Posted by: jeannineatkins | December 21, 2008

Hello Distraction…. Or are you the Muse?

Linda lurban recently raised discussions revealing that few of us actually sit for hours with hands rolling along with a pen or tapping keys. Sometimes this happens, but mostly, inspiration and concentration come in bursts. I know around here there’s a lot of tea pouring and dog-letting-out-and-letting-in and refilling birdseed and making grocery lists. Writing happens, life gets tended to, and sometimes thoughts come in that life part, during dog walks or driving.

People are also discussing how long they work on one project, or if they mix them up. I know I’m a mixer, though not often in a single day. This month, I’m revising something I’ve taken in and out for a few years, and expect in January to get back to a project I’ve spent much of the past year on, with breaks to revise my book of verse coming out in 2010.

Stopping and starting works for me, as the breaks give me a distance, which helps me see the flaws. And maybe approach from a new angle. When I feel I’ve hit some kind of wall, I often pick up another project that may have been calling me in some ways. Can I call that the muse? My mind went back to it on several walks or car rides, till gradually its voice seemed to squeeze out my current project.

If there’s a deadline, if I’m fortunate enough to know someone is waiting, I can manage to take notes coming from these other voices, then put them aside. But without that deadline, I often let inspiration set my schedule. Trying not to listen can make the new and not so new, everything, feel stubborn. Fewer words will come. Last year I felt sad about a friend’s illness, until it became almost all I could think about. Finally I opened a new folder on my computer and began to write about my friend, ways she coped, and memories. Doing this, sometimes for whole days, but more often just part of the day, freed me up to get back to my historical fiction. I gave the thoughts the attention it wanted, no, demanded, and could move on.

Those notes, written to get out of my way, are now a stack. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll do something with them. I called them distractions, way off topic, but someday I’ll take them out. Maybe they’re the best words I ever wrote.

We were happy that our daughter got here between snowstorms, as the past three days have been full of stuff falling from the sky. Em arrived in loafers, which at least weren’t flip flops, but don’t exactly do the job in the Massachusetts version of December. Which she doesn’t find enchanting. She’s become a California girl, but thank goodness we could offer her time with our little dog who sprawled on her legs while we watched Finding Neverland last night. And hot chocolate has got to be better with snow flying, right?



  1. but….
    sledding is fun. throwing snowballs in dogs mouths is fun.
    And you’re never as cozy as you are when you just got in from some cold, snowy weather and you snuggle up with a warm blanket and hot chocolate!
    I don’t like shoveling my car out though. If I had a driveway and garage I’d be happier about snow. If I also didn’t have a 45 min commute to work in good weather as well. hahaha
    Being in Boston with a car on the street during snow is crappy. haha

  2. Okay, you just gave me the tool I need to get back to my fiction in the new year. I’m going to let myself open up files whenever I am thinking about it. I have been hating feeling like I can’t even think about it (do you sense the control-freakitis here?). I’m taking this post as permission to loosen the reins.
    I have on my fleece-lined clogs–that can be California, too!

  3. I’m encouraged by your thoughts about how the bits and pieces can add up over time.
    Enjoy your daughter, and Happy Holidays!!

  4. What I like about putting a project away and coming back to it, is that the flaws I see seem less important! Usually, when I get to the procrastination stage of a piece it is because I can see nothing but its flaws.

  5. I’m glad you have something good to say about snow, though you’re right, if only it didn’t have to fall on cars or roads. Just in yards and hills.
    I’ll have to go sledding with you! And have you ever skated on frog pond in the common? I should come out with your mom — I’ve always wanted to do that!

  6. Oh, yay! Yes, I think putting down the notes, in really rough phrases or runons, just getting something down, gives the relief needed to then get back to your project at hand. Otherwise, the thoughts stay in your mind and crowd out room for new ones, I think. Permission granted to jot away!
    Yeah, Em brought something fleeced line but heel-less as her winter gear. Not the thing with eighteen inches of snow outside.

  7. Thanks, Mary! Yes pieces really do add up. I am enjoying — happy holidays to you, too!

  8. That makes a lot of sense. When things start looking like — what IS this? –that’s a good time to move onto something else. Good luck with yours! And happy holidays!

  9. Oh my gosh! You should come to do that!
    Frog Pond is a lot of fun to ice skate on. I went the year before last. Last year I didn’t go because my schedule didn’t really allow for it. It’s a blast though. I wanted to buy my own pair of skates because I had such a fun time. I’d hoped to go quite often.
    When I went last time I forgot my favorite pair of gloves there and they ended up being given to charity! I was back and forth on how I felt about that because I really adored those gloves. They ended up going to a good cause though, so I can’t complain too much. hehe
    I still haven’t replaced them. I’m wandering around in Chris’ extra pair of gloves. They were hooded mittens. Without the hood, they are fingerless gloves, useful for grabbing keys or typing on a cell phone, but one would never have to take off the gloves. Once finished, one would just pull the hood of the mitten back over the fingers, warm and ready to go once again!
    For such practical gloves they are difficult to find in women’s sizes.
    Lesson learned here: Don’t forget anything you like at frog pond for more than a week because you’re not going to get it back! 😛

  10. Glad Em got home okay. Alana came home yesterday in the bad snow, but at least she has boots–I think. Maybe she only has sneakers.

  11. Another comment–I find as I get older that ADD helps rather than hinders, and that even during a work shift, a quick check of the email or the weather report will help me focus.

  12. Relieved to hear that your Em got home safely!
    I wish I were better at juggling projects. It sounds wonderful — but in practice I get stressed. Maybe I have a one-track mind?
    At any rate, I tend to go at a single project for months on end. I guess there’s something about the intensity that appeals to me. But I also take some time each day to scribble down something that’s meant only for me, even if it’s only my worries about the project at hand. And when something really big is pressing at me (something like the illness of a friend, as you wrote), then sometimes that’s the only writing I do.

  13. That is good news. Yay for focus. And glad Alana is home. I cross country skiied on Sunday, when there’s no hunting. I’ll be glad, as will Parker, when that season is over and we can enjoy the woods again.
    Happy holidays!

  14. One track! Great! That’s what we want. All the other things are doing the best we can with wandering minds. Although I guess it’s good to feel there’s something else I can turn to, besides, say, vacuuming.

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