As I type this, my chair vibrates.
No, the chair isn’t from Brookstone, but the guy downstairs is blasting techno from what must be 30″ subwoofers. I’m not sure if I should be glad that techno has no memorable melody or not. It does tend to give me headaches, but I’m never familiar with the song, so my mind never subconsciously follows along with the (alleged) tune.
Often when I read, see or hear something I enjoy, I remember it so well that I anticipate its progression. I can’t sleep if my favorite movie is on because my mind is actively and accurately predicting each line and swell of the score. If someone is reading a poem I love, my mind fixates on waiting for my favorite lines. In college, to get away from the noisy hall, I’d have to turn on ESPN or QVC, the only two channels with predictably unpredictable noise. Unfortunately, I began waking up several hours after going to sleep to ESPN because Sportscenter starts looping in the middle of the night, and my brain began following along. Finally, a TV with a timer and a back-up white noise maker solved this issue.
OCD? You decide.
My neighbor plays his music at 10am and 5:30pm like his life depends on it. And maybe it does. Maybe there’s a troll living with him that stares out from under table and chair legs and forces him to play deafening techno at a scheduled time lest terror worse than directionless noise ensue. That’s probably it. But it’s possible that he’s alternately psyching himself up for work and unraveling from it. No, I’m pretty sure it’s a troll.
His noise schedule is set. At 10am, that music is thumping. My writing schedule is also set. I write in the mornings, when I’m fresh and haven’t looked at the news or my email, and I really hit my stride by 10am, right as DJ Swisscheesebrain and the Ecstasytwins’ woofers are warming up. This has presented me with a unique challenge: how to write through distraction?
- Don’t. Take a break and leave some words untyped. When the distraction fades, situate yourself again and reenter the fictive dream.
- Eliminate the distraction. This is easily accomplished when the distraction is a blaring television or stinky trash, but considerably more difficult when the distraction is another human being. When people who aren’t your children bother you, asking nicely and unselfrighteously will often do the trick. Never accuse. Offer solutions. Say, “Hey, your music is really loud [he/she knows], and I’m trying to do some work upstairs. Could we work out a schedule of loud and quiet hours?” Don’t: bang on the floor/ceiling, play your music as loud as you can, or shut off the electricity.
- Don’t put yourself in distractionland to begin with. I often see people “writing” at Starbucks, but most often they are staring or mousing more than writing. If you do write well in such a place, do it. But if you’re distracted at home, you’ll be distracted when you’re out.
- Clean up. The cluttered desk / cluttered mind saying is very true. Each thing you see that isn’t what you’re working on is a potential concentration saboteur. It’s just a piece of paper. But it’s the paper you’ve printed your first outline on. And it has some faded streaks. That means a new printer cartridge, which means selling a kidney. One kidney and you can’t drink as much tea as you have been or you’ll get kidney stones, so you’ll have to switch to coffee, even though it irritates your stomach and makes you antsy. Decaf, then. But still it’ll irritate your stomach. What about just drinking a cold caffeine drink? No, that doesn’t have the ritual feeling a hot drink does. The drink you had is cold now anyway. Better make another. Why have you been writing for 2 hours and only have a paragraph?
- Plan extensively. If you know where you’re going, it’s easier to get there. When you’re not waiting for the muse to light on your shoulder and whisper in your ear, it’s easier to complete a first draft, even when DJ Dumbdumb is throwing a one-man rave. Make an outline and follow it.