Shhh! A Writer’s Guide: How To Focus By Destroying The World

Posted by on Feb 14, 2010 in The Everyday | 49 Comments

TalkShowsMute

Modern writers have a problem, and it’s called The World. It’s noisy and distracting. They don’t know how to focus on their work. It’s a problem.

The solution is simple…destroy it.

More on that in a minute.

First, some basics.

WhatWord

Define “writing“:

Me, I reckon it’s – a process where words are put together in arrangements that elegantly and efficiently convey meaning.

(This means Dan Brown isn’t technically a writer. Hey, I’m fine with that).

Basic requirements for writing:

1. Imagination

2. Words

3. Facts /Ideas

4. Something to put words on, or in.

(5. Time)

That really is all.

Inbox Overload

But on the digital side of things, it’s got a bit messy.

Thanks to Progress, modern writers have “never had it so good”. They’re trying to stay focussed while being firehosed with bright, shiny distractions from all directions – and the tragedy is, professional writers are particularly susceptible to distraction because their imaginations are one of their main tools of the trade. Their job is to write; their instinct is to explore, to slake their need for variety and novelty. They want to play: it’s how they do.

So pity them. With ‘Net-enabled computers, they’re like reformed pyromaniacs doing a day shift at a gas station, then an evening shift at a library…and they’re issued with their own complementary jerry can.

So, predictably and naturally, the brain of the online writer is wired for rebellion.

Procrastination

Procrastination is what’s hard about writing. Writing itself is easy.When you’re writing, truly writing, the world fades away from the periphery of your Inner Eye and all you can think about is what you’re writing. You’re drunk, cacklingly monomaniacal, vacant-eyed smacked out of your head on it. You’re in a world of your own, andbecause you built  it, you deeply, obsessively care about it.

This is the only way to write your best work.

I’m a professional writer – which means I spend most of my day avoiding writing.

Andrew Martin

Procrastination is like masturbation.  At first it feels good, but in the end you’re only screwing yourself.

Anon

Well, sure. We all know this.

And because we just love giving ourselves a hard time, we therefore treat procrastination like a lamentable recurring character flaw that we should be able to overcome if we’re any sort of real writer.

Except it’s nowhere near that simple. Wanting to procrastinate isn’t a sign that you’re a lazy wretch: it’s a sign that your brain is awake and ready to get to work. It’s itching for something to do, and if you don’t suggest something quick, it’ll go its own merry way. To repeat: procrastination isn’t laziness – it’s misguided energy.

No – it’s not you, it’s everyone else. So what you really need to do is to remove all distractions that might mislead your wayward intelligence. You need to destroy the world.

HOW TO DESTROY THE WORLD


light #2

Problem: My Computer is Really Great At Doing Stuff

Modern computers are incredible.

I’m sat here in a room aromatic with overstrong coffee, in front of my battered-looking Fujitsu Siemens Amilo A1650 laptop. Open Office, Photoshop Elements, The Complete National Geographic, Sid Meier’s Civilization III, Google Picasa, Spotify, Skype, e-books (like this one), PDF’d magazines, photos, old emulated Commodore Amiga games, digital photography tutorials, WordPress manuals and heaps more. There’s easily enough here to keep me busy for a year.

And I’m connected to the Internet. So multiply that by a sizeable fraction of infinity.

Modern PCs and Macs can do near as dammit anything – even the ageing workhorses like my one. But when you can do near as dammit anything, you do  n.a.d.a.

Remington

Solution: My Computer Is “Junk”

I have an old (positively ancient in computing terms) Sony Vaio, a low-end Pentium III. It runs Windows XP, but only just. It has USB ports so I can move files back and forth, but it doesn’t have an internet connection and would only be able to limp online if it did. It doesn’t have enough memory to run much but the most basic software. I know this because last year I experimentally installed Photoshop on it, and it took 8 minutes to boot the program up. (This isn’t terribly fast, even for a PC). I giggled for a while, wiped my eyes and then emtpied the hard-drive. There’s nothing on there now except a particular word processor (see later).

That’s all that machine does now. Finis. That’s it.

