Conquering distraction

A huge pile of unwashed dishes in the kitchen sink and on the co

Dirty dishes are my kryptonite.

After moving to a new home in a new city across the country, we didn’t have a dishwashing machine right away. I grumbled a bit, but took on the mantle of Dishwasher-in-Chief. Despite the chapped hands and time spent elbow-deep in sudsy water, I found hand-washing the dishes to be extremely meditative. It gave me a sense of accomplishment, and helped me start or finish my day on a squeaky-clean note.

It also came in handy as an excuse not to write. How easy it was to turn to the sink instead of my work in progress! But the dishes have to get done, I thought. I’ll write when they’re all done.

I should have been glad when the dishwasher was finally installed, right? I was, but I found myself mindlessly puttering in the kitchen once the dishwasher had been filled or emptied, as if I was looking for more dishes to do.

I had duped myself into thinking that doing the dishes—or doing anything, in fact—was more pressing than writing. Despite thinking I was a pretty disciplined person, I had slipped up and let my distractions get the better of me. I had a minor a-ha moment, shook my head, and powered up my laptop.

There are still some days where I think I would much rather clean out the cat’s litterbox (gross!) than write. Some days, I tell myself that it is absolutely critical that I use the Magic Eraser on those baseboard scuff-marks right away. As a writer, I am not proud of those days. As a regular human person, I am still vulnerable to them.

So how do I conquer those distractions? Here’s what I try to do:

I show up. I kept telling myself that I was “writing in my head” while I was doing all those dishes. But I wasn’t writing! It was only after I got my butt in my chair that I was able to ignore the pull of that particular distraction and puts one word after another.

I identify what I what to accomplish. I identify a word-count goal, a scene, an outline, or a character study—whatever I think I can reasonably accomplish in the time I have set aside.

I set priorities. If I have three things to work on, I prioritize them in a way that works for me. And I don’t beat myself up if I don’t finish everything on the list. That just leaves me with a starting-point for the next day.

I recognize my fears and barriers. Something is making it awfully easy for me to focus on household chores, instead of my writing. It’s important that I take a moment to reflect on what is keeping me from writing the next sentence, the next scene, or the words, “The End.” I acknowledge how powerful those barriers might feel. But I know that my impulse to write is just as powerful.

The dirty dishes, the neglected laundry, the dusty windows, the gross litterbox—these things will never go away.

But time will. More quickly than we can imagine.

What will you regret more at the end of the day? That you didn’t finish the dishes? Or that you didn’t write the story that only you can tell?

Write first. The dishes will still be there when you’re done.


Photo from Depositphotos.

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