Writing With a Distracted Mind

If you are finding it hard to be productive, you’re not the only one…

You know how if you had all that time, you’d write your novel? How’s that working for you? Ha! If you’re like me then your distracted mind is struggling. I think it’s clear from my posts in the past that I don’t do great creative work when life is too much. And it’s all a bit too much for me at the moment

We are in the lucky position of still having work that we are trying hard to do at home with our son alongside. A privilege because even as a keyworker, I am not on the front line and a relief because we don’t have quite the worries that other people have around finances. So believe me, I am thinking about others in a lot worse positions than us when I write this. All this extra time at home and I am still too distracted to write.

Not me but…mood.

It’s frustrating. But this time in isolation is unique in its character. I am on an emotional rollercoaster. Right now, blogging on my phone while my son is on the laptop I am enjoying sitting about in comfy clothes. No school run stress. No demand to dry my hair then pick if I do makeup or eat breakfast today because I didn’t leave time for both. (That’s my usual week day) So I am even feeling good enough to write. But later I might try and read and manage two pages before I want to nap.

In this hour by hour existence, I have been thinking about my son’s mind. His neurodiversity means his attention can be very short if he isn’t motivated. And anything remotely schooly for him has to be of interest to engage him, particularly if he finds it hard to do something. The thing that his dyspraxia and attention make it hardest for him to do: writing. The physical act of writing is very complicated. He gets intense support for this at school. It takes time. And he’s got to be interested.

It is not without irony I realise that I am battling to help him do any writing while school is closed. And I think looking at his highly distracted mind can teach me something about how to approach any work I can do while this is our reality.

How to Help Your Distracted Mind Write (or A Seven-Year-Old Learn)

  1. Keep it short. Don’t expect to stay on topic a long time. I have been using a free Skillshare login to do some courses and quick writing exercises. This has led to a short story. Maybe this isn’t the time for long form! Don’t expect too much of yourself.
  2. Make it interesting: while I won’t pretend to be reading a lot, I have been indulging my obsessions in audiobooks and podcasts. Just as my son has been indulging his Minecraft interest, I have been enjoying tales of antiquity. Mythos by Stephen Fry and podcasts such as Myths and Legends. These stories are short and inspiring. And delving into something that really interests you may keep your mind engaged a little longer.
  3. Use time limits. Often it doesn’t feel like you have done much if you have only sat for 10 minutes. But you have to accept if you have done that, you have achieved something. A time limit is a great way to remind yourself to do nothing else in that time. And I have surprised myself with what we have achieved in a short time.
  4. Use a task list. My son gets stressed by timers as he has to watch it count down. We use a list of three tasks he has to achieve instead. This is also a good way to approach work, for me it’s about polishing some work with a few questions in mind: get information across, let the characters move forward, leave early enough. These are all things I learnt in writing classes that I can tick off when I revise work. And an achievable set of tasks to do with maybe a scene or a story.
  5. Reward any effort. You might be giving yourself more treats anyway but the thing that keeps me motivated might also be a little sit in the backyard. It doesn’t have to be much but if you did anything towards some writing you need to do, reward yourself!

So these are my distracted thoughts on getting work done...how have you been managing to write?

The best story-telling podcasts

Sometimes you need a refuge from life, sometimes you need someone to tell you a really good story…

I don’t think anyone could understand how important podcasts have been for me since my son was born seven years ago. Often my only intellectual conversation. An outlet for the dull moments whether that’s during housework, the time someone or other is insisting the TV is on, when he doesn’t sleep or when I can’t shut off my anxious brain. I have been some amazing places with these podcasts. At a time where we all need distraction here are my recommendations for the best storytellers around.

Heavyweight

Jonathan Goldstein lures you in with his comedic genius and then moments later, you’re in tears. A podcast about righting wrongs from years ago. Soraya is my favourite episode. There’s even one about Moby. If you haven’t caught on yet I would suggest this an excellent time to binge it all.

If you like this, you’ll like: The Mystery Show. I wish Starlee Kline would bring this back. Solving a mystery with good old-fashioned leg work, though the series be small, it is mighty.

Criminal

This is the first true crime podcast I found and Phoebe Judge’s voice alone can transport you anywhere. The stories are compelling, sensitively told and about a surprising element of crime you haven’t thought about. My favourite episode is about a woman who sits with the dying and brings about their end. Beautiful pods too about historical cases and unexpected interviews with crime scene cleaners. She takes the genre is a really different direction.

