Photo by Sarah Ann Wright
Once upon a time while tweeting (of course, what else?) I've been asking people what they want me to blog about next, and the topic of interruptions came up. Namely, one of my Twitter followers, Bridget, asked me to write about how to minimize distractions and interruptions like the Internets and such, and although my typical answer to this is, turn it off, silly, there is much more to that than simply turning off your Internet. I'm by no means a time management expert, but I'll share here you with you what I do and how it helps me, and perhaps it will help you too. Because I had to learn it the hard way, by trial and error and through tears and tearing out my hair in frustration. My methods are as follows.
Turn off everything, and I mean, EVERYTHING. Literally, when I start writing, not only do I close all my browser windows except Pandora (gotta have my music), I also turn off my mobile phone and don't pick up home phone if it's ringing. Kids in the house have been trained not to knock on my door while I'm writing, unless it's an emergency. If I come out to grab a snack or a glass of water, they know not to talk to me. I do have a connection to the real world, in case something happens, as in, true emergency, when my family needs to reach me. They can reach me through my boyfriend who is always on Skype with me while I'm writing, so he can let me know if something is going on. And that is the only window into any human contact that I leave open. Even there, we don't chat much, it's mostly me either whining that my writing is shit (and him yelling at me that it's not, usually takes him 3 to 4 lines in ALL CAPS to shut me up), or it's me asking him questions about something technical, like cars or motorcycles or some other gadgets I'm writing about. That's it. The other most important part to this is, I lock myself up like this for at least for 4 hours straight. I don't allow myself out of the room until I either do 2,000 words or 4 hours of writing. I don't check my text messages. I don't look at my email, don't skim through Twitter updates. Nothing. Nada. I keep my mind clear of it. Why? Because. Let me illustrate my second point.
Protect your train of thought like it's your life. When you write, you pull ideas out of you by association. One thing leads to another, leads to another, until they form a kind of translucent imagination web in your mind that allows you to wander into it and record what you're seeing. The problem is, this web is very fragile. In fact, it's terribly fragile. A single word can kill it. A single knock on the door can break it and send the rest of your ideas tumbling to the ground in a mess that you won't be able to untangle later. If you have a mess left. Typically it leaves you completely blank, with all this beautiful stuff gone, your face puzzled. A second ago you had a whole story in your head, and now you have nothing. It's empty. This kills your flow. A simple phrase like, Mom, I lost my jacket! turns your attention to the jacket and breaks your concentration. Puff! It's gone. You can kiss your writing time goodbye. It's extremely hard to be able to pull yourself back together after an interruption, and it's extremely hard to write in short little bursts (it's why writing retreats are booming). This is why so many writers are excited when their writing seems to flow. You know why it flows? Because they finally were able to focus on it, that's all. That's why it's important to have a writing cave, be it as little as your closet, as long as you can shut the door on the world. If you can't do it, it will be very hard for you to battle the world and produce anything at all, because the world will insist on interrupting you and wreaking havoc.
Learn how to say no, and say no every day. I'm one of those people that doesn't like saying "no". I want to help people, I want to interact, it's extremely hard for me to decline any kind of request, so this was the hardest lesson for me to learn. Because I had to. I had to tell no to parties, to dinner invitations, to emails, to offers of promotion, to... many more things. In short, I had to clean up my social life and my life in general, to be able to create a quiet space for me to write. 4 hours every day is a long time. 4 hours in the middle of the day, when people like calling you, and emailing you, and talking to you, is a very long time to stay hidden from them. People will be pissed. People will demand an answer from you right away. People will bang on your door, and it's your job to let them know that you're busy. Without any explanations, without any interactions. Because interactions will suck out your creative energy. You have to learn to respond with a simple NO. Why can't you go with me to this party? Come on, let's go! NO. Why not? Because I said NO. But explain it to me! Because I said NO. But so-and-so will be there, and what kind of a friend are you anyway, if you're... I'm sorry, I'm busy, my answer is NO.
Make the world evolve around your schedule. My entire life I spent my time according to other people's schedules. When someone would ask me to meet for coffee, I would always ask in return, what time would you like to meet, where? And then I would arrange my life around that request, to accomodate the time that is not convenient for me, to go to a place that is difficult to get to and will lose me more time. It never even crossed my mind that I did it, until I started writing. Because all of a sudden these invitations to meet and chat started distracting me from my work, and I felt increasingly uncomfortable adjusting my schedule to other people's schedule, until one day I realized that all of this diddling-daddling is depriving me of my precious writing time and energy, with its constant interruptions of my daily routine flow. And routine is very important to producing art, no matter what anyone says (yell at me here all you want), it's like a safe boundary where your creative genius can feel safe and start blooming. Unless you create it, it won't bloom, won't grow, afraid to open up and be interrupted. It's a fragile thing, it needs to be protected. Human drama will kill it in no time. It's only by sheltering yourself from any interaction that you'll be able to tap into your inner self fully. Of course, as time goes by, you will learn to be more flexible. For example, I can hold my thought mid-interruption better now than 1 year ago, when I was only starting. Still, it's very hard for me. I imagine, it's very hard for you as well.
So, the conclusion to this is... BECOME A HERMIT! And ignore anyone who tries to stop you.