ink said...

I don't know... I think different people procrastinate for different reasons. I'm quite sure I procrastinate a lot more when I DO have time... and when I'm busy I focus in better. Unless, occasionally, I have lots to do and I procrastinate everything... so, just for me, I think it varies, and it operates through different processes.

Music... I love music, but I'm the most musically inept man in the world. And I have the worst audio memory. So... I don't really think there's much connection for me between writing and music. I listen while working sometimes... and sometimes not. I'm equally fine either way. Sometimes it's nice for mood, occasionally it distracts a little. It's sort of neutral in terms of writing for me.

Though I am sort of caught up with the musicality and rhythm of language, which might be something...

Wanu said...

Do you think we should 'move on' when the subject changes in this way? If you think about the things we've discussed in the past, there is this 'conversation rolled' element. Do you think we should somehow link from one subject to the next, and then bring it to a new blog post?

Ink said...

I kind of figured that's what would happen... someone would start a topic, we'd discuss, and then one of us would get hit with a related but different topic... and they could post, and we'd talk, etc. Plus, you can always just chuck down a new idea out of the blue, particularly if a new thread doesn't leap right to mind. Like your distraction post gave me an idea for something related... Really, though, I'm fine with whatever. Let the madness begin!