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 Swing

Feet off the ground;

Trying to snap it

I reach for my phone to record.

But you forget

Hands off the chains

The soar of fear, I shout

But you sit, still there

Feet on, feet off.

The momentous occasion

There are things that take longer for you

And I am proud,

Overinterested

Used to the gut rise

And reaching out to help.

A hummingbird buzz around you.

But this is just another play in the park,

Just a casual afternoon on the swing.

Battle on

When all else fails, battle on. A bad day? A bad month? Or all merged into a steaming heap that you cannot divide up into good or bad, just a pile that’s been dumped right on top of you. Then you battle on.

The battle pales into insignificance to other wars being fought elsewhere, I know that, but still, here in my life, this is a fight. A fight for my son and his needs to be heard. A fight too for keeping my head above water, juggling my responsibilities with the extra workload of paperwork. And of course it’s not just the actual paperwork but the emotional load of it all.

I learnt back in November when we were going through the EHCP draft stage that the emotional toll took a lot out of me. The process should be over by now but they have not listened so we are waiting to mediate. Up and down the country families are going through this stage or taking the Local Authority to court. And why? There is not enough money nor enough places to meet the needs of our children. There’s a full on #SENDcrisis. Meanwhile newspapers are reporting that schools are taking “your” children’s funding to plug the gap. This discriminatory writing where we are set up them vs. us is so toxic and the fight feels so much bigger than just our family.

All of this does not make a great creative space. Knowing how tough the end of last year was, I have been more prepared to take it easy on myself. Instead I have been escaping to baths and books. And some read some amazing writing this month.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton is such a brilliant novel. Recounting the tale of the end of slavery and the pseudo-science of eugenics, the full horrors that Frannie experiences unravel through the tale she tells. We learn how she ends up in prison, her life in the hands of a system always going to beat her down. It is a compelling novel and I loved that we really get to hear her voice.

Inspired by the prison setting, I started Alias Grace this weekend. Another fascinating novel that reads too as a murder mystery.  So far I am loving it. Shame my son just took my bookmark out!

Obviously there are many ways in we can distract ourselves from our real life problems. But for me, a book will always be the best place to escape.

Being Mum

Some weeks I don’t get to be me, I don’t get to write, I am just Mum…

The last few weeks have been tough. We are applying for funding for support for my son and out of the blue the paperwork turned up. If you have ever received a document that goes into depth not just about your child’s strengths but all their difficulties too, you know this is a very emotional and difficult thing to read.

The way it has set me back most though is having to rely on others, whether trying to get hold of staff, getting an advocate to respond to the laughable offer we received from the local authority. And in the mean time trying to entertain little one over half term, deal with sickness, deal with household things. Sometimes the motherload comes crashing down upon you.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com : Learning Education Law now as well as Child Development, apparently.

This has been very hard to handle. I made mistakes at work, I didn’t get things done I needed to, I have spent the week feeling ill physically and having aches and pains. Stress does this to you. It also robs you of the chance to be you, to write, to be creative.

Your circumstances may be different from mine, in terms of the difficulties I am currently facing I hope for you they are. But I know too that I have many things that make my life so much easier than others. So if you do get a week, two or three when the weight of the world tries to crush you what can you do?

  • Still go on Artist’s Dates. A couple hours a week to indulge in something that makes life a little more interesting. This was lucky because my birthday treat came in the middle of this mess so I had one already booked. I hope to share more about seeing the treasures of Tutankhamen soon, it was wonderful. Doing something for you but particularly for your creativity is a real lift at a tough time. I have written about some cheap and easy date ideas I would also recommend.
  • Use your journal. As you may know I use morning pages, and have written about how I try and fit in a few pages of journaling each morning. Boy did I have a lot to moan about in the last few weeks! It does help me to get down my worries, my fears and sometimes inspiration strikes.
  • Re-evaluate what you can achieve in a short time. I had half an hour this week where little one was entertained and I sat down and wrote. I surprised myself by revisiting the ending of the dreaded draft. I have been struggling with this ending for months! Something about the urgency of the little burst of time, a self-imposed deadline, helped me start to fit some pieces together I have been puzzling on for a while.
  • Cleaning up around my space has helped me. I find having a quick sort, doing a job I had been putting off like dusting the light shades, they gave me a small sense of control when I have very little over anything else. The burst of writing only happened after I finally cleared through some paperwork that had been cluttering up my dining table. It helps.

This month won’t go down as my most successful writing month, which is ironic given the #WritingCommunity are ensconced in #NaNoWriMo. But for me, if I just get through all the things I am being asked to do as my darling boy’s Mum, then I will chalk it up as a win.

Stress and the city

The tang of metal is on my tongue, back in town from a few days away I notice the pollution more, is it a wonder with the assault on the senses that I get stressed out in the city.

Breathing. After a cold a few years ago, I developed asthma again though mild it’s worrying that the last time I had this problem was when I was at school and the playing fields were next to the M6 motorway. Breathing in all this pollution I worry for what it will do for my health long term, and I only live on the outskirts of London.

Getting sick. If I go into London, a few days later I will have a cold. You must get immune to if you are always going in. I have become religious about hand-sanitizer. I didn’t know that I am unusual in feeling a sensation on my hands if I haven’t cleaned them for a while. I get this cloyiness on my palms, and it won’t leave until a wash my hands. The fact that my skin breaks out or I have a virus within days of any trip on the tube seems proof enough that the City is not good for my mild anxiety-led germophobia. Squashed with too many people, holding on to the handrails like you’re supposed to on the escalator, these are all hard for me.

Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on Pexels.com

Sensory overwhelm. It took having a child with Sensory Processing Disorder to understand the world differently. His overwhelm at noises, his reaction of running from busy crowded places has opened my eyes. The world is often too noisy, too busy, too bright, too loud. And though my I can regulate my reaction to the barrage of too much information, I also hate it at times. I may not respond so much but it builds up inside me that tiny irritations build up so that often I reach a point where I need a sensory break too. My go to move is to put my headphones in and looking around, a lot of other people cope this way too.

Too loud. Except not everyone uses headphones. Music out loud on buses is a pet peeve. I have asked many a (usually young man) to put in headphones. I saw a man blasting his music from a player on his shoulder the other day. On reflection, he was probably promoting his own music but I stood nervously to see if he was getting on my bus. Would I have to confront him? Would the bus driver say anything? I want to be polite even if you show no-one else courtesy. But he stayed at the bus stop. The whole imaginary argument had been in my head but left me frazzled. Calming myself with the mantra, nothing happened, and “use this” irritation.

The Big Smoke. I hate the smell of smoke and particularly weed which permeates everywhere. I took precautions to hide it when I smoked in my twenties so no-one found me but now it’s ubiquitous. I will never know if then, in my reckless moments, I was in fact bothering a Mum with a young child who asked her “What’s that funny smell?” Just like my son has asked me.

Photo by Zachary DeBottis on Pexels.com

His palate is more sensitive and no doubt some of my anger at near neighbours for smoking is because I worry for him. I want to make life as easy for him as I can. But this like my other concerns seems like a characteristic of the urban experience, to me. It represents people doing what they want, where they want without considering others. An individualist way of living.

I have been writing a short story about a woman driven mad trying to catch fly-tippers. This pre-occupation with her surroundings, well let’s just say I can relate. But where my concerns really come from are this desire to make the world a better place for my son. To think about how we can be more considerate to other people and to our planet.

If you’re interested in what it can be like for a person on the Autistic Spectrum with associated sensory difficulties, I recommend this campaign called “Too Much Information” from the National Autistic Society.