Confessions of the badly, madly distracted

"The writer cannot  make the seas of distraction stand still, but he [or she] can at times come between the madly distracted and the distractions." - Saul Bellow
“The writer cannot make the seas of distraction stand still, but he [or she] can at times come between the madly distracted and the distractions.” – Saul Bellow via (Click to embiggen)
Any time I pause to do something which I think will only take a few minutes, I run the danger of the one thing leads to another curse. It happens to me all the time! Most especially when I’m trying to write. I’ll stare at the scene that I’m trying to finish, for instance, pause to reach for my coffee or tea and as likely as not the cup isn’t there where I expect it be.

So I’ll get up and go looking for the cup. Which may simply be sitting on the kitchen counter, where I left it while I was refilling it from the coffee maker, and was distracted by something else. Or it might be up in the bathroom, because right as I was refilling it I decided I should make a pit stop, and I carried the cup with me where I sat it beside the sink and then forgot about once I was done. Or maybe it’s in the microwave, because an hour previously my nearly full beverage had been too cold to be appetizing, so I took heated it up, and then forgot about it.

If it is in the microwave, it has probably cooled back down, so I’ll hit the button to reheat it, and head back to my computer determined that this time I will notice when the microwave dings and come right back. Which means that I’ll sit at the computer staring at the screen, but I’m not really thinking about writing, I’m listening for the ding of the microwave. And I’ll go retrieve the drink this time…

…but while I’m on my way back I might very well notice that thing left on the coffee table that ought to be put away before I forget again, and while I’m doing that I’ll notice that my iPad was left in a weird place and not on its charger, so I’ll take care of that…

…and by the time I get back to my computer I no longer have the coffee mug. Which I may notice right away and then immediately retrace my steps to find the coffee mug, but more likely I will sit down at the computer, finally write a few sentences or maybe paragraphs, and then I’ll pause and reach for the coffee mug, which starts the whole process again.

Even when the mug is there, it is more than slightly likely that it will be too cold, and I’ll decide to go freshen it up, or it’s empty and I’ll decide to go refill it. All of which sets me up for a repeat of the above.

It used to be worse, before I adopted the habit of insisting on only ever using my favorite mug. I have a lot of cools, funny, or interesting mugs, and I very occasionally use them, but mostly I stick to the favorite, because it used to be the case that I would find old half-full mugs of tea and coffee left all over my living space, and yes, sometimes they would get hidden behind something else and stay there for weeks, forgotten. Yech!

When people talk about writers and artists have muses, the image that is usually meant is a beautiful greek demigoddess draped in diaphanous robes dispensing inspiration for artistic greatness while tasteful lute or harp music wafts in from somewhere. Mine is much more like an extremely manic man leaning over my shoulder saying “Write about me! Write about me! Write about me now or I will bloody well go away and you’ll go out of your mind trying to remember what I was!!!”

And while the muse is in that manic screaming mode, I’ll stay at the keyboard typing furiously. The problem is, as soon as I get enough of the scene or scenes down that I’ll remember the inspirational idea, the muse wanders away. The sense of urgency will decrease, because I’ve got the important bits down. Now I need to finish off the scene and fill in missing bits, yes, but that’s all just tidying up work, right?

And some of the tidying up will require some research. Maybe I need to double-check that I spelled a supporting character who hasn’t appeared for a while until this scene came to me, so I have to find earlier mentions of him or her. And then I need to confirm that I’ve describer them correctly this time. Or I’ll wonder if the word I picked for that particular part of the vehicle that appears in the scene is correct. Maybe I should go on the web and learn what all the technical terms of parts of a horse drawn carriage are, to see if it would be better to use some of the real names. Which will get me looking at several sites and articles, one of which will probably make me wonder about more information about a particular style of coach, or maybe a famous person who is mentioned in one of the articles, and I’ll go down a rabbit hole of looking at one related wikipedia entry after another until the next thing I know it’s two hours later, and I haven’t actually written a single word to fill in the missing bits of the scene.

So I’ll go back to my project file, re-read what I wrote, make the decision about what word to use in that one place based on my research, click save for the umpteenth time that evening, and move on to the next paragraph. Which needs something, and I’m not sure what, so I pause and reach for my mug of coffee or tea…

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