Writing for yourself is harder than writing for a client. Sometimes it feels damn near impossible to squeeze the words out, like being severely constipated, and there are a million and one distractions, ready for me. It’s television, my parrot, my stomach, my allergies, social media, and even the allure of other projects not related to what I’m supposed to be doing right now. Maybe I’ll suddenly be sleepy or too tired. When you’re writing for money, there is a motivation. We have bills to pay and things to be done, which is why writing for clients will always be easier than for yourself. You don’t pay yourself… immediately. It’s an investment that will take time to bring returns, which is why the motivation is harder to find.
I’m not the only writer with this struggle. I’m not the only creative. A quick scroll through Twitter is enough to indicate that many of the creatives in my circle seem to suffer from the same distraction disease. It’s the prime reason why I started this specific column, A War of Words, the name inspired by Steven Pressfield’s War of Art, of course. It’s a struggle that many have as creatives tend to have high expectations, but are unable to free themselves of the distractions long enough to find fruition in their efforts. It takes gargantuan strength and drive to push past your comfort zone to do the very thing you desire most. Unfortunately, most of us will succumb to distraction and lose traction of our work and drive, slowly losing our passion until we slip into the darkness of mediocrity and complacency.
How does one get out of this mess? How can you free yourself from distraction? What’s the magical cure for distraction? When you find it, please tell me; I’ll be down some weird Wonderland rabbit hole. Those impulsive, emotional, spontaneous creatives, the ones who run on madness like me, have an innate curiosity that’s second to none. There is nothing more fascinating than discovery and learning, especially when you have a deadline up ahead. My desire to learn is one of my biggest distractions. Research is always dangerous when I have a deadline. Last week, I was researching the history of marketing for a future piece, and the history of marketing became the rabbit hole of ancient Egypt and the volume of history that the Egyptians recorded versus any other ancient civilisation at that time. We roughly know when each Egyptian head got married and to whom and who their children married and when. It’s fascinating how much information they recorded, unlike any other civilisation, and this all began from my requirement for the earliest dated form of marketing. It was in 35BC Pompeii for those wondering.
When you’re stuck on something, or your brain does not want to work, everything that’s not work glitters. Most people, usually the non-creative crowd who doesn’t have to deep think 90% of their work day, would say the easiest solution is to just sit down and get it done, and while that sometimes does work, it is not the case with those who feel blocked and stuck.
The first part is awareness. Being aware of what distracts you is the first step. For me, it’s a Wikipedia rabbit hole. To combat this, I tend to research and read on one day, and when it comes to the writing, it turn the wifi off and turn do not disturb on. When you find yourself being distracted, just tell yourself that you need to stop what you’re doing and get back to work. That’s the only way you can overcome your distraction, recognising it for what it is and not accepting that it’s “part of the process” like many do. So much time is lost in just accepting that something is a “process” rather than doing the hard thing and removing the obstacle in your way.
You’re not alone in feeling stuck or uninspired. However, the non-creatives do have a point: you cannot wait for inspiration to strike in order to write, you have to turn up and get the job done. Writers block is a farce. It’s a thread of fiction that we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better rather than just plod through it. There are so many unfinished manuscripts sitting around in the name of writers block. It’s just a lie we tell ourselves so that we are exempt from doing the actual work.
If you have removed all distraction and you’re still stuck, try grabbing a thermos of coffee, a timer and a pair of headphones. Coffee is known to spark creative juices and can aid in your flow. Please speak with your doctor about coffee if you are on any medication as it may cause an adverse effect, which is very counterproductive. In any case, grab a nice warm drink that will fuel you for an hour.
Listening to slow, melancholic piano while you’re writing is a surefire way to tune out the sounds around you, which will allow you to focus on the work at hand. My favourite playlists are on Apple Music: Melancholic Piano (currently playing) and Piano Chill, both of which I listen to when I’m reading and writing, as my life is full of distractions.
The timer is important as well. Set your word count that you want to achieve and set your timer to one hour. Just an hour, one solid focused hour of writing and piano. Your timer will keep you on your toes and push you to get to that word count in an hour.
Understand that this is a process, and even the Greats have faced times like these. You are not alone, and you’re not the only one going through this. Revisit this routine over and over and refine it to tune out your distractions and writing paralysis. You can overcome it, as I have with this very blog. I’ve had this file pending for weeks before I sat down and focused on what I really wanted to say, and the whole time all I wanted to do was paint – another distraction from getting the work done. We are all a WIP until we die, so don’t be too hard on yourself, but don’t make unnecessary excuses.