Sunday, September 30, 2012

Dealing With Distractions


As a writer, among the things you have to deal with; especially if you have a family; are the distractions that pull your attention away from your writing.

     These distractions come in many guises; from the annoying ring of the phone; usually telemarketers trying to sell you something you neither want nor need; to the kids who want you to play catch with them in the backyard just when you’re struggling with a particularly troublesome passage.  Dealing with the former is easy. Just do your writing in a space that’s out of ear shot of the phone.  As for the second, if you’re like me; an empty nester; that’s no longer a problem. When my kids were small, though, I did my writing early in the morning before they woke up, or at night after they’d gone to sleep.  That writing schedule has been the one I’ve followed for the past several decades, although, now that I’m retired from public service, and my daily schedule is my own, I can write any time I chose – except for the most annoying distraction of all.

     I call this distraction my ‘anti-muse.’  Unless you’re unattached, and have severed all ties with your family and friends, it’s likely you also have an anti-muse.  This is a person, a friend or significant other, who, like your kids when they were small, seems to want your attention just when you’d rather focus it on the chapter in progress, or when you’re facing a deadline to get an article finished and submitted.

     My anti-muse is my beloved significant other, a companion for the past forty years, who looks at writing as a nice hobby, but hardly something serious for someone my age.

     The distractions usually go something like this.  I’m in the middle of trying to figure out how to plant a subtle clue in either the dialogue or narrative of my mystery novel in progress, to let the astute reader know who the killer really is, and I hear, “Honey, honey, come here.”  I have an office I’ve set up in the garage, and she’s usually watching a soap opera on TV two rooms away, so the voice is just audible.  Despite that, I’m expected to drop whatever it is I’m doing because she has something ‘important’ on her mind.

     A recent ‘important’ item, which came to her mind just as I was trying to find a subtle way to foreshadow the peril to come for my hero, was the question; “When we were dating, you bought me a cake for my birthday.  Who ate the most of that cake, me or you?”  Now, I have problem remembering what I ate for breakfast this morning, so expecting me to remember how much cake I ate over forty years ago is cruel and inhumane.  But, she expects an answer, so I make one up. “I ate most of it,” I say.  “I thought so,” she said.  “That’s why you need to go on a diet.  You’re putting on weight around your middle.”  “Okay,” I say.  “No more snacks for me.  Anything else?”  I realize as soon as I’ve said it that this is the wrong question to ask; there’s always something else, and it’s likely to be even more obscure than the mystery of the birthday cake.

     I love writing, but I also love my wife and would like to maintain the relationship, so telling her to ‘button it,’ because I’m busy writing is not an option.  That would only cause tears and the old ‘you’re too old to be wasting your time sitting at a computer making up stories that only a few people read, anyway.  Why don’t you go get a job as a teacher, at least you’d have a nice title.”

     The anti-muses don’t think ‘writer’ is a proper title.  It’s not even a real job, they reason.  You don’t make any money, and you’ll never be as famous as Stephen King.  Well, maybe they’re right – my royalty checks are awful small, and I have about as much chance of making a best seller list as I do of being selected into the Astronaut program.  But, being a writer is about more than fancy titles.  It’s about having ideas and thoughts whirling around in your brain that you’re compelled to share, even if it’s only with a few hundred people who buy your books.

     So, I deal with the anti-muse by nodding sagely, and agreeing that being a teacher is a good thing, but teachers don’t get paid much either, and besides, I’m too old to go back into the job market, and I already spent fifty years following someone else’s schedule; so, it’s time I did something that allowed me to set my own.  Writing does that. I can write one hour per day (that easily gives me my 1,000 words per day quota), or I can write for eight hours if I feel like it.  I don’t have to worry about some petty bureaucrat in a cubicle somewhere second guessing what I write as I did working for the government for five decades.  I only have to hope that readers out there, somewhere, will relate to what I write.

     It’s liberating; if only I could figure out a way to cage up that anti-muse.