Are distractions really that bad?

Betteridge’s Law of Headlines states that if the headline ends in a question mark, it can be answered by the word “no”. And today is no different. But hear me out on this one.

Just the word distraction brings up negative connotations. I’d be willing to bet that when you think “distractions” you think of decreased productivity. And that can be the case. But it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes, distractions can be a good thing.

Writer’s block is a bitch. Some will tell you it isn’t “real”. That’s just a bunch of bullshit put out by people who want to feel superior. Show me a writer who has never gotten well and truly stuck and I’ll show you a writer who is lying through their teeth.

We are in a creative endeavor. We are not working at an assembly line in a factory that makes books. Well, we kind of are. But it is a metaphorical factory that only exists inside our own brains. Actually, fuck it, let’s stick with the factory metaphor. Before I was a trucker, I had a few factory jobs. While I’m no expert in factory logistics (or an expert in anything for that matter), I know the ins and outs enough to try to make the metaphor work.

When people think of a factory, they envision people standing at their station, doing their assigned tasks, over and over and over all day long. And in my experience, that isn’t far from the truth. But it only tells part of the story. See, a factory is only one link in a long chain that leads from raw materials to finished product on a store shelf somewhere. And if any one link in that chain goes down, it fucks up everything else.

One factory I worked at made firewall sound insulators for cars. An invisible part that nobody ever really sees outside of the factory. But an important part because it blocked the engine sound from getting into the cabin of the car. They were made out of rubber and foam. For the sake of brevity (yea, right) we’ll say they were just made out of rubber and the rubber comes from trees. The metaphor holds even if we use the actual sources, but I get sidetracked easily and don’t want to get into the chemistry of how the rubber is actually made. So, we’ve got rubber that comes from trees. Then the rubber gets processed into a form that is usable by the factory. Then the rubber is shipped to the factory. The factory makes the parts and puts them on another truck. From there, they go to the plant that makes the actual cars. By following that (overly) simplified line, we can see that a failure at any one point will slow down or even stop cars from coming off the assembly line. The factory can’t make the insulators without the rubber, the car plant cant assemble the final product without the insulators etc.

The easiest way to make a supply chain fail is to overwork it. If the rubber plantation harvests too fast, the trees can’t keep up. If the processing plant processes too fast, they run out of rubber. So on and so forth. You’re left with a delicate ballet of maximizing output while not exhausting supplies.

But Dave, I hear you ask, what in the blue hell does any of this have to do with writing and distractions? EVERYTHING. For a writer, our brain is the entire supply chain in one little lump of biological goop. If you don’t pause and let the idea trees blossom, you can’t harvest the ideas to process into words. If don’t have ideas to process into words, you’re fucked.

If you feel as though you have well and truly hit the wall, it is OK. It is OK to be stuck. Take a bit of time. Do something else. Play a video game, read a book, watch a movie, do SOMETHING to recharge. And who knows, maybe in the process you’ll fertilize those idea trees.

I don’t know much, but I do know this: Trying to force output when the supplies are running scarce either puts out an inferior product, or makes the problem worse.

However, it is important to note that distractions (like all things) should be consumed in moderation. Those words aren’t going to write themselves after the idea trees bloom. So relax, recharge, then process those raw ideas into wonderful words.

Until next week, be well…

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