Working When It’s Noisy

Enjoying the show from Spare Oom

It’s Fleet Week here in San Francisco, which means that the Blue Angels have been flying overhead for a few hours over the last couple of days. I’m pretty much used to it by now, having always had a perfect viewing platform away from the public (read: one of our rooms!), so it’s just a few hours’ worth of loud each day. [Back during the Former Day Job, there were plenty of moments when I had to pause a conversation during a client call and say “Sorry about that, the Blue Angels just flew over. As you were saying?”]

Does this sort of thing bother me when I’m writing? Not at all. I spent most of my childhood and adult life in a busy house and I currently live in a major US city, so I’m quite used to it. In fact, it’s part of why I’m constantly listening to music; the tunes give me something to focus on so the erratic white noise of planes and whatnot don’t register all that much. I will let myself occasionally be distracted by the air show, especially when they’re flying close by, because why not? It’s fun and it’s only once a year!

Now, hearing the impossibly loud Recology garbage trucks idling and crunching and compacting and clonking outside our building at six in the morning, on the other hand…

Last Minute

Image courtesy of Nichijou

I’m writing this on a Sunday night at 7:30pm and I’m reminded of my school years, when I was absolutely terrible at getting my weekend homework started. I hated having to take all the time doing it when all my friends were outside doing stuff without me, so like everyone else I knew, I’d do it on Sundays.

The downside to that is that I’d wait until after dinner, so I’d be starting it around 6pm. Which, you know, if it was doing math problems or fill in the blank exercises, I could get those done toot sweet. If they were essays or long-term class projects or studying for Monday tests, however…yeah. I was awful at all that. I’d be up well past my bedtime cramming and make the biggest damn hash of it ever. Added to the fact that I couldn’t do a damn thing without music playing. Which, you know, always the distraction. [It took me years to figure out that it wasn’t laziness that caused this. But that’s another post entirely.]

I do in fact have a decent excuse for writing this entry this late this time; we had a busy weekend filled with a movie (Venom: There Will Be Carnage, which was all kinds of ridiculous fun), walking (ALL THE WALKING), shopping, PC maintenance and quite a bit of house cleaning. The weekend is when A and I do a lot of things together, whether it be major events or just walking around the neighborhood and going out for brunch. And I’m totally fine with not getting any writing work done then. I’m not getting graded on it (or receiving a lower grade due to lateness), and it gives me some brain downtime so I can start in on the writing work week with a fresh start.

So yeah. I don’t miss those days of last-minute homework, not at all. Writing these entries might sometimes feel like it, especially when I get too stressed and overthink it, but the high school stress is long gone out of my life.

Of course, tomorrow I’ll have to figure out how to squeeze writing my Walk in Silence entry in between my multiple novel sessions and grocery shopping…

Distraction (again) and Avoiding It

Well, I’m sure I could say I have a legitimate reason for being somewhat distracted, given this week’s news, but…

I really need to start closing the browsers more often. I mean, it’s not as if I get into an hours-long doomscroll…it’s more the serotonin rush of being plugged in, I think, added with a lack of focus. And I need to stop it. Again.

I mean, I know when distraction sets in, because it’s so reliably predictable. I could be scooting along at top speed on whatever I’m working on, and as soon as I slow down to grasp at a word or phrase that isn’t coming to me just yet, my brain says oh hey, let’s go on Twitter and see what’s going on! and next thing I know, it’s twenty minutes later. That’s been the top culprit for a while now.

[In a way, I’m glad it’s no longer my delaying any work at all by poring over my music library for a half hour, trying to decide what to listen to. I was terrible at that during the Belfry days.]

Whatever’s going on in the world really shouldn’t be a distraction, at least not unless it’s literally outside my window. It’s okay to be late to the party now and again. I didn’t even know about the events at the Capitol building until almost a full hour later because I’d closed everything to finish up some long-delayed revision work. It took me a bit of time to unreel myself from all that after lunchtime when I had more work to do, but I was able to do it eventually.

I seem to hit Heavily Distracted levels maybe every five days or so. I don’t know if it’s a brain thing an emotional one, but it’s something I have to deal with in one way or another. Sometimes it’s easy, closing those browsers, putting on an album, and immersing myself in work. Other times it’s not so easy, and those are when I don’t have a clear plan. Either way, I work through it somehow, eventually. Sometimes I’ll back away and do something off the PC, like a bit of art or music practice. Or maybe even a word search! [Those are surprisingly calming for me, I find.]

Anyway — life finds a way, as they say. I know I get distracted, and it’s up to me to find ways to avoid that when I can.

When Distraction Is a GOOD Thing…?

anime-pull-yourself-together

The downside to having a full schedule, especially when multiple social events are added to it, is that physical and mental exhaustion (and maybe illness) can sometimes kick in, screwing things up even worse.  Right now I’m trying to fight off a sore throat and exhaustion from too many things going on over the last few week.

That’s probably the best time for me to remind myself: It’s okay to take a day or two off from writing, you know.   Or even more importantly:  It’s also okay to call in sick to the Day Job now and again…that’s what your sick days are for.  Between my stubborn will to keep to my writing schedule and my Catholic guilt for not letting my coworkers down, I can be my own worst enemy sometimes.

Sometimes all I want to do is play an entire afternoon of PC card games, watch silly cat videos, and noodle around with my mp3 collection.  Is that too much to ask?

Well, no, not really.  I’m not on a strict writing deadline.  I can afford a day off from the Day Job now and again.  As long as I don’t make it a habit.  I can — and should — take a day or two off from reality now and again.  I’ll be honest, sometimes I’m jealous of those people who spend the entire afternoon binge-watching TV series or playing video games.  Why shouldn’t I be able to take a day off as well?

