The Complete List of Creative Distractions and Defenses Against Them

Image by Marchnwe
Image by Marchnwe
I have been asking writers about their biggest challenges in managing their daily lives and finding time to write. Their top answer: distractions.

So I thought that, in order to understand the problem, I would catalog every distraction known to writers. Then, in the post below, turn this into a guide. If you are a writer hoping to overcome distractions, all you need to do is simply memorize this list, and learn to avoid the key triggers that turn each of these items into distractions.

Okay, here goes. The Complete List of Creative Distractions and Defenses Against Them.

Distraction: Cat Videos

  • Definition: Amazing, lovely, cute, wonderful cat videos. Is there anything more amaz…. No wait. They are evil, evil distractions. These perfect little cute… ACK! BAD! DISTRACTION!!!
  • Defense: Become an evil soul with a heart of pure stone. That is the only way to avoid the majestic beauty of adorable, cute… ACK! STOP!!!!

Distraction: Real Cats and Dogs and other Pets

  • Definition: In moments of weakness, we allow these wild creatures into our lives. One moment you are a writing machine, the next moment, you spend all of your time coddling this filthy, wild creature. “Oh, just a little more rubbing on the tummy… Oooooh yes, you are such a good puppy. Yes you are! Yes you are!” It’s sickening, really.
  • Defense: Open the back door. When the animal leaves, close back door. Put in ear plugs and get back to writing.

Distraction: Education

  • Definition: Remember when your parents trapped you into a concrete building for the first 18 years of your life? Then how you got back at them by wasting tens of thousands of dollars doing keg stands instead of going to class? Yes, that is the education I am talking about.
  • Defense: Do I really care what year Isaac Newton invented gravity? Or how to properly subjugate an adjective in a paragraph? I mean, really? Education is a sham. A giant ruse developed by whichever political party you dislike the most. Education, in all its forms, should be avoided. Like the plaque.

Distraction: Cleaning

  • Definition: Dust bunnies. You can hear them calling, can’t you? They say, “Dust us! Collect us and deliver us to the afterworld of the magic dust bin!”
  • Defense: For centuries, mankind has lived in filth. Sewers running through the streets, people bathing only monthly. I mean, the vacuum cleaner wasn’t even invented until 1860, meaning that most of human history was spent without them. Some of the greatest written work of all time was written specifically in the absence of the unrivaled suction power of a Dyson. Let’s face it, if A + B = C, there is no argument. A world without vacuum cleaners is a world where great writing thrives.

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About Dan Blank

Dan Blank is the founder of WeGrowMedia, where he helps writers share their stories and connect with readers. He has helped hundreds of authors via online courses, events, consulting, and workshops, and worked with amazing publishing houses and organizations who support writers such as Random House, Workman Publishing, Abrams Books, Writers House, The Kenyon Review, Writer’s Digest, Library Journal, and many others.

The Trap of Your Comfort Zone

Image by Kenny Louie
Image by Kenny Louie
I have been thinking a lot about how our comfort zone — that place that FEELS right — is actually a really dangerous place to dwell if you have a vision to create a meaningful body of work. The ideas I have been exploring with writers and creative professionals is whether you need to place yourself outside your comfort zone on a consistent basis in order to find success.(Though, of course, there is no ONE way to find success.)

The question I am exploring is this: Is your comfort zone a trap?

I’m going to look at this from three different stages of one’s writing career:

  1. Writing
  2. Publishing
  3. Developing an audience

Okay, let’s dig in…

Writing and Comfort

Let’s start with the writing process. This week, I taught a workshop to 5th graders at PS 123 in Harlem on ‘How to become an author.’ We talked about the phases of publishing (more on that below), but first I talked to them about the process of writing.

Me (right) with the students:

The students working:
IMG_0779

The first example I gave was the book I am writing, and I showed them my 80,000-word draft, pointing out that it is both:

  • An astounding achievement that required a lot of hard work.
  • Total garbage that still requires months of research, and several more rounds of intense editing, including hiring an outside editor.

