Cars whizzing by, a gentle breeze, and the smell of charcuterie and freshly-roasted coffee beans in the air, I am easing into the perfect amount of just enough distraction to write, and yet not too much to get distracted completely by.
Writing in a white room, with no sound, and no stimulus can actually become a limit to creativity. A little bit of distraction can go a long way in accessing different parts of your brain. I can get just lost enough in the subtle drum beat of the background music at the coffee shop I am at, to let go of my own “monkey mind.”
When left to my own thoughts, they can jump around to worry about the smallest things, to dreaming of the biggest things. A little daydreaming never hurts, but I notice just the right mix of noise, ambience, and smell, can crystallize my thoughts into what I really need to be thinking about, writing about, or saying.
Add in just a little too much of one element though, and it can become chaos. I find I cannot write to music with too many lyrics, as I find myself focused on listening to the lyrics, rather than the music becoming the soundtrack to the words I am writing. I am very sensitive to sound, and light, so finding that perfect blend of both can be tricky.
I am writing right now a cafe at the most delicious hour of the day. the sun is setting. the sky is showing off its most brilliant array of colors, whilst the rush hour traffic whizzes by. this dichotomy seems to bring me great peace. I am blissfully happy I am sitting here — having walked here with my loving husband — than fighting traffic and angry drivers on their long commute home.
Some would find a busy street distracting, but to me, a city girl, I find a sense of peace in it. It reminds that life is happening around me. As life zooms by me, I find my center, my roots, and delve into the sweet spot of productivity and creativity.
In my typical work day, I bounce back and forth between email programs, phone calls, instant messages, and browser tabs. I do my best to complete one task before moving on to another, but I often find myself feeling impatient and weary if a site takes too long to load, or if a process takes more steps than I had anticipated it would.
Tony Schwartz suggests doing things in 90 minute intervals. Go hard for 90 minutes, and then take a 15 minute break. This helps you feel like you’ve actually finished something, which can then move you along. Accomplishment breeds momentum, which breeds the creative flow. More writing, inspires more writing.
Starting can be the hardest part. Just start. Start anywhere. Don’t overthink. Right now, we are on a writer’s date to “write shit,” which is all about writing a “shitty first draft,” as Anne Lamott would say. We are here to write “shit” down and see what comes of it, just to stay in the practice of writing.
Because I write for other people, and I write often, I can often try to “do it right,” and be conservative, rather than just seeing where my writing takes me. I take more risks and write “from the hip” (and apparently express myself with a profundity of cliches to boot), when I am writing without a specific end in mind.
I had an app installed on my laptop called “coffitivity,” that was meant to mimic the background noise of a coffee shop. If i listened to that, with music layered over it, it made for the perfect blend of noise to motivate me. As someone who spends many hours a day working alone, I need that extra push to feel like there is productivity happening around me. Like the soothing sound of a heartbeat on a baby monitor to nurture an infant to sleep, background noise has me feel not so alone, and motivates me to get more done.
Having a writing partner in front of me also is kicking me into a new gear. I have been procrastinating a project for over a year, and by sitting in front of him, with time devoted to writing — and nothing else — I found the clarity I had been seeking. I do better with boundaries. Commitment gives me a great sense of freedom. A loose relationship to my word has me gently weasel out of things. Having someone here to hold me accountable is catapulting me toward “just doing it,” no matter what. There is no escape.
Go get distracted. You might find yourself more focused than you’d imagine.