The Upside of Distraction

Being a writer is about writing. Only for me, most of my own “writing” doesn’t take place sitting at a desk in front of a computer or with a pen in hand.

It's easy to find suggestions about how to stay inspired to write and avoid distraction:  De-clutter your writing space. Make sure you work ergonomically. Shut off your email. Use a timer. Wear headphones. Create artificial deadlines. Yet I’d say 65 percent of the time pages come to me when I physically am doing something else. In other words, as counterintuitive as it sounds, sometimes deliberate distractions — amid the many obligations of our lives — can work to a writer’s advantage. Call it absent mindfulness.

I’ll keep what I’m writing foremost in my mind and take a walk, garden, read, cook, grab something to eat, swim, wash dishes — even nap (the scientific term is "somniscription"). It doesn’t take long for inspiration to strike, and sometimes that means dashing for a piece of paper or iPhone Notes to write it down before I forget.

Not all activities are created equal, however: Television and social media tends to be too simultaneously mind-numbing and mind-scrambling for my subconscious to be productive. I go on annual retreats for uninterrupted focus (Bear River Writers Conference is a favorite), but daily life is a juggling act. While that presents its own challenges, I’ve learned it brings the world into my work and offers some creative relief.

And one more trick: Stop writing when you are on a roll. It's far easier to return to a piece when you are excited about it versus when you are stuck!