Monday, February 4, 2013

Writing to Distraction

I used to think that heaven was having all the time in the world to devote to writing fiction. Just me and my Smith-Corona, later Kaypro, then Mac, now Dell. I had a chance to experience that situation last year. Along with millions of others, my work had slowed. I had more time on my hands. There were days when time was all I had. Nothing to distract me from my novel-in-progress.

It was hell.

My experience is similar to the one described in this great article by Benjamin Nugent in today's New York Times. When there are no distractions, when there's nothing to occupy the mind but the fictional world trying to take shape in one's head and on the screen or paper, the results can be disastrous. In my case, I'd spend days--literally--working on a single paragraph. And later I might decide that it needed to be cut. Doubts crept in. Self-esteem took a dive. I'm pretty sure my wife and kids would say I grew considerably crankier than usual.

This is not to say, of course, that paying close attention to the craft is dangerous. And the monomania, the pathological focus on one thing that Mr. Nugent describes in his article, may work for some writers. But not for me. I need the interactions and the distractions. I need to focus intently on fiction for only a set period of time, and then move on to something else. I've learned that it's in the "something else" that I often find the answers to the problems I uncover during my moments of monomania.

You? Isolation tank, limited engagement, or complete immersion in the world? What makes you most productive?