Writing and Distractions

I’m flowing with writing ideas, and I see it as the only thing I want to do that I can see myself doing. I also see it as a way to make a living, maybe even a decent one, as I head into my old age and increasingly toward my actual underfunded retirement. As opposed to the state of semi-retirement I have occupied for eleven years for various reasons and circumstances. One of the reasons I’ve been blogging relatively heavily is to have that flow going, and to have at least some outlet for the urge to write. I’ve actually written for a living, in a sense, in the past. It’s just that was a role pioneering Microsoft’s web-based tech support in the nineties, rather than the traditional forms of writing you might picture.

The trouble is, I feel privileged if I am able to complete so much as a blog post without losing track of what I was saying due to interruption or distraction.

First, the wife – sometimes the kids, but 98% the wife – interrupts freely without regard to whether I may or may not be concentrating or in the middle of something. We are back to a closed door not mattering, let alone the “working” sign not working. The latter has been foiled by my forgetting ever to flip it from “Working” to “Miller Time” but then again I almost never like to be interrupted. It doesn’t matter if I am writing, working on a web site, doing the proverbial checkbook, reading, or watching something.

Second, myself. I’m on this computer, online, and even if internet is down, with solitaire playable on it. Worse, perhaps, last time I made a major attempt at book writing, I had to be online because I used Google Docs.

I don’t have the space to adopt Jerry Pournelle’s monk’s cell concept, with or without the computer there being online. It would create a clear “do not disturb” zone for others, and a psychological change for my own benefit.

As unimpressed as I’ve been with Martin’s writing, I love his idea of writing on a dedicated DOS computer using WordStar. My first major word processor was WordStar 5.0, on a 286 with DOS. One of the good DOS versions. I think it was 3.3, then I was fortunate to have my newer version be 5 and then 6. I missed the ones before 3.3, and the versions between that and 5, except in passing on computers that were not my own. I adored WordStar 5.0 and had many of the keystrokes memorized. While I was using that, I actually had the chance to try WordPerfect and thought it was about the worst thing ever. My roommate loved it. You could do fancier things if you had the time and inclination to learn how. To be fair, I didn’t need anything fancier than you can do in Windows Notepad. I eventually used others, most notably Ami Pro, which created the resume I used for getting the job doing tech support that, it turned out, was for Word 6 (and the earlier ones if anyone called). I had tried Word 2 and dismissed it before that, but I fell in love with Word 6. It helped to have had intensive training on it.

So I have three problems:

  1. I get distracted too easily, as if I have ADHD more than I ever would have credited.
  2. I get interrupted by others.
  3. I have technical and environmental issues that maximize distraction and hinder focus.

Another thought: I have been known to have trouble bringing myself to reread my stuff to revise [case in point: right here I got interrupted for about an hour, with the biggest component being the wife], edit, or rewrite. This fits well with a possible attack on the goal and problem that I am considering.

We have sometimes talked about my going camping all by myself as a solitary retreat, even for a night. This idea originated with the wife, oddly enough. It makes sense. Camping is the kind of thing I can afford. She doesn’t camp, unless you count the level of rustic involved in going to a friend’s cabin in the woods, using an outhouse or composting toilet, having no refrigeration and modest cooking facilities, and having electricity via a solar setup or generator. There’s hot water and a well. You pretty much have to use the generator to run the pump to fill the tank to have some showers. When we all went there last summer, it was ungodly hot and that was miserable. I spent a lot of time in a pond and that gave me a severe “swimmer’s ear” infection. We almost entirely ate restaurant food or stuff that needed neither cooking nor cooling.

Besides swimming if there’s a pond, walking in the woods with someone who appreciates it (myself), cooking campfire food for the only one who wants it, and reading a lot, that would be a chance to write.

On paper. Realistically, I’d have to write on paper. It’s hard enough to bring a Kindle or two and a phone, keep them charged if the duration is long enough to need it. To write I’d either have to do it on a Kindle or get something portable but bigger. Or use paper.

If I use paper, I can write anywhere. I can sit in a parking lot! I used to write handwritten letters that way. I could pointedly get out of the house, go sit somewhere and spew into a notebook. Not in the yard, since I’d have no peace there. I’d have one of the neighbors standing by the car talking my ear off. Or at the picnic table.

I’d need to get the stuff into electronic form later, and that would force me to read what I had written while transcribing. There would inevitably be at least minor edits and corrections in the process. This may be the part that pushes me hardest to do it.

Another thing I’ve concluded is that I need multiple ideas going at once. I flit too much between things. If the things I have for flitting between are different pieces of writing or planning on paper for stories, then I am more likely to get something done on some of it, rather than nothing on any. That isn’t tied to where I write and the mechanics of it. It’s tied to recognition of my own inability to focus indefinitely on one project without flagging or pursuit of a shiny thing.

I’ve sometimes wondered if I ought to dictate some of my writing. It strikes me as slow yet spontaneous. If I were to work at a modern computer, dictating could be an option for creating a version that needs serious editing. It might have enough of a different feel, revising that, to keep me from dragging my feet. There’s a… stigma, for lack of a better word… associated with speech to text dictation. I spent years supporting Dragon Naturally Speaking for a law firm. I also did a presentation in college – in 1984! – on the state of work being done on voice recognition technology. At the time, they thought they almost had it. Even Dragon was sketchy and got gradually better over several years in basically the early aughts. Now it’s pretty much a given that any voice will be recognized with reasonable to near perfect accuracy by a device, without training or speaking carefully. That’s massive computing power and AI for you. It’s how we have spy devices for our homes, able to understand what we say when we address them. But I digress.

If I get in the writing habit and work on the distraction and focus angle, so long as I have the ideas, this could work.

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