Are You Screening?

Post Date: June 12th, 2011

“Hey, Lyn, are you screening?”

— a friend calling our land line

Actually, I’m not screening. I’ve turned the phone away and the ringer off so I don’t see or hear calls.

That’s how writing gets done.

When was the last time you wrote 396 pages of a coherent narrative with believable characters, a protagonist with driving desire, and a page-turning plot that resolves satisfactorily? Yeah, me neither. I’d like to think I’m close, but that’s only after a year of revisions. One hour here, interrupted; two hours there, uninterrupted. It’s the uninterrupted time that gets the writing job done.

Modern life is not interested in deep reflection. It prefers breathless news cycles and explosive tickers and buzzing phones. Ring! means, Hey, stop and look at me! Buzz! means Stop thinking! An interrupted thought often dies; words hang off the edge of your page, bleeding energy. You look back at your words and ask yourself, What was I was saying again?

I’m having trouble getting into books lately and I know this is a bad habit of attention deficit bred by modern life. It doesn’t help I crank out thousands of words a week in my two jobs, either. Thankfully I can say I finished the amazing Room and can tell you about the beginning, middle, and end. I just embarked on Life of Pi and am struggling some with the opening. Is it because I’ve not been literary enough in a good while, having read so much YA I expect a payoff by page 2? Thank goodness I have such a rich history of reading that I can ask myself these unpleasant questions about my own behavior.

I know someone who lives for the phone. It rings, she jumps. If I lived like I used to, like her, I’d sure as heck talk to a lot of people and clean a lot more house while I did so. I’d wander into a lot more lanes as I drove. If I lived open to the latest distraction–and believe me, plenty tempt me every second on this computer alone–I’d never have written a novel or a short story collection or nuthin’.

So now that I’ve clarified that I’m not actually screening–I’m hiding–I must clarify that I don’t think I’m particularly special because I write. Everyone screens or hides or whatever we want to call it but we don’t like it when you screen us. I’m the same way; if I really need to talk to someone, I hate that all I’ve done by calling is activated the game of phone tag. Four tries later, at least two on each of our parts, we will locate each other. Strange world this is and yet I fully participate in the antics.

Modern life is so breakneck fast I felt the need to clarify my writerly stance against the sound and fury of everyday living. But for those who don’t write and those who pick up the phone all the time, you might prefer I reduce this post to three words: “Writers are freaks.”

Fine by me. Back to my pages.

Writing Prompts

— Do you have quiet space in your day? How do you define “quiet space”? How long is it? What do you do with it?
— When do you do your best thinking? Your best being? Why?
— Is your schedule to your liking or does it feel run by something or someone else? What runs it? Why?
— How often do you sit and think and what comes of thinking? Is it worry and endless loops of stress or is it meditation?
— When you are interrupted, how long does it take you to get back to what you were doing? What do you do to reduce interruptions? What’s your best tactic that you could recommend to others?
— If you are a teacher, how do you help your students reduce distractions, focus on the work or conversation at hand, and stay centered, both in class and at home?
— Write a poem or a story called “Breathless.”
— Write a story of 50 words about a life with no place to breathe. Define “no place to breathe” however you wish. Then write a 100 and a 500-word version. Which of these flash fiction pieces captures a breakneck speed and life at full tilt?
— Which people and things interrupt your day–in a good way and in a bad way?
— Do we have a right to live uninterrupted? Is there something inherently selfish wishing to retreat from the hubbub (defined as “a chaotic din caused by a crowd of people”)?

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