So now I have a computer, and I also have a glorified typewriter. I use one to get on the Internet, check my e-mail, goof off, chat to people, surf around for things to write about or just for the hell of it, and to do professional or fun blogging, like this post. And on the other – I’m writing a play and working on a book.

When I’m on the latter machine, I’m not on the former. It’s one or the other. That’s the line, right there.

If you want to write, try getting something that through technological limits or installational choice does nothing but write. Buy a laptop that has the connectivity to transfer files back and forth, but can do bugger-all else. The great news is that it’ll be really, really cheap because in a computer hardware sense, it’s verging on junk. (Less so with Macs – you’ll have to hunt a bit harder for the cheapest models).

(Oh, and don’t be tempted to get an actual typewriter. That’s just daft).

What you’re after, in the literal sense, is an electronic notebook.

And nothing more.

Alone

Problem: My Screen Is Too Busy

For many people – maybe even for most people – having a dedicated word processor isn’t a practical option. That’s particularly true for digitally nomadic travel writers or anyone else who works on the move. They need it all in one box.

So if you’re one of these folk, you need to destroy the world with software.

Q10 - No name 14022010 165806-1

Solution: Turn It Into A Blackboard (or Whiteboard or Greenboard or…)

Q10 (PC only).

Alternatives:

Darkroom (PC).

CreaWriter (PC).

Writeroom (Mac / iPhone).

OmmWriter (Mac).

EyeTime

Problem: I’m Not In The Mood

Once you’ve got your minimal-distraction environment arranged just so, well, there’s the sitting down part.

Solution: Oh Go On – Just A Little Bit…

No need to flinch. Writing is only difficult in large doses. So take small ones. Learn to accustom your mind to be as quiet and undistractable as your surroundings, and do it patiently, bit by bit.

Unfortunately, this is tantamount to asking a small mischievous child to sit quietly in the corner of a sweet shop. Pretty soon, your brain is running about covered in sugar and your thoughts are all sticky. That’s probably when you need to stop for the day – even if just ten minutes have elapsed.

Just make sure that for those ten minutes,  you’re dashing.

Solution: …or Okay, So What Are You In The Mood For?

And if you find yourself procrastinating. So what? Just point it in a more useful direction, like towards the housework (I’m with Lifehacker on this one).

Procrastinate with a focus, and you’ve got it beat.

*****

Further reading:
http://writetodone.com/2008/01/09/how-to-write-without-distractions/
http://zenhabits.net/2007/10/ugly-productivity-5-steps-to-a-distraction-free-workspace/
Images: Grant Neufeld, notashamed, Katie Tegtmeyer, badboy69, Mickie Quick, blakie, Giorgio Montersino and Mike Sowden.

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  • http://mallvillestory.blogspot.com VOID Munashii

    All very true; I should probably dig out my old Pentium 150 laptop and try writing on it (then there is that “portable” typewriter next to my desk).

    The only problem is that for all the distractions that the internet provides, I use it a lot when writing. I am constantly coming up with stupid questions (What is the fire rate of an AA-12? Are spiderwebs flammable? Could a helicopter fly in a vacuum? etc) that i can find answers to quickly. I also regularly look at the what I have posted online when working on new stuff for my stories, as the blog is much more organized than any notes/index cards/files that I have.

    Then there’s using the internet for music to write to, but that really is just excuse-making.

    • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

      Yes, that’s the problem I have when doing any blogging, or anything with umpteen online references.

      For a post a few weeks back (the Degrees Of Cold one) I wrote physical notes and then built it all up without the Internet on. It felt weird – but the result seemed a lot more focussed than normal, so I might try that again.

      Having to do all the research at the beginning seems to work like doing an essay plan when I was doing my degree – which was something I was never any good at. ;) But it *does* seem to work, so I’m going to try it again. (Didn’t do for this post – which helps if the post is meant to ramble on a bit!).

  • http://longaway.wordpress.com Scary Rob

    That’s fantastic advice. Unfortunately, today’s problem was my tenacious streak. I sat down to watch the TV with lunch. I wanted to watch something on a catch-up service. Said catch-up service was sulking with my digibox. Cue an hour of fighting in an attempt to watch a half-hour comedy show. And then trying again later, because I just couldn’t let it go…

    • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

      Such is the way that Stuff sucks us in.

