The Attraction of Distraction
Once again, it’s taken a commitment to another person - and the loom of an impending deadline - for me to finally put pen to paper (well, finger to iPad screen).
I am a master distractor.
There, I’ve said it out loud. I believe I have the practice of distraction down to a fine art - and would undoubtedly win the gold medal in the sport, should anyone stage a Writers Olympics. (Just think of the sports we could have - the “100 second short story”; “Dialogue Tennis”; “Human Spellcheck”). Here, we have the perfect example of one of my distraction techniques. Avoid completing what I set out to do by thinking up something ludicrous that will fill up my brain - and day - in a totally pointless way.
I’m sure this is a frustrating affliction that many of you can relate to. And as yet, I haven’t found a cure (or even some kind of vaccine to lessen the effects). Maybe it only affects you when you go to pick up that pen - or maybe you’re like me and can find the smallest thing to stop you from undertaking any type of task you’ve set yourself. Even in the writing of this paragraph, I’ve managed to locate some washing that needed folding, a task that couldn’t possibly wait.
I had the best intentions when I made the decision - pretty much a year ago - that I wanted to pursue writing as a hobby, with the hope that I might someday, somehow, work my writing and creative side into a new career. (There’s only so much creative tinkering a HR Manager like myself can do when writing a grievance policy). The problem? Well, I wasn’t entirely sure where I was going to start - and it wasn’t until I had composed my first couple of blog type articles and shared them, that the words “editorial style” were mentioned.
It all made sense - that was exactly the style in which I enjoyed writing. And once it had been labelled, surely there was going to be no stopping my writing output. My brain went into overdrive, multiple articles forming in my head at once. I had to get organised; get these precious nuggets of wisdom and insight into my fairly pedestrian life into print; to share with a worldwide audience who would surely gobble up hungrily everything I had to say. Oh, the opportunities - the potential audience - the obvious impending fame!
First though, I absolutely had to make a list of all the topics I would cover. Nothing would be off limits (though I might have to tell my parents to skip over some of the more juicer subjects when I finally released them). In case I ever misplaced that list, I’d need to create another one. And another one, just to be sure. It was probably a good idea to spend some time grouping them into themes as well. Then I’d need to figure out the best medium to work on - so I definitely had to go out and buy a new notepad and pen. Oh - and a smaller, reporter style notepad for the handbag that I never take anywhere - just in case the muse should take me on the drive to work. The irony being that I actually write everything on my phone or iPad.
But before I started doing any proper writing, I definitely needed somewhere to put these pearls of hilarious greatness. So on to website design… a URL purchase… setting up social media accounts… composing and editing the perfect headshot… creating a bio (FINALLY, some actual writing). Working out the layout and style of those important Instagram posts… linking my site to search aggregators (though quite what was being searched at that stage was any bodies guess).
Yet still no bloody articles had been written.
I would argue that the real reason I hadn’t written anything was because I’d been incredibly busy, being all focused and important at work, which required long days and gave me no opportunity to start my articles - my ability to maintain a work life balance has apparently always been non-existent. (Hmmmm, and there’s another topic to add to the ever-expanding future article list. Oh great, now I’ve been distracted from my distractions). At the end of the day, I was too tired to think, let alone write - and besides, there was dinner to cook, fluffy cats to brush and a husband to order about.
Work has probably taken the blame unfairly though. I just use it as the excuse because it sounds legitimate and understandable. In reality, my distraction techniques are varied and many. In no particular order, these include:
Housework. Specifically washing up. But never drying up. No, that’s apparently too much of a distraction.
Personal email maintenance. There’s always spam to trash, distribution lists to remove myself from and offers from companies used once 8 years ago which I need to peruse.
Googling random and pointless facts. How many Princess Mandy’s are there? Is Cheddar cheese only from Cheddar? Is Sandra Bullock really 58?* These are all recent searches I have undertaken in the pursuit of distraction truth.
Falling into a Wikipedia hole. We’ve all done it - clicked on one topic in Wikipedia and then followed another link within the first article and so on. I’m sure I could link the flag of Belize to the shoes worn by Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing if I really tried hard enough.
Neighbourhood watch. Under the pretence that I’m keeping a neighbourly eye on local shenanigans, when in fact I’m just terribly nosy.
Watching random videos on my phone. It’s vital that I know about the migratory patterns of the yellow tipped geese (not a real bird) of the lowlands of Greater Tinselvania (not a real place).
Box set rewatching. Apparently, this is all about my need for control - watching something when you already know how it ends is incredibly comforting. All it means for me is I can combine watching something out the corner of my eye whilst doom scrolling on my phone for the ultimate distraction.
Social media. No distraction list is complete without some mention of twitter, Instagram, TikTok or Facebook. Hours can be lost under the pretence of seeking inspiration - when in fact all I’m doing to reducing my concentration span even further and exacerbating my horrendous anxiety and self-doubt. Why has no one liked my artistic picture of a cucumber?? Why don’t I look like Kylie Jenner??
In truth, the real reason for my endless need to distract myself from writing is actually the crippling self-doubt that nobody is reading what I’m creating (or if they are, are thoroughly unimpressed by it). Which then makes me beg the question; what exactly is the bloody point?
I realise now though, that it’s pressure that keeps me focused and honest. Give me a deadline or a commitment and I will get the job done - and as I’ve been composing and editing this article, I’ve remembered why I enjoy writing so much. So even if no one else is reading it, I know at least I’ve entertained myself (and I’ve probably managed to put a load of washing on and put the rubbish out whilst doing it).
*In case you’re wondering – none, no and yes
This article was first published in Veracity (edition 48) - the Verulam Writers magazine