Deadlines, Distractions and Displacement Activities

There I was, trying to find something to blog about, but my head waswriters staring into space, distractions too full of deadlines and other distractions. It’s difficult finding time to write the darned book, let alone anything else.

Then inspiration struck. I am a published author. I have been writing to a deadline for decades. What on earth is my problem? So I decided to share some of the tricks that have helped me over the years.

Words from the wise?

Well, maybe. These are things that have helped me avoid distractions: some are tips from fellow writers, but they come from other sources, too. It’s a little tongue in cheek, perhaps, and it’s tips that helped me most when I was a working mother. Not all of it will work for you, but it helps to clarify the mind (or at least, it does mine).

Let me start with a quote:

Well, we all know we need a lot more than that to hit a deadline.

Okay, first distractions:

List of distractions from writing in ideal world

Reject a partner, seriously?

You might think a partner is the best thing ever, but unless you are incredibly lucky – and I know it can happen – they will not cook dinner/clean the floor/bring you drinks regularly.

You can do all this yourself and you don’t have to be sociable.

The real world has distractions:

List of distractions from writing in real world

I loved having them all. And the dog meant I needn’t worry about the advice to “take frequent breaks from the computer”. Looking back, I would not change any of it. Even the partner.

Just saying…

But seriously

Addams familyWe all have things and people who are important in our lives. If writing is the only thing you ever do, at the cost of everything else, then you risk becoming very sad and lonely. And where are you going to get your inspiration?

An experienced writer once told me – family first, writing second.

Okay, this is NOT my family, but we are all different, huh?

I was a published author by the time the twins were born,  but then I had three children under 3 and there was just too much to get much done. Money was tight, but I did manage to send the twins to nursery for two mornings a week while my daughter was at school. That became my writing time, free from distractions, plus a little extra that I managed to steal during the evenings. (I NEVER managed to steal time in the early morning. That just did not work for me.)

It was not quite enough time to get anything new published for a few years, but it did keep things ticking over. It kept me going.

And things got easier

Once the children were all in school, I went back to work full time, but somehow I managed to carry on writing as well as looking after house and family, a dog, 2 barn cats, a dozen chickens, two gerbils and maintain some sort of social life. I also managed to sleep. Sometimes.writer asleep over computer

How did I get the time to write? And avoid distractions?

time is finite

It’s difficult

female guilt

First of all, there’s the guilt. Women especially seem conditioned to it. Home, family, day job, friends etc etc.

Even if you have a publisher and a deadline, making time to write can be difficult to justify to yourself. It is still more difficult, I think, for the unpublished.

I try to make family my only priority above writing, but sometimes Life gets in the way. Life is just one of those distractions, isn’t it? These days I have far more time for my writing, but there is still pressure, still guilt. After all, I should now have loads of time for everything I want/need to do. Shouldn’t I?

The Myth

superwoman and motherMany years ago, I did a time management course. One of the things I remember from the course is that we should never compare ourselves to others.

This is the image many women still have of the perfect parent. Someone who can balance all the demands of family life and have a successful career, too. Distractions? Wot distractions?

It might be true occasionally, but in real life???

This is a cartoon I cut out decades ago, because it reflected so well how I felt most of the time. It’s yellowed with age now, but still true some days!

We only ever see a snapshot

Everyone has their problems, so let’s not compare ourselves unfavourably to anyone else. We have to manage our own lives, with all its trials and tribulations.

My First Library Andrew Lang

Rumpelstiltskin from Andrew Lang’s Fairy Tales

Let’s look at the time you do have

You want to get the best out of it. There’s lots of advice online about time management.

The OU has a good time management section on their website. Not all of it will be applicable to you, but you might pick up a few tips that will help you find that elusive time to write.

Writing Energy, Eurasian pygmy owlOf course it’s good to know when you are at your best for writin. Some of us are owls, some larks, but we can’t always choose our writing time.

Don’t despair, the human animal is pretty adaptable.


Positive Mental Attitude

author among piles of rejected pagesApparently, you can write the whole works of Shakespeare in 12 months with just 15 minutes a day.

So what’s the problem with writing one little novel?


Eugh, where shall I begin????

Plan your time

Do what works for you in order to avoid displacement and distractions.
Use a calendar, maybe a wallchart for your deadlines.
Make a to-do list of what needs to be done, and when.
Work out how many words a day you need to achieve – a deadline for a whole book, maybe, or just a chapter?
Sometimes you need time to plot or think out a problem and the words just don’t flow.

Unrealistic goals do not help

unrealistic new year resolutions

Review your calendar/to do list regularly. Be flexible because you are not a robot. As the 1970s Superwoman Shirley Conran said, “Life is like the British Summer – grab it while it’s there.”

This is a scan of the original “Action Plan” I typed out when the children were small. It’s a bit grainy because it is a very old image but I wanted to show you the real thing, complete with the marks from being on my kitchen wall for years!

If you can read what’s on here, you will see that I calculated I could spend 10 hours a week on my writing (in a good week, obviously). Sometimes I even had the energy to go on longer into the evenings.

At that time, the OU were suggesting 14 hours a week to do one of their degree courses, so I considered 10 hours would be pretty good going. Weekends were not included. That was fluid time, for blitzing the house, spending it with family or friends etc. Any writing time then was a bonus.

You may think you can’t do it, that you need full days at a time to write. That’s all well and good, but if you haven’t got that luxury, you have to make do with what you have got.

So here’s a few of the points that helped me the most

Shut out the distractions of the world – use a separate room if possible. If you can’t lock yourself away, then try not to work where people are passing by.

