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The distracted writer

My wife is constantly nagging chiding reminding me about the need to maintain a healthy work-life balance.  Of course, our definitions of what’s “healthy” are frequently not very well synchronized…

Dorothy:  “Darling, you said you’d mow the lawn this morning.”

Me:  “But I’m writing!”

Dorothy:  “Dear, you said you’d do the washing-up two days ago, and green slimy things are now crawling out of the sink and trying to eat me.  When did you plan to get around to it?”

Me:  “But I’m in the middle of a chapter!”

Dorothy:  “Sweetheart, you promised to move the gas cylinder and space heater off the clothes dryer so I could use it.  I’ve been waiting so long for you to do it that I now have to wash our entire week’s laundry all over again, because it’s gone moldy.”

Me:  “Stop nagging, dammit!  Just give me time!  I’m stuck on this action scene!”

Does that sound familiar to any of you?  Yes, I’m guilty of all those things (although my saintly wife does her very best to exercise forbearance, and not hit me over the head too often.)  It’s not just with domestic chores, either.  It’s all too easy for me to spend so many hours locked into writing that I neglect to get enough exercise, or eat proper meals, or write that check, or mail that urgent form, or… you get the idea.

On the other hand, it’s very easy to let normal domestic chores, and the needs of day-to-day living, build up until they prevent me from actually sitting down and writing at all.  I have the added problem of being permanently partially disabled, and in pain 24/7/365.  Sometimes the pain gets so bad that I simply can’t think creatively at all, and writing (and almost everything else) has to take a back seat until it eases.  That can be aggravated by additional health problems.  For example, a bout of kidney stones – on top of my ‘normal’ back and nerve pain – shut down my creative writing altogether from mid-2018 until earlier this year.  That was no fun at all.

I’m not seeking sympathy over these things, you understand;  nor am I trying to use them as an excuse.  Other people have other distractions and problems that keep them from writing;  children, pets, in-laws, the drug addict in the house next door, the squirrels trying to nest in the attic, or the skunk taking up residence beneath the house.  (Yes, I have stories…)

For many of us, social media (including blogging) has become a major distraction and time-sink.  Neal Stephenson wrote about this some years ago, and Marko Kloos recently announced his almost complete withdrawal from social media for similar reasons.  My case is different, in that I don’t have the name recognition either of those gentlemen has, and I don’t have a publisher helping to advertise, distribute and publicize my books.  It’s all up to me.  As I noted some years ago, I started my blog precisely as a learning and publicity tool for my writing.  It’s succeeded very well in both purposes.  I have several thousand blog readers every day as a result.  However, that also means I daren’t neglect it.  It’s my primary regular contact with my core readers, and as such, if I neglect them, they’re likely to drift away and find other authors who are more willing to engage with them.  Catch, meet 22, so to speak.  I don’t do other social media, apart from limited engagement via Gab, so I’m spared the Facebook-Twitter-Instagram-whatever outrage du jour;  but the blog still eats up one to two hours of my time, every single day.

On the other hand, if one learns to work through the distractions, one can still produce output.  I have two books coming out in the next two months, my first published works in over a year.  I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have writing them.

Covers for Mad Genius Club article 2019-07-12

I thought it might be interesting to open up this topic to wider discussion here on Mad Genius Club.  Readers, what are your distractions?  What keeps you from writing and/or other essential or important tasks?  What are your time-sinks, and how do you deal with them (if you do, that is)?  How do you keep the conflicting demands on your time under control?  Please let us know in Comments, so we can all learn from each other – or, at least, sympathize and commiserate with one another!

14 Comments
  1. Unless that is a SMALL propane torch thing, WTH is *any* gas cylinder doing in the house?!?!

    That’s a “this can wait – get that safely out of the house” sort of thing. The only time to delay would be if there was, say a fire/heat source (fireplace, wood stove) in active use presenting an ignition risk if the valving were damaged (Yes, I knew a fellow who had his dream cabin burn down when he tried to remove a propane tank with a fire going. The valving was struck, and the rest is.. very much history. He, and the fellow with him, were fortunate enough to make it out unscathed.)

    July 12, 2019
    • Reziac #

      Worse, if there’s household ammonia present…

      Had a neighbor out in the backbeyond with an aging travel trailer. In the manner of old trailers, it had a fridge that used ammonia instead of freon, with a propane flame as the exchanger’s heat source. Ammonia eventually corrodes the pipes and leaks, and drips on the propane nozzle. And the propane tank valve was apparently not turned off. (Flame had to be off, tho, or the tank would have long since been empty.)

