Sunday, April 3, 2011


Writers complain about distraction all the time. Now we tie it to the internet (there’s always email to open, tweets to send, social networks to check in on), but I suspect that writers who wrote before there was an internet will tell you about pets, neighbors, the TV, the phone, and bright ideas to suddenly reorganize the sock drawer. The fact is, there are always reasons—good reasons and bad—for us to look away from our manuscripts.

However, when I noticed my own process the other night, I realized that what we call “distraction” is not always a bad thing, and is not always something that fights with our writing. I noticed that after writing an especially powerful scene, or even sentence, I need a moment. A moment to look away, to digest what I’ve just written. A moment to figure out how I am going to follow that punch. And I don’t do that digestion or decision-making at the conscious level; something works in my brain while I am momentarily “distracted” by Twitter, or email, or an impulse to pick up scraps of paper off my floor, or a need to check my calendar to see exactly which day next week is my doctor’s appointment.

I suppose the distraction would be detrimental if it pulled me away from the desk altogether, but usually it’s just a moment, and then I’m back in the story, this time knowing what the next sentence needs to be. It makes me wonder if there’s some neurochemical process at work in my brain that requires those few seconds to operate.

I do have periods of extended concentration where I’m not distracted at all, and I don’t recommend trying to multi-task while writing. But I have noticed this certain brand of “distraction” that actually serves more as a pause, a breath. Sometimes I don’t do anything during those pauses but stare at the wall, but other times I take a momentary break and come right back.


  1. Sometimes I need those breaks, too. Especially during a powerful scene, like you said.
    When I wrote the prologue to what I'm working on now, I remember how it just flowed right out of me-I literally had no idea where it came from! Afterward, I was so exhausted I had to continue the next morning.

  2. Even when we have the time, we can't necessarily run at full steam all the time.