      Sounds like the equivalent of many hours I’ve spent in Yesteryear fiddling with autoexec.bat and config.sys files to get PC games to work (that I probably didn’t have the time to play anyway).

      When technology fights back, it’s a grade A timewaster.

  • http://www.unpavedsouthamerica.com Jessie Kwak

    I refused to get internet in my last apartment because I knew it would just distract me when I was typing away. I, too, always had a good excuse for getting online (how tall do cholla cactus grow? How do you make sake in the 17th century?), but then I just end up hitting the “random article” button on Wikipedia.

    What I do instead is just making lists of questions to look up later. I don’t think that I’ve ever gotten to a point (in writing fiction, at least), that I absolutely had to know that fact in order to continue the storytelling.

    In writing travel pieces, though, I also find it necessary to reference old blog posts and do research on the fly. But even then, I end up spending way more time clicking random links than doing actual research….

    • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

      I like that a lot. Lists of questions? Lovely. And when you get in front of the Interwebz, you’ve got a list of questions to keep you focussed and on message. Perfect. :)

      I’ll be doing that, methinks. Thanks!

  • http://barrycomer.wordpress.com barry comer

    I’m sat here in a room aromatic with overstrong coffee, in front of my battered-looking Fujitsu Siemens Amilo A1650 laptop. Open Office, Photoshop Elements, The Complete National Geographic, Sid Meier’s Civilization III, Google Picasa, Spotify, Skype, e-books (like this one), PDF’d magazines, photos, old emulated Commodore Amiga games, digital photography tutorials, WordPress manuals and heaps more. There’s easily enough here to keep me busy for a year.

    OY – Don’t I know. Add IPod with too many Leonard Cohen songs (can there be too many?) and one has distraction squared.

    • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

      I’m fascinated at how some folk can work (or just about work) with music in the background, or TV, or something similar.

      Instantly, I’m dragged away from my thoughts. Even if it’s a song I hate (no, particularly if it’s a song I hate).

      I take it you like to work with a musical accompaniment?

  • http://drivinglikeamaniac.blogspot.com Katja

    I was getting so excited about Q10. DAMN YOU, PC USERS. (I’m currently using TextEdit on my Mac for wordprocessing, but it doesn’t have a wordcount, so I have to copy and paste into Word. Gah.)

    • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

      From what I can gather from reviews and online buzz, Writeroom (Mac only) is even better than Q10. So I’m the one that’s envious.

      http://www.hogbaysoftware.com/products/writeroom

      To be fair, I’m usually envious of Mac products, so it’s nice to know that someone on a Mac was lusting after a PC app.

      Except of course I just killed it, up there, by pointing out a better Mac alternative.

      Well, I’m a PC user. That’s the kind of thing we do.

      • http://drivinglikeamaniac.blogspot.com Katja

        Oh wow. I really *am* going to start owing you money soon if you don’t stop making good suggestions. (I’m on the case with the self-hosting, by the way, but am stuck in stupid foreign banking hell at the moment – tell you about that another time …) On the basis of a 2 minute trial just now, I think I may have just fallen in love. With a piece of software. There is no hope for me.

        • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

          Not having used it (not owning a Mac – although I might be amending that soon) I’m curious – what’s it like? What in particular have you fallen in love with about it?

          Also, check out the suggestion from Kat Dawes in the later comments, another Mac-only app.

          • http://drivinglikeamaniac.blogspot.com Katja

            It’s the simplicity of it that I like. A black screen, which covers the *entire* screen, and a blinking green cursor. The keypad shortcuts are logical (for switching between screens etc), and there’s a clear word count at the bottom of the page. It overrides the dock at the bottom of the screen (about the only program which does so) and just *works*. I’ll definitely be paying out for it at the end of my trial period. That’s another thing, actually – it’s dead cheap. $24-something dollars for a year, which is more than worth it.

            So, when are you joining the Mac revolution then? ;)

  • A

    Awesome.