If you like this, you’ll like: This is Love Also Phoebe Judge, the series about Italy is particularly wonderful. I was strangely moved about the town that grew silent for the chance to hear the oldest violins in the world played for the last time. An isolation bonus is Phoebe reads a Mystery. Released because she is in isolation. A real treat to have The Mysterious Affair at Styles read out loud.

In the Dark

Another true crime trying to uncover the truth. But more importantly, it has recently been part of a justice movement that has freed Curtis Flowers. We wait to hear whether he will face trial for the seventh time. It was already a compelling story but the fact there may even be a hopeful ending is so good.

If you like this, you’ll like: The Fall Line I defy anyone to listen to the prologue about Atlanta, it’s history, it’s fall line and not immediately be sucked in. Really a triumph of story-telling. Each series

Myths and Legends

Excellently retold, he uses a series of stories from antiquity and around the world to create a new story. Well – researched, coming out every week these have long been one of my favourite ways to relax in the evening. I like the way I have learnt so much more about various legends – I would particularly recommend catching up on the Arthurian legends and the retelling of fairytales.

If you like this, you’ll like: Mythos by Stephen Fry and Heroes are on my audible account now. Another person with a melodious voice, this has been a great accompaniment to my isolation.

I hope you enjoy these recommendations and are staying well. I would love to listen to more fiction podcasts if anyone has great recommendations.

What do you suggest?

REVIEW: Home Truths by Tina Seskis

A strong marriage can cope with the unexpected. But can it survive the unimaginable? A great thriller from the plot-twist queen

Home Truths by Tina Seskis

This novel follows the lives of two separate families over many years. As we start, Eleanor has arrived from America in pursuit of a romantic affair with a Londoner but she is soon alone and trying to make a way for herself in a new city. The other couple Paul and Christie are trying to settle into happy family together. The mystery around secrets they have held from each other drive the novel. We constantly switch between each persons point of view. Part way through, an unnamed voice appears. Someone is in prison for crimes they’ve committed but we do not know who or which of our protagonists is involved.

These mysteries hooked me just as much as One Step Too Far, Tina Seskis’ previous novel. She has been called the “Queen of the Plot Twist”and I found this a compelling read over one weekend. I particularly felt like we got to know Eleanor and I appreciated seeing how she changed as the decades passed.

At times I was frustrated by the pace and with Christie’s storyline, I felt we missed something with jumping forward in time. We learn later what happens in early motherhood. I would happily have spent more time with Christie at this time in her life. I understood that the twists of plot were driving us forward but I would have enjoyed knowing more about difficulties she faces from her perspective.


This novel is perfect for the rainy weekends we have been having or if you have to self-isolate (washes hands). I ignored my family for most of the weekend to finish it as soon as possible. Great for fans of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl with the British realness of Laura Pearson’s novels like Missing Pieces.

Are you trying to keep calm?

Anxiety is hard in a health scare, but we have to carry on…

Back in October I wrote about my Stress in the City and how the overpopulated, noisy days out in the city often leave me overwhelmed. Well, you can only imagine how tough my health anxiety is in the current scare.

I am very glad though that my cleaning obsession in the last year has led to overstocked cupboards of Zoflora and bleach and that I have a steam cleaner. But I can see that I am not the only one who is trying to find control in this time of the unknown. In this week alone I have heard tell of people fighting for the last pack of Dettol wipes locally, alcohol rub shortages, another local store is sold out of toilet roll and there are queues outside of Costco. It’s a wild west for cleaning supplies.

There is advice here from the NHS of what you can actually do to help but it is clear I am not the only one thinking I can game the system by disinfecting constantly. Pity the poor fish after this health crisis because I am sure there will be much more disinfectant going into the water supply. I think it is upsetting to see this hoarding, but I understand it too because it’s under our control.

I am not going to lie, I live most of the time with a low-level cold. I put this down to the fact I have a child. They’re great incubators particularly at primary school. And as Mum of a sensory kid who is constantly putting things in his mouth, I think we are all a bit more exposed to germs than I would like despite my cleaning efforts. Add to this the fact I am on some medication that leaves me tired and unwell, I have a very mild cough…

I am fine, I am sure this cough thing would have developed into something by now if it was the-virus-who-must-not-be-named. But I hope you will bear with me while I just cope with my anxiety and being well.

Keep well out there!