Tricks help writers resist distractions

Let’s take a break from book publishing this week to talk a little about distractions. It’s the bane of every writer, especially if we work at home. We have so many distractions, so many things to do besides write. This morning, for example, I overslept, which gave me less time. Then the dog sought me out, scratching and shaking her head, and I discovered she has yet another ear infection. How it got so bad so quickly I don’t know, but we have to go to the vet, and I have to start dousing her ears with medicine, a procedure she resists with every ounce of her strength.

As a writer, I’m lucky I only have the dog to worry about. Husbands, kids and other dependents make it much more complicated. Been there, done that. I’m not the only one who has screamed at her loved ones to leave her alone unless there’s blood or fire.

Meanwhile, my house is a mess, I’ve got two writers’ groups and several upcoming events to prepare for, I need to pick up a prescription, and I’ve got this new book to promote, a task I dare not ignore. Yesterday, someone contacted me from a CBS TV show. It was very exciting. Unfortunately, I didn’t have quite what she’s looking for, but that definitely took my attention away from my work.

The biggest distraction is the Internet. But I found something the other day that I think is really going to help me. It’s a program called Freedom, and you can find it at I don’t want to do a sales pitch, but you can use it on a Mac or PC, and it’s only $10, with a free trial before you have to buy it. What it does is block your access to the Internet. Set it for an hour, and you can’t check e-mail, Facebook or anything else. It’s ironic that the Internet, something that is such a helpful tool, can be so addictive that we have to buy a product to keep us from using it, but that’s the way it is.

Another tool that really helps me is a kitchen timer. I set it for however long I want to write. I’m not sure why it works, but it does. Once I get started, I usually wind up going beyond the allotted time. The same day I found Freedom online (not a good writing day, obviously), I found several timer programs. I like (yes, with a dot after the e). It’s a real bonus if you don’t have a kitchen timer handy. An added advantage is that I can’t do anything else online without interrupting the timer, which is counting down the seconds in big black numbers.

We are surrounded by distractions, and it takes great willpower to resist them. Even with the timer and Freedom going, my dog could come seeking solace, someone could come to the door, or the phone could ring. I might ignore the phone, but not my dog or someone at my door. In the end, all we can do is keep going as long as we can, and if we’re interrupted, get right back to work as soon as possible, using whatever tools it takes to keep going.

Rewards are good, too. Food, a walk, finally being able to check Facebook can all be motivations for sticking to the task at hand long enough to get something done.

Like this post.

Now I can have lunch.

>No freebies influenced this blog

>There’s a rumble happening over a new Federal Trade Commission regulation that says bloggers who post reviews of books or products must include a notice if they received those books or products for free. It violates First Amendment rights, say some. Others are just putting a blanket notice on their blogs that says they do receive some free copies for review purposes but that does not affect what they write. For me, the only reviews I’m writing these days are for my newsletter, and I usually review books I bought or got at the library. I did receive a review copy recently, and I disclosed that fact.

I don’t think saying you got something for free is a problem. But then I think about newspaper book review sections, and they never mention that most of the books reviewed are sent by the publishers or the authors as free review copies. Why apply such a rule to blogs and not newspapers?

Other freebies can get you into trouble. Travel writers are often offered free trips. Most higher-level publications will not consider articles based on these freebies, but some writing publications advise writers to take the free trips and all the goodies you can get.

In my days as an on-staff reporter for community newspapers, I never got anything expensive, but I did receive my share of tote bags, T-shirts, zucchini and the occasional ticket to a show. Sometimes I received a gift after an article came out: flowers, candy, coffee mugs. Do these things influence a writer’s attitude? I’d like to say no, but we’re all human. If someone gives you something nice, you think favorably of them and you may, consciously or not, lean toward writing positive things about them–or putting their news in the paper the next time they call.

Most big metro papers don’t allow their staff writers to accept anything. But they do get those books to review. CDs and DVDs, too. It’s hard to draw the line. We all have friends, feelings and favorites. Is perfect impartiality even possible?

What do you think?

>So good, but no pay

>I was market-searching the other day and came across American Chronicle, which bills itself as a family of online magazines. Submitted articles are reportedly syndicated nationally and appear in all the major search engines. They list a bunch of major metro dailies that receive their stories. They publish the writer’s bio, photo, and web site address. Plus, the writer can write about almost any topic he or she wants. You’d be assigned your own individual page featuring your articles. Oh, there’s more. They’ll give you your own private email manager and a tracker to see who’s reading what you write.

Dang. Finally, a market that will treat you right. Just one little detail: They don’t pay. You do it for the exposure, for the clips that they promise will impress editors of other publications. So, here’s my question, one that has been asked many times over the years. Should you write for free? When is it worthwhile to do a freebie, keeping in mind that these articles will require research, interviews, and writing time? What do you think? I’ll tell you my thoughts on the subject tomorrow.
P.S. Has anyone had experience with American Chronicle?

UPDATE 2016: American Chronicle appears to be defunct, but the issue of writing for everything but money still exists. What do you think?