Writing Through Interruptions

In my book Writer’s First Aid, I talk a lot about dealing with interruptions and distractions because I began writing when I had a newborn (ten days old), a todder (two) and a preschooler. If I couldn’t write through interruptions, I couldn’t write at all most days.

People protest all the time that they can’t write with continual interruptions, and I never had much of a response beyond “just do it!” I knew it was possible if they’d really try it. Then recently I heard about someone who’d led a workshop dealing with this very thing–and she taught the participants a valuable lesson.

Start! Stop! Start Again!

The speaker was ostensibly talking about “carving out time to write.” She suddenly stopped and said, “You may choose to write on your current project or a new one, but decide on something, even if it is just an account of your day. Pick up your pencil and paper and write when I say go.”

She timed the group of writers for three minutes and said, “Put your pencils down” and continued her talk for several minutes. She then repeated the interruption and her instructions. They wrote for three more minutes. The speaker interrupted her talk four different times during the hour and had them write.

At the end of her workshop the participants compared notes. They had all written at least one page, many had more, despite being interrupted four times in only twelve minutes of actual writing! Each time they’d been able go back and pick up a thought and continue. The speaker ended with, ”You can revise bad writing, but you cannot revise a blank page. Give yourself permission to write junk, then fix it.”

Change Your Mind

I know this sounds awfully simple, but I encourage you to change your mind about being able to write despite interruptions. So few of us live on a deserted island. Most writers–probably 90% or more–have to deal with distractions and interruptions.

If you need to prove to yourself that you can get back to your writing after an interruption, try that workshop experiment. Either try it alone or with your writing group. See what happens.

It just may turn out that you’ve been believing a lie all this time. Writing may not be as enjoyable when you’re interrupted, but it can be done.

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