Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wednesday's Writing on Writing...

Check back here every Wednesday for a few thoughts on the craft. Here are today's:

Eliminating Distractions

Writing novels is work. For me, going into the cave — what I call it when I get away to actually do the spade work (to mix a metaphor) on a novel — is so grueling that I compare it to mining, battle, and digging trenches.

I call it going into the cave because if I don’t get away, I am easily distracted. I’m terminally curious. Who’s pulling up? Who’s at the door? Who was that on the phone? What’s in the mail? How’s everyone doing? What’s going on?

If I try to write in that environment, some weird thing in my brain makes me think everything else has to be done first. I like a clean desk, but normally mine is stacked and cluttered until I get tired of it or need to clear the decks before a trip. But when a deadline looms, suddenly being a neat-nik consumes me. Every letter and e-mail has to be answered, things organized, phone calls returned.

The only solution is to get away, to go into the cave – mine happens to be in the middle of the state of Colorado, about 80 miles west of where we live. My goal is to leave myself nothing to do but procrastinate or write. It’s the only thing that works for me.

I can write in chaos; I know it. I cut my teeth in daily newspapering where 40 people shared desks in a huge room. Action and noise everywhere. If you were on deadline, you had to concentrate and write anyway.

But for some reason, to write fiction I need to be isolated with nothing else to do.

How do you work? Where do you write? For some reason, this seems of interest to other writers, even readers.

I’d like to know about you. Write and tell me, and maybe it will find its way into this blog.


bubbles said...

I am just starting to write but i find first thing in the morning before anyone else is up or I go to a small coffee shop with my laptop and I will write there.

Ralene said...

The more I write, the more I realize that I need to be isolated as well. I wrote my first novel in the living room, on the couch, with the TV on. Since then, I've migrated to my office upstairs. Door shut. Internet off. No music. Concentration is much easier that way.

S. J. Deal said...

I've started getting into the habit of disabling my computer's network card when I write. It's amazing what lack of internet access will do for one's writing. It's easy enough to turn back on if I really need to look something up, but having it off prevents me from thinking I need to check blogs and e-mail every five minutes.

Cliff Graham said...

Total isolation. I agree, Jerry. I'm like a little kid that says, "Ooo, look, something shiny!" And then I get distracted and only bang out a few sentences that aren't worth anything.

And my wife has to remove my iPhone. Physically remove it.

brendalottakamaggiebrendan said...

Wow!If I had that office, I don't know if I could concentrate because it's so beautiful. Mine is a much small space, but it's nice.

I identify with distractions. Email is the worst for me or a bright sunny day when I'd rather be outside. Writing is so isolating and I have to try hard to keep a balance between working and a need to be around humans so I
don't start talking to my cowgirl sculpture. Lol. But to writing, I really want to be alone in my office. My crit bud can write at Borders with all the noise and distractions. Not me. I can stand to listen to the blenders and grinders!

max said...

I'm easily distracted, too, but I find that when I'm writing one of my action-adventures or mysteries, I get lost in the story. Most of my writing is at night, when the house is quiet. And the story reveals itself to me as I go. One time I began writing in the evening, and the next thing I knew, it was tomorrow. I simply couldn't wait to see what was going to happen with the main character, the wolf, and... A writing cave would be nice, but I haven't needed that kind of isolation yet.

brendalottakamaggiebrendan said...

Apparently, I can't type worth a flip on my new newbook while having a coffee break in my den, either.:)

ginger said...

Not to sound shmoozy, but I am the same way. I fidget for an hour, I pick up the yarn that's been on the sofa for a week, I do everything else but what I am suppose to do...unless I'm writing in bed. Then I can get something done. Why? Because I'm alone! I'm also in Pj's so I can't leave my room to check the mail, do the dishes, see whose on Twitter or mess around on facebook. I am in my story world watching evil villains do their evilness to my protagonists. At least for 2 glorious hours. Then I get dressed...again and pick up my kids from school.

Bonijay said...

