“The more willing we are willing to separate from distraction and step into the open arms of boredom, the more writing we will get on the page.” -Ann Patchett
#truth: Writing is boring.
It’s very easy to find a suitable distraction to alleviate that boredom—a Facebook notification, text, Instagram rabbit hole, twitter mention. And once you take your mind off the page, your heart will follow and then your thoughts are left to wither and die partially formed in one of the unsaved documents on your computer.
The company where my husband works is forever restructuring and renovating and relocating. I tease him that they waste as much money as they make on these constant changes. But I’m not a person who redecorates her house, so maybe I don’t appreciate the effect of novelty. Our kitchen remains the same color I painted it over fifteen years ago, the furniture stays in the same place so long the carpets are permanently indented, and our powder room walls are still the same sponge-painted shades of green that I copied from the endcap at Home Depot in 2005.
The latest change at Nick’s office is to put everyone in a big room in a vast sea of cubes with low walls so that everyone can see what everyone else is doing. Considering that my husband has had his own office for over a decade and spends a good portion of his day on the phone, he wasn’t thrilled with the change, but he’s adapted. The annoyance of listening to a neighbor argue with his wife is only trumped by constant interruptions of people ‘stopping by.’
I’ve wondered out loud to him if this change was made to address employees who spend company time surfing the internet or playing computer games. He acknowledges that he is much more hesitant to check Politico when he’s taking a break but thinks this new design is to encourage more collaboration and to get millennials to communicate face-to-face rather than via email and text. If the guy you need to talk to is sitting a row away, you’re more likely to get up and go talk to him than ping him with a text.
There’s validity to that thought. After all, meaning is often misinterpreted when you put it into words, especially texting shorthand.
I understand the frustration of constant interruptions. Here in my office, I find plenty of interruptions. It’s not only my officemates needing a potty break in the yard or my supervisor stretching out on the keyboard to get my attention, it’s also the temptation of Facebook and Instagram notifications or the siren call email. I have a chrome extension called, “Make America Kittens Again” that replaces every picture and mention of Trump with kitten pictures, so whenever my Yahoo homepage is littered with kittens, no matter how hard I try not to, I feel compelled to look at the news.
With the new year, I’ve decided I will do a little restructuring of my own office atmosphere. I’ve moved one particularly excitable officemate to the kitchen. She’s really a temp anyway and she disrupts the other workers which requires me to leave my work to referee.
The other change I’ve made is to turn off Facebook notifications and close my homepages and force myself to write before I even open my email when I sit down to work. I need to lean into that big yawning open space of boredom for an hour or so until it’s quiet enough for my real thoughts to be heard. If I open email first, odds are I’ll spend thirty minutes addressing other people’s needs before my own.
Starring at that blank page can sometimes be torture, but more times than not, eventually something spills out. There are days I have to write, days that I am drawn to the page and can’t do anything until I pour my thoughts out, but plenty of days I don’t feel that pull. In fact, the idea of writing exhausts me before I write my first word. Those are the days it’s even more important to write. Ann Patchett also wrote:
“Why is it we understand playing the cello will require work, but we attribute writing to the magic of inspiration?”
Writing is my job. If I spend my days surfing social media and reading blogs, I should be fired. Or at least put in cube land with a hundred noisy breathers and frustrated spouses.
I read somewhere recently that allowing yourself to be distracted by Facebook notifications, texts, and emails are like having an obnoxious person interrupting you all day long. If all these people who are tweeting and posting and texting, instead showed up at your door wanting to share their latest book review, meme, cute dog picture, or pressing revelation with you, you’d never stand for it. You’d lock your door or hide in the bathroom or tell them you’re busy.
I’m curious to see how the new layout at my husband’s work affects the productivity and happiness level of employees. Already I’ve noticed he seems more stressed and comes home with stories of his coworkers that I never heard before. Is that a recipe for getting more done? I don’t know.
Me? I’m finding that moving the noisy officemate to the kitchen and turning off the notifications has helped me focus. I’m getting more words on the page.
Now, if I could just get my boss to stop lounging on my keyboard and the guy with the standing desk to stop staring at me and farting so much, 2020 could be a very productive year.
Hey, thanks for reading. I know you’ve got lots of options, so thanks for sharing a few of your minutes with me.
If you’re curious about what I’m up to, check out my website, CaraWrites.com.
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Released Aug 2018 from Pegasus books
Find out more about the book and everything you wanted to know about fostering dogs: AnotherGoodDog.org