Taming The Squirrel

The titular panel was the first of the Imaginarium 2021 panels I was able to hit. The panelist was Sandy Lender and the moderator was Tommy B. Smith. The panel description was short and to the point.

Tips to rid yourself of distractions and increase your writing potential.

What is ‘Taming The Squirrel’?

It is the lack of focus and/or obstacles that derail one from writing. It is the struggle to stay motivated in the face of adversity. And sometimes? It’s a manifestation of writer’s block.

How Do We Tame It?

  1. Identify the problem

    Life happens, writing can’t always be our priority. But sometimes, we let life intrude, and before we know it, our writing has taken a backburner. So, be honest with yourself and look at what is getting in the way of your writing.

    It could be an 80 year old neighbor, with an amazing life and great stories, who doesn’t respect “writer at work” signs and knocks — on the WINDOW, not even the door.
  2. Facing the issue – When the issue is with the story

    Try writing journals in the character’s voice — maybe even by hand. Interview the characters. Create playlists for the characters or the story.

    Take a walk, a drive, a shower, and let yourself just think about the story, without trying to write. Try imagining “what ifs” with multiple options and play it through in your head.

    Create mood boards, if you’re more of a visual writer. Try planning if you’re a discovery writer, or try going off script if you’re a planner.

    Find a friend who makes a good sounding board and see if you can talk it out.

    Allow yourself to write crap, with the intent of throwing it away. But, it’s okay if you decide to keep it.

    Sometimes a fresh perspective helps. Just telling yourself, “now that other-thing is done, I *get* to work on current-project!” can be all you need.
  3. When there are other issues – Take mitigation steps

    For busy-body neighbors, a privacy fence and a sign saying “writing marathon, no one will answer this door until Monday” can help stave off all your guilt and but the most persistent of people.

    When writing in public, headphones help, as does sitting at the smallest possible table. Maybe even have white noise AND music going, if you get auditorily distracted easily.

    If chores and family members keep distracting – work with them for determining when chores need to be done, how often, and times you can make yourself “off limits”. Doors help. And sometimes, divorces.

    If having time is the issue, try writing sprints. Get yourself set up, have a drink at your elbow, then set a timer for 15 minutes, or 90 minutes, and don’t allow social media or even research to distract you. Put in [bracketed notes] and just keep going. Try voice-to-text on your phone while driving or going for a walk.

    If the issue is literal squirrels on the roof or in the attic, a paintball gun is a great non-lethal way to mark them, scare them off, and not do damage to your housing structure.

    If focus is the issue, try creating a pre-writing habit to get yourself ready – a ritual of sorts. Have a dedicate spot to write, a set playlist, a minute of meditation, or a 3 minute warm up writing exercise. Maybe it’s a literal writing hat, or a tea you only drink when you’re writing. Perhaps you have a certain desktop background you use when you’re writing. It’s up to you!

    If the issue is writer’s block — try letting the story go in a different direction. Or, switch projects altogether. Perhaps it’s time to binge your to-read pile, or watch an old movie and let yourself relax so the creative well can refill.

    Remember that the physical affects the mental. If you’ve got a lot going on, chronic health concerns, insomnia, it can be hard to let go and focus on the writing. Taking care of the physical can be a good step toward making the mental work of writing better.

    Find things that motivate you — reading a good book, a critique circle, a conference.

    And? If something stops working, try something new. The only guarantee in life is change.

How do you tame your squirrels?


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