How To Write When There Are Others Around, Part II — Some Solutions

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The problem: How to not be distracted when others are around, distracting you from writing.

The solution: I’m really not that vain to say there are solutions, but just hints of what might help you be less distracted. That being said, here are a few things which come to mind or which I’ve heard at writers conferences or in books or networking in general. But first a few general good writing habits:

1) Have the priority-attitude of actual writing time be important to you.

2) Take up the Book-in-a-Week phrases: BIC, HOK, TAM. (Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard, Typing Away Madly)

3) If you have difficulty writing a whole novel in one sitting, do as Anne Lamott suggested in her book on writing, BIRD BY BIRD — break the task into smaller units. You don’t need to (nor can you) write a novel in a day, but you can write a page a day.

4) Have a writing space which you only use for writing — no reading, no emails, just plain ole writing.

5) Take breaks. Do mini exercises for your neck, arms, fingers, legs, backside, etc.

On to suggestions to limit or deal with external distractions of other people:

a. If you have young children, tell them when you have your writing cap on (get an actually cap specifically for this purpose), that you can’t be interrupted except in cases of emergency. I used to define “emergency” to my students as fire, blood or vomit, but you may quote your own definitions.

That lovely first suggesting being said, I need to add here that I have always felt that family ALWAYS comes first. The kids are young only once. In my family book, I mostly only wrote when they napped or watched “Sesame Street” or were at school. But by the time they started school, I went back to a paying career with energy sucking emotions which drained any writing enthusiasm. Still, family comes first.

b. Turn off the phone ringer, and refuse to answer your doorbell. Yep: hide and ignore.

c. One writer friend hired a baby sitter twice a week so she could write undistracted by her children.

d. Set a timer for your writing time — even just 15 minutes! This is for both for you and for your family members. Explain you MAY NOT be disturbed until the bell dings. And it’s probably a good idea to keep the timer near you just in case little hands like to play with time.

e. I want to say “shoot the ice cream man,” but I realize that sounds terribly wicked. You see, we have an ice cream truck which is driven S-L-O-W-L-Y through our neighborhood twice a day. Only a couple measures of a familiar child’s tune is played over and over and over again. Also in this category are the industrial strength leaf blowers and professional lawn care people next door. I think for this grouping, a good pair of headphones or ear plugs are in order. I know some people listen to tapes of white noise to filter out the outside distracting noise, but I could just type next to our air conditioner if I wanted that type of noise.

f. Family comes first. When your spouse wanders in and out, and in and out again, remember, family ALWAYS comes first.

Book-In-A-Week Boost

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I’m attempting to write every day during June — rather like NaNoWriMo. It’s going about the same as my exercise program — more sporadic than consistent, I’m afraid. I only wrote about 5,000 words last week.

HOWEVER, this month I signed up for Book-in-a-Week (http://book-in-a-week.com) to give myself that accountability shot in the arm I sometimes need.

For Book-in-a-Week, you set a goal of the number of pages you plan on writing during the week (usually the first full week of every month; 250 words = 1 page), and each evening you send in your report. 

My goal for this week is 50 pages. This morning I wrote nearly 11 pages. Pretty good, even if I say so myself. (And, no, Susan, I’m not speaking from being on medication. I really did write almost 11 pages.) My secret goal is to double that, only if I say that out loud, then I may just be making myself accountable.

I’ll write like crazy during June, then revise like crazy for the rest of the summer. Exciting stuff, this writing.

June Writing Challenge

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For a while now, I’ve had it in my mind to spend June doing “NaNoWriMo,” i.e., writing a novel during the month of June. So, therein lies my latest writing challenge: write a novel during the month of June.

After experiencing my first NaNoWriMo last November, I realized that most of the words I wrote during that month never made it into my finished project (which is now out to editors). For NaNoWriMo, it seemed mostly to be about the word count (quantity v.s. quality). This was fine, in that it kept me writing every day, or wishing I were writing every day — a discipline I sadly lacked.

Knowing my very odd schedule, I have decided to write a finished story during the month of June. It will be as long as it is, but for my own discipline, I am setting a goal of 10,000 words per week. This morning, I popped out of bed at 5:30, excited it was finally June first, so I could get to writing. I wrote nearly 5,000 words before putting out this challenge. I’m impressed with myself, and so much more left of today. But I’ve had this story bouncing around in my head for a few years now. During this month, I am giving it top priority (unless something unforseen happens).

If you wish to join me in my challenge, let me know so we can support one another.

BIC HOK TAM (The Book-in-a-Week phrases: Butt in Chair; Hands on Keyboard; Typing Away Madly)

NaNoWriMo, Day 5, Procrastination

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I went to church early this morning. I went shopping. I’ve been checking on and responding to my emails. I’ve been talking with friends and family. My dad went into the hospital yesterday, so I’ve been playing phone tag a lot yesterday and today. Since it’s not raining, I’m thinking about going outside to do more raking. (I like being outside.) Then there’s the box of apples I want to make into applesauce and can. MAN! I can think of a thousand things to do — each of them important, of course — besides writing, including emailing encouraging notes to my writer friends, telling them to quit reading their emails and write. So… now here I procrastinate further by blogging. Yeesh! 

(Interesting side note from today: My sister in Florida just told me she saw our dead mother last weekend in our Dad’s apartment walking from the foot of his bed to staring out the window. Okay. I don’t think I’M sleeping in that apartment again! Ever! Maybe I ought to be working on a ghost story.)

While seeking some basic questions about my NaNo story background, I got to thinking about my own writing disciplines. Usually it takes me about four years to write the first draft of a book, and even longer to do a historical novel. For my purposes (and initial, tentative questions), this month I hope to get the story-only started, and over the next few years, will continue with my research as well as writing craft. Sometimes the hardest part of writing is simply doing it — BIC HOK TAM, as Book-in-a-Week says.

Normally, I write a story, revise it a few times, send it through my critique groups, revise again, send it through the same or other readers, throw the book against the wall and turn my back on it for months or years, before I rewrite the whole thing from scratch, only to do the revisions-critique groups-revisions-rewrites all over again. So, just to assure you, what I put out this month won’t look anything like what I image and hope the end product will be. My initial research questions are just for some skeletal parts to the story. My research, and writing, is on-going. (Written in defense of question-asking during NaNoWriMo.)

(And I’m detecting a pattern to my tags lately. Sad. Very sad.)