Distractable Me…

I spent this past week in Maine with my family. A whole week. With my family. In a two bedroom cottage. With no AC. No cable. And no wi-fi. I survived. Barely. (Do you have any idea how insufferable soon to be 18-year-old boys are?)

Old Orchard Beach

But despite the sibling squawking Old Orchard Beach was kind of nice. I had originally planned to use my first week off the get a lot of writing done. I was 19, 464 words short in an 80,000 word WIP that is due in this week. Normally even with work and a busy schedule I can write about 10,000 words a week. So I figured without work or any pressing engagements I could meet that nearly 20,000 word goal with no problem.  I was wrong.

It turns out I’m one of those people who need absolute silence to write. My family tried to be somewhat understanding. The deal was I would spend the days with them doing whatever family fun thing they wanted, but the evenings after dinner were mine alone. Which meant I needed them NOT to bother me.

My father was the best about it. He would park himself in front of the TV and not say a word to me the whole time. BUT the TV was on and I couldn’t seem to tune out the noise. And for the record I find THE BIG BANG THEORY very funny. Even with that distraction I managed to get in my share of words. But when the TV got to be too much I ventured outside.

Ah… sea air and a nice quiet backyard.

Yeah right. The dog followed me outside every time I went, always bringing with her a toy or a rope and those damn cute puppy dog eyes that always seem to say, “Play with me. Play with me. I’m so cute you have to play with me.” So I played with her. And after she finally tired out I would sit down to write with her laying on top of my feet. But apparently I’m quite tasty because I ended up with seventeen (17!) very itchy mosquitos bites.

Stupid cute puppy dog.

After that I ventured to the bedroom I shared with my baby brother. There was no TV in there, only a love-sick teenager who spends more time on the phone with his girlfriend than is normal or acceptable. They don’t even talk about anything. She’s usually whining  about her mom. He’s usually whining about how everybody picks on him and I’m usually gagging.

“So what did you do today?”

“Nothing. What did you do today?”

“Nothing.”

Silence.

“What did you eat for dinner?”

“Lobster roll. What did you eat for dinner?”

“Pizza.”

Silence.

And it goes on and on for hours like that. I COULDN’T listen to that. It was torture. But it was nothing compared to sitting next to my mom while I worked. I never considered my mother a chatter box but give her a margarita and no cable and the woman could talk your ear off.

“Ma, I need a little bit of quiet. Okay.”

“Yes.” She nodded emphatically. “I won’t bother you.”

Silence.

A minute later.”I’m not sure why your Aunt Nikki keeps texting me. I never answer her back.”

“Ma. Quiet. Remember?”

“Yeah. Yeah. I’m sorry. You’re working.”

Silence.

Thirty seconds later. “Whatcha writing?”

“A book.”

Type. Type. Type.

“About what?”

“Matricide.”

My mother, who I get my nasty sense of humor from, doesn’t even bat a lash. “You never tell me what you’re working on. It’s probably dirty.”

“You’re right. It’s so dirty I’m going to get arrested for writing it . Then they are going to throw me in jail. Then I’m gonna to have to pick a fight with another prisoner so I get thrown in the hole. I might be able to  actually get some writing done there.”

She looks at me, mutters something under her breath and then proceeds to tell me about how my grandmother’s cat has worms. I shut my laptop and listen. I really have no other choice. It’s not like we talk on the phone almost every single day or anything.

Needless to say 10,000 words turned in to 5,000 poorly written ones. It appears that I am too distractable to write when others are around. But that’s okay. We only get to spend one week a year together as a family so I guess a few distractions are okay.

Your turn! Can you write with your family around? Are you distractable? Need absolute silence? Music? Like to write in public? Know a lovesick teenager? Any and all comments are welcome?

