Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Great Distraction

I am not giving you parenting advice. I'm going to repeat that just so I don't get a mass of overly defensive wingnut parents ripping me a new one on my blog or on Reddit: I am NOT telling anyone how they should raise their child. Okay, now that we have that out of the way I'd like to share an observation about something I have noticed over the years:

There are some people out there who are remarkably good at keeping children distracted.

I was thinking about this at swimming lessons with the kids last week. Neither child was in an area of the pool that I could see particularly well so I'm on my iPhone just jotting down ideas for future writing and waiting for one of my kids to come into view (my kids are a little older so I'm not sitting with my face pressed to the glass and quiet clapping / waving / thumbs upping at every fart bubble they produce).



A small child, probably 3 or 4 years old was bored out of her mind waiting for her older brother to finish his swim lesson. The viewing area was absolutely packed with parents and this child was clearly seconds away from pitching a fit of epic proportions. I mean this kid was about to seriously explode. I've seen that look before. Every parent has. My first instinct was to plug my ears and duck.

Then, an amazing thing happened. The older woman wrangling the child, cool as a cucumber, pulled a pencil and random scrap of paper out of her purse, handed them to the child and said, "Hey sweetie, can you help Nana? I need lines drawn all over this piece of paper. It's really important. Can you draw lines all over this for me?"

I'll be damned if the kid didn't just sit down right there in the middle of the floor and start scribbling all over the piece of paper. She did this for a solid ten minutes, every so often looking up and showing her work to Nana, who would smile and pat her on the head and say something like "Wonderful! Keep going! You're such a good helper."

Based on my observations at swimming, and throughout the last decade of hanging out in places where there are a ton of small children (Gymboree, the library, various parks & playgrounds, the mall) I have identified the two main groups of people that are insanely good at keeping a restless child sufficiently distracted: teachers and grandmothers.


That's not to say that there aren't a whole host of other people out there who are capable of keeping a child occupied for a few minutes when you need them to, it's just that this is a particular skill that you're either professionally trained in, or have honed over decades on your own.

The rest of us, well let's just say that many have difficulty channelling it into anything productive. What not enough people realize that you're exercising the same muscle group in procrastinating as you are in keeping a child occupied.

Even fewer realize that it's the same skill you need to get some ideas down on a page and start writing. If being wrong looks a lot like being right, then distraction looks a lot like discipline. This is what sets successful writers apart from all the rest of us. It isn't a particularly new concept, but it is one that you can easily grasp by comparing the kid that wants to pitch a fit with the ominous blank page staring you in the face:

Goal:
Stop Kid From Pitching Fit
Goal:
Write Something
Problem:
Kid is bored!
Problem:
I am lazy!
Solution: 
Distract the kid
Solution:
Distract your mind (huh, what?)
Application:
Find something, anything, to get the kid's mind off of whatever boring non-event you've dragged them to
Application:
Find something, anything, to get your mind focused on whatever writing you need to accomplish 
Why It Works:
You have given the child a purpose. Kids like accomplishing things: "Look what I did!" They also like pleasing grownups: "I helped Nana!"
Why It Works:
You have given your distraction a purpose. You like accomplishing things. You also like pleasing yourself... er... never mind

It's surprising how simple this is to accomplish. Here's a quote from Henry Ford:

"Whether you think that you can, or that you can't, you are usually right."

You see, it's all about the end goal. A while back I made my goal "idea generation". With this in mind I watched two consecutive hours of Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee but the whole time I had the goal of "idea generation" at the front of my mind. Watching creative people interact in a humorous way got my creative juices flowing. By the end of it I had blog topics mapped out for the rest of the year.

Distract with the right intent and you've turned procrastination into dedication.

Apply the same logic to whatever you need for your work in progress. If you need a crime to occur then go to the internet and read about some of the best unsolved capers. If you need a way to kill someone, go to YouTube and search "epic fail". The list goes on and on. Just make sure that you've got your WIP handy and ready to go. Soon, you'll find that you're not paying as much attention to your distractions. You probably won't even notice it's happening, but what you will notice is that you've got a nice messy page filled with words, and you'll feel good about that.

You can even work in a little reward system. For me, once I had my ideas all jotted down I flipped to some Louis C.K. stand-up for nothing but a cheap laugh. You can make the reward whatever you want, just don't make the reward the goal. The goal is to get your work done. The goal is the main course and the reward is just the nice little treat at the end of your meal. Besides, everyone knows that if you listen to Nana she might just have a treat for you hiding in her purse.

~ Andrew


Thanks to http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/ for the use of the following images:

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