I totally agree with you Jerry, I have to have a place to myself to write. Even when my kids were little I waited until they were asleep. The only trouble with that was I would find myself up until the wee hours of the morning. I always like to finish what I start, so my first drafts were done by 2, 3 or 4 in the morning. I am using those drafts today to make them into a real story.

Teri Dawn Smith said...

I think we're all easily distracted because writing really is hard work. The worst for me is the internet because there's always a great blog to read or something that can be classified as research or networking.

Linda - Nickers and Ink said...

Oh, yeah. My "office" in the front room of our family home makes my old publishing cube look like a private haven.

(Hey, you know the place.)


Prayer works wonders, however, as God can build a hedge, if He has something to say.

Tamika: said...

I love your little piece of writing heaven.

My space is a niche in the couch. I love the complete quiet of an empty house the best, and I crave it more each day.


Happy writing!

wordsharpeners said...

Same here. I can write non-fiction (children's ministry cirriculum) in a room full of people with no problem. But when I write fiction, I have to go into that story world, and anything can distract me out of it.

angelamills said...

I read in your book about instead of fighting it, I just let it happen. I write mostly at my dining room table in the early morning before my kids are awake. I sit facing my couch that usually has a load of laundry waiting to be folded, and halfway through get up to make my husband's breakfast and lunch.

I crave a cave, but for at least the next few years, it's not happening. So I either wait to write until then, or just deal with my distracted self. I chose the latter. It isn't always fun but at least I get to be home and write :)

Vonnie said... your "cave" !

When I get serious about writing, I have to turn off my internet, so I'm not tempted to check email or facebook.

I sit in a different chair/place than I usually use to socialize on my computer. Putting myself in my "writing" chair puts my mind in the writing mode.

Yvonne Blake

Janey DeMeo said...

Those pics of your cave are awesome, Jerry.

I mostly write at my kitchen table where I can also stare outside (and, yes, procrastinate). I do have an office but it has all my Orphans First stuff so that's a distraction right there--albeit a good one since I still have to get that work done.

Thanks for sharing. Louis says "hi".

Janey --

Travis Thrasher said...

My cave is the office on the second floor of our house. Once I have background music cranking and coffee in my system, I'm usually typing away. The only interruptions come in the form of a wild two-year-old. No difference than coworkers barging in on you, except in this case I dearly love this intruder!

Lori Stanley Roeleveld said...

As a homeschool mom with a husband who works from home, I dream of one day having a cave but for now I write in the midst of chaos. I invested in a laptop and for a long time wore a special hat or sweater when I was doing focused writing. Everyone knew only to interupt if there was bleeding or broken bones when the hat was on. Now, I have perfected the writer's scowl that clues my family in to when I need to focus. I do all my pre-writing and first draft in the midst of family life but revision happens alone in my bedroom and final edit requires an empty house. To train myself not to focus on what needs dusting or why one of my children is taunting the other, I close my eyes and imagine a wall of trees growing up around my writing chair before I begin. When I'm focused on the screen, it's the trees I see in my peripheral vision. Odd, but it works!

Lois said...

I love your comment about being "terminally curious."
You've heard the quote - "The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity." (Unknown)

Great cave! Mine is one dedicated corner of my tangerine-colored bedroom - early morning hours. I am fortunate to have morning solitude in which to talk the story out aloud.

Thanks for sharing your writing ideas on your blog.

Christian Mommy Writer said...

Your office is beautiful. It looks so calming!

As bad as it sounds, I write at my kitchen table, even though I have a nice office. The lighting is so much better.

Also, I have a two year old son and I often let him play or color beside me when I'm about the ultimate distraction! :-)

Tasha Reed TL11 said...

Very, very, very Cooool!

mrpond47 said...

Well, Jerry, I tend to write wherever I've planted my laptop.

Ideally, it's in a semi-sacred office place, where I sit at a desk, ensconced in books, with a window to stare out of while I convince myself writer's block isn't real. Interruptions in the form of my wife bringing me coffee and biscuits are always welcome.

Usually, I listen to music on a set a cheap headphones--for some reason it helps me think and find words and moods. I tend to listen to a cd until I can play it back in my head, in my sleep.