Leave your mobile in a different room; stay off the internet. 

Use music to cut out the world, or to set a mood. Sometimes playing the same piece of music can remind you where you left off and help you get back into a scene.

Use the longest periods of time you have to do the things that need your creative brain.
Get on with the story, leave gaps if you have to, but KEEP WRITING. You can fill in descriptions or check facts and add them in later.

unwanted callers are distractionsUnwanted callers can be a real distractions
Learn to say no.
Be assertive – “Can I stop you there…
I’m sorry I don’t do surveys …
I wish I could talk but I have to get to the post/meet a deadline. Would you excuse me?…”

Don’t sent mixed signals. “Yes, I am very busy but I can give you a second….” can spell  disaster!
If you HAVE to take the call, keep to business. It is your time you are losing.

Writing itself is a perfectly valid excuse for saying no.

I could go on…

There are so many little things that can help you to find time for your writing. Maybe you have something you would like to share? Feel free to reply and add your own hints and tips. We need all the help we can get with this one!

And remember

Take away from this whatever works for you. It may be nothing, but it helped me and some of it might just help you find time to write, and get that hero from your dreams onto the page.heroes don't have to be distractions

Happy Writing!


14 thoughts on “Deadlines, Distractions and Displacement Activities

  1. christinahollis

    A great post–thanks, Sarah. I love that cartoon! A bit off-topic, but in one of Shirley Conran’s ‘Superwoman’ books, she mentions an old cartoon of a sixties-style businessman arriving home from work to a scene of total devastation: children running riot, piles of washing up and washing, etc, with his wife sitting calmly in the middle, saying: “You say I do nothing all day. THIS is what happens when I do nothing all day!”;-)

    1. Sarah Post author

      Yes, Christine, I still have that Shirley Conran book on my shelves, very much worn out but still useful. Sometimes we need to remember how much work goes into childcare and running a home. Thanks for dropping by!

  2. Liz Fielding

    Great blog, Sarah. Many laughs, a lot of good advice and a glimpse at how you get so much writing done. And did we all have a copy of the Shirley Conran book? This Sunday, after two solid weeks of revisions and grandcat care, is going to be a housework day to remove the accumulated clutter, then it will be back to the wordcount spread sheet. Although I will find time for the family who will be back from their summer hols full of stories.

    1. Sarah Post author

      Glad you enjoyed it, Liz. We all have our own problems with finding time to write, the biggest being guilt at doing what to us is – usually! – fun. Enjoy your family, and don’t go mad on the housework!

  3. lesley2cats

    Oh, I remember all of that, Sarah! Sitting with a typewriter on my knees in the sitting room while homework was being done on the dining room table… Luckily, I have much more time these days, but life still gets in the way. Doctor’s appointments, grown-up children with problems, elderly cats – and I am a champion procrastinator. And these days, how could I detach myself from the internet? Thank you for the reminder of how it used to be…

    1. Sarah Post author

      It resonates with so many of us, Lesley, doesn’t it? There is always something to get in the way of the writing…sometimes it’s the writing itself, when we get bogged down in a particular section. I wouldn’t swap my life, though, I love the writing and everything that comes with it!

  4. Liz Fielding

    If I had one piece of advice it would be to protect writing time from the pleasures of messing about on Canva and the very necessary promotion activities which can swallow hours. Of course research – ie looking for hero inspiration on Pinterest, is never a waste of time.

    1. Sarah Post author

      You are so right, Liz! Our characters are very important, and we mustn’t rush those hours spent looking at hunkie hero material….. 😉

  5. Joanna

    Before I was published, I used to write on the train, commuting to London. No laptops then, of course, so it was longhand. And the train rattled so much that even I couldn’t read the result sometimes. I used to type it up after supper at home so, like you, I was putting aside little slivers of time for writing between work, family and the rest.

    1. Sarah Post author

      And little slivers still add up, don’t they Joanna? It’s making the most of the time available. When I was commuting I used the hour-long journey to think out my plots, although I rarely managed to write much while I was travelling. If I write anything in longhand now I have to type it up quickly, before I forget, because my writing is almost illegible these days!

  6. Elizabeth Bailey

    Resonates with me too. I started out writing in longhand too, on a clipboard with scrap paper from those old printers that threw out reams of folding perforated sheets. I took all the leftovers, tore through the perforations and cut them in half. When I typed up, they also fitted nicely into my typewriter for the first draft. I wrote most of my early books this way, especially when I was part-time security guarding empty buildings at the weekends. Those 12 hour shifts proved really useful for getting loads of words down. Only when we got Wordprocessors did I switch to writing directly onto the computer. Eventually I changed to my Alphasmart to avoid getting distraced onto the net!

  7. Sarah mallory

    I find the internet is a big distraction, Liz! So many things to look up or facts to check. I try to stay off it when I am working. I make notes of things to follow up later, so I don’t interrupt the creative flow.

    Doesn’t always work, of course….

  8. Jill Barry

    I enjoyed your post, Sarah. Many thanks for sharing thoughts and experiences. Funnily enough, my Pocket Novel group and my local RNA chapter (Cariad) have been or will be discussing how we organise our writing time – or in my case, disorganise it! Maybe its down to the end of Summer. . .

    1. Sarah Post author

      So glad you enjoyed it, Jill. I find September brings an urge to get organised, maybe its a “new term” syndrome 🙂 Whatever, I believe it’s a good thing for a writer to look at their schedule now and again and tweak it to accommodate changes in our lives. Good luck with the new term!

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