The Distracted Writer and His Demons

avatar3The Distracted Writer and His Demons

So I managed to get up by alarm this morning at eight, then wasted a whack of time reading the newspaper, fed the horses, and got to my computer by 10:10. This was to be a back-on-track writing morning. I started off by reading a chapter of a Bird on Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott, to get me in the mood as it were. To be honest, it’s a dodge. An avoidance. A distraction.

I love writing when I’m doing it, but when I’m not, I’m running scared–away from imminent disaster. Sometimes I think I should be a drunk or an addict, so the millions who read my books–in the future–can say how I suffered for my art. “Maybe it was his demons that made him great,” you will say, thinking of me wistfully, giving your head a few such-a-shame passes back and forth.

I am writing this blog to keep me away from working on my novel. I’m afraid the novel’s dreck. I’m afraid it will be too short. I’m afraid I’ll change course too many times and none of my sub-plots will untangle. I’m afraid…that I can’t do it.

I wonder if other self-employed workers have this problem with distraction, avoidance, and self-doubt. Does Fred the plumber decide to check facebook for an hour before he goes on a job? Does Dave the drywaller doubt whether he can hang gyproc straight?

I compare myself to other writers I know. One gets up before the dawn and writes for hours, totally committed and focused–a much different personality type from me. My friend M. can write marathons. “I wrote 10,000 words today,” he says. But he’s bi-polar and incredibly prolific in the manic phase–the blessing, not the curse of his condition.

So to help me write, I have a list of guidelines, just for me. And they do help. Here are a few of them:

  1. Write at a particular time, not when you feel like it.
  2. Write or work at writing every day to improve and to build momentum.
  3. Don’t follow distractions such as e-mail.
  4. Don’t give in to doubts about your ability to write. You have a voice unique to you. Use it.
  5. Writing is a right brain activity. Thinking about writing and why you can’t is not. Start writing and get in the zone.
  6. Don’t lose contact with the enjoyment of writing and the desire to write well.
  7. Don’t worry so much about the First Draft. Only be concerned with the words stopping, not what they are. You can take out whole chapters later if you have to (Second Draft), but by persevering with production you may be taken down pathways you never expected or planned for.
  8. Be flexible with your novel or short story plan. Let the characters tell their story. Write to discover what happens. Enjoy.


That’s it. Notice that the word “enjoy” comes up more than once? Now I’ve got to get down to my writing.

5 thoughts on “The Distracted Writer and His Demons”

  1. So well said, Garth, and here am I not getting down to my writing just to say I find your tips a helpful reminder. The newspapers (I get two daily) and their crosswords are my main diversions from a writing routine. My excuse here is that the latter are good for warding off memory loss — so I conveniently forget to write.
    In yesterday’s Sun (or Nat.Post), an article reminded me of how important it is for older people to write about their early days, so that future readers (family or a larger public) would know what the old times were like — struggles, challenges, and life in general were like. Personal histories not mentioned in history books. This article revived my confidence in my own memoir writing — having a voice and a legacy. Everyone has something has important to impart. So in the next hour, I’ll get off the computer, put off my tax preparation, and write the next story. Thanks for the encouragement.

  2. well put. I should print it off and post it right near my computer – reminding me daily to just do it! I continue to get clearer, though, about how I want to tell the stories, so I know the universe will unfold as it should. Just gotta keep the faith!

  3. So, let me get this straight: it’s cool that I’m a drunk and an addict because I’m suffering for my art? That rocks. You also make many other good points about getting the writing done, like the writing at the same time every day thing. That’s something Anne Lammot calls “butt glue.” Glue your seat to your, well, seat for a certain amount of time and eventually, you will get bored and start typing.

    Doesn’t work for me. I’ll get bored and start chatting on Facebook, trying to pull people into arguments about religion before they actually know we’re discussing it. I’m what I call a “burst writer.” I might go for two weeks without touching the keyboard and then write 15,000 words in one night. Something about my adhd and my bipolar disorder, I think.

    Another thing I’d like to add is in reference to you saying that writing is a “right brain” activity. This is entirely true, and i find that, if I stay up until, oh, four or five in the morning, my left brain will give in and go to sleep long before my right side does. This is how I get past my internal editor–I write while he’s snoozing away, dreaming about goats. This really does work. If you have to drink a bunch of coffee or take a handful of Ritalin to do it, do it. It’s the writing that matters. Besides, go look at what I said about addiction–I can’t really write drunk though. It’s like dancing. You think you’re doing it well at the time and then the next day someone with a pocket video recorder shows you the truth. So no drunk writing, despite what Hemingway may have you think. Drunk on amphetimines, though, that’s a whole different ball game.

    Nice post. Keep it up. My website is a disaster right now. I am on the verge of redoing it (I actually downloaded a task manager app for my new iPhone, just so i could put in the task of revamping my website. I mean, I didn’t download the app for that, I actually bought the PHONE for it. Of course, I was drunk at the time).


    1. Thanks for the feedback, Michael. Regarding the right brain thing, I heard somebody on CBC say that we’re more creative when we’re tired than when we’re fresh, which supports what you’re saying. I sometimes get writing ideas when I’m semi-awake but still in bed.

      Glad you’re reading my blogs. We should do that swap you suggested way back.

      See you,

  4. NOTE: This comment comes with a PG-13 warning. Just sayin’.

    There’s one more thing you can do if you really want to write more: shame yourself into it. This is actually the brainchild of my good friend and well-published fantasy author John A Pitts. He says, “writers write and everyone else just talks about writing without doing any of it.”

    He has made it his mission to hang the following above everyone’s writing station: STFUAW.

    In case you can’t figure out what it stands for, it’s Shut the Fuck Up and Write.

    Bolder, more inspiring words, have rarely been said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *