Small distractions that pull you away from writing for short periods of time may improve your productivity.
I know. It’s counter intuitive. But it’s also true. Let’s see why.
That Amazing Brain of Yours
You’ve been there before. You’ve banged your head against a problem for hours and you’re just not getting anywhere. Worse…you’re getting further away from a solution. You have an idea!
I just need to concentrate more, and the solution will jump right out at me!
Unfortunately, you couldn’t be further from the truth. By the time you’ve reached this point (frustration, head feels like it’s in a vice, nothing works, everything you do makes it worse) concentration is the last thing that’s going to help.
Your mind has two halves, for lack of better words. You need both of them to be a successful writer, but one of those halves requires that you get out of its way and relinquish control. That half is your subconscious.
Stephen King has been known to refer to his subconscious mind as “the boys in the basement”. The “boys in the basement” only work when you’re not paying attention. Think of them like short order cooks at a diner. If you know you need steak and eggs, you don’t tell the waitress then go back in the kitchen and direct the cooks. You place your order then relinquish control. Eventually you get something resembling steak and eggs.
Your subconscious mind works like those cooks. It will rebel against you if you try to control it. You have to relinquish control and let it do what it’s best at…solving problems without your help.
Enter Micro Distractions
I don’t know if there is such a thing called a “micro distraction”, but the choice of words worked for me. I want to be clear here: I’m not advocating being a distracted writer. Distractions are mostly bad, and you should usually avoid them if you want to accomplish anything significant. I’m not talking about getting lured by the siren call of the internet, losing yourself in a rabbit hole of research, solitaire, or your Xbox.
Those of you who read my blog know that my day job is software engineering. There is one tried and true technique that works for me every time I have a seemingly insurmountable problem: I walk away from it. Sometimes I do this literally. I step up from my desk, walk out of my office, play some disc golf or take a walk around the block. By turning my mind to something else…anything else…the solution usually jumps right out at me as soon as I sit back down at my desk.
I’ve taken this into my writing life as well, and it works wonders.
When I was writing Necromancer Awakening
, I often ran into a situation where I was staring at the blinking cursor for a couple of minutes. The problem was the longer I stared the more of a problem it became, which made me stare longer, which made it a bigger problem, which made me stare longer…ad nauseam.
Something has to break the cycle or it spirals out of control.
So I would turn briefly to Facebook, Twitter, my blog, etc, and spend no more than a couple of minutes tops—just long enough to turn my mind away from the problem I had at the blinking cursor. When I would come back to the cursor the words would start to flow again.
As with everything, there are exceptions, and I want to leave you with two warnings:
- If you are easily distracted, this will not work for you. You’ll find yourself sucked into social media (or whatever poison you chose) and you’ll get nothing done. If you fit this category, point at me, laugh, call me crazy, and do not take this advice! It will do you more harm than good.
- You must be the one who decides when to switch contexts. If you find yourself switching tasks based on nothing more than a Facebook alert sound, then you’re flirting with becoming the type of person I mention in warning #1 above. This is your tool. Be the carpenter…not the hammer.
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Nat Russo is the Amazon #1 Bestselling Fantasy author of Necromancer Awakening.
Nat was born in New York, raised in Arizona, and has lived just about everywhere in-between. He’s gone from pizza maker, to radio DJ, to Catholic seminarian (in a Benedictine monastery, of all places), to police officer, to software engineer. His career has taken him from central Texas to central Germany, where he worked as a defense contractor for Northrop Grumman. He's spent most of his adult life developing software, playing video games, running a Cub Scout den, gaining/losing/gaining/losing weight, and listening to every kind of music under the sun.
Along the way he managed to earn a degree in Philosophy and a black belt in Tang Soo Do.
He currently makes his home in central Texas with his wife, teenager, mischievous beagle, and goofy boxador.