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22 thoughts on “Distractable Me…”

  1. Jamie, I’m glad to see you got a chance to enjoy time with family and time off, even if that didn’t equate to literary production. I’m almost ashamed to say I live less than fifteen minutes from any point in Old Orchard Beach, and yet I haven’t seen that stretch of coastline in one or more years. Of course, I do have a pond and brook full of ducks just a few feet off my porch, but there’s a bit of difference betwen 100 feet of water and an entire horizon filled with it (though the dozen duck-bread stealing seagulls perched on my roof all winter don’t seem to believe that) :-)

    To answer your question about when and how I can write, I have two boys (16 and 20) constantly debating in the next room and a TV usually on in another, but I still manage to churn forward in my works in progress. It’s true I do close my office door much of the time, but other times I just don my imaginary ear muffs and type away. However, I see no reason to discuss the quality of those interrupted drafts….

  2. Jamie – might I suggest ear plugs. No joke. I have used them from time to time when I can’t tune out the noise of my family or the TV. And to answer your question, yes, I can tune out noise when I’m at home. I can’t write with other writers and I can’t write someplace not at my house, so I feel your pain. I admire that you got 5,000 words done!

  3. I’m blessedly one of those people who could write perfectly fine in a train station or bus terminal. I can even watch TV and write at the same time. My husband can’t understand how I could possibly do that. Noise doesn’t bother me, but if you put on music, I’m done. The part of my brain that creates words on the page is also apparently the musical part of my brain. I’ll actually start typing the words to the song…uggh. No music for me. My sisters tried distracting me while we were on vacation in Maine, but I pulled a Malone on them…I kept responding with “ayuh”. When in Maine…

    1. I’,m famous for writing what I hear. I once wrote the score to a baseball game right in the middle of a sentence.,

  4. This was fantastic, Jamie. Sadly, and most unfortunately, given the presence of six kids, a codependent dog, two needy cats, and a noisy and nosy ferret, not to mention my out-going and chatty husband, I am also one of those people who needs absolutely and total silence and a zen-like atmosphere. This usually means writing in the wee small hours of the morning (during summer vacation), or posting notes on the office door that sound like they were written by a hostile seven year old , i.e. “Keep out, this means you!” sorts of deals. And I need to be at home. I admire so much anyone who can write in a library without getting distracted by the books, or in a cafe without working their way through the left side of the menu snacking. I try to be gentle with myself about this personality quirk, but it worries me. Is it going to get worse, am I going to gradually develop more and more quirks? Am I going to turn into one of those odd writer characters like Edith Sitwell who had to lie in a coffin before writing? It’s good to know I’m not the only one out there who needs peace and quiet to get that moody muse to show up.

  5. LOL the exchange with your mom had me in stitches! (I call my mother “ma” too, people think it’s odd. I think my mother called her mother that too, so it’s a family thing, I guess). I have ADHD, and I work best in a place with “white noise.” Too quiet, and I can’t concentrate. I can write with my son around (LOL good thing!), but for some reason, not my husband. It’s so weird. I need noise to focus me. If there is no noise, my brain just has no idea what to do!

    1. I can get why you can’t write in front of your husband. It’s almost like his opinion matters to you more than your son’s.

  6. Hi Jamie. Fun article. For me, it’s a fine line. When you become a mother you learn to shut things out, such as the noise of video games, etc. I wrote my first book on a train, but think about it – no one talks to you on public transportation, so it was like being alone. I just had to make sure I heard my stop, or I would end up at Grand Central by mistake. Not that that would be so bad, I love NY. I can write with music on or the tv on with volume on low, just for background noise. However, I had a house guest stay with me for a few months and found it to be very distracting. Constant interruptions, questions and their need for attention. People who are not writers do not seem to understand that to write we pull ourselves into our own little world, and we hear voices, but it’s not a mental illness. Hang in there – you probably needed a break to refresh. I have every confidence that you will meet your deadline.

    1. That’s the funny thing I can write reports at work when the kids in my class are screaming and laughing but if I have to write something creative and I hear any type of noise I’m done for.

