Distraction

Sometimes writing is both a joy and a breeze. Like an athlete “in the zone”, it seems effortless: the words pour onto the page like water. At such moments the writing process is entirely “fun” and not job-like at all.

Unfortunately, those big bangs of creation are incredibly rare. If I depended upon being “in the zone,” if I required inspiration, if I needed the muse to strike, if I loitered in anticipation for whatever image someone might use to describe authorship, I’d never get anything done. This is especially true during those weeks and months of the summer when my family is home from school.

Since I work out of my home—in a bedroom converted and dedicated to writing and nothing else—I am not always alone. Instead, my wife and all three of my daughters can poke their heads—and their entire bodies—into my office. Or, as is often the case, especially with my daughters—they can simply poke their voices into it. From a distant room I’ll hear “Daddy!” Or my cellphone will suddenly ring (yes, they are that lazy). Then I lift my hands from my keyboard, rise from my broken chair, and wander to wherever they are so that I might help them with their crisis. Too often that crisis can be described with some variant of the phrase “I’m hungry.”

Getting these poked heads and voices intermittently—sometimes every ten minutes—plays havoc with the writing process. Writing, most of the time—since the zone rarely appears—is like ditch digging: a task one forces oneself to do. But it is unlike ditch digging in that while being interrupted from making a hole in the ground doesn’t cause you to lose your train of thought or anything else, when you’re in the middle of a sentence an interruption can be catastrophic. When I return to my computer I stare at the page and wonder: what was it that I was doing here? I have to reread the paragraph, reread the page—or two—desperately attempting to remind myself what I was thinking about and where I thought I was heading. Then, just as the light comes on, another head pokes in, or another voice intrudes, and I’m lost again. And so it goes.

All day long.

It’s amazing that I ever put together a paragraph that is even half-way comprehensible. But somehow I manage.

And between the period on that previous sentence and the beginning of this one, my wife called out to me and said, “you need to check out the YouTube video I just posted on Facebook!” And then I became aware of the extra noises in my house—like the sound of the television program that my wife is watching while she was sharing that funny cat video.

I suppose I could close the door to my office, but that wouldn’t keep them out. The dog and the cat do not know how to turn a doorknob (and in fact lack thumbs that make it possible, though the cat has figured out how to open doors that have handles instead of knobs: she simply puts her paws on top of it and pushes, assuming she can figure out a way to get up to where the handle is; somehow she usually manages that. But in any case, the door to my office has a knob, not a handle). However, my wife and children are not so handicapped and in fact have mastered the knob-turning technique. And even a locked door would not prevent them from texting me or calling my cellphone, or instant messaging me over my computer, or just yelling loudly.

I suppose I could go to the nearby coffee shop. But all that would do for me is make the interruption that much longer when I had to go help whichever family member suddenly needed my attention. When I’m not home, the cellphone still lets them reach out to me. I suppose I could “forget” and leave it behind, but then they’d be angry at me when I finally returned. And chances are I’d be worried—what if something awful happened? What if they really needed me? What if a pipe burst? What if the cat needed its litter box cleaned? Seriously: both my oldest and youngest daughters have significant mental health issues. I’m constantly concerned about them and if they are okay. How could I go away without my cellphone? What sort of monster am I?

I don’t get away often. My sense of direction is poor anyhow and so it’s probably safer if I just stay home. Besides, I’ve forgotten where the cinema is. The family would probably call me in the middle of the film, anyhow. And besides, can I really afford to go to the movies? Have you seen ticket prices lately!?

Where was I? Yes, my wife posted another YouTube video. And the youngest daughter had a sudden need for popcorn. What was I writing about?

Focus. It is very difficult to focus when everyone is home. Of course, when they’re gone and I’m alone, there’s all those cat videos my wife posted that I should be watching.

I like cats.

My cat is meowing. What does she want? Is her food dish not quite full enough?

What was I writing about?

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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