Displacing the wall

Anyone for graffiti?

 

Sit at computer, bring up blank page, make a cup of tea. Sit at computer, look at blank page, do the washing up. Duration: 1 hour. Word count: 0

 

If this sounds like your typical writing pattern, you’ve got plenty of company. The sudden urge to do housework, rearrange books, check your bank statement- when you really ought to be writing is known as ‘Displacement activity’.

 

Displacement activity is the bane of a writer’s life. It’s the phrase writers have for all the stuff you do that is not the stuff you are SUPPOSED to be doing. Avoidance is probably a more readily understood term, but doesn’t sound half as writerly. What happens is a little ‘displacement monkey’ in your mind distracts you from the task at hand, by urging you to ‘make another cup of tea/check the TV guide/your bank account/ebay/post on this blog : ) rather than crack on with that difficult piece of dialogue you’re trying to get down.

 

I don’t believe displacement activities are wholly bad. I feel they sometimes happen for a reason. Perhaps what you’re working on needs time to settle, or percolate in your mind and after you’ve bought those gloves on ebay, it will all come together. However, I admit, I think I’d get a lot more writing done if I didn’t have an Internet connection in my office… I know a few writers who keep their displacement activity on hand – as another creative hobby such as painting, and they believe one such activity complements and feeds the other. So, they may start painting and then half way through THAT activity they’ll turn back to their writing as a displacement activity for their painting and so on…

 

As with everything in writing, if you find your displacement activity works for you, then go knock yourself out with it. If it is a hindrance, then find a way to stop it distracting you such as getting a room with no internet connection…

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About suehealy

Award-winning Irish writer/playwright Sue Healy’s work has been supported and developed by Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, the Peggy Ramsay Foundation and Arts Council England. January 2018 sees her play Imaginationship run for three weeks at the Finborough Theatre. Previous productions include Cow (Etcetera Theatre, 2017) and Brazen (King’s Head Theatre, 2016), funded by Arts Council England. Sue’s work has also been performed at the Finborough, Arcola, Hackney Attic and Sterts theatres, and at festivals including the Claremorris Fringe (New Writing Award winner), the Brighton (Sussex Playwrights’ Award winner), the UEA Contemporary European Drama Festival, Norwich. Her work will also be showcased at the Criterion theatre on Dec. 4th. Radio work includes nine plays broadcast on BBC Radio 4 (Opening Lines winner), WLRfm and KCLR96fm. She has been a finalist for BBC Scriptroom 12, Eamon Keane Playwriting Prize, Nick Darke Award and the Old Vic 12 New Voices. Sue's prose has won the the Molly Keane Award, HISSAC Prize, Escalator Award and has been published widely. Sue has been writer-in-residence on Inis Oírr, Aran Islands, and at the Heinrich Boll Cottage on Achill Island. She has also benefitted from juried artist residencies at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, and at Ginestrelle, Assisi in Italy. Sue is a UEA Creative Writing MA alumna. She spent eleven years in Budapest, editing Hungary A.M. She is currently London-based, completing a Ph.D. on the Royal Court Theatre. Sue is an Associate Lecturer in Playwriting at the Universities of Lincoln and Portsmouth, and tutors Creative Writing at City Lit. She is Literary Manager at the Finborough Theatre. View all posts by suehealy

15 responses to “Displacing the wall

  • James

    A room with no Internet connection?

    NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

  • Ben Naga

    As with any “problem”, Step One to notice it is there and acknowledge it. Then Step Two – develop a technique that will work for you. For example:

    “Whenever I realise that x (the “problem” – in this case, not actually doing some writing) is happening, I will do y.” (Something that breaks the current pattern by replacing it with something that gets you back on track – in this case, doing some writing.)

    Then Step Three, use this technique over and over, until it becomes habitual. If you examine your daily life you will quickly realise that a large proportion of everything we do is habit, with just the occasional touch of conscious will. Habit is immensely powerful and useful; you just to train it to be a tool rather than a tyrant. 🙂

    • amyleebell

      Your technique works for me. When I was a teenager, I realized that I wasn’t reading my Bible as much as I wanted. However, I was an avid reader that would read and read and read when it was something that I was really interested in. So I set a rule for myself: Anytime I felt compelled to read, I would make sure that I had completed my goal for Bible reading before I would allow myself to indulge. It worked really well! Now that I don’t have to rush out the door to school every morning, I just read it first thing…except today I forgot! Just realized it while typing!

    • Sandy Sue

      So, so true. Awareness is the key for me.
      As a writer who happens to be bipolar, distraction is actually a major management technique of my illness. But, I’m lucky to say, not a part of my writing process. I do have to let the work percolate—once I get the crappy first draft down, or get stuck, I turn my attention elsewhere and let the boys in the Brain Basement tackle the problem. They always come up with a solution. Always.

  • L.S. Engler

    When displacement monkeys call (which is pretty often for me), I let them go ahead and displace me, but I strike a little bit of a deal with them, which is, fine, I can do this, that, and the other thing, but, while I’m doing it, I have to at least write a paragraph here and a paragraph there. It sometimes makes my writing disjointed, but that’s what editing is for, right?

    …and that’s when it gets really hard to handle displacement! As someone who’s been spending the day going about various tasks around the apartment, I must say, what a timely post (again!), Sue!

  • amyleebell

    What about a house with no refrigerator??? Maybe I should go write in a library. Today I took my son to the park, and that turned out well. No distractions there…Too bad I can’t do that all year long!

  • lauras50by50

    I do this all the time and always have…I see my own blog post on the subject taking shape! Thanks for being my muse today!

  • Carol Lovekin

    Sounds like good old procrastination to me.

    *Scurries off to sharpen already lethal pencils*

    I’m reading-through/revising…

  • redjim99

    But there’s always so much to do…

    Jim

      • redjim99

        Its scary what goes on with some people, taking an idea to extremes. There was a study looking at working practices within office environments, it discovered that breaks and interaction were key to production. There was of course a tipping point when distraction stopped work. And nobody defined that point. It will vary from person to person.

        When I start writing, I can be focused. But when it’s not working, I think it is better to leave it alone and come in a better frame of mind. Whether that is surfing the net for ten minutes or going for a walk. Whatever works.

        The idea of micro – micro – moments of productivity fills me with dread. I like pausing to look out of the window as I walk by.

        Jim

  • C. L. Blacke

    I really enjoyed this blog and have definitely been a victim of displacement activity. It always seems to be connected to the Internet. Needless to say, when it was out for a week, I got a lot of writing done. And some of it was damn good.

  • Chris Kouju

    I grinned when I read this post. I know exactly what you mean! I suppose I call mine the procrastination monkey, sitting on my shoulders and pointing, “Look! New website! Look! Read that!” Sometimes my monkey is a charming, handsome fellow.

    And sometimes the monkey is a pain in the posterior. I think this analogy is becoming strange now.

    Thank you so much for subscribing! And belated congratulations for the awards 🙂

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