We asked this year’s faculty to respond to a question related to this year’s theme of disTRACTION. Today, Lindsay Hill writes to us from a train.
How do you create an undistracted space for writing?
I have to keep my cell phone on silent and at least 10 feet away for me—it needs to be in a place that’s beyond my reach, even if I lean way back in my chair and stretch! Sometimes I sit at my desk and throw it to the farthest corner of my bed. Generally, I find it a lot easier to focus when I’m in the earlier stages of drafting because I start out writing my poems in a notebook rather than on a computer. I don’t type up a poem unless I’m almost positive it’s going to make it. So, when I first start working, I often toss my laptop to the far corner of my bed, too!
When I’ve gotten to the point where I’m writing on my laptop, I like to use the “focus view” in Word. I make a rule that I can’t check my email or Facebook unless I’m officially taking a break. If I need to open my browser for research, I try to open it in a different window from the one that’s always open on my computer. You probably know the one I’m talking about—it’s got about five million tabs, and most of them are cat videos.
All that said, there are also some productive types of distraction that I try to make room for when I’m writing. I like to write facing a window, so I can get absorbed in staring at trees and my mind can start to wander and stumble on fresh ideas. Sometimes I like to chew on nuts or something else chewy because it has a similar effect. I find that if my mind is very slightly distracted by a minimal task, I often feel more relaxed and open. I also like to post little quotes and notes to myself near my desk, so that if my eyes start wandering around the room I get a kind of wake up call: “Give yourself permission!” “Breathe. You’re alive!” “Kill the Buddha!” (If you’re confused by that last one, see http://www.dailybuddhism.com/archives/670). Sometimes, these reminders help distract me from negative ways of thinking. Other times, they help me refocus if I’ve started spacing out.
As I’m writing this post, I’m traveling on a train where someone is playing the same Spanish words at a very high volume from her laptop. So loud, in fact, that I can’t even drown it out when I put in my headphones. “BUENAS NOCHES.” “BUENAS DIAS.” Well, I wish I could be at home in my quiet house, writing at my desk, but I guess this is what I have to work with right now. At times, some distractions—whether they’re positive or negative—are just unavoidable!
LINDSAY STUART HILL was born in Durham, New Hampshire. She attended Goucher College, where she received two Kratz Creative Writing Fellowships to write poetry at various national heritage sites in Ireland and at Zen Mountain Monastery in New York. She has taught creative writing at the University of Virginia, the Tupelo Teen Writing Center, and the Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Baltimore. In 2013, her chapbook, One Life, was published by Finishing Line Press. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Ploughshares, Five Points, Barrow Street, Salamander, and North American Review. She is currently an MFA candidate at UVA, where she was awarded the Academy of American Poets prize.