Kicking the Distraction Habit

To succeed at writing or any undertaking, we need to make good use of something we all have: will power.

By “succeed” I mean reaching The End of your picture book, poem, short story, novel, memoir, shopping list – or whatever objective you seek to accomplish.

We use will power daily…to lift our arms, turn on the television, take the garbage out, and keep from eating that sixth, delicious chocolate chip cookie (that would be me). Without will power, we are at the mercy of distractions, laziness, and excess snacking.

Distractions play such a passive role in our lives. Do we really want to give them so much airtime? They don’t contribute to long-term happiness, and they take us away from what we could be doing that triggers true satisfaction. To overcome distraction, it doesn’t take a village. All it takes is a little awareness. Thought exercised before taking action.

Start by identifying the distraction; writing about it can help. For instance, every time the urge to check Facebook pops up, stop and write about it. I’m going to spend fifteen minutes on Facebook because… Contemplate if there’s something else you could be doing that could breathe greater life into your being, and be of more benefit, either to yourself or others. This doesn’t mean we should never indulge in distractions (thumbing through trivial fashion magazines is one of my favorites), but the key is in knowing when to stop and move on to more worthwhile goals. If we authors gave in to every distraction, our writing lives would be non-existent. What would be the fun in that?

Once the distractions are under control, the way is paved to focus or concentrate on the important: accomplishments. Did you know that the average human attention span was twelve seconds in 2000? This number dropped to eight seconds in 2013. We’re competing with goldfish.

Concentration can be nurtured and improved by taking time daily to breathe. Spending ten minutes a day in a quiet place, in a comfortable position, doing nothing but focusing on breath (“In” “Out”), promotes focus. And calm. And when we are calm, we are capable of thinking before indulging in trivial pursuits and distractions. See how it works?

Writing the Short Story: Where To Find Ideas?

I took a stab in the near dark (more like twilight) and wrote my first short story. Before I stabbed, I wondered where my idea would come from? You’ve probably heard that the easiest way to churn out ideas is to ask a simple question: “What if?”

– What if you woke up in a deserted village in Southeast Asia and had no idea how you got there? Or how to get out?
– What if you discover your dear old aunt Alice has been busy printing counterfeit bills? In your basement?
– What if your best friend of twenty years goes missing, but leaves you a note that says, “Don’t worry”?

And the list is endless. This is not necessarily the way I write. Sometimes ideas do pop into my head, which I might or might not use, and if I don’t write them down, there’s a strong chance, they’ll pop right out. To get me going, I need to ask a few more questions. Like where will the setting be? Or who’ll be the hero/heroine? Because what good’s an idea if you don’t have people, an interesting place and a bit of conflict or turmoil to breathe life into a story?

To get the ball rolling, I picked my setting first: A seaside city on the east coast that I’ve occasionally visited. Then I picked landmarks in the city where things could happen. Criminal things. Next, I read news stories (blurbs really) in that part of the country and found a tidbit that interested me. More than that, a character in the tidbit intrigued me enough for me to want to run with it. Why? Because the character had done a good deed, and that’s the stuff that heroes are made of.

Still I needed more to stir up the action in my story. I dug deep into my recent past. A few years ago, an older gentlemen came into the nonprofit where I work needing legal help. I don’t recall much about his problem, other than it sounded like a tall tale, but was it? I also recalled a particular aspect of his physical appearance that made him unique. So his persona was inserted in my story. I opened with my hero meeting this older character with a tall tale that leads to a conflict, namely a crime that was about to be committed. Could they stop it? And there I had it: the basic elements of my short story.

When I'm Not Writing...Or A Day In The Life

When I’m not writing, I like keeping my furry friends company. We go on adventures together. Some good, some not so great. And there are always lessons to be learned.

Recently, a foxtail, the size of a pumpkin seed,
became embedded in the paw of our German Shepherd, Barbie. Barbie put on a brave face, insisting it didn’t bother her; meanwhile, the paw started to swell. A trip to the veterinarian was necessary.

I was grateful it was Barbie and not our Aussie Shepherd, Rio.

Rio loathes the vet. He loathes other dogs, cats, rabbits and all animals at the vet’s office. He loathes people in and around the vet’s office; the beige linoleum floor particularly gets on his nerves. Rio stays in the car. The vet must come to him, and even then, Rio will allow himself to be touched only after the vet showers him with treats. Rio loves bribes. Could be he was a politician in another life. We adopted Rio as an adult from a shelter; his questionable behavior probably stems from leftover scars. He’s taught us great patience.

In the vet’s office, Barbie sat nicely on the floor. She politely permitted the receptionist to pet her; she thought the linoleum felt cool and didn’t complain. And she pleasantly greeted the other dogs and their owners. In short, she willingly cooperated…until she met Dr. D.

Dr. D appeared innocuous enough. Picture a smaller version of Santa without the beard, red get-up or bag of toys slung over his shoulder. Barbie decided Dr. D belonged somewhere else…like in another building, and she proceeded to convince him of that. She barked, growled and did everything in her power to display her true feelings. Consequently, she had to be sedated.

I left and returned hours later to pick up my little friend. I did. Then I waited to pay the bill. Dr. D happened to be sitting behind the receptionist. He was on the telephone. His conversation went like this:

“Louie? Dr. D. here. Go ahead on that remodel. I decided to expand the family room, after all. (Laughs) Yeah, I need lots of room for the grandkids. I know it’s gonna cost more money, but let’s use the Portuguese, hand-painted ceramic tile…”

And so on. I started to sweat. Just how much did one foxtail removal cost?

I ended up paying enough to tile the entire family room, with leftover pieces to use as decorative trivets for an intimate dinner party. Barbie gave me a groggy, “I told you so” look. I vowed never to return to Dr. D again. If he’d just taken the few minutes he’d spent on the phone with his contractor and used them instead on Barbie and me, all of us would have felt satisfaction. And Barbie would have remained his patient. The takeaway: Tact is an underrated trait. Dr. D lacked the sense of what to do or say in order to maintain good relations with others. And Barbie is an excellent judge of character.