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Thursday, 18 February 2016

(GUEST BLOG) Five Big Distractions From Writing and How to Defeat Them by Ben Starling

Today, the lovely author, Ben Starling will be taking over and doing a guest blog post! Enjoy, and remember if you ever want to do a guest blog post Contact Me

Five Big Distractions From Writing and How to Defeat Them
By Ben Starling

There can’t be many endeavors that lend themselves to distraction quite like writing.

Here I am, two thousand words short of my daily writing target, and I’m working on a guest post—which is much more fun that churning on with my latest short story! Distractions come easily to me. But I’m sure I’m not alone.

How do to defeat distractions and stay on top of targets? Some times I don’t. But I’ve found a few plans for conquering my distractions that work well for me most of the time. Perhaps they will work for you too.

I choose here my top five from a list of hundreds. In no particular order:

Cabin Fever

Writing is a lonely activity and the room I write in is quite sparse. My desk doesn’t fit under the window so, when I need a break from a blank screen, I look up and revel in the tones and textures of a blank wall.

This doesn’t exactly flood me with enthusiasm and when the ideas aren’t flowing, a huge temptation builds to get out of here: to go for a walk in the park or beside the canal.... I convince myself my plot needs refining, my characters need de-lumping. But in truth, I just need some open space and fresh air…and a view. Which is fine to do once a day. What I’m talking about here, is the every-hour-on-the-hour urge to wander by the side of the canal. Most of the time, one really needs to be putting fingers to keyboard.

There is, of course an alternative. Cover the walls and ceiling with mirrors or appealing artwork. That would make the room bigger, brighter, more interesting. For now, I have chosen a favorite landscape to pin up. So far it’s keeping me at my desk longer, and getting more words on the page sooner.

The Urgency of the Tiny To-Do 

Oscar Wilde must have had me in mind when he said he never puts off until tomorrow what he can possibly do—the day after. The corpses of life’s missed opportunities clutter my past as delay by delay, I earned my black belt in this deadly (for writers) art. And the truth is, it came effortlessly.

Is it time to pay that bill? Return that call? Rearrange the furniture? Check my spam inbox to confirm that that life-changing email (Anne Hathaway—the part in my screenplay’s yours if you want it!) isn’t about to be deleted?

The procedure I use to overcome procrastination in this case goes through four phases: identification, recognition, confrontation, victory. It’s important to allow yourself about thirty minutes on each phase, to be sure you haven’t misidentified them…

Alternatively, you can employ the famous Sausage Technique. Break your problem down into small pieces, and tackle them one (manageable-sized) piece at a time.

Dreading that phone call to CreateSpace for help getting your manuscript through their file review requirements? Step One: Write down the problem. Step Two: Prepare your questions and a list of what you have already tried. Step Three: Anticipate the response and how you will deal with it. Step Four: Find the phone number. Step Five: Practice dialling… By the time you actually make the call, much of the anxiety will have gone. And you’ll be prepared.


It’s helpful to plan what you are about to write in order to feel the dip and climb of character arcs, to imagine how extra conflict can be inserted into a scene, how dialog can be made more humorous…. All of this can be done on a spreadsheet, or using multi-colored Post-it notes that can be moved up, down and sideways on the wall (note to self: If I stick them on the wall behind my computer, I’ll have something interesting to look at!).
I am adept at stretching this phase out…indefinitely. But the point finally comes when it’s time to start writing. It’s quite easy to over-plan a scene because until it’s actually written, you can’t tell if it really works and how well it relates to adjacent scenes. Planning is a tool by which one can put off forever the Moment of Truth: If I’m still planning, then I don’t have to look and see if the scene I wrote actually works.

So I try to limit the amount of time I spend planning to the mornings. I design a scene, get some writing done, study it, then throw the plan away. In the afternoon, I begin to write in earnest…


It’s amazing how hunger develops in proportion to the severity of the latest episode of writer’s block: the worse the plot hole, the hungrier I get. So it’s off to the kitchen to inspect the contents of the fridge while convincing myself that my glucose levels are so low that I can’t think (Editor’s Note: Ben, you must be permanently hungry, then).

My first attempt at a solution to this one seemed to be obvious: Only attempt writing after a large meal. Unfortunately, this gave rise to Writing Distraction #6: Falling Asleep.
Then I noticed how hunger pangs disappear and meals are easily missed when my writing is going well. Eureka, I had hit upon a new solution—I resolved to ensure that my writing was always going superlatively well! That way, I would be both productive and aerodynamically slim at the same time. (Well, you can guess how that went…)

In the end, I found that gentle grazing—many little healthy snacks-size nibbles through out the day—keeps me going in a steady state.

Alternatively, try applying extract of bladderwort to the instep of your naked feet. I’m told this appetite suppressant really works.

The Search for Perfection

This distraction’s close ally is the fear of failure. It’s so easy to rewrite again and again, each time convincing oneself that the book is improving. This is because I worry that when it’s finally published, it may fail to sell, because it wasn’t quite good enough.

It’s important to be able to step back and know when the pudding is being over-egged. Otherwise weeks become months, and months become years. By then the people who showed interest when they first heard about your latest writing project have wandered away.

Remember that the search for perfection can be costly. Is it worth taking a week re-reading the entire manuscript to find one more typo? Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Art is never completed, only abandoned”. So my rule of thumb is to stop writing and editing just before my concerned friends and family abandon me.

Five Big Distractions From Writing – Off to Defeat Them!

Recognizing and conquering distractions is a must for achieving targets: I know meeting my daily word quota is something I must do. And I have a two thousand word target still to tackle for today.

Before I get started though, I just need to check the fridge. I’m sure there’s some cold pizza in there. Oh, look—the sun is shining and the park’s looking lovely. Maybe I’ll just…

About Ben: 

Ben Starling is passionate about marine conservation and boxing, both central themes in his work. His interest in marine life has taken him across three continents over the past three decades. He boxed competitively until recently and continues to coach. Ben graduated from Oxford University with a Master of Arts and a Master of Philosophy.
Ben recently released Something in the Water, An Ocean Romance, available now on Amazon.
The sealed box Teal finds in the street contains more than a mystery…  What if to be with the man of your dreams… you had to give up your life?  On the verge of losing her job, a side-lined journalist is forced to travel to the South Pacific to untangle a mystery where she meets a reclusive ex-boxer with a message. When a syndicate of corporate criminals invades paradise, she must either accept the plum promotion that will save her career or defend the island with her life.


  1. Loved it! Brilliantly funny, and so true - I'm reading this instead of writing! Better go check the fridge...

  2. Personally, I think Oscar Wilde is the best writer of all time. Thank you for your contribution to literature.


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