Page Fright: Word Count
Tips for producing more pages
Hi, everyone! As some of you might notice, I’ve changed the name of this Page Fright feature from “Page Count” to “Word Count.” It was too confusing with “Page” in both names! Here’s where you’ll still find a practical how-to for getting more writing done.
Today’s topic is:
Distractions: Enemy or Ally of Productivity?
One of my favorite mindless binge watches is the HGTV reality TV show Love It or List It. The basic conceit is that a realtor teams up with a decorator, and the homeowner-clients look at various houses for sale while the decorator spruces up their current home. At the end, there’s the big reveal of their renovated home, now with an open floor plan (always an open floor plan), and the choice must be made: stay or go.
Why is this relevant to the topic of writing and distractions?
I’ve noticed that some people on the show (usually men) need a home office where they can close the door to their children and their children’s needs, whining, and noise. (Often, such a dad has a partner or nanny who’s taking care of the children and their needs, whining, and noise while he is sequestered away in peace and quiet to get work done.) Sorry, men, just reporting on an observation!
I fully understand the importance of taking phone calls or appearing on Zoom without little kids in the background (especially when children were home, doing online learning during the pandemic). But when my son Daniel was young, I enjoyed writing and getting other work done at the dining room table while he and his friends ran in circles around the first floor. I’d check on them, bring them snacks, and make sure they weren’t playing videogames for too long, but I’d also get a lot done. It was disrupted productivity to be sure, but I was invigorated by the sounds of children and liveliness around me rather than the silence of me lost in my own thoughts.
Virginia Woolf famously made a clarion call for women writers to have “a room of one’s own.” While I believe she meant it figuratively as well as literally, some writers have managed to achieve an incredible output without the benefit of their own, private space. Jane Austen (whom Woolf admired and even compared to Shakespeare) was known to write in a very public place in her family home, at a small and spartan desk in the midst of a swirl of activity.
Paradoxically, distractions and noise help some writers get more work done than writing in what would appear to be a more ideal setting. It relieves them of the loneliness I wrote about in a previous Page Frightarticle, and it gets the adrenalin flowing. As an added bonus, writers also draw ideas for characters, dialogue, or setting from what they observe and overhear.
That’s why I’ll often start a piece of writing in a noisy coffee shop, where I can eavesdrop on people’s conversations and hear the heavenly chorus of coffee beans in the grinder, the whistle of milk being steamed, and, granted, the slightly-too-distracting sound of customers’ names called out when their order is ready. Then, when I return home, I’ll type up my written notes and continue writing on my laptop. Sometimes it just helps to have a lively atmosphere jumpstart my writing “engine,” and after that I’m revved up to keep working.
You either already know or will discover for yourself through trial and error where the line is between distractions that can enhance your productivity vs. ones that impede it.
For instance, I’ve engaged with social media threads where people weigh in on the sort of music they listen to when writing. For some of us, classical (currently, Lang Lang playing Chopin) or jazz instrumentals work whereas music with lyrics is a no go. Others are capable of writing without difficulty to pop or hip hop or rock.
And, of course, for many writers, there is no choice but to work in an atmosphere of built-in distractions. I find newsrooms romantic and exciting, especially ones in the movies (pre-desktops), where the clack-clack of typewriter keys confers a sense of importance and urgency to the journalists’ work. But I imagine it takes effort in the beginning to get used to the conversations and chaos surrounding you while you’re trying to concentrate and produce articles on deadline.
Ultimately, all writers need to find a way to either avoid/limit distractions or be realistic about their inevitability and tune them out (if possible) or make them work for you. Given the fact that many of us will use just about any reason to get out of writing when we’re not feeling inspired, I’ve just removed distractions as an excuse. You’re welcome! :)
I’d love if you described your experience in writing with distractions in the comments below. Where do you draw the line? Also, feel free to reply to other readers’ comments. Thanks as always for being part of this growing writers’ community!