Writing Distractions, Writing Subtractions … and (hopefully!) Blog Reader Participation

Sometimes, I think I’m optimized to be a writer.

Not that I believe there’s some magical blueprint out there on How To Build an Ideal Writer (“follow these steps ten easy steps and water twice a day”), nor do I believe that an ideal writer is made in only one way, for the world is full of writers, and all of them possess their own particular way of doing what they do best.

Yet, I definitely believe that certain aspects of my personality, temperament, and behaviour contribute positively to my writing endeavours, at least the way I endeavour to do so:

  • I have a very long attention span
  • I can physically sit still for long periods of time
  • My brain naturally amuses itself by telling stories
  • I’m an unrepentant daydreamer
  • I’m curious about people’s inner lives
  • I have a strong vocabulary
  • I believe the best way to explain something is through a story
  • I’m all about delayed gratification

Plus, there are certain technicalities that likewise predispose me to writing as opposed to another form of art:

  • I draw at a grade five level
  • I’m too ham-fisted to even text properly, let alone sculpt
  • I have an under-developed sense of what colours go well together
  • I’m much more auditory than visual
  • I can type really fast

What’s the hold-up?

Given all these valuable literary characteristics I possess, one would think I’d be way more prolific a writer than I am.

You’d think I’d way better at getting my thoughts and ideas organized and settled so that I could crank out pages like in my Gravatar image.  You’d think that in the eight years it’s been my goal to someday be published, I’d have way more than only one novel and about one-third of a second one completed.  Admittedly, I was only actively writing for about two-and-a-half years out of those eight, but still.

Although I may be occupied with writing as much as I can, and remain preoccupied by it even when doing other things, the truth it, I don’t always put my best writerly qualities their best use.

I know why.

If I was going to compile a list of the circumstances that prevent me from being a more effective writer, it would look something like this:

  • Having a full-time job
  • Not getting enough sleep/being too tired to write
  • Other obligations that require my time
  • Other hobbies besides writing

These I refer to as the distractions.  These are the things that all writers have to deal with – the unavoidable elements of everyday life that in one way or another need to be controlled for for a writer to make time to write.

Distractions, in my opinion, are not justifiable excuses for not writing efficiently because they’re always going to be an issue.  Unless I’m prepared to endure a drastic change in lifestyle (which I’m not), the distractions will keep on distracting until the end of all things.

Then there are the subtractions.

Subtractions are much more specific and technical considerations that hinder my writing – things that subtract from my word count, and from the amount of time I spent at work on my novel-in-progress:

  • Not thinking about my novel-in-progress enough during the day, or not starting to think about it soon enough
  • Stopping each writing session at the end of my ideas
  • Not having an outline to follow, or having holes in my existing outline
  • Trying to write in new/alternate locations or otherwise in the wrong environment
  • That fact that I form sentences in my mind very slowly (fast typist notwithstanding)

Not that any of these are justifiable excuses for not writing efficiently, either, for they are all within my power to change if I harness the will to do so.  But this list, at least, is more unique in that it doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone.

Here’s where you come in…

My subtractions list – although other writers may have similar shortcomings – is much more personalized than that of the distractions, which is more or less universal.

But I am curious to know what subtractions other writers struggle with.

In an effort to make this blog more interactive for my readers and blog followers, I invite you to submit your own writing subtractions via the comments.

For each submission I receive, I will write a post for the submitter, discussing my own take on the issue and how one might go about addressing it.  From there, I will invite the original submitter to write a follow-up post on his/her own blog, which – should s/he choose to do so – I will link back to this blog.

I will also be writing a separate post about each of my own subtractions and the efforts I’m making to overcome them.

I love learning about myself as a writer, and am really interested in learning more about the various people who have chosen to join me along my writer’s journey.  So leave your subtraction entries in the comments, and let’s become better writers together!

(Word cloud via Wordle)

14 thoughts on “Writing Distractions, Writing Subtractions … and (hopefully!) Blog Reader Participation

  1. My major subtraction is travel time. I work out of town one day a week – hang in there, it’s not a distraction – and the day I travel is exhausting. The next day I can’t make my mind form a creative thought.
    How do I deal? I give myself permission not to write (of course that is not going to happen in November unless my NaNo word count is ahead). I’ve found that forcing even a few hundred words out on the travel day just extends the braindeadedness. 🙂


    • Hi Perry, thanks for stopping by and for commenting. What a pleasant surprise. 🙂

      Yes, I know all about your killer long drives every week. I’m not surprised in the least that they have this effect on you. I’m putting my thinking cap on to come up with some suggestions for you (I already started making notes on the back of a piece of mail), and will write your post very soon.

