Tag Archives: distraction

Learning to Say "No"

Learning to Say ‘No’

Distraction is one of my biggest struggles; something I grapple with on a daily basis. A few days ago, I posted how we as creatives need to choose to make time for our craft. I referred to time as the “currency for creation.” But there’s another metaphor that works just as well: time is the medium from which we craft our creative work. Without time we cannot produce—everything else: charcoal, oil paint, clay, wood, words, everything, is secondary to time. Yet, in an ever-connected world finding those moments can often feel difficult and overwhelming. When we do find the time it’s often fleeting, and we’re bogged down by distraction.

Those called to creation understand this on a very personal level. Obligations already eat away at the narrow slivers of time from which we hone our craft. And the siren call of distraction is always there to lure us away. Occupying oneself into idleness is easy. At the end of the day, the week, the month, the year one looks back and find themselves unfulfilled and wonders: what happened?


In the struggle of creation, eventually, the creator must learn to say ‘no.’


In the struggle of creation, eventually, the creator must learn to say ‘no.’ At first, it’s terrifying. In our culture of ‘yes’ a word like ‘no’ sounds final. (It’s not, but that doesn’t matter.) Your friends won’t get it. The family won’t understand. Entertainment and Social Media hate hearing ‘no,’ they feed off distraction. Our phones are abuzz with alerts demanding attention. The 24-hour news cycle wants you to believe everything is a crisis. Click ‘yes’ to receive alerts for this random website. It’s endless. Empathy for the creator—when it exists at all—is ephemeral. Dreams and drives get brushed aside as frivolous whims. Oh, that. That’s just a hobby. Nothing will come of that. Do that instead. Watch this. Come here. Go there. Play this. Guilt and shame are wielded with selfish abandon. But it’s for you! They say when really it’s for them.


It was so dumb I had to do it.

Facing those pressures is difficult. We’ve all crumbled and given in, and those slivers of time are lost forever. You don’t get them back. Hence, the lesson of ‘no.’ Learning to say ‘no’ allows us to set boundaries. It establishes what is important and it set priorities. It’s the first step in building a routine, making the work habitual, and living in the moment.

To be effective ‘no’ is something every creator has to master. Shut out the distractions. No, Twitter isn’t important. No, you don’t need to watch that latest reboot on Netflix. No, you don’t need to make that phone call. No, brunch isn’t necessary this weekend. Face the pressure head on, stand your ground, and make the choices for what matters to you. It’s important for our mental health. It’s important for the work. It’s important for creation. ‘No’ lets us carve out moments in time, and after all, time is the true medium.


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Mark Twain at his writing desk

Shut up and write!

I over plan. I mentioned in a previous blog post that I like to plan—and there is nothing wrong with that—but sometimes I take it to an extreme. When I wrote my first manuscript, Coal Belly, I learned a valuable lesson about my tendency to over plan.

It started with a map. After I had finished it apparently I needed to draw out the deck plans for the riverboat central to the plot. When that was finished, I had to draw a new, highly detailed map of the capital city where a section of the story took place. That obviously wasn’t detailed enough, so I needed to divide it up and name all the neighborhoods. Then I needed to draw out the various symbols of the various factions within that capital city. Next, I needed to… no…no, no, no, no, no.

NO.

I didn’t need to do half that. Eventually, I realized I was spending so much time creating busy work for myself that I was getting nothing done. I was working on collateral and not on the actual story itself. That’s a problem. Research is fine when it’s crucial, but there comes a time when it begins to get in the way. Learning to recognize when I was doing something necessary, and when I was just spinning my wheels was essential for me to get things done. I had to quit working on all the tangential stuff and focus on the work itself. The actual work. I needed to just shut up and write.

I have to remind myself about this daily. I need to separate the busy work from real work. There’s always a blog post to write, a character to outline, an article to read, a comment to compose, a map to draw, a playlist to assemble, a twitter conversation to follow, etc. The list is endless, and it can get in the way and keep you from finishing. (Rule #2) It’s different for each of us, but somewhere inside, we all know if what we are doing is needed to completing our project or if it’s just a distraction.

Whenever you catch yourself doing something that isn’t what you want to be working on, do a double check. Decide if it’s really worth your time or if you should just sit down, shut up, and write.