As long as I get back on track once I’m recharged, right?

anime sleeping
COME ON LAZYBUTT, WAKE UP YOU’VE GOT WRITING TO DO

Old habits die hard, but…

python anfscd

…new habits are even harder to keep, especially when you’re trying to reorganize your life.  It’s terribly easy to slip back into the old ones when you’re trying your damnedest to get rid of them because they don’t work for you anymore.

Still, I can’t expect them to change overnight.

I’ve been doing my best to reorganize my life so I’m not wasting so much time passively surfing the internets.  There are a few goals here, of course: I can still get easily caught up in the latest imbroglio on social media, fall down the rabbit hole of You Tube (I wasted a good ten minutes right now looking for other Monty Python gifs and then finding the Spectrum skit, one of my favorites), or staring at the screen trying to think of what the hell I’m going to blog about for tomorrow’s entry.

On the other hand, I have great days when I fall into a groove and I get all sorts of things done.  I’ll close down the browsers and only have my mp3 software running (or a single browser playing a radio station or one of the Sirius XM channels).

So what to do about it?

I’ve tried all kinds of things.  Closing down the browsers.  Knowing the difference between enjoying an unencumbered weekend afternoon and just wasting time.  Obsessive cleaning and reorganizing.  Facing down the Don’t Wannas by doing the damn thing regardless.  Putting my current writing project front and center on my screen (or in this case, on my desk) so I can’t avoid it.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  Regardless, it’s a matter of actively working on changing those habits.

It’s a slow evolution, but it’s getting there.

my neighbor seki
SEKI YOU’RE NOT HELPING

On Writing: Determination and Distraction

Some of you may have seen my Twitter pic or my LiveJournal post last night regarding “the Return of the Whiteboard Writing Schedule.”  A few years back I bought one of those erasable whiteboards that has a calendar grid on it and stuck it on the wall, eye-level, in front of my desk.  I used to have one of these in the Belfry years ago as well, which I used as a way to remind me of due dates and deadlines.  It worked out pretty well then, and figured it would be good to have again.

When I first put it up, I came up with the idea of giving myself a strict writing schedule.  Two reasons for this: my writing time is not as concrete as it used to be, and I find that I’m more productive when I give myself a specific schedule in which to do things.  This was proven during the Belfry years when I consistently hit a high word count working in the early evenings every day.  I also had one project going at the time–the Bridgetown Trilogy–so as long as I stayed true to it, I was fine.

I’ve used this schedule since around 2011.  I’ve changed it up a few times, moved things around, dropped a few projects, but for the most part it’s worked.  I chose to drop it for a time earlier this year, but for a good reason: I was doing a major revision of the Trilogy and wanted to devote all my writing time solely to that.  Now that that’s done and that I’ve anchored myself to a new writing project, it’s time to return.  I reused the January 2013 schedule I’d come up with that had served me well; the new project takes up the weekday, with Walk in Silence taking up the weekends.  I’ve also peppered in some offline/personal projects such as poetry, art, and music practice.  I’m also returning to my morning 750 Words, which I’ll sneak in during my work hours alongside my daily journaling. 

It’s a lot, but I like having a lot to work on.  It keeps the creative blood flowing.  It also makes me a better writer in the process.  Furthermore, they’re not strict deadlines but guidelines.  This isn’t homework, something I must do, but something to aim for on a weekly basis.

 

So…what’s this about distraction, then?

Well, that would be the forays over to YouTube, the refreshing of the Twitter feed, my longterm project of music cataloging, among other things.  Mostly done during the work day, when things are slow.  All well and good in moderation.  I can allow myself to let the time pass.  Hell, my old timewaster at work when I didn’t have internet access was doing word search games.  It’s a way to relax and keep oneself occupied.

On the other hand, when there’s nothing better to do and no immediate directive involved, it’s easy to fall into the trap of distraction.  Popping onto a website to see the latest posts, read the latest news, keep up-to-the-minute tabs on friends and acquaintances.  We still get fascinated by immediate gratification, and that’s what the internet is all about.  It’s what movies, radio, and TV were all about.  Which means that it’s up to our own selves to know when to turn it off, because no one else will do it for us.

It took me awhile to learn that.  I’ll fully admit that I get easily distracted.  Playing around with my mp3 collection, falling down the Wikipedia or YouTube rabbit holes, playing FreeCell or Solitaire, you know how it is.  I’d stop myself after twenty minutes or so, basically when my conscience would gently prod me and say “Dude, look at the time.  You’re wasting most of it right now.  You’d better get cracking if you want to get anything done tonight.”  And as timing would have it, my wife would walk in about five minutes before that moment and mock me for dicking around so much.  I’d eventually get things done, but later than usual.

This is another reason for the return of the Whiteboard Writing Schedule:  so I’m too busy doing things I enjoy, such as writing, drawing, or playing my guitar, to be distracted by timewasting things such as cat memes and silly gifs.

So.  How to avoid distraction?  Any specific steps?  Any tricks?

Not really.  Just the one step: Be aware that you’re distracting yourself, and do something about it.  Especially when you notice it and not doing anything about it.  You want to be a writer, yes?  Fine.  You want to get some writing done tonight?  Fine–then stop not writing.  You’re well aware of the distractions–it’s up to you to be procative and cut down on them.  Replace them with distractions you enjoy–reading, painting, hiking, what have you.  They may not exactly make you more productive or prolific, but they’re an outlet that inspires you.  And in the process, they may even change your mood so you’re even more creative once you start writing.