Sunday, July 29, 2012

Concentrating in the Midst of Chaos

Unlike my life on Jupiter Island, where it's very, very quiet, and I can go days without seeing anyone, here in the metro DC area, I am surrounded by people.

Now people are okay. Lovely, interesting, enticing, but when I want to write, I see everyone in my world and paint them with one big word--DISTRACTION. Because when a live person talks to me, I can't hear my characters. When a living being asks, "What were you planning for dinner?" My cast of characters sit down and shut up. That illusive word, the one just beyond my grasp, flits away.

I can write non-fiction in any circumstance. Because I worked at several newspapers where there were no cubicles, only "bull pens," I trained myself to block out those distractions.

But with fiction, it's so much more subtle. With non-fiction,  you do your research or think through your premise, or construct your linear pattern, and then transpose that onto paper. With fiction, it's like being lost in the center of a giant labyrinth, and you have to choose a direction. Will you follow the lead of this character? Should you emphasize this plot twist? Can you expand on this interior monologue? Or do you need to trim that dialog and add a punchy cliff-hanger to the end of that scene?

Frankly, the gazebo looked just fine to me before it got a new coat of paint!
 Even when David is quiet in the other rooms, I feel myself waiting for him to speak, to need me, to do something! Anything! There's a sense that I can't totally let myself go because I might be interrupted! And that's my problem, not his. 

So when he went off to work, I breathed a sigh of relief. Finally! I could sink down into the world of my characters and know I wouldn't need to come out until I was ready.

But no sooner had David's footsteps faded than a crew of workmen arrived to paint the gazebo outside my office window. Bless their hearts, they talked and joked and banged around.

I seethed. I gnashed my teeth. In fact, I actually chipped a tooth in frustration!

I couldn't go on like this. I couldn't leave because I needed this particular computer configuration, and it's not portable. I couldn't ask them to leave because they were only doing their jobs! Then it came to me. I've tackled this problem before. So I clicked on the i-Tunes program and made a selection. For the rest of the afternoon, I switched off between Gregorian chants and "Learning Anytime," a mix of subliminal tones and music that aid concentration.

In fact, I found myself to be so productive while listening to my "noise blocking" tunes, that now I automatically turn them on when I start to write. I'm listening to them now!

How about you? How do you write through distractions? By the way, the Hemisync organization also makes a nice listening aid called, "Concentration." Have any of you ever tried subliminal aids like these?


Linda O. Johnston said...

Yikes, Joanna, that's a real dilemma. I sometimes can shut out interfering noise just by concentrating, but I can't work with music in the background. Not sure what I'd do in your circumstances, but I hope the workmen don't have to stay long.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Linda, as long as I can't "hear" the words of the music, I'm fine. So the Gregorian chants work for me.

Betty Hechtman said...

I am always fighting distractions. My son and husband work out of our house, I have pets who either show up and want their walk when they want it instead of when it's convenient for me, and a cat who does something stinky in his cat box which is adjacent to my work room when I am trying to write. That's why when I am down to the wire I head for Chicago.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

People say, "I'm only going to bother you for a minute." What they don't realize is that one minute away from our work demands a good fifteen to twenty minutes of recovery time. You can't pick up where you left off.

Camille Minichino said...

My husband's favorite line is, "Are you interruptable?" "I am now," I say, hoping I don't lose that "brilliant" thread I just had in my head.

I can't do music, either, so I just give in and come back when everyone's asleep and no one's calling.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Unfortunately, our culture teaches us that a "good" woman is always "interruptable." Always accessible to her family. There's actually a book by a psychologist that points this out. Sachs posits that especially after children are born, women give up their sense of "self" to serve others.

Camille Minichino said...

Excellent point, Joanna. We all want to be liked too much sometimes.

Lucky me, my husband/IT Dept./Webmaster is much more amenable to interruptions than I am, snapping to it whenever I have a techie problem or an update needed. It's a nice tradeoff!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

But, Camille, those who study communication patterns know that men's brains do hop around. Whereas we seek connectivity. So perhaps when we interrupt them, it's not as devastating as when they interrupt us!

Even so, you are right. Thank goodness for my David. He does so much to support me!

Camille Minichino said...

I've also read that women are better multitaskers than men.
Thanks for starting this interesting thread, Joanna.

Julie said...

Has anyone heard the theory that women are better multitaskers because of evolutionary pressures? Women were tending children, scraping hides and butchering the bear the men hauled in, all at the same time, while the men had to concentrate on one task, hunting, which required a narrow focus.
I actually have trouble writing if it's too quiet. I usually have the tv on, droning in the background. If I get stuck, I can look up at it for five minutes and get unstuck, ten tune it out again. Otoh, music is so annoying when I'm writing that I can't have it on.
And yes, I know that makes no sense, but it's true. I've been told my ability to tune out things around me would make me a good hypnotic subject. I've never had the nerve to try it.