What are distractions, really?

“Being a good writer is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the Internet.” — Anonymous

The Internet is only one of my many distractions. A little over three years ago I naïvely thought that after having been an insatiable reader since early childhood and investing years in studying and teaching literature, I would be able to take up writing fiction like a duck takes to water. I picked up a book about how to write a novel in a month, and thought “what’s the rush?” I’ll give myself a year. I have learned so much about being a writer since then (including not using clichés like “a duck takes to water”). I have also discovered that the learning process itself can be a distraction.

While working on my Master’s degree, I realized that my favorite form of procrastination is research. If I am reading, interviewing, and learning more about my topic, that is productive, right? To a point, maybe. When the research keeps a writer from writing, then either the writer doesn’t know enough to be writing about that subject or the writer is procrastinating. I like to say I am a productive procrastinator. Why didn’t I immediately recognize my old nemesis when he showed up in my new endeavor? I had convinced myself I needed to learn more about fiction, writing, the writer’s life, and the ins and outs of publishing before I could make a serious go at it. Wow! I could now write a book on those topics.

Then I realized that I needed accountability and support to make my dreams come true. I remembered being most productive in the GTA (Graduate Teaching Assistant) office because we would push, critique, harass, and support each other to get our studies, teaching, research, grading, and writing done. So I searched out and joined two groups: Writers’ Guild of Texas and Mystery Writers of America SW. These are great groups, and I learned much, made new friends with common interests, and connected with resources I didn’t know existed. I have read of so many writers lamenting the solitary and lonely life of being a writer. Now I’m wondering if I don’t need a bit more solitary and lonely in my life.

Deadlines! That’s what I need. When I wrote for newspapers, business, or academia there were always deadlines. So, I am joining a critique group. Knowing that I will be expected to bring another chapter each month to be critiqued will provide the deadlines I need to keep from procrastinating, researching, and being distracted from the Internet.

But then I consider how I use the Internet. Facebook keeps me in touch with friends, family, and church activities. It’s actually a more efficient use of time than making a dozen phone calls each day. I don’t play all the games and time-sucks that exist. Well, I do play “Words with Friends,” but really that is work related because I’m a writer and I must learn and use vocabulary. Twitter connects me with others who share my interests. I don’t follow celebrities or joke of the day tweets, so it’s actually work related and directs me to articles that are really helpful. Email is great for me, as I tend to forget what I just talked to someone about if I haven’t taken notes. I love being able to open an email a week (or hour) later to refresh myself as to what we discussed. IM/Texting is a quick way to get info to or from people when I just need a quick detail, not a lot of pleasantries or chit chat.

So if the Internet isn’t my 97% distraction, what is distracting me? Keeping up with my sons and their friends, spending time with my husband, visiting with friends and extended family, playing with the dogs, reading, needlework and playing with art… No, those are not distractions. Without family and friends, pets, literature, and art, where would I get the ideas, inspiration, support, and encouragement to even want to write?

And then I come to understand that although I am not going to write a novel in a month, that doesn’t mean I am distracted or procrastinating. I am writing a Bible study that I teach weekly. I write my journal/morning pages daily. I am writing encouraging notes to friends and fellow writers. I write weekly blog posts that some people actually read and enjoy. I write notes and outlines and add bit by bit to some non-fiction books I am considering writing. I write ideas, scenes, character bios, and yes, even chapters on that novel. I am a writer, and I am writing. And those distractions—for me, that’s living. And isn’t life what we are supposed to write about anyway?

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