What I Do When I Should be Writing

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I often wonder if Charlotte Brontë would have written Jane Eyre if she had lived in a time that had the Internet and cute animal videos. I’m sure writers have always had to fight distractions, but I think living in the age of the Internet takes distraction to a whole new level. When all it takes is a simple click to open up a browser window, it is easy to be lulled into checking Facebook or rewatching an episode of Charlie the Unicorn. Although, I think I am being too hard on the Internet. There are plenty of other distractions out there.

It is not that I do not want to write. When I get in the zone, I quite enjoy the writing process. It is just that it can often be hard to get those first few sentences written. And sometimes the story feels stuck in my head to the point that it paralyzes my fingertips at the keyboard. These are the worst moments for distraction to creep in and remind you that you should clean your closet or reorganize your sock drawer. It was amazing how tidy my sock drawer was back when I was writing my master’s thesis. My place is never cleaner than when I am in writing mode.

Of course distraction has its advantages. When I am struggling with words, I have often closed my computer and suddenly realized I really need to go for a walk or head to the gym to workout. Unfortunately any health benefits from the extra exercise are probably canceled out by the snacking I do while writing.

Distraction is probably something most of us deal with regardless of the type of work we do. It often seems that there is something better to do when we have to sit down to work. But I think distraction is a particular problem for the writer. But maybe distraction is not actually a “problem.” Thinking is a big part of the writing process. When I am working on mundane tasks (such as sock drawer organizing), my mind is usually involved in more than what my hands are busy with. I am thinking of characters and how they might work through whatever dilemma I have presented them with or how I will write myself out of a seemingly impossible plot. Perhaps distraction is the writer’s way of giving the mind the chance to sort through the story before putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

I have heard a lot of writers talk about going for walks while writing. I have resorted to walking quite a few times when I get stuck on an idea, and I realized it is precisely the kind of distraction that brings about some of my best thinking. It gets me away from my computer and things like Facebook, YouTube and other sites that don’t fuel creativity. Walking is a distraction that is part of the process rather than being a problem. This holds true whether I am working on my creative writing or my HR/workplace writing. Perhaps it is really a matter of finding the right kind of distraction.

But today it is raining outside, so I don’t really want to go for a walk, and I noticed that my closet could use some organizing, so I better finish up this blog.

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All Night Reads

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I was recently up late at night finishing the last few chapters of Helene Wecker’s beautifully written book, The Golem and the Jinni. When I closed the book on the final words and put it down on my nightstand, the clock showed a bright red 2:35 a.m. It was late, but not quite what I’d clocked with some other books. As I struggled to keep my eyes open the next day while I updated a sick leave policy for a client, my mind began to wander through my bookshelves. Working on HR policies has a way of making one’s mind take off and find other, more entertaining activities. I thought about those books that beg the reader to stay up all night as though the characters lives depended on it.

One of my favorite all night reads is The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman, the third book in the His Dark Materials trilogy. I have read this quite a few times, and each time finds me turning pages into the wee hours of the morning. It’s as though Will and Lyra finding their way out of hell is dependent on my reading them out of that sad, dark place. Even though I know how the story is going to end, I still find myself afraid that putting the book down in the middle of Will and Lyra’s journey through hell will result in them getting stuck there. So, I sacrifice a good night’s rest for reading. It’s the least I can do for two characters that ultimately go on to save humanity, right?

I also felt this way about The Long Walk by Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman). In this book, 100 teenage boys start walking. We learn pretty quickly that stopping can have deadly consequences. True to form, King does not let you down and takes you along on a terrifying journey as you watch the long walk progress. Reading this is an intense experience, which results in feeling like you must keep reading in order to keep the walkers from stopping or falling down.

The Long Walk gave me weird dreams like I had when I read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Such is the risk when one falls asleep reading. The characters in the books have a way of jumping into our dreams as though to say, “Just to get back at you for giving up on my story so you can go to bed, I’m going to bug you while you sleep and fill your head with all kinds of crazy dreams.” When I first read The Hunger Games, I was working in a stressful HR job in a warehouse. I had a crazy dream about battling other employees in an arena that looked strangely like the warehouse. After that, I jokingly referred to that building as the Arena.

Not every all night read is an adventure story with characters that need to be read out of dangerous predicaments. There are some books made for curling up in a nest of pillows and blankets–preferably with a flashlight to illuminate the words. Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is one such book. I also enjoy reading many of Kurt Vonnegut’s books this way.

I cannot end this post without mentioning some of my favorite series that are all night reads. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books were all night reads for many fans (including me). Stephen King’s Dark Tower series had me pulling similar all nighters, but fortunately all seven books were out by the time I started reading that series. It’s always tough to stay up all night reading a really good series book only to find out that the next book has not been published yet. Thanks, J.K. Rowling for making me wait so long for the fifth, sixth and seventh Potter books!

What are some of your favorite all night reads?

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