    I’ve never actually thought so, but, seeing it written and sounding it out, you’re absolutely right that writing, in and of itself, is easy. Now there’s a gem! And a testament to the power of words. I’m quite motivated after reading this post. I just installed Q10 and I damn well enjoy it; how can one possibly resist the sound effects? The simplicity of it is also a beautiful thing. Your approach to procrastination is refreshing and helpful, too. It isn’t just the solutions; I have heard them in one form or another before, but combined with that and arguably more important is your attitude toward it and how you talk about it. I get all worked up about procrastination. I see it as a major issue for me and I feel anxiety when I think about procrastinating or notice it in action (inaction?), which only hinders further my ability to be usefully productive. It isn’t helpful to think about it as a dreaded “issue.” What is helpful is treating it as something that is normal and not cause for worry, like you’ve done here. Then, dealing with it is simply the next, natural step…

    What is this? My lungs seem to be expanding…

    Oh, and thank you for yet another lovely jab at Damn Brown.

    • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

      Thank you. :)

      As someone who has spent huge amounts of time “putting things off” but then finding he’s got other things done *and* come up with good ideas while he’s been doing mundane chores…my feelings are still mixed about procrastination (that guilt is near-impossible to shake off), but my rational mind is made up about it. It’s a genuinely useful thing to do, as long as you keep your eyes open about what you’re doing and try to point yourself in useful directions when you’re not writing.

      Sometimes, though, it’s important to just let it all hang out and collapse in a chair, or sit in the sunshine with a book, or goof around with friends, or sit on the beach staring at the sea, or anything else that’s technically aimless. Your brain should be free-range – so let it out so it can run around every once in a while.

      (I’m a big fan of the type of meditation where you loose your grip on your thoughts and simply watch them pass by without dwelling on any of then. Supremely relaxing and calming. Must get back to doing that regularly).

      So what are you going to use Q10 for? What’s cooking in your thoughts at the moment?

      • A

        [I'm going to have to start clicking that little box that says, "Notify me of followup comments via e-mail."]

        Oh, the conveyor belt of thoughts! I forgot about that little exercise in inactivity. I’m a fan as well! Speaking of fan, that would be another interesting visual to use. Be a fan and watch the thoughts as they blow away.

        I’m a little embarrassed to say so, but my main intention with Q10 at the moment is simply to journal and also to write down the little snippets of wit and musings that pop into my head from time to time. Everything is to remain in rough, original form. I’ve found that over a period of time that I can’t even attempt to quantify I’ve been losing touch with myself. The best way I know how to reach myself (the phone call) is to start chatting with myself; an offering of espresso and biscotti also goes a long way. After the chatting starts, sometimes conversations happen to. Then, I begin to get creative; I really hang out with myself at this, the most intimate of levels. And Bob’s my uncle. I really wish I actually had an uncle named Bob.

        One last thing I want to share is this little bitty which would be an excellent “home page” for those who are prone to procrastination: http://phylab.mtu.edu/~nckelley/Focus/

        :)

        • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

          Everything remaining in draft form, sprawling and organic and semi-chaotic. Good stuff. And definitely more comfortable that trying to straitjacket yourself into a pre-existing format from the beginning. (Although those formats *do* help in reining in excesses – I tend to ramble and jump around, and sometimes I need a wall to bounce off to get me going in the right direction again).

          (I’ve always hated the idea of the “final version” of any piece of writing – because it never, ever feels like that. “Adequate version” might get closer. But there’s always more to do).

          Yep, that’s a great page to redirect to at the end of a spell of writing. :)

          I think I might make an offline one for myself that’s a bit more belligerent, though. Something like “TIME’S UP, SUNSHINE – NOW **** OFF”. Bit of a nightclub bouncer vibe would be nice. Or maybe a small electric shock. Maybe I can wire my toaster to my alarm clock, get some electrodes and place them somewhere likely to respond adversely to being momentarily at one with all points of the National Grid.

          (Litigation fans: Mike is an Idiot and therefore qualified to flirt with death. Don’t be like Mike! No, really. Death is Bad – also, rather Final).

  • http://www.judithgreenwood.com/thinkonit/ JudithinUmbria

    That’s just about everything I ever knew about writing. I wrote most when I had a word processor, one step above a typewriter because you did not have to cut printed paper to cut and paste.

    • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

      That’s it. The Cut & Paste, the editing, that’s the reason to write on a computer. Everything else that a compuer does is just a nice side-effect.

      If modern technology ever successfully invents a piece of technology that is exactly as pleasant as writing in a notebook and can be used in broad daylight but also has cut & paste functions, the word processor is dead.

      And we’re getting closer every year.

  • http://atravelerslibrary.com Vera Marie Badertscher

    Got you beat on stripping down. I do first draft on pad of paper with pen. Leave blanks that I need to fill in with googled info and do that later. I’m surprised nobody suggested that. Remember pens??
    But if we’re better off stripping down what’s on the computer, what’s with ADDING Q-10?

    (Guess I should go look at it.)

    • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

      Heheh. :)

      (See my reply to Judith’s comment).

      Yep, for sheer tactile rightness, notebooks are the biz. Nothing like writing with a good fountain pen in a moleskine. *Nothing*. Hear me, Apple? Notebooks *still* win.

      But they mean you have to write everything at least twice.

      (However, this is usually a good thing to do anyway. That’s one draft from the heart, and a final draft with a critical eye).

      I like the ‘leaving gaps’ idea. Works nicely as a compliment to the lists of questions that Jessie suggested above.

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

    I freaking love this post.

    • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

      I freaking loved writing it.

      (Thank you!)

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

    P.S. The fact I had time to read it all shows just how much I’ve been procrastinating.

    • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

      Another reason for me to be a fan of procrastination, then. ;)

      (Not that I need reasons, obviously).

  • @ccziv

    I think what makes it hard is the nakedness. The solution, of course, is to have more sex – so you can get used to being naked.

    But seriously, my problem is 1) habit and 2) I don’t take myself seriously enough *as a writer* yet, which is a problem because I’m getting old.

    The good thing about the internets is that you can get so deeply lost down so many dark alleys that inspiration is never a problem. Motivation, however, is a different animal.

    Glad I found you.

    • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

      Glad you did. :)

      Nakedness is a requirement of the job. Some writers take this a little more literally than others (Henry Miller, for example) but at the end of the day, we’re all enjoying the prurient thrill of exposing ourselves in public.

      The important thing is to always wear black socks, in a metaphorical sense. Because no matter how explicitly tackle-to-the-four-winds you are, a pair of black socks will make you hilarious.

      (I’m not sure what the last paragraph meant. This means it’s probably Art. Also, don’t go naked in public, dear reader. The law frowns).

      The not taking yourself seriously thing….is a tough one. I’ve struggled for years, and sometimes inadequacy gnaws at my ankles.

      So sometimes I fake it. ;)

  • kniteli

    Here is the only problem I have with all of those minimalistic writing programs: I haven’t found a one that supports rich text format. They are all plain .txt, which mean they have zero formatting options. So if you want to move them somewhere else they will look like garbled run-on junk. Just open your files up in notepad and that’s what everyone else will see.

    • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

      Very good point.

      Makes me wonder why the folk who made these apps didn’t think of it, since they certainly seem bright enough. Maybe it’s something they foolishly overlooked…

      …or a design decision, thinking that faffing around with fonts and italics and bold and strikethroughs and the like…is just another form of not writing?

      Hmmm.

  • http://www.davethackeray.com Dave Thackeray

    Bravo on the n.a.d.a. analogy – resonates like the talons of a temptress on a blackboard.

    But can I suggest going one step further down the devolutionary road: what’s so bad about finding a quiet spot with a pen and a notebook?

    My best work has been committed to the interwebs stemmed by fresh air and miles of ink.

    Thanks to @andrewhayes for guiding me to this post. I shall be watching your words and learning a new take on The Path from now on.

    • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

      Fine chap, that Andrew.

      Yes, writing in a notebook is still *the* way to write. No denying, no fighting. And in some locations, writing in anything but a notebook would feel wrong (sat on the beach with a glass of wine in one hand, trying to look worldly and, uh, intellect-shoehole in a ruggedly sophisticated way to catch the eye of some dusky-eyed maiden – there’s an example of where a laptop or phone would kill it. Unless she’s a geek).

      But storage is a problem.

