Writing Rule #46: Rules are made to be broken.
As soon as I opened my eyes this morning I was thinking about deliberate living, about balance. This morning I would write--as I do every morning that I'm not teaching--but I would begin something new. My blog. Deliberately, in a calm balanced way, I would focus on this one clear task. And then I got out of bed. A hundred distractions began to attack my focus like a swarm of mosquitoes on a bare ankle in July. Never mind what these mosquitoes represent in this analogy. You probably have mosquitoes of your own. You get the picture. No matter--there they were sticking their little proboscises into my best laid plans and drawing blood. As usual I fought the swarm and made it to my desk and deliberately put my butt in the chair taking the advice I've heard from so many writers so many times. But it wasn't easy. Those suckers bite hard!
Recently I had the privilege of hearing Joyce Carol Oates talk about writing to a small group of students and faculty at Gonzaga University. This talk was part of the annual GetLit! festival sponsored by Eastern Washington University each April in Spokane. Oates said two things that resonated with me. First, "Interruption is the enemy of creativity." When she said this I had to restrain myself from standing up and shouting "I hear ya, sister!" Interruption, she said, not activity, not busy-ness. There's a difference. How many times have I stopped what I was working on because of more practical or entertaining options? The phone rings and a friend wants to go for a walk. A student emails me with a question about her own work. Got milk?--Nope, I head for the grocery store. And this on days I'm not doing my other job; this on my so-called writing days!
The swarm of mosquitoes. The naked ankle.
In order to combat those little suckers, I have learned to do two things: First, turn off my phone and put it in another room, under a chair cushion, and close the door. Next, do not under any circumstances turn on the internet before noon. Now I have quiet. Now I have a block of time to get the work done. Everything is balanced, right? Well... at least the stage is set.
Jess Walter has told my students many times that there are people who want to be writers and people who want to write. Those of who want to write realize early on that the mosquitoes are out there and they're fierce. They're mutant ninja mosquitoes with super-mosquito powers, and no amount of OFF Deep Woods or Cutter Extra can get rid of them for good. But we spray ourselves anyway and hope for the best. We set off into the jungle without our phones and ignore our multiple email accounts, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads. And for a few hours we balance our butts in chairs, our hands over keyboards.
At least it's a start.
(And in case you're wondering about the second resonant thing Joyce Carol Oates said, that's the topic for next time.)