Writing Advice of the Week: What Distraction Tells You

Reading Time: 11 minutes
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So, you’re sitting down at your computer or you’ve grabbed your notebook, and you’re determined to write.

I’ll just check socials for a minute, you think. It won’t take long.

Then a minute goes by. Five minutes. Ten. An hour.

And that quick socials check turns into a rabbit hole of unproductivity such that you never get around to writing.

Sound familiar?

Last year, I worked with an author who, in her words, couldn’t get out of her own way. She was sitting down to write pretty regularly, but as she wrote, she became distracted by tangential thoughts that compounded until she was paralyzed by choice. There was simply too much to cover and knowing what to write was no longer straightforward, so she turned to the internet for inspiration, and . . . well . . . she ended up working with me for a reason.

She needed structure.

Distractions are a part of everyday life, and we navigate around them in our imperfect ways, as needed, to get through the day to day. Being distracted may be a sign that you need more sleep, had too much caffeine, or may be experiencing a hormone shift, a nutrient deficiency, or something else.

I get it. We’re all humans at the mercy of our very (sometimes painfully) human bodies.

But when distractions are constantly hampering your writing, stop and ask yourself whether your being easily distractable is actually a sign that something is missing from your story even if you haven’t identified that something yet.

  • Do you know enough about your characters to write them well?
  • How about the plot, do you know what comes next?
  • Are your settings pulling their emotional weight?

To shake off the chaos resulting in distraction and get back to it, Rose Atkinson-Carter for Elizabeth Spann Craig shares 4 Odd Writing Tips That Really Work, and one of her tips may be the thing that jumpstarts your writing again — even if it’s just to discover what’s missing.

Rose seems to be a champion of the unconventional and offers a few ways to trick your brain out of the mundane and into the creative. (And if you’ve any inkling that a lack of structure may be your issue, Rose’s number 4 is a great way to systematically work through your story to find the sticky spots holding you back.)

Now, once you move past your distractibility and are actually making progress, don’t thwart your own work by tagging your inner editor too soon, especially if your inner editor is anywhere as nitpicky (and cranky) as mine.

Daphne Gray-Grant for Publication Coach shares More Ways To Silence Your Inner Editor While You’re Writing, and this article will have you besting your own mindset. I mean, when was the last time you purposefully disobeyed yourself? Or sang yourself out of negativity?

Daphne’s tips are designed to get you to recognize editing as a separate process from your writing, which is key not only to finishing a piece of writing but to finishing and revising it well

After all, if you’re stuck editing a single paragraph or chapter that doesn’t feel quite right, you can’t write the next one. So find whatever method works for you to tap into your creative flow and unleash those words.

And just in case this isn’t clear already, avoid rushing.

Writing takes time. Revising and refining take even more time, about twice as long as the writing. Rushing to publish may mean publishing a book that isn’t reader-ready. And once you lose a reader, you may never get them back.

Angela Ackerman for Writers Helping Writers echoes the sentiment in her article, The One Rule No Writer Should Break. And she provides more reasons why rushing can crush your writing career. From increasing the expense of professional editing to sky-high levels to leaving you vulnerable to publishing scams, rushing may lead you down a path you otherwise would not dare take to get your book into the world.

Beyond the potential issues left open for your future readers, rushing also invites a lot of pressure to come down on your writerly shoulders, especially if agents or editors feel the rush while reading your book and provide feedback on your manuscript that is less than stellar. So don’t take the wind out from under your own wings before you get a chance to flap them.

Now, if you’ve already received some not-so-stellar feedback on your manuscript from an agent or editor or worse — not-so-stellar reviews on your published book — rushing may not be the only reason, if it’s a factor at all.

Check out The Most Common Reasons A Book Gets Negative Reviews by Andrea Moran for Insecure Writer’s Support Group to see if you can pinpoint the source of your not-so-great review. Whether there’s a genre mismatch, a cast of unlikeable characters, or a lack of attention to detail, the reviewer hopefully left a nugget of helpful information you can use for the next go-round.

And remember that writing is an act of bravery, and to be brave, one must face a challenge. I believe that for every piece of writing produced, even the not-so-stellar pieces, there is at least one reader ready to devour it.

Your negative review may be the challenge you need to brush off those negativity demons and stand confidently atop your story and stylistic choices. After all, the victors don’t rise to the top without adversity. They thrive on it.

But before you puff up your own ego until it resembles something from Mars Attacks, make sure the negative review didn’t come about because you’ve confused your reader. Nathan Bransford shares Six Reasons You’re Confusing The Reader.

To be fair on yourself, know that to assess possible confusion points, you need to create some objective distance between yourself and your story. So take a break first. Then, crack open that book with the curious eye of a skilled detective solving a mystery.

Have you lost sight of what’s on the page?

Or broken the viewpoint perspective?

How precise is your delivery?

Once you’ve identified the potential confusion point for readers, acknowledge it, learn from it, and move past it. But use those lessons when writing your next book so it hits the mark more toward the reader bullseye rather than the outer rim. 

If your confusion point exists in characterization and conversation, check out the video, How To Use Dialogue Tags In Your Writing (&When Not To) by Claire Fraise for Write with Claire Fraise, which covers common dialogue tags that fade into the background and uncommon ones that stick out to readers like a neon bandage. 

And if the confusion exists at the functional level, perhaps the podcast episode, Save The Cat! Troubleshooting Common Plot Problems With Jessica Brody by Savannah Gilbo for Fiction Writing Tips, is best to help you work through your structure and find any lingering wonky bits in your story you can revise for reader clarity.

And if both your characters and overall structure are working well, how hard have you scrutinized your theme? Does the book communicate what you want it to communicate? Check out the video, Worldbuilding Pitfalls: The Mistake Of The Unintended Message by Marie Mullany for Just In Time Worlds, which works for both fantasy and sci-fi worldbuilding, as well as world building for contemporary works.

As always, there was a lot of advice I couldn’t share this week, so check the links below for added nuggets of awesome.

Happy writing!

More Productivity Advice for the Week
More Craft Advice for the Week
More Business Advice for the Week

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Fallon Clark is a Vermont-based manuscript development coach and editor serving fiction and creative non-fiction authors. Her writing has been published in Flash Fiction Magazine. Check out her website, FallonEdits.com, or connect with her on LinkedIn or Substack.

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