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Confessions of a Sidetracked Writer
by Debbie Haskins

It’s a new day. I’m determined to make it productive. I will write something wonderful; something that an editor will snap up and pay me handsomely for. Breakfast and farewells go off without a hitch; no missed buses or forgotten cellos. With juices flowing, I race to my computer, giddy over the possibilities ahead. Why bother showering and dressing now? Hygiene and grooming can wait until later. Sitting at my computer, I glance at the desktop. A little picture of an envelope, is summoning me. I’ll just check these emails before I start. There could be something important.

Two hours and numerous messages, responses, and forwards later, I stretch and head for the shower, feeling guilty for taking my break when emails are all I’ve written. From there the day becomes a blur of blow drying, phone calls, lunch, errands and unwritten masterpieces. I prepare the evening meal wondering where my day went…again. It’s embarrassing to admit but I suffer from a malady called "Sidetracked Writer’s Syndrome" or SWS.

Perhaps you aren’t as impaired as I am, but some writers have experienced days similar to the one I’ve described. What all SWS sufferers have in common is an amazing ability to become distracted or create lame reasons for not writing. So to guide sidetracked writers toward recovery, I’ve formulated a list of ten common distractions or excuses and some practical tips on how to manage them.

1. There’s not enough time- Check again. If you want something badly enough you’ll make time for it. Remember, you like writing! Evaluate what you do with the hours in your day; TV, computer games, surfing the web etc. Look for wasted moments and make adjustments. Then set aside time for writing every day, even if it’s only for a short while. Things that are planned and scheduled are more likely to get done. A speaker at a recent conference, encouraged writers to get up an hour earlier each morning and write. That’s 365 additional hours of writing in a year!

2. I need office supplies- No you don’t, unless your computer died and went to computer purgatory or you’re using pen and paper and you’ve run out. (Fat chance. When you’re habitually procrastinating, you don’t use up a lot of supplies.) Just sit down at your computer or your notebook and write. Printer paper, ink cartridges, staples, ladybug push pins and other stuff can wait until you’ve finished.

3. The phone keeps ringing- Are you expecting a call from an editor or an agent? If the answer is no, take the phone off the hook or screen calls with Caller ID. Use voice mail or an answering machine to collect messages. Change your outgoing message to include specific hours when you are available for calls. Reply to messages only during scheduled breaks. Encourage people to contact you by email so you’ll have fewer calls to deal with.

4. I need to check/answer these emails- Most emails can wait a bit, especially those promising enlarged body parts. Block out time for email communication. Mute your email notification signal so it doesn’t distract you while you’re creating something fabulous.

5. My brain is fuzzy- What’s new? You still need to stick to a discipline of writing every day and sending manuscripts out at least once a week. Sometimes simply engaging your mind will send those cob webs floating away. If that doesn’t work, do some stretching by your chair to get blood flowing toward your gray matter. This is superior to cup after cup of coffee because it doesn’t create the need for a toilet break every 10 minutes.

6. My desk is too messy- Big deal! Shove stuff over and get busy. Worry about the mess after you write. Unless your keyboard is buried under debris, you can function. Getting organized is a noble desire; but don’t let it cut into what you really must do; write. Housekeeping won’t put checks in your mailbox.

7. I have to finish reading this book- Ah, my favorite. I love reading. It keeps the mind alive. We all ought to read a wide variety of material. However, all reading and no writing will get you a big $0 at the bank. Use reading as a reward for good writing behavior.

8. People might not like what I’ve written- Face it. Some people won’t like your writing. However, you’ll never know who does and who doesn’t unless you send it. Make one day of the week your manuscript mailing day. No guts, no glory truly applies when it comes to getting your writing out there. You can’t sell work that never leaves your desk.

9. I’m stuck in the piece I’m working on- Too bad. You still have to write, so if your current project is stopped at a concrete barrier in your head, give it a rest. Dig out a treasure-in-progress from the past and work on that for a while. Often, getting involved in a different creative endeavor is what’s needed to jiggle things loose in your mind. Soon you’ll be ready to return to the previous manuscript and finish.

10. Other humans don’t respect my schedule and interrupt me- Whose fault is this? Your family and friends will take their cues from you. If you treat your writing as a business they’ll get the message. Put a "DON’T KNOCK UNLESS YOU’RE BLEEDING FROM AN ARTERY OR YOUR HAIR IS ON FIRE!" sign on your door. Speak with the people in your life to help them understand your position. Assure them that their support is vital to your success.

There are other ways writers get sidetracked, but addressing the above items and initiating improvements is a move toward overcoming SWS. When we handle writing like a career rather than a hobby; when our writing time becomes sacred to us, we will experience the thrill of seeing our work published and getting paid for doing something we love.

© Copyright 2004, Debbie Haskins

Debbie Haskins is a freelance writer living in Ft. Collins, Colorado.

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