No time to write? Psh. Ok, look, it’s a fact: we live in a world of distractions, and trying to write in the middle of it is no mean feat. Last month was case in point. Family will be there in twenty. Your email’s pinging over a podcast, kids are screaming, sauce is erupting all over the stove, dog’s in the garbage again, you should’ve showered an hour ago—and a text comes through reminding you about those cookies you haven’t baked, oh, and did you get the secret Santa gifts yet? Your eyes snap to the laptop, praying Amazon…
Crap. You promised yourself you were going to write today…or was it yesterday?
And cue the guilt.
OK, that might be a snapshot of my particular dumpster fire, but the point is, there’s about a million reasons your keyboard can have cobwebs. That might be an extreme example, but variations of the no time to write mantra repeat ad nauseam. Especially during the holidays. How the heck are you supposed to get words on the page when you’re torn in a billion directions?
Deep breath. That guilt? Think of it as a priority check alarm, and you, my friend, are number one. This ship ain’t gonna sail without its captain, and sometimes you need to reroute the journey to get through the storm.
First order of business: identifying the chaos. Note, I didn’t say control. I mean, it’s frickin’ chaos. Give yourself a break and start small. Focus on the noise that’s feeding it, then eliminate or reframe those things keeping you from writing.
Yep, distractions. They pretty much fall into two categories, red and green. Green distractions are things that might take you away from your keyboard, but enrich your life in other ways. They’re the necessary things in your life and, believe it or not, to your writing. Family, work, friends, all of that fuels our creativity. This is where reframing comes in. That pot of sauce on the stove and the horde of relatives about to descend? That’s the now. Be in it. Soak it up and channel those experiences into your prose. Yeah, even Aunt Bev trapping you in the kitchen and launching into her two-hour spiel about the nuances of clay vs. clumping cat litter—again. Seriously, you can’t make that stuff up. It’s literary gold.
Red distractions are a different story. They’re the Something Shiny, flickering at the edge of your vision, luring your focus away. You know, like scrolling through tweets while Aunt Bev rambles. That’s the no time to write noise, the chaos, stealing her malapropisms and the cadence of her speech in exchange for getting up-to-date on the Hollywood hot list. Not for nothing, but one of those is going to benefit your writing and it’s not the latest celebrity drama.
Trust me, I get it; the temptation is fierce. I’m a sucker for red carpet fashion. Maybe you’re all about the infinite scroll of social media, or are constantly checking the scoreboards—you know what I’m talking about. That thing that’s just going to take a sec… then three hours pass you totally can’t account for.
Nope, it wasn’t alien abduction. A red distraction just whammied you with the dreaded time suck. Chaos crept in, a siren beguiling you with something that does absolutely nothing to enrich your life, undermining your creativity, and feeding the lie that there’s no time to write.
But don’t despair over the noise! A wise man once said: “Knowing is half the battle.” OK, it was He-Man, but he wasn’t wrong. Technology is a huge Achilles heel for most of us and chaos’s master opus. Without further ado, here are the worst offenders and some tips on hitting the mute button.
1. Social Media
AKA: The black hole where creativity goes to die.
Right, so be honest. Even before you got this far, as soon as you read you read the words “time suck” you thought about your feeds. I kind of have to laugh, because social media is so akin to smoking. Everyone who’s on it knows it’s toxic, really wants to quit, but just can’t seem to stop… you get where I’m going with this.
If you can’t go cold turkey, taper, and yes, you can expect relapses.
2. Streaming On-Demand
As writers, there’s a definite symbiosis with the big screen. It can absolutely help to develop our prose and story telling skills—to a point.
Binging on seven seasons of How I Met Your Mother in one sitting isn’t doing anyone any favors. Not that I’ve ever done anything like that, I mean, it’s hysterical, but—OK. Busted.
Look, no one’s perfect, and the key is moderation. If every night you’re zoning out for two hours in front of the TV, that’s fourteen hours a week you could’ve been writing.
Take a night or two per week to find out if Ted is going to steal that French horn again. That’s the beauty of On-Demand. It will be waiting for you.
I’ll be honest, I’m not guilty of this, though I did have my Candy Crush phase. A friend of mine is a different story. He’s got some game he’ll actually set timers for so he can fight bosses when they’re released and it’s like Pavlov’s bell. Whatever he’s doing he drops so he can attend to warfare.
There are absolutely things I will do the same for, you know, like taking my kid to the ER, but leveling up isn’t one of them. Priorities here, people.
Right. This is my downfall. As in epic fail. I live for the ping.
As much as I hate social media, my friends and colleagues are a different story, and if they want to talk, I’m there, prioritizing whatever that is over my own work.
But you know what? I’m OK with it, and you have to figure out what works for you.
I’ve decided that my email interactions fall into the green distraction category, enriching my life. Social media might serve the same function for you, or cuddling up with someone in front of the TV for an hour each night.
That said, I’ve cut way back on my email activities. I check it in the morning, before dinner, and before bed. See the above moderation stuff.
5. Text Messages
Yep, this kind of falls into the same category as emails, but there’s an important distinction, given the brevity of the responses. Just like that alarm my friend sets for his apps, it breaks the flow of creativity. I’ve silenced mine, and though I’ll pony up to checking them way more than I probably should, if it’s not urgent, it’s only a glance. I save the responses for when I’m answering emails.
Look, like any good trap, there’s no way to totally avoid technology. What it comes down to is investing in yourself and not what’s feeding the no time to write lie. Starving the chaos while nurturing your creativity. Setting priorities and deciding what serves you. Get rid of what doesn’t.
In my case, I stopped watching TV and cut out all social media—true story—and over the past three years, those two changes allowed me to take a bunch of classes, complete several novels, find an amazing editor, and have my platform up and running. That dumpster fire that is my life? Still there, but hey, if it’s gonna burn, now I’m roasting marshmallows.
So no more buying into the no time to write lie, and no more excuses. You can do this. Start small. Put down the phone and ask Aunt Bev what she thinks about that new-fangled crystal litter. I guarantee the gleam in her eye will be worth it, and it will keep sparkling when you capture it in your prose.
AK Nevermore is an emerging author of science fiction and urban fantasy. Her books explore dark worlds, perversely irreverent and profound, and always entertaining. She enjoys operating heavy machinery, freebases coffee, and gives up sarcasm for Lent every year.
A Jane-of-all-trades, she’s a certified chef, restores antiques, and dabbles in beekeeping when she’s not reading voraciously or running down the dream in her beat-up camo Chucks.
Unable to ignore the voices in her head, and unwilling to become medicated, she writes full-time. Her literary aspirations have led her to complete several writing courses, a smattering of mentorships, and has been long-listed by the Australian Writer’s Centre. She also belongs to the Author’s Guild, is a chapter treasurer for the RWA, teaches creative writing, and on the rare occasion, sleeps.
You can find her on her website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.