Writing. What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it?
My initial, flippant answer to this question was “Everything!” Every aspect of the rest of my life gets in the way of my ability to write — from the bulk of my day job to the stuff I have to take care of around the house; from the email and the interesting folks on the Twitters to the fact that I had to stop midway through this sentence to unplug and clean my keyboard because it just felt disgusting. Everything gets in the way.
But then I stopped and looked at the question again. It’s not what gets in the way of my writing, but what doesn’t contribute to it, which is a very different thing indeed. The day job contributes to my writing enormously, not just by providing the salary that underwrites the entire operation but by giving me amazing colleagues and students who constantly provoke new ways of looking at a problem. The stuff around the house contributes, because it creates an atmosphere that allows me to concentrate. The interesting folks on the Twitters contribute a ready supply of new material, as well as an eager audience when something’s ready to be read. And the contribution of a clean keyboard should go without saying.
So what doesn’t contribute? What can be pared away? I begin to think that the primary obstacles that I face in trying to write are internal, the product of a mind that can’t be still long enough to get a full paragraph out. And the major part of that distraction, as I wrote about on ProfHacker some months back, has to do with how I start my day. If the first thing I do upon waking up is check my email, I’ll never manage to get myself to write, as my mind immediately goes spinning off into all the other problems that surround me other than writing. It’s not that I’m not being productive, as all that email really does need to be dealt with — it’s that looking at it first gives it a kind of precedence that the day never manages to recover from.
If, on the other hand, I really do discipline myself into focusing on my writing for the first half-hour of the morning, before anything else can intrude, I find it much easier to move fluidly between writing and my other tasks over the course of the day.
I’ve written about this before. I’ll probably have to write about it again. It’s a lesson that I have to learn over and over, as the discipline required not to look at my email first is pretty difficult to maintain. But if I can promise myself that first half-hour, all of the rest of the stuff that seems to get in the way just won’t. Everything can contribute, if I start from the right perspective.