But I happen to be writing this in a Panera--Starbucks is another venue I'll frequent. Sometimes I just want energy around me, noise, people, atmospheric mood lighting. It helps me create, I think.

If I'm not sitting on a cactus of a deadline, I'll procrastinate my writing into oblivion. So I try to become my own taskmaster. I find the challenge of trying to do better, faster, sooner helps keep me going.

And amen to everyone who's said to ignore the internet and blogs when on deadline!

john pazdziora

Melissa Pearl said...

I love your office. What a fantastic place!
I need to be able to co-exist with my characters while writing and like you, I need quiet to do that. I can't even have music playing. Silence and solitude are beautiful things :)

Leigh Davis said...

I should have such a 'cave', Mr. Flintstone! But I do understand. I LOVE writing, too, but there are times when I have to make myself sit down and do the work! Once I'm in the 'zone', it's all go from there! Stephen King was right when he wrote 'The BOOK is the BOSS'. Comparing sketch notes to what is finally written down, I find myself wondering "WHERE did THAT come from?"

Unlike Mr. King's muse, however, mine doesn't smoke. She sits on my bed, eating chocolate cake and tells me that she'll help me out when I get going. I must teach my muse to both share her cake and clean up after herself!

I can listen to soundtracks when I write, provided there's just music. I'm listening to the soundtrack to King Kong right now. (Central Park scene) But I do have to have coffee (I can actually drink cold coffee, which is how I've learned to like it after letting it sit for hours). But the t.v. has to be off.

Thanks for the pics! Like I said...nice 'cave', Mr. Flintstone! Keep up the great work. Can't wait to read the next great work! Yabba Dabba Doooo!

Chandler said...

Mr. Jenkins,
Thank you for "writing on writing blog. I really appreciate your ability to mentor burgeoning writers with this method. Your "cave" is beautiful. I've always wanted one of the sheds that they sell at Lowe's for a writing "studio", with carpet, elecrricity and desk :) Your spot helps me dream a little higher. I'll probably start with the shed,though. I related so well to what you wrote about noticing ALL the distractions when it's time to write. I thought it was just me avoiding what I know I should do, so thanks for sharing that. When you were starting out, (before the cave and even before the "shed") what did you do to eliminate distractions? How many hours a day do you suggest setting aside? What's a good goal for a day's writing? Thanks for your ideas. Heather Garey

Leigh Davis said...

I live in a studio apartment, and have a small desk, next to my stereo, where I listen to music sometimes.

I find that I won't start writing until I NEED to know what is going to happen next. Like a reader who cheats and goes to the end of a book to find out what happend. We don't have that luxury. We have to write our way to that place.

On that same topic, Jerry, do you have a favorite sort of beverage you have to have with you when you write. For some writers, it's wine, for others, like myself, it's coffeee. I respond best to the flavored coffees, like French Vanilla or Bavarian chocolate.

I do my BEST writing when I've had a good night's sleep on Friday night, and into whatever time on saturday. If there's no laundry to be done, I turn on my coffee and sit at my computer. Starting off with a bit of distraction, I go to my email page first, and then, perhaps, meander the net for half an hour or so. Myspace. Facebook was taking up too much time for zero purpose! After that bit of meandering, the coffee's ready and I'm rarin' to go!

I would LOVE to have a room like yours, but the Bible talks about CONTENTMENT. My problem isn't contentment, it's having to do the stuff I don't want to but HAVE to do, in order to get to what I NEED to do. For a writer, there are pens, notebooks, computers, and ten fingers. As long as those, and a good cup of coffee are available, I consider myself blessed!

Jerry Jenkins said...

I don't set aside a certain number of hours; I decide how many pages I must do every day to not fall behind. If that takes 4 hours, great. If 12, too bad for me today but better for me tomorrow.

I'm not a coffee drinker, but I must need caffeine, so it's Diet Coke for me. No warnings, please. I've heard them all.

As for music, my buddy Travis Thrasher swears by movie soundtracks. I find myself more productive in silence for some reason. I tend to hum or sing along otherwise.

And don't let the nice cave fool you. I can write anywhere (learned my chops in a cacophonous newspaper office). This place just leaves me without excuse. :)