Posted in Writing

Why Distractions and Interruptions Can Actually Help Your Writing


In his 2000 craft book On Writing, Stephen King says,

In truth, I’ve found that any day’s routine interruptions and distractions don’t much hurt a work in progress and may actually help it in some ways. It is, after all, the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster’s shell that makes the pearl.

As writers we often dream of days with nothing for us to do but write.

Days where you wake up in the morning and there’s nowhere for you to be, nothing for you to do. Where you literally have the whole day to yourself, with no distractions, no interruptions, and you can write, write, write to your heart’s content.

I’m lucky enough to have days like these sometimes. Especially in the summer, when I’m not teaching, I’ll have at least one or two days a week where I don’t even have to leave my house. There are no errands to run. No meetings I need to make. I need to feed my animals, and I leave the house at some point to go for a run or go to the gym. There’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner to think about too, of course (writers need to eat!). And the rest of the day? I get to write.

These days can be glorious. I sit down at the writing desk at 9am or 10am and I have hours to devote to my writing, the thing I love to do. I’ve designed my life in a way to be able to find time to do this, to tell stories, to create.

But you want to know the really, really weird thing? The thing that makes zero sense to me to this day?

My writing is often better and more urgent when I have the occasional distraction or interruption.

Now I’m not talking about a distraction or interruption that suddenly takes over your entire day. Where you were planning to write between 10am and 2pm, and suddenly at 9:30 something comes up where you need to leave the house (and your laptop) until 6pm. Huge ordeals like that happen to me once or twice during the drafting of a novel, and it’s always frustrating.

But minor distractions and interruptions can actually have a positive effect on your writing day. A phone call from someone I haven’t talked to in awhile. A desire to make lunch early and watch an episode from the latest Netflix show I’m watching. A knock at the door that needs my attention.

One might think little things like these break the magic, but the truth of the matter is this: you can’t just write, write, write for hours on end without any breaks. Besides, in most cases there will be distractions, and you have to deal with them. To try to avoid them entirely is impossible.

I don’t know about you, but I have three really good hours of writing in me every day. Three hours where I can go without many breaks, where my creativity is high and where my ideas are constantly flowing. But after three hours I start to hit a wall, and I’ll keep writing if I must, but the joy of it begins to fade.

What I often find is that an occasional distraction, even if it’s just a minute or two, will give my brain a moment of rest so that I can continue writing or revising the scene and give it even closer attention than if the distraction hadn’t happened.

It’s not the end of the world, after all, if you have to step away from the laptop. That blank page will be waiting, and oftentimes that brief distraction will actually motivate you to make the next chunk of writing even better than the last.

Don’t try to avoid distractions and interruptions as a writer. Instead, do your best to embrace them.

Again, distractions happen. On Monday I started writing a new young adult novel, and I was about 1,500 words into the first chapter when a knock at the door broke my concentration, and I had to talk to somebody for a minute at the front of my house. You’d think this would have pissed me off, but in fact, after I closed the door, I kind of appreciated the distraction.

I chugged some water, cracked my knuckles, and went back to work. I managed 700 more words in just twenty minutes time.

It sounds really weird, but sometimes having the whole day to write isn’t the paradise you might think it is. And often when I have an obligation in the afternoon, like teaching sessions or errands to run, the writing in the morning is actually better and more urgent because I’m more focused. There’s no procrastination, no thinking I can write really, really slow since I have the entire day.

Distractions and interruptions are a part of life, they’re certainly a part of a writer’s life, and if you look at them in the right way, they can actually be useful.

Think of them as breaks for your brain if nothing else, and once the distraction has passed, sit back down, take a breath, and keep writing!

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