Saturday 9:15 AM
“Where are you going, Dad?”
“Upstairs to write for a while.”
“But we were gonna watch a family movie together.”
“Alright guys...I’ve seen this movie before and I need to get some writing done.”
“Hey honey, before you start writing, will you throw down the laundry from our bathroom and help me sort it real quick?”
I sit down in front of my laptop and suddenly remember that I haven’t checked my email or Facebook account in two days. I should probably make sure there’s nothing important awaiting my response. I wonder how Tim Tebow’s stats are fairing...
“Dad, Mom said it’s time for lunch.”
“Hey honey, where are you going?”
“Upstairs to write.”
“But you’ve been writing all morning!”
Does this sound like the conversations in your home (or in your head) every time you think about sitting down to write? Sure, every writer experiences the occasional supernoval flare of a new story idea; fingers cramping, struggling to keep pace with the deluge pouring from your neocortex. It’s only when your bladder threatens to drown you that you look down and realize two hours and four thousand words have passed and you really feel this time that you’re well on your way towards the next New York Times Best Seller!
The next day you wake up, full of excitement and energy at the prospect of another one or two thousand words, only to discover you’ve cranked out a meager one or two hundred because the job, the kids, the spouse, the housework, the laundry, the cell phone, the friends, the internet, the TV, the movie, the library, the bills, the errands, the dishes, and the ten thousand other things that compete for your time have robbed you of your goal. You climb into bed at night feeling drained, unfulfilled, and guilty because you failed to write anything substantial that day. You vow that tomorrow will be different. So today becomes tomorrow, tomorrow becomes this weekend, this weekend becomes someday. Why do we give in so often and for so long to those things that keep us from writing? There are lots of reasons. Let me share two big ones I feel encompass all the others.
First, we don’t feel like we should write. Given everything we must accomplish every day, we feel - at least on a sub-conscious level - that we can't make time for such “silliness” as story-telling. After all, it’s our day jobs that put food on the table and maintains the roof overhead. When we’re not working, children and spouses need attention and care. And let’s not forget the importance of maintaining or improving our health. All these priorities consume us and it’s easy to give in to that whispering voice at the end of the day as it beckons our wearied heads toward soft pillows, “Stories are for kids. You’re an adult now. Grow up. Be more responsible. Get a good night’s sleep before the craziness of tomorrow starts all over again.”
Trapped inside every adult is the little kid we used to be, the one who’s imagination fueled the dreams of a million undiscovered worlds. At some point we became adults and bought into a belief that “growing up” meant we had to deny that inner child. As adults, we still dream occasionally (if for no other reason than to reminisce about what dreaming used to feel like). We all long for a chance to escape from time to time. It’s why we’re so easily distracted. Distractions take us away, however briefly, from the mundane adult lives we’re now forced to lead.
Writing doesn’t make us any less of an adult and we shouldn’t feel guilty for giving voice to that inner-child. Just face it; that little kid is never going to shut up and go away! Besides, denying him means denying half of our own existence. Chances are that most of your fondest memories come from childhood. Take time to go back and talk with that kid every day. He can help you remember what things were like before you became so concerned about all the troubles in your life. Let him teach you how to dream again. Give those memories and dreams a voice and let them spill out onto the pages.
Another reason we become so easily distracted is because we don’t feel we can write. Whether you realize it or not, your life has been influenced by at least one book (or perhaps a movie adaptation) that changed how you thought or felt about life. For me, it was Tai Pan by James Clavell. One Saturday afternoon when I was fifteen, my grandmother and I were cleaning her attic when I found Tai Pan sandwiched between dozens of hardbacks inside some musty box. I finished the book in a couple of weeks and knew when I closed the cover that’s how I wanted to live my life. Did my life really turn out that way? Of course not! And although I’ve never read the book a second time, I can still vividly recall the adventure, the politics, and the intrigue that Clavell so exquisitely imprinted on my memory.
As I sit down in my writing sessions, I’m constantly comparing my work to James Clavell, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Arthur Clarke, Octavia Butler (insert your own list of cherished authors here). Then I review what I’ve vomited onto the pages and think to myself, “What bile! No one’s ever going to be influenced by this!”
I’ve accepted that statement to be true insofar as I do nothing to practice my craft and hone my skills any further. Would I honestly expect an editor or agent to accept the first draft of my first story? Heck I don’t even like it! But what about my sixth revision or my hundredth story or my fifth novel?
It’s only through writing every day that we’ll get any better. It’s only through reading a lot of stories that we learn to distinguish the tripe from the truly inspirational. As I learn what’s good and what’s bad, I incorporate good techniques into my own stories. Eventually I find my own voice and my stories become amazing, if not to anyone else but me. Most importantly, I learn to write for myself.
Distractions are always going to bombard us every single day. When we get into a habit of writing for ourselves, writing because it’s healthy for us, writing because we know we’ll get better, writing to give voice to that imaginative inner child that won’t go away, then writing itself becomes the distraction from all the craziness surrounding us. It’s ok to escape for a while every day. In fact it’s very healthy to do so. Of course, your own personal circumstances will dictate when you can and can’t write. But I guarantee you can find at least an hour every single day to write if you really look for it and you’re serious about writing. Rid yourself of all the other unnecessary distractions in your life and focus on only one distraction - writing - for a little while every day.