I just read a very amusing blog post at the 8 Great Storytellers site. It’s all about “Why Writing at Home Won’t Work.”
Wait a doggone minit! I write at home! I do just fine, thank you very much. What does this upstart mean, it won’t work?
After skipping through email, deleting merrily till she gets to the one about the Zappos clearance sale (“Squirrel!”), and trying to eat breakfast, the author–Julie M. Brown–puts herself back in front of the computer and opens a new Word document, saving it with a temporary title:
save as . . . What is that out there on the lawn? A flock of birds eating my grass seed? I jump up and run outside with the hose to scare them off. That’ll show you! I holler. Since I’m now outside with the hose running, I decide to sprinkle the lawn. And water the pots, pull a few weeds, and . . . oh my, look at that gorgeous pink rose! I should put it in a bud vase on my desk to inspire my work. I go inside to get my gardening shears. I rummage through several drawers to find them and go back outside to snip the lovely rose. Then I prune the rest of the bush. And the bush next to it.
Just like me! Well, except that I have no lawn or roses. I like these ladies at 8 Great Storytellers.
The blog post makes its point, but notice that it got written. Julie M. Brown turned her frustration with distraction into a humorous article. She managed to sit herself down and write.
There’s more to be said about this.
Countless sages have talked about the importance of disciplining yourself to write. In a 2008 article from Writers Digest, James Scott Bell claimed that he made himself write 350 words before doing anything else. Why? “There are any number of things I can do besides write. If I don’t watch it, my day can fill quickly with little tasks, distractions, interruptions, phone calls and crises of various magnitudes.”
Yup. The Internet is full of advice on how to discipline yourself to ignore the phone and everything else, and write. I just looked. I even found a concise one-page article on why we are hardwired to be so easily distracted. But I must admit that before focusing on this post I googled Karen Valentine, just because I was curious about whatever happened to her, and previous to that I was on Facebook and before that a couple of calls setting up an Oscar party and on and on.
It’s not just me. We are all being led away from our work with painful ease. Beelzebub in this case is a mouse and a fleeting, half-remembered item of cultural trivia.
So whether your coping methodology is to write 350 words immediately or set a timer for 50 minutes or unplug the TV and/or modem–or even to simply realize that if you don’t write, you won’t get paid and your bills are due and the homeless shelters are quite unpleasant compared to a heated apartment, you have to find it in yourself to shut the noise out and write.
Louise Erdrich won the National Book Award in 2012. She’s written more than a dozen books for adults, a half-dozen for children, several volumes of poetry, and a few collaborations. Briefly, she is prolific. She is the same age as I am, and she runs a bookstore as well. No excuses.
One of her poems is called “Advice to Myself” and I love it, partly because it tells me she has the same problem as the rest of us–distraction–and partly because it tells me how to solve that problem.
The first line of the poem is:
“Leave the dishes.”
My mother, my grandmother, my aunt-with-the-spotless-house and every other female relative is probably turning over in their grave at this very minute, but Louise Erdrich’s advice trumps everything that I ever learned from anyone else. And let’s face it, I never kept a very neat house anyway.
I don’t know if it’s legal to reprint someone else’s poem here, so instead I will provide you with a link to read the rest at Garrison Keillor’s page. He used this poem on his Writers Almanac series several years ago, and I’m sure he had permission. Here it is.
And that, gentle and distracted reader, is how to sit down and write.