The Intersection of Obsessions: Finding Time to Write During Life

As writers and (basically) people, we all have weaknesses and distractions. Those things that we love almost as much as creating—and destroying—worlds, that sometimes cannot be ignored, no matter how many times we motivate ourselves through ample application of self-shaming if we fail to accomplish 3,000 words before going to bed. For some, that distraction is yoga or working out; for others, our favorite TV show; and for others, reading a good book sometimes proves more compelling than writing one.

Then there’s another set of writers whom I’ll call “the freakish July crowd.” We are the rabble that sit in front of the NBC Sports stream for 4 – 6 hours every single day for three weeks straight in the middle of summer to see the carnival of quads and sods racing around France. Oh, we know we’re wrong to waste our time in this fashion, but we can’t help it. It’s an addiction, an obsession, a geek-cum-athlete-fest so extreme and titillating that our habituated, slavish minds are incapable of resisting it.

But we are adults, right? We can control our habits and our actions. We don’t require an intervention to ensure we’ve adequately performed meaningful, if minimal, human functions for the day. We are in control of our actions and emotions, dammit, not the peloton. And not, dear gawd, the General Classification time gaps.

Still, there is no denying those distractions tear at us. And if we wish to continue touting ourselves as writers, we must justify our behavior strategize ways to work those distractions to our advantage.

For me, it’s as simple as using my obsession with cycling, both watching races and spinning my own pedals, as research. Believe me when I tell you there is no better case study for researching deep, primal suffering than the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, or Vuelta a España. And, yunno, given that my preferred genres all delve deeply into humanity’s psychological and physical pain caves (military SF, horror, dark urban fantasy), I write about plenty of suffering. I need to be able to look into those grills of gritted teeth on the Col de Tourmalet, the eyes oozing agony on the team time trials, and the bloody, stripped-to-the-bone flesh on the Alp de Huez to accurately portray the depth of pain and misery people are capable of dropping into. Those hours I’m glued like Honey Stinger gels to teeth to the grand tours are not just to pass the time; they are essential to developing as a writer. Research. No good book can be written without it.

What strategies do you employ to manage your distractions and keep your writing momentum?

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All content copyright unless otherwise specified © 2013 by Tammy Salyer, writer. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to use short quotes provided proper attribution is given.

4 Replies to “The Intersection of Obsessions: Finding Time to Write During Life”

  1. patrickrooneyauthor

    I think it’s interesting how those little snippets of dialog we’ve been agonizing over over or a phrase we’ve been twisting around in our brains gets “solution-ed” when we’re exercising. Maybe that’s how Lance Armstrong came up with such a good fiction story when he wrote “It’s not about the Bike.”

  2. Peter Lukes

    You’re totally on the mark with this article. The only thing I can add is that I am lucky to have a home gym so that I can bring my notebooks/laptop and literally write in between sets. Doing that at a real gym would probably not be feasible, however!

    1. Tammy Salyer Post author

      I hear you, Peter. I am at the point where I don’t run or go to the gym without my iPhone. I get strange looks when I suddenly step off the treadmill and start recording voice memos (even stranger when I keep running and do it), but that’s what has to happen to get all those fleeting, transient thoughts from disappearing!