When I was starting out on my writing career, an agent who interviewed me gave me a piece of very bad advice – he said, ‘Treat writing like a job. Start at nine, work through till five and don’t get distracted.’
Well, maybe that wouldn’t be bad advice for all authors, but it turned out to be very bad advice for me, because it linked time in my mind with productivity, and that made me feel anxious. A whole day with nothing to show for it felt like a waste – and I seemed to have rather a lot of them.
What I had to discover for myself was…
The amazing power of distraction!
Like many other authors, I find that going for a walk is a top distraction which almost invariably leads to little breakthroughs. I can leave the house with my brain striving to conquer a plot problem and stride along for a while, head down, unable to let it go, when suddenly something attracts my attention – a blackbird flying into the hedge, a fox in a field, a child at play. Then my mind lifts away from its plot-worrying completely, and stays that way for the rest of my walk. By the time I get home, a solution has magically appeared.
Switching between writing projects is another fruitful distraction for me. I’ve usually got at least three books at the planning stage, as well as writing new workshops and articles and personal scribblings. Setting my main work-in-progress aside and working on something different means I forget about it completely and then come back to it with new clarity and energy.
Reading articles, having a nap, doing a spot of weeding in the garden… All the things you generally can’t do in a nine to five job can make you more efficient in creative work. Some workplaces recognise this and have chill-out spaces and games rooms for workers to take unscheduled naps and play.
The key is to keep firmly in your mind that these are distractions – that is to say, short breaks from the main endeavour – or you could find yourself snoozing all afternoon or binge watching whole box sets, rather than taking forty winks or watching an episode of your favourite sitcom.
Keep looking away, but keep coming back.
Of course, everybody’s different, and so is every writer. Does nine to five work well for you on writing days, or do you like to harness the power of distraction too?