When I was at the school a few weeks prior, running a career workshop, one of the teachers pulled me aside afterward and thanked me for talking about the value of the revision process. He said that the kids feel that their first draft is their FINAL draft.

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About Dan Blank

Dan Blank is the founder of WeGrowMedia, where he helps writers share their stories and connect with readers. He has helped hundreds of authors via online courses, events, consulting, and workshops, and worked with amazing publishing houses and organizations who support writers such as Random House, Workman Publishing, Abrams Books, Writers House, The Kenyon Review, Writer’s Digest, Library Journal, and many others.

Shame and Your Writing Career

Image by Esther Simpson
Image by Esther Simpson

Today I want to talk about the deeper motivations for decisions we make around our craft and career as writers. How fear and shame often play a role in decisions on how we practice our craft and navigate our career.

For instance, the person who doesn’t release their finished novel because they fear it will tank. Or the person who does no marketing whatsoever because they don’t know how to do it, so they conclude, “marketing doesn’t even work.”

Okay, let’s dig in.

What They Don’t Teach You

Over the years, I have noticed a growing number of things that I wasn’t taught in school. Hopefully some of these have changed, either in your personal experience, or in modern education in general. For example, in my personal experience:

Schools don’t teach entrepreneurship; how to take calculated risks to build a business around work that you find meaningful.

They don’t teach emotional literacy around money. They teach accounting and economics, but not how to deal with the psychological and emotional aspects of money. Instead, many people deal with money from either a fear-based mentality, remaining trapped in jobs they hate for decades, or they make decisions based on marketing alone. For example, a person might read an article about the new Apple Watch and how great the company is doing, so they buy Apple stock. In doing so, they feel they are indirectly benefitting from Apple’s success, therefore this is a sound financial investment. But that isn’t really how investing always works. It’s not just “buy whatever is successful at whatever price you can.” That isn’t investing; it’s a reaction that makes you feel good for a moment.

Schools don’t teach communication skills at a comprehensive level — skills such as debate, public speaking, interpersonal communication, negotiation, relationship management and so much else. These are life skills that are necessary in thousands of tiny moments every day, but training is typically only offered once in your educational journey, as a single elective.

They don’t teach how to recognize and cope with silent crises. Situations such as bullying, or how to recognize when a friend or colleague is suffering from some form of abuse –- be it emotional, physical, drug related, or something else. Because without knowing how to recognize when to help others, these situations are often ignored, lead to gossip, or isolate that person.

Again, I will note that this is my personal experience in education — yours may have been very different. I am aware that recognition of how to prevent and cope with bullying has (thankfully) become a very prominent topic in education recently.

Writing & Shame: Digging Deeper

How does all of this relate to writing? Like other areas of life, we often make decisions about our writing career based on surface-level excuses that mask deeper motivations.

We resist writing for deeper reasons.
“It just feels so selfish, I have a responsibility to my kids, and the house is a mess.”

We resist craft for deeper reasons.
“That teacher doesn’t know what she is talking about, all of my beta readers loved it.
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About Dan Blank

Dan Blank is the founder of WeGrowMedia, where he helps writers share their stories and connect with readers. He has helped hundreds of authors via online courses, events, consulting, and workshops, and worked with amazing publishing houses and organizations who support writers such as Random House, Workman Publishing, Abrams Books, Writers House, The Kenyon Review, Writer’s Digest, Library Journal, and many others.

It Turns Out, All You Need to do is Write a Great Book

Image by Rex Boggs
Image by Rex Boggs
It turns out that all you need to do is write a great book. That’s right, you can skip social media, bookstore events, publicity, giveaways, and other complicated marketing plans. All you need to do is write a great book.

Then wait.

Wait for an agent to find you. Oh, so I suppose you will want to send out a query letter. I mean, that’s okay, right? So you have to write a great book, then send out query letters.

Then the agent will find a great publisher for you! I mean, chances are, in that process the agent or an editor may ask for changes to the book, to help ensure that it meets the needs of that partner – the publisher. So all you have to do is write a great book, send query letters, and make edits to your great book based on the needs of other partners.