      Thanks again for visiting, and see you soon.


  2. Not sure this exactly qualifies, but here goes:

    Mine is the amount of time I spend staring at a computer screen at work. Not that I’ll get much sympathy for this (as I get paid to write, which isn’t the worst thing in the world), but I spend 8-9 hours a day editing and writing corporate documents. There’s no way around the fact that I have to be 18 inches from a computer monitor all day. It’s an absolute requirement of my job.

    So, as you can imagine, when I get home, my mind isn’t on firing up the laptop and deciding how to arrange words on a page.

    Help me, Obi Wan Ken-obi. You’re my only hope.


    • Use the Force, Eric. The Force. 🙂

      This is a good writing subtraction. Not good that you’re troubled by, of course, but good that you brought it up. I think it’s something lots of people can relate to as our economy becomes more and more service-based and our society more digital. On goes the thinking cap for you too. Help (I hope!) is on the way!


  3. I found myself mentally ticking ‘yes’ to your lists while I was reading the post 😉

    My main subtraction is the fact that I can’t think of one. I’m still thinking about the post and how similar we are. I tend to go off on a tangent (more than ‘tend’ actually)…

    Okay – seriously. Time is my problem. I need space and time to write. I spend more time staring out the window thinking about my stories than actually writing them. Hopefully, things will be better next year when I’m back on the farm and I’ll have all the time in the work to gaze out on the sugar cane and contemplate life, the universe and everything (instead of having to go to work every day and put up with creativity killing stuff).

    Great post 😀


    • That, Dianne, is the question of the ages: how does one maintain a life of creativity and inspiration in a world not inherently set up for such? Anyone who knew that answer to that one could bottle it and sell it! What a toughie.

      But, for you, I’m going to take it on. 🙂 I’m even going to research it a bit.


  4. Hi Janna – nice distinctions between sub and distractions.
    I’d say two main subtractions for me are that I lack discipline. I start writing about an orange and end up discoursing on the politics of individualism… oops. I can’t seem to stay on topic.
    The other is that I lose interest too soon. Once the plot is mapped in my head I don’t feel compelled to write it any more – why should I, I’ve already read it!
    Pick one if you wish and advise away!


  5. I really admire this post. And I love the way it starts and builds into the reason for the post.

    I think that for a person to truly write, all distractions must be done away with so that the writer can having nothing but writing on his mind. This entails what you called the ‘drastic lifestyle change’ — taking the plunge. I find it hard to do something else when I know I need to write and this makes it difficult to keep even a part-time job. That said, I’ve ditched most of my possessions, college, profitable work, and much of my social-life (bridges don’t so much burn as they do fall apart). I now have nothing left going for me except for writing. Nothing left to do but to write.

    And here is my only remaining distraction: Was the plunge the right idea? Did I totally fuck over my life by putting everything on the line for the small chance that I might actually become a successful writer? Is it time to act like an adult, get a real job, and like everyone else place my only passion as a hobby?
    Doubt. It’s the only distraction/subtraction so corrosive that it kills all creativity.


    • Hi wanderlust misfit, thanks so much for sharing this story of such dedication and vulnerability.

      I really admire what you’ve done in the name of your art. I frequently read articles about or hear interviews with highly successful people, and they all seem to tell stories like this – about how they didn’t wait for circumstances to be ideal, or didn’t wait for someone to give them (or give them permission to go after) what they wanted; they just went ahead and did it.

      I’m not really that sort of person, as much as I wish I were. I’ve taken what others consider bold steps in my life, but the truth is I just didn’t place as much value on what I had to lose as they did. I can’t say I ever fully commit to an idea or course of action without holding something in reserve, which, of course, isn’t really a risk at all in the truest sense of the word. And we all know what they say about “no risks”.

      As for whether your plunge was the right idea, I say absolutely it was, for it’s what you believed was right at the time.

      I once heard an expert relationship counsellor say in an interview that you can never marry the wrong person if you marry for love. I’m not married, but I value the deeper meaning behind this statement: that making a decision for the right reason automatically makes it the right decision, regardless of what happens. There’s nothing that says a good decision must necessarily yield good results. And yet my father, who is a very wise man, always says it’s better to be sorry for something you did than something you didn’t do.

      And so, in putting to rest this notion of “Did I do the right thing?”, and only true question before you is that of “Is this still the right thing?” Every passing day of your life is providing you with new data to use in formulating the answer to this, and only you can decide when you’ve collected enough points.

      Thanks again for the comment. 🙂


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