Catching Fireflies

finding magic along the way

Driven to Distraction

The other day I was taking a mental inventory of all the electronic entertainment devices that we have in our house.  We have three TVs with hundreds of channels [because you never know where you will be when you need to check the score], a DVD player, a DVR, a Blue Ray, a Playstation, an old Gameboy somewhere, two iPads [so we don’t have to arm wrestle for it], two iPhones, a desktop PC, two laptops, a Macbook Air [thank you to my husband!!], two Kindles, and two iPods. (phew!)  This doesn’t even take into account all of the non-electronic or acoustic/electric forms of entertainment that we have as well — electric piano, synthesizer, three ukeleles, a couple of harmonicas, four violins – one electric, many many guitars – both acoustic and electric, an electric bass, some mandolins, harmonicas, books books books and more books, a few sewing machines, an embroidery machine, a serger I have yet to figure out how to use, and a bunch of blank notebooks and pens. (If you write, you know the notebooks are just as entertaining as the other items that I mentioned!) 🙂

[Did I also mention the fact that it is just me and my husband? 🙂 ]

If we had children, I am sure the amount of entertaining objects in our house would multiply, and the ones that we could claim as ours would decrease measureably! 

Let’s face it – we live in a busy world with a myriad of entertainment options.  And for the most part, I am glad. I really enjoy having all these toys and tools at my disposal.  But sometimes they can get distracting. I am sure we are not alone in this.  Is it any wonder that ADD is the diagnosis du jour in the US?!

I am pretty good at focusing on writing and ignoring the instruments, sewing machines and TV while I do it.  But certain rooms in our house where I am surrounded by books are impossible to write in.  I am forever grabbing a book off the shelf and dipping into it, or searching through the shelves to see if I still have a book I just remembered.  Since I got an iPhone last year, I am easily distracted with texting – a skill I swore I would never need. And online – forget about it! Facebook, WordPress reader, Amazon, cat videos on YouTube… the distractions are endless. 

Of course, if the words are not coming easily on any given day, distractions can take any form — laundry, dishes, cleaning out a closet, a sudden urge to run errands to Target or the grocery store. Even scooping the cat box can be preferrable to staring at the blank screen.  These distractions, I can’t help you with… You will just have to decide what really needs to be done, and then stay seated at your desk anyway.

But for some of the other ones, an article in the November/December issue of Writer’s Digest may have a solution. In “Overcoming Writer’s Block Without Willpower,” Mike Bechtle talks about the difference between discipline and distraction.  Where traditional approaches to writer’s block call for more discipline, writer’s block in the helter skelter busy-ness of today’s world calls for distraction management.  He says that if we are spending all of our energy focusing on ignoring distractions, we have very little left to focus on the words. (Finally, someone is understanding my problem!)  To combat this, he says we have to limit the distractions and/or change the way we handle them.

The article continues with a number of helpful suggestions for handling electronic age interruptions, such as scheduling a set time in your day to handle email so you are not dealing with it the moment it arrives every time a message lands in your inbox. He also suggests low-tech solutions like eating healthy, getting enough sleep and drinking enough water.

Perhaps the most helpful information, however, are the links to various software tools that can help limit distractions on your computer screen.

 Mac Freedom (Mac or Windows) literally locks you offline for a set period of time so you are not tempted to surf the net instead of write. ($)

WriteRoom (Mac) or Dark Room (Windows) and FocusWriter (Mac or Windows) block everything from your screen except your writing. FocusWriter even has typewriter sounds for those who like it old school. (Free)

RescueTime (Mac or Windows) keeps track of how much time you spend working as opposed to surfing the net and gives you feedback. (Free) Or, if you want the Pro version ($/month), you can also block websites for set periods of time, see what you spend your time on at a document level, and get alerts when you have been goofing off too long.

So, all this technology can be a good thing -it can actually save us from the distraction of… technology… very interesting! 🙂


  1. thewritingblues

    Very helpful (and funny 🙂 article, Cheryl. I let my subscription to WD lapse so I’d missed that article. I’ll definitely be checking out some of those products. As one of those who was diagnosed with ADHD, I’m always looking for ways to help minimize my computer’s distractions while I’m writing. (Oddly enough, relocating my desk into the living room so I could actually use the dining room for dining has helped me manage non-computer distractions more easily.) Thanks!

    • So glad you found this helpful. I find that if I want to get any serious writing in, I can’t even have music in the background. So different from when I was in high school and college and would study with the music blaring or the TV on! 🙂

  2. Some of those sound pretty darn interesting and effective. I can usually write with music or the television on, of course I sometimes have to stop writing to check out what’s happening…but today I’ve been writing in a silent house, no distractions…well, except wordpress blogs!

    • I just forcefully birthed 2700 words… Not a happy writing day as each one took so much effort. But now I am rewarding myself by checking in with the rest of the world before I get back to it. Of course, the blog reader usually sucks me in for a few hours…

  3. Yvette Carol

    Ha ha, that was hilairous, Cheryl. There I was imagining a houseful of kids!! I do have kids, yet I don’t have even a tiny smidgeon of what you’ve got at your place. 🙂 However, just like you and everyone else on the planet, I too am distracted from writing constantly. I just wonder what my kids will grow up like, in this modern environment. I’ll tell you one thing, the generation of the future will not be as strong physically as we are. I took my son to athletics this week and I was frankly, appalled at the lack of fitness…

    • Oh boy, Yvette! You might be appalled at my lack of fitness too!! 🙂
      I know when I started writing this entry it seemed like there should be a lot more people living with all these toys… Still, since we don’t have kids, I guess we allowed ourselves to get toys for ourselves. 🙂 gotta love all that technology! And I am definitely not a techno nerd… I have no clue what the cloud is or why I should store things there. I don’t know how to record a new song on my old ipod without over-writing everything on it already. I just got a MAC and Scrivener and don’t sare use it for NaNo because I have no idea how to even begin using all the features. I still need my husband’s helo managing all three remote controls for the TV and cannot for the life of me figure out how to watch a DVD on our surround sound. 🙂

      • Yvette Carol

        Ha, you sound as bad as me, Cheryl. They say it takes a minimum of $20,000 to raise a child and that’s probably gone up these days. Since I have 3 boys, you can guess where all my gadgets-money is going! 🙂

        • Our $20000 has gone to vet and local pet stores… Six fur babies, three of them with special medical needs! Yikes!

  4. I’m pretty good about not letting technology distract me from writing (too much). I’d say I’m fanatical about checking my emails and slightly obsessive with blogging. These things are hard to stay away from when I work on my laptop. I’m sure it wouldn’t be a problem if I was still writing in a notebook. 🙂

    I am also anti-gadget. I hate clutter, so I don’t like the new-fangled ways to turn on TVs or cut tomatoes. Keep it nice and simple please, even if it takes me a minute longer to get something done. (Although I will say I LOVE having a DVR. It’s a godsend for the kids when they miss their shows.)

    • I, too, love that DVR! Though sometimes thwt is a huge distraction when the shows are getting backed up and we have lots to watch… Oh, the pressure!!
      I write my first drafts on an Alphasmart NEO. You cannot beat it for fast (faster than writing by hand) and distraction free writing. Once I am on the internet, I lose time! 🙂

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