On Distractions, Briefly

Nothing in this post explains your fascination with cats. Or does it?

Last night at the One Story Debutante’s Ball, I was talking briefly to a friend who was complimenting me and Colson Whitehead on our ability to maintain our focus on our work while also being on social media. Colson has written about it and what he said was basically consistent with his hilarious and very true column over at PW. I agreed. But I also have a theory about all of the distractable types: there’s a very good chance you’re not writing because you’re not writing about what you actually want to write about.

This may sound improbable to some–isn’t writing about Freedom? Yes. Writing is so much about Freedom, you can’t even say writing is about Freedom, actually, without feeling despair. No, what I mean is something else–the writer in the grip of the ostentatious obligation to Make Literature, creating something that looks like what they think a story or novel is, instead of a story or novel. If you neglect your own writing, chances are something, or someone, or both, have given you the idea that your Freedom is missing. That you’re not free to do as you want. Surfing the internet feels a lot like being Free. So, you do that instead of your work.

The next time you find yourself helplessly in the grip of some internet rabbit hole, take a slight step back, and don’t stop yourself, but ask yourself what it is you are really after. What are the feelings you feel? The rabbit hole isn’t real, it’s the force of your own rejected interests, in doing a dance with the internet. Which is to say, you’re actually in control–there’s something you want to do that you’re not doing and you’re not facing it.

Do you feel helpless about the war, the environment, your job, your health, the health of your friend/family member/partner/boyfriend/girlfriend, your writing? Do you feel that if you wrote what it is you really wanted to write you’d be judged in some way you fear? I.e., are you furiously looking at porn sites because you feel some important part of you is rejected by your life in some way the porn site actually… cannot either affirm or reject?

Or, this last bit: whatever it is that is so distracting, would you write more if you wrote about it? Does it want, in other words, to be your subject?

Think about it. And meanwhile, celebrate short fiction this spring with a subscription to One Story.

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