  7. I don’t write but in college while doing papers and the like, I HAD to have music on. My family is also incredibly distracting. I hate trying to read and having someone chatter in my ear. Or ask what I’m reading. It’s seriously, SERIOUSLY, annoying.

    1. I wrote most of my college papers with the TV on but that was college and none of that writing was important lol.

  8. I’ve never tried to write with other people around. If I was forced to do so, I would put on those noise reduction headphones (headphones so other people KNEW I was shutting them out), turn my face away from the TV, and focus on my laptop. Otherwise, it would be hopeless for me. I write in silence unless I need music for something specific, in which case, I put on headphones for the music. Good for you for spending some time with your family in spite of the deadline. Next time, try getting up two hours before everyone else to write, and then going to bed early as well. That way you can be with them while you are awake with them, but you’ll have silence before they all get up. I found that dogs will go back to sleep once they’ve been let out and fed. I got up at 4am for years in order to write.

    1. Oh I did get up early, but two of my brother’s snore and that buzzy noise drove me up the wall. I did manage to add some words in the morning.

  9. Totally enjoyed your blog, especially your mom’s and son’s conversation and can absolutely relate. I need quiet most of the time too. Though I’ve written in a car when no one is talking, or jot things down when waiting in an airport, etc., but I prefer to be at home in my studio office. I have an upstairs bedroom with a cathedral celing and my husband built a spiral stairway to an open loft over the bedroom’s bathroom. It’s perfect and I go and let the world go by and write to my heart’s content. I can look out over Keuka Lake(one of the Finger Lakes in NYS) and gather my thoughts then return my eye to the computer. For the past two weeks I had my son, DOL, and 2 granddaugters, son and DOL’s two best friends and their 2 children. Ten in the house with the kids and two dogs all wanting to be in the water, meals to be made, cleaning and picking up after all strained my time to simply write. So I answered emails, etc. but little writing got done. This Sat. just as the crew of 8 and 1 dog left, our friends who used to be our neighbors and dear friends came up from FL and are here now staying till Th.. I’ve only now found time to write something like this–but not my manuscripts. Again I’ve been needed to entertain, cook, clean, etc. and I am determined that once Thurs. hits, I’M WRITING. I will hide away from dog and hubby as much as possible and just put my words in gear.

    I believe that people who aren’t writers, just don’t understand the concentration it takes. I envy those who say they can write anywhere and wish I could do that. I do however get inspired at sometimes by music–if it’s a certain scene that I’m writing and the music puts me in that right mind set.

    But like you, I enjoyed getting together with family and friends and treasure the time with all of them. So now we both have our work cut out for us. Back to the grind stone. Of course I’ll need to walk Jamie(our wonderful dog) in between writing, but I love that time as much as writing. Good luck. LOL

    1. I banged out 3000 words the day I got home from vacation like an hour after I left my family. I love them but they are not good for my productivity.

  10. I’m so relieved to know I’m not the only one who struggles with this! I don’t mind a bit of noise while I’m writing, like the TV or some music; in fact, pretending that I’m “just fooling around while watching TV” sometimes helps me write, because it reduces the self-imposed pressure to produce quality writing a little (yes, I have issues). But I can’t write with other people around, whether they’re talking or not – I just can’t handle them looking over my shoulder, or the possibility that they MIGHT look over my shoulder at any moment. (Again, issues. :P)

    I was really lucky with my first novel, which just came out: I wrote most of it during a two-week period when I was housesitting for my aunt and uncle, so I was all alone with no one to bother me. It was great.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Katheryn. I think the looking over the shoulder thing might be my problem too! Maybe if I was writing nice clean things I wouldn’t be so worried. :)

  11. This is too funny, Jamie! I can work pretty much anywhere, either with other people around, and with most any kind of noise. Like PJ, I do find music distracting though. You’ll have your “assignment” finished in no time!

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