      So here’s an imaginary arms race: notebook makers making notebooks that scan and flawlessly digitize your words…vs. gadget makers making screens that are just as notebooky to use as the real thing.

      (Incidentally, I’m answering this comment on my smartphone on the bus. New Tech 1, Old Tech 0).

  • http://my-bellavita.com Cherrye at My Bella Vita

    “Procrastination isn’t laziness – it’s misguided energy” That is my new favorite quote. I can’t write with music, talking, TV-ANYTHING!-on in the background. I set a timer for X amount of minutes and won’t allow myself to get on the Internet, check email, etc until that time has passed. Somehow knowing I can check it “soon” helps with that misguided energy! :)

    • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

      Of course, it *could* just be an enormously cynical and self-deluding attempt to justify my own bad procrastinatory habits by giving them a nice thick coat of respectability through some fecklessly argued piece of sophistry.

      I don’t think it is, frankly.

      But you never know. ;)

      “I set a timer for X amount of minutes and won’t allow myself to get on the Internet, check email, etc until that time has passed.”

      I admire your timer.

      (This is a sentence I’ve rarely used in my life. Perhaps for completely understandable reasons. Usually, it’s the kind of thing you’d say when you’ve absolutely bled dry every other vein of conversation whiole stood waiting for the kettle to boil – or if you have some kind of twisted kitchen appliance fetish, the kind that condemns you to existing at arm’s length from most of society for your whole life. So for both those reasons, I hope you know I’m speaking as a writer, not a wit’s-end-conversationalist or an appliance fondler).

      I think I need a timer of my own.

      (Ditto everything I said in the above paragraph, except now applied to *this* statement).

      I rather like the idea of some kind of weird & wonderful alarm clock that actually scares me. You know the thing where you wake up in the morning just before your alarm goes off? That would be a really great ability to have as a writer. And usually the best way to train yourself is aversion therapy. Some horrible sound. Or maybe an electric shock, or something unpleasant flung in your face.

      Hm. I’ll look into this, I think.

  • http://www.surfergrl.co.uk Kat Dawes

    I have a small program called Freedom on my Mac. It shuts the network activity down for a time you specify and makes it a pain to get it back again (reboot). It works, and it’s free.
    http://www.versiontracker.com/dyn/moreinfo/macosx/10912674

    And definitely with the lists idea…I just can’t resist a research session otherwise.

    My main problem is that when I start, I do get drunk on it, and I won’t stop until someone is getting upset with me/something is irretrievably ruined/the dog has gone on the floor… So I have to know I have the time to do that, otherwise I’ll be damn grumpy if I’m forced to stop mid-flow. I have to learn how to do shorter sessions!

    • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

      That’s a good one. Thanks for that, Kat (and for stopping by).

      I also spotted this gem on Lifehacker:

      http://lifehacker.com/5448223/romaco-timeout-puts-the-brakes-on-your-computer-overuse

      For PC folk only, ‘fraid, but it turns the computer into the equivalent of the internet machines you can use at libraries, with a timer ticking away. I’m giving it a try. Sounds like Freedom does the same thing (only probably more elegantly- grrr, you Mac people, you! *jealous fist-shaking*).

      And while the drunk-on-writing thing is important, yes, when you’re drunk, sobering up is a miserable experience. But restricting your drunkenness in the first place is also miserable. It’s fun to lose control and get carried away. (As it were).

  • http://www.deliciouschaos.com Nick

    This is one of the best posts I’ve read in ages – spot on and very funny! Procrastination isn’t laziness, but misguided energy… I think that’s going to be my motto from now on! And I love the sugar sticky thoughts! Nice one!

    • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

      Thank you, Nick. :)

      Love your site – and I’m envious of where you are, deeply.

      And you’re doing the Matador U? I’d love to know more about that one if you have the time…

  • http://www.TheMadTravelerOnline.com Kevin

    Now here’s some wacky stuff. A short while back Cormac McCarthy was auctioning off his little travel typewriter… which he has written every one of his g.d. novels with. Faulkner used to write at work supervising hard labor and just turned over a wheelbarrow for a writing surface. I hate that guy and hope that is apocryphal. Robert Olen Butler HANDWRITES everything on legal pads. If they weren’t so brilliant I’d be forced to mock them regularly. At any rate, thanks for my new defense of my laziness. Whoo-hoo! In fact, maybe I’ll google that friggin’ Faulkner story.

    • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

      A travel typewriter? That’s just cute. :)

      I like the idea of writing everything on notepads first. It’s working editing into the writing process right at the beginning. Hmm. Like the idea a lot. Should experiment.

      A *wheelbarrow*? Good god. I haven’t read any Faulkner, but that makes me want to. How the hell do you put yourself into the frame of mind to compose on a wheelbarrow? What happens if someone needs a wheelbarrow? Do you take the wheelbarrow home to transcribe, or do you sneak into work at night carrying a torch and a notepad (or a camera)?

      No, wait, you meant “writing surface”, not “on the wheelbarrow”. But it’s too late, my mind has run off with this idea. We’ll just have to wait until it gets tired and brings it back. Sorry. It shouldn’t be too long.

  • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

    Katja –

    When money allows. In other words, never. < ---- not really. I reckon by the end of the year I'll be a proud owner. But a new laptop PC comes first...

    WriteRoom sounds identical to Q10, or put another way, it sounds perfect. :) Filling the screen and obliterating all menus / launch docks is a biggie. I'm sure there's a way to do it in the likes of Word or Open Office, but it's not *standard* in there. It's presumed that you're multitasking. Hence as a distraction-hating writing, I lose trust in them instantly.

    Yes, I read a *lot* into the smallest things. I like to think it shows character (you know, rather than narrow-minded pettiness).

  • Redmorrigan

    all of this could also apply to being an artist, since I am an artist and a writer, I can use all of these suggestions for both my artist’s block and writer’s block :)/ I like the part about procrastination, so true.

    • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

      Thanks for reading. And absolutely – you’re painting with something other than words, but it’s the same creative process….

      Do you find yourself tackling painting the same way as tackling writing – inside your head, I mean?

      (Yes, that’s a very broad question). ;)

  • wednesday

    I found you through Stumble. I’m afraid I’ve found a use for the ancient typewriter – file labels.

    And I recently got just as desperate as you sound for distraction-free writing. Dug out the old 486 running Windows 3.1 and WordPerfect 5.1. Stripped it of everything but WP5.1. Which gets out of the way, stays out the way, and doesn’t even use a mouse. Just lets you write as the word processors of today don’t.

    Downside is that it has no ISB port. Only microfloppy, which means transferring via ancient Windows ME and then into Dropbox. That’s too primitive – I’m going to take your advise and use the computer with the port and ME. And still WP5.1.

    The fiction writers out there might look at Liquid Story Binder for distraction-free writing, but it also organizes an entire project as well. So you can decide how distracted you want to be.

    Thank you for a lovely article with so much camaraderie and useful links/information. I wondered if I was alone in the technological overload/overdosing on the Netz distractions.

    • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

      Thanks for calling by.

      Ahh, WP 5.1. That brings back memories. Blue screen, white text, awkward menus that you only use if you have to (now *that’s* an idea – deliberate user-unfriendliness?

      But yes, I couldn’t do without USB either. I have a brick-like 486 laptop in a cupboard that would be perfect for writing on, were it not for the lack of USB. Floppy drives are just *asking* for trouble, even if they still work. Although another way is to use the ‘Net to save things onto, eg. e-mailing a file to yourself. But still horribly clunky.

      Ah, WordPerfect. Still lost in my memories here (*screen goes wibbly; Mike appears in black and white; he has hair and looks enormously proud of a computer that looks like a fridge turned on its side*).

      Thanks for your kind words. :)

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  • DrakeMallory

    The blackboard tip was by far the most useful for me. I just downloaded Q10 and I feel like I’m falling in love with writing all over again. Nothing in the world but me, plain scrolling text, and the clicks and clacks of typewriter keys…

  • Dave Simmons

    I like the look of Q10 very much, that’s going to be a mainstay on my ‘wasting time’ computer. Now I just need to find something that’s the equivalent for WinCE. My piece of crap, distraction-free computer is a battered old Psion Netbook Pro, a glorified PDA with a keyboard. It runs bugger all to start with, including apparently no text editors with a word counter…

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