#reverb10 two: obstacle

(I’m participating in Reverb 10. You can, too!)

Writing. What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it?

I was at a loss as to how to start answering that, because I don’t think of myself primarily, or even in second place, as a writer. But then a friend reminded me to substitute my own creative mode for writing. Right.

So, here’s what I do every day that prevents me from making new things, whether they be food or web pages or, er, “work” (generating new content as part of my job, but I am lucky enough to not separate “work” from “life”): I escape into others’ stories.

At home, I watch TV. To my occasional chagrin, Hulu and Netflix and YouTube all carry content with good storylines, and I’m a sucker for those. I watch things like Doctor Who and House and Fringe. And Glee, mostly because choir (including show choir, but 30-150 of us instead of a dozen) was my favorite part of the high school experience. And movies, sometimes. These stories are so wholly unconnected to most of the rest of my life that I just tune it all out. The constant noise in my head stops for those fifty minutes. I also watch brain candy, like medical dramas and (until I lost interest, because the stories are too formulaic) Bones. That’s to escape in another way.

Books have good stories too, but I tend to read while commuting. Ever since I became multilingual, first learning English and then almost immediately throwing myself into Italian, reading is a more conscious act than I’d like. Skimming is difficult; most reading processes take a lot more time than they did when I was eleven. Losing myself in a book is hard, so I don’t use them to escape so much as practice diving again and again.

Could I eliminate these compelling distractions? Of course. Here’s the thing, though: I don’t want to eliminate them. Sure, they can siren-sing me into oblivion. And sure, I’m not creating as much as I’d like. But these escapes give me two important tools. One is inspiration; input is at the core of everything. The other is a place and time to let things percolate subconsciously—a restful night’s sleep for creativity. So it’s a matter of finding balance. Balance is difficult for me to find, let alone sustain. The only way I’ve found to deal with this is iteration, practice, which is hard! It’s hard in itself, and it’s also hard because it involves shedding deeply ingrained assumptions of what activities constitute wasting time and, if I’m not careful, carry a dose of guilt (an unproductive time and energy sink).

At work, I read a lot—and sometimes catch myself at reading just for the story, failing to notice when an article (or blog post, or tweet) might lead me to new thoughts and new work. Escaping into stories that way, just to find out what people are doing without reflecting on how it ties into my own work, is no more damaging than escaping into television—but it is more wasteful. So at work, I work on my reading skills and on remembering that all those authors I read are writing about things directly relevant to what I do. Again, practice; but this time, instead of balance, the goal is increased mindfulness.

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