      Ammonia plus propane approximates TNT, and can spontaneously ignite.

      The resulting blast reduced the trailer to nothing but the metal frame (you could tell where it originated by the gap under where the fridge used to be), totally flattened an adjacent row of mature pine trees, and on the other side turned his garage into a directional heap of splinters, tho the hapless garage absorbed enough of the blast to save the house.

      July 12, 2019
      • TheOtherSean #

        As I understand it, virtually all travel trailers and motorhomes, old or new, use propane and ammonia, as they’re typically of the absorption type, rather than the compressor type. This allows them to use little or no electricity.

        July 12, 2019
  2. Jane Meyerhofer #

    I spent last week in an old house with no internet connection and just my youngest sister for company. I rejected all invitations from other people (older sisters) who wanted me to come to dinner or breakfast for that matter. Younger sister and I went out for lunch, and to the library or bookstore for fun. I had a place for my computer that was at the right height for work. I got a lot done.

    Then I came home and …. I’ve been spending the whole week trying to move the mountain that will allow me to recreate some of that work environment. It shouldn’t be so hard!

    July 12, 2019
  3. Internet. Right now, the Tour de France in the mornings. Work spilling over from Day Job.

    I’m in the process of setting up time windows when I can roam the ‘Net, but not any other time. Day Job… I’ll probably start designating mornings as Day Job hours and preserve the afternoons for writing as much as possible. Yes, technically I’m on vacation. However…

    July 12, 2019
  4. Synova #

    Facebook. If I can make myself read blogs instead I’m a little better off, time and sanity wise.

    The day job. I should probably try to write in the morning again because when I get home I’m sort of toasty.

    Writing environment. This, as I think of it, might be sort of odd but it’s not that hard to have the keyboard and chair available no matter how stuff piles up around it, but my *craft* work spaces are impossible to even reach and I suspect that doing something physical, creative, and away from the computer on a regular basis would improve my mental writing environment and also help with the social media issue.

    Hmm… write at Oh Dark Whatever, go to work, do creative crafts in the evening (staying off social media) and go to bed really early… I might have to try this to see if it works.

    July 12, 2019
  5. Draven #

    well, tbh, Marko had other reasons too…

    July 12, 2019
  6. Zsuzsa #

    The main distraction would be the daughter unit, who has recently learned the phrase, “Mom, I need you!” but has not yet learned the difference between “need” (“my foot is stuck in the railing and I can’t get it out”) and “want” (“let’s play farmbarn!”). “Dear, Mommy is trying to write,” doesn’t go over well with the under-3 crowd.

    July 12, 2019
  7. TRX #

    > my blog

    I check it every day. Quite often I’d like to make a comment. But you have a broken captcha that gives me a snotty order to change to a different web browser, and it appears someone can only comment by creating and logging into a Google account anyway.

    July 12, 2019
    • @TRX: It used to be the case that open comments attracted spam like a fly attracts honey. That’s why I set the blog to require a Google account to comment. However, in the light of your comment above, I’ve decided to see whether or not there’s been any improvement. As an experiment, I’ve allowed open comment, without requiring credentials. We’ll see if the spam level gets too great. If it does, sadly, it’ll be back to credentials again . . .

      July 13, 2019
      • And guess what? Within hours of removing the Google account requirement to comment, spam proliferated. I’ve deleted over a dozen spam messages within the last 24 hours alone. Sorry, but I’ve reinstated the Google account requirement for now.

        I’m planning to move the blog to an independent server soon. When that’s done, and I can use third-party spam blocking services such as Akismet (which MGC uses), that’ll hopefully make commenting easier.

        July 15, 2019
  8. Mary #

    Cat vacuuming. The great plague of the writer.

    July 12, 2019
  9. 23 skidoo

    July 13, 2019
  10. Distractions? Reading blog posts, like I’m doing right now. 🙂

    Seriously, I have to limit myself to one very small set of daily places to read online and all the others are relegated to once a week, otherwise I’d never get anything done. For other work-schedule-related-reasons, “Writing-related sites” tend to be caught up with late on Saturday night. It slows down the interactions (seems pointless to comment on someone’s post which is now days old and everyone else has moved on, I invariably get to the vignette writing post on ATH when it’s six days old), but saves me some time.

    Other major distractions from writing include day job, family responsibilities (including repairs and home-schooling assistance), and laziness.

    My wife and 3/4 of the kids are going on a multi-week western road trip starting Monday, though, so I’m anticipating getting much more writing than usual done over the next little while, as long as I can conquer that third one…

    July 13, 2019

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