Dealing with interruptions is the hardest thing for me as a writer.
I try to write a minimum of 1500 words a day. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it’s like pulling teeth. Most of the time, the hard days are because I get interrupted over and over. I’m lucky enough to have a job that allows me a fair amount of free time to write, not that I can spend all day at it. But that free time is spread between this emergency and that project.
My time at home is similarly fragmented due to the demands of everyday life. There’s always cooking and cleaning and things my husband wants to do. I have TV shows to watch and books to read. There are a million and one distractions to keep me from putting my butt in a chair and applying my fingers to the keyboard. Sadly weekends are worse than workdays for writing for me.
Sometimes it’s only the dogged determination to get my words written that allows me to wrestle writing time out of my daily schedule. Other times I have a story battering against my brain that has to be committed to paper before I go crazy. But most of the time I carve out my 10, 15 and 20 minute chunks of time and write whatever I can in them. Despite the interruptions that always happen. One of the hardest things for me is to get back in the groove of writing when I come back from an interruption. I have a few tricks that help me make the transition back into the story but this is something that I struggle with every day.
The most important thing I do is reread what I just wrote. Usually the story is clear enough in my head that I’m able to pick up where I left off. Sometimes it only takes the last couple of sentences but if I come back to something after hours or a couple of days I usually need to read the entire last chapter or couple of chapters. If I come back to a story after weeks or months away from it, which happens as I always have multiple stories going, I may need to reread the entire thing to get the feeling I was going for straight in my head.
My second most important trick is always having a plot outline. I’ve already talked about that in previous posts so I won’t go into it in detail here. Having a good idea of where the story is supposed to go, what the sequence of events are and what the key characters are supposed to be feeling always helps keep me on track. Before I started plotting extensively I had a horrible time picking up stories after I’d been interrupted. Now it’s not too hard.
Third, I try and minimize the distractions around me as much as possible. That can mean putting on headphones and listening to music that drowns people I can’t avoid out or going to a different room and closing the door. I don’t watch TV while writing as the TV will always trump the stories in my head. I don’t have books around unless they’re reference books for the particular scene I’m working on. The fewer distractions I have, the faster and better I write.
But that’s not always possible to arrange so my fourth trick is to always have multiple things I can work on at any given time. Some stories require intense focus out of me. Those are best worked on when I have silence and no interruptions. Others require a lot less focus and I can plink away at them while dealing with life interrupting me. It’s not ideal but it works.
I’d love to be able to sit down and write one story straight through, no interruptions, no distractions, no other stories intruding but I know that’s never going to happen. I tend towards long stories, generally novella to novel length, so I’ll always have to stop to eat, sleep, work, whatever. But there’s a joy in being able to write just this one story until the draft is done. It doesn’t happen all that often for me, usually only when a story’s very hot in my head or for NaNoWriMo. When it does it’s wonderful. It feels like the story is a movie playing behind my eyes and I’m just transcribing the events and describing them to the best of my ability.
Of course, that’s rare. Life is life. There are always interruptions.
My last trick is that when writing new words isn’t possible I’ll go and edit what I’ve already written. That can usually be done in small chunks of time spread out between many interruptions because I’m not working on the overall story. I’m going in and fixing this particular scene, that paragraph, these sentences. Because the focus is different I can squeeze the work into smaller chunks of time and not be as bothered by the interruptions.
I honestly don’t think I’ll ever be able to arrange for interruption-free writing but I hope that I keep finding new and better ways to manage the interruptions in my life. What sorts of tricks do you use to keep on track in your writing?