Thu 18 Sep 2014
by Rohini Gupta
There are many reasons why writers fail and one of the biggest–and deadliest–of them is distraction.
You probably recognize its symptoms. You are working well and then you feel like taking a break. Then you remember unfinished chores. You think, let me answer my email and then come back. That is the untimely end of your writing day.
At night, you wonder what happened, where the day went and why was it that, once again, you got no writing done.
There are people for whom this is a chronic condition. I have a friend who leaves early morning on an errand and comes back, late at night, having done a lot of small unconnected things, but not the errand.
Been there, done that.
There was a time when I, too, lived in that garbage heap, amid the obscenely unfinished story bits, novel ideas, dangling lines of poems, rotting remnants of chapters and books. I felt trapped and frustrated and needed a way out but everyone I asked was in the same leaky, listing, capsizing boat.
I had to turn inwards and look at my own behavior instead.
The breaks were the problem. Once I took a break I never returned. So I tried to take no breaks at all. That was even worse. My writing bogged down at once and my stress levels hit the roof.
So, I asked, what happens when I take a break?
That was when I saw that invisible, insidious second bird.
This is how it goes.
Every few hours, distraction hits. One shy bird alights on your shoulder whispering, don’t you want some coffee? Ignoring it does not help. It will not go away.
So, you follow the first bird and make a cup. So far, so good.
The mischief begins here. Distraction never comes alone. It comes in flocks. The first bird leads to a second, Now that you are up, why not finish that job you keep putting off?
If you go there it leads you to the graveyard of writing dreams.
It is difficult to see, but once I caught sight of that second bird, the solution turned out to be surprisingly easy and immediate to implement. It was one of the most important things I ever learned and it took me all the way to the publication of a book.
It worked for me. It worked for a few others who had the same problem. Maybe it will work for you and take you right to the threshold of your dreams.
This is the key.
That first bird is your friend. When it shows up, suggesting a break, take one. Even a long one. The length does not matter. You need that break to refresh and recharge. Take as many breaks as you need.
The second bird is your enemy, the masked and cloaked super villain who only wants to see your writing career die. It reminds you of all the things you have not done.
It has repetitive complaints–too hard, too long, too terrible.
This is too hard. How about working on that story you put away a year ago?
It’s taking too long, why not finish a quick one first?
The first draft is terrible, better try something else.
The second bird speaks in the voice of your doubts and fears and takes you down a very dark road indeed.
What you have to do is wait for it and recognize it.
When it does appear with its siren call, be firm, no, I am going right back to the very sentence I left. Be determined and return to the same page. Be clear in your mind, I will finish this before I go to anything else.
I always finish what I start. I am a finisher.
Get into the habit of finishing everything even if it is worthless. A particular story may be no good but the habit of finishing is worth all the wealth in the world.
That one small adjustment will enable you to leave the junkyard far behind and enter the blue summer skies of writing completion.
It’s a very simple rule.
Go with the first bird and take all the breaks. Relax, enjoy.
Then, return and pick up exactly where you left off.
Never, ever, follow that career destroying, morale sapping second bird.
Rohini Gupta is a writer living by the sea in Mumbai, with a houseful of dogs and cats while working on short stories, poetry and a book. Her blog is at http://wordskies.wordpress.com.