I’m writing this on my spare PC. The old one, the one with Windows 7 and disabled internet connections. The basic one that has Word and Scrivener and not much else on it. Because… because distractions. I have finally come to realise that if I am brilliant at anything in life, I am scintillatingly stellar at finding ways to distract myself from my job.
Procrastination, thy name is Anna.
I’m reluctant to get started, to begin with. My usual routine is to potter about in the mornings, walk the dog or do some shopping, and only come up to my office after lunch “to work”. Switch on the PC. Read a few emails. Look hard at the Goodreads tab in Favourites, and try to resist the temptation to see if there are any new reviews to agonise over. But even if I can turn away from Goodreads, there’s no denying the attraction of Facebook. Or the news sites—the Guardian has a seductive siren’s call. Oh, and maybe a quick look at the video list on Amazon Prime, to see if there’s anything there I fancy watching. Stay off Etsy and Ebay, though, because those are the snares of the Devil, unless there’s something specific I really, really need. Maybe just a quick peek won’t hurt?
It can be an hour or more before I open up Scrivener and look at the latest chapter, scowl at the words on the screen, chew my lip and worry about what word comes next. And then my email notification pops up and Facebook pings me. Oh thank the Lord! Something else to do, something that takes my mind off my actual job. You know. Writing. The writing job.
There is too much competing for my attention. Too many emails. Too many people I’ve put off responding to for weeks. Too many things happening on FB with my friends, some of whom are pained and for whom a friendly word is an anchor; lots of their posts painful to read, because of politics or murder or massacre or atrocity or one more instance of prejudice and bigotry. Too much on the news to pull me away, watching with horror as the world slides into tribalism and ignorance, led by conmen and swindlers. More politics or murder or massacre or atrocity, or prejudice and bigotry. There is just too much being a part of the world, and no ability to close it out. What is it Tolkien says? “The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot forever fence it out.” True thing.
This is something that I’m torn about. It’s right and proper that we can’t shut out the world completely. We’re of the world, in it, and it’s both our right and our responsibility to be actors not passive lumps of helplessness. We mustn’t just watch its slide into chaos, but to try and counter some of the crud that’s happening. Every little helps there.
At the same time, I want to write. I need to write. Yeah, maybe in the face of the shite flying out there in the world, writing about handsome heroes running about fighting aliens with ray guns is not *necessary* to the good of the world. Against the crud, against massacres, famine and war, it must seem out of all proportion, to be self-regarding and selfish. But I should be no more guilty about that than the teacher or doctor or the post lady delivering my mail feels guilty about doing their jobs, day by day. It’s my work. It’s what I do. It’s what I have to find the time to do.
Hence the second PC. I have a new routine. I transfer the work-in-progress to it every day, and when I’ve done today’s work, I have to transfer it back to the other PC, the connected one, to back up in the cloud and spare hard disc. Then tomorrow I transfer it back to PC2 again. When I’ve finished writing this post, I’ll have to copy it to a flashdrive and then to the connected PC to send it out.
A pain, eh? Yes. But worth the effort. Writing here, I can’t be pulled out of the chapter by email, because I can’t get mail. Facebook and Twitter might as well not exist for me here. The news? Pushed aside for an hour or two so I can focus on working.
Lucky? Of course I am. I have the space, and the privilege of being able to take the time out to work where the world can’t actually get at me for an hour or two. I’m already seeing the benefit – not least finding the time to write this post! It’s been on my to-do list for a week. Now I can focus on the next task, free of distractions and free of the things that help me procrastinate.
I should have done this long ago. Tell me, what’s your strategy for carving out time for yourself, for defying Tolkien’s dictat for an hour? How do you manage to push away the distractions and the things that pull at your attention? And more to the point—does it work?
Anna was a communications specialist for many years, working in various UK government departments on everything from marketing employment schemes to organizing conferences for 10,000 civil servants to running an internal TV service. These days, though, she is writing full time, mainly old-school science fiction and steampunk. She lives deep in the Nottinghamshire countryside with her husband and the Deputy Editor, aka Molly the cockerpoo.