Then the publisher will ensure your book gets published and shared with readers! But of course, you’re wise to negotiate that contract really well. Your agent is absolutely a key partner in this process, but let’s face it, every small decision may be fraught with a sense of ‘do or die’ because after all, you wrote this amazing book! Film rights? You want those, don’t you? So all you have to do is write a great book, send query letters, make edits based on your partners’ input, and negotiate a contract.

It is happening – your book is being readied for publication! Your publisher has taken the reins to guarantee this book gets out in to the world! Wait, they want to go right to paperback? They chose a cover you aren’t sure about? There is yet another round of edits? You are beginning to get nervous about what the marketing plan is? You wonder which bookstores it may be in?

Lots of questions, right? And of course, this is a partnership, likely with many others involved Not just your editor, but designers, marketers, the sales team, and so many others. So all you have to do is write a great book, send query letters, make edits based on your partners’ input, negotiate a contract, and be a team player in all aspects of publishing a book.

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About Dan Blank

Dan Blank is the founder of WeGrowMedia, where he helps writers share their stories and connect with readers. He has helped hundreds of authors via online courses, events, consulting, and workshops, and worked with amazing publishing houses and organizations who support writers such as Random House, Workman Publishing, Abrams Books, Writers House, The Kenyon Review, Writer’s Digest, Library Journal, and many others.

Becoming a Student of Your Own Creative Process

Image by Christopher Sessums.
Image by Christopher Sessums.

How do you best create? How do you best write, collaborate, increase the quality of your work, improve your ability to focus, or increase the quantity of output?

What actions are you taking to build a body of work that is both meaningful, and powered by a sense of momentum?

Each of you will have your own approach to these things. Your unique goals, preferences, and boundaries. Some will seek to publish a book a year; others won’t be able to see past their eight-year process to complete a debut novel. Both are, of course, fine.

I bring this topic up because I find that many people have blind spots as to why they make the decisions they do. Their creative process becomes mired in bad habits rooted in deep emotions that they are barely aware of. Hours, days, and even years are spent in a state of confusion or frustration regarding how to write better, how to best publish, how to best develop a readership and encourage sales. Each of these, in its own way, is a creative process. Each filled with its own emotional complexity.

How we develop the skills to master our own capabilities around each is a core part of mastering our own unique creative processes.

For instance, I am always surprised that I was taught accounting in high school, but the topic of “emotions and money” was never addressed in accounting class. How, for the most part, our relationship and decisions around money are HIGHLY subjective, based on emotional reactions objective decision-making. Further, these decisions are filled with internal narratives born of desire and fear, not out of practical financial formula.

We read an article about how awesome Apple is and the article includes a chart demonstrating how well Apple stock has done in the past few years. The result? We buy Apple stock. Suddenly, we glean aspects of their identity and success as our own. We feel this is a sound financial investment because of it. Yet, this decision-making approach involved zero financial analysis, and instead was purely emotional. We saw an innovative, successful company and felt innovative and successful ourselves by purchasing shares. If the stock tanked, we would feel betrayed, perhaps blindsided. But as it succeeds, we feel that their identity becomes our own.

The same can be true for our own creative processes.

In working with hundreds of writers and creative professionals, I have seen this play out in countless ways. Often a blockage is only identified as a symptom: “I’m overwhelmed,” or “I’m having writer’s block,” or “I’m just frustrated with all that is asked of me.” While I 100% empathize with these very important emotions, I always want to break them down to understand the root cause. In doing so, we identify assumptions being made, and challenge them in order to find a path forward.

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About Dan Blank

Dan Blank is the founder of WeGrowMedia, where he helps writers share their stories and connect with readers. He has helped hundreds of authors via online courses, events, consulting, and workshops, and worked with amazing publishing houses and organizations who support writers such as Random House, Workman Publishing, Abrams Books, Writers House, The Kenyon Review, Writer’s Digest, Library Journal, and many others.