March 21, 2012
The Temptations of Tea…
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…
From Ireland, Sue Healy is Literary Manager at the Finborough Theatre, London, a full-time Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Lincoln. Her book on theatre literary management is published by Routledge, December 2022.
Sue is an award-winning writer for stage, TV, and prose writer.
Her current project, a 6x60minute TV series, is under option. She is under commission with Lone Wolf Media, producers behind PBS’ “Mercy Street”, to co-write the pilot and treatment for a six-part TV series.
Her most recent stage-play, Imaginationship (2018), enjoyed a sold out, extended run at the Finborough and later showed at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough. Her previous stage productions include Cow (Etcetera Theatre, 2017) and Brazen (King’s Head Theatre, 2016), funded by Arts Council England. Sue’s short plays have been performed at the Criterion (Criterion New Writing Showcase), Arcola (The Miniaturists) and Hackney Attic (Fizzy Sherbet Shorts).
Her radio work includes nine plays broadcast on BBC Radio 4 (Opening Lines winner), WLRfm and KCLR96fm.
Sue has won The Molly Keane Award, HISSAC Prize, Escalator Award, Meridian Prize and has been published in nine literary journals and anthologies including: The Moth, Flight, Tainted Innocence, New Writer, Duality, HISSAC, New European Writers. She has been writer-in-residence on Inis Oírr, Aran Islands, and at the Heinrich Boll Cottage on Achill Island. She has also benefitted from annual artist residencies at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, and at Ginestrelle, Assisi in Italy.
An academic with a PhD in modern theatre history, specifically the Royal Court Theatre, Sue has presented her research internationally. She spent eleven years in Budapest, editing Hungary A.M. She has a PhD in modern theatre history (Royal Court Theatre) and is a UEA Creative Writing MA alumnus.
View all posts by suehealy
March 21st, 2012 at 20:39
I find blogging is totally a form of displacement activity, although it’s also a form of promotion for my writing. A double-edged sword? Thank you for sharing this. I’m going to change the laundry now, then get back to writing. 😉
March 21st, 2012 at 20:55
Too true!that’s how I started my blog. Soon I’ll be painting again to avoid writing….:/
March 21st, 2012 at 20:58
Haha! Busted. Sitting here reading emails when I’m supposed to be gathering my things to meet a buddy at a cafe for a 2-hr writing stint in 30 minutes! But look – your wonderful post has me fired up with gladness that I’ve even made this writing date to keep. Does this reply count as writing?
March 21st, 2012 at 21:00
I am incapable of just sitting at the computer. I can’t force myself to write. I won’t even try. If nothing is coming, I’d rather get up and do something else. 9.9 times out of 10, I end up doing something really inspiring like running along the beach, making the most amazing sandwich ever, taking a shower, or washing the dishes… And VOILA! jhfgrfughbnjtfkbnjnb. <—– Lots and lots of words to write/type which sends me flying to my writing tools/device of choice to create a masterpiece.
I say don't fight it. Give it to it. And tea is AWESOME. 🙂
March 21st, 2012 at 21:56
Boy do I know that feeling… I tend to disconnect my internet more often when I sit down with the intention to write or work on one of my stories. That really helps, well not with avoiding to do the dishes, but it’s a start!
March 21st, 2012 at 22:05
I hope you’re not suggesting that writing can happen without tea? Sacrilege…
March 21st, 2012 at 22:50
Reading your blog (and others) is a favorite displacement activity of mine. Keeping my own blogs, however, is the biggest. I’ve managed do avoid larger projects for years by keeping up those two.
The internet is a distractor, and often I lack the discipline to turn off Facebook, my email, and all that so I can maintain focus. I found my 14 year old son with his FB tab open while working on a research paper on Google Docs. I promptly and sternly told him dividing his attention was not going to help him produce a better paper. Hypocrisy awareness overtook me, and I confessed I had regular first-hand knowledge of that fact. I’d like to think that increased my credibility with him, but likely not.
March 21st, 2012 at 23:05
Great picture of you.
March 21st, 2012 at 23:26
In appreciation of your blog and with all due respect for your writing, I have nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award.
March 22nd, 2012 at 00:30
Are the beer bottles in the background the remnants of another displacement activity? 😉
Currently, I’m contemplating washing the dishes, watering the garden, watching Jeopardy, or meeting a deadline with minutes to spare. Should be a no-brainer, right?
Thanks for this. It makes me feel another notch closer to normal. Love your blog.
March 22nd, 2012 at 00:51
Tea-hee… No sooner did I post my own words on the subject. Must be the season: http://sagelandcreative.com/2012/03/21/ive-looked-everywhere/
March 22nd, 2012 at 03:53
I never take my cell phone in my study with me, and I won’t get up to answer the house phone. Yes, my adult children find this disconcerting…
March 22nd, 2012 at 06:07
OHMYGOSH — there’s a word for it? And all this time, I simply thought it was some convoluted form of ADD! One positive side though . . . until I decided to really focus on my writing my laundry was piling up, my tax paperwork sitting in boxes awaiting some magical moment when the “Tax Return Fairy” would magically appear and make it all go away (after correctly calculating and filing my tax returns), the dog wasn’t getting enough exercise . . . I WASN’T GETTING ENOUGH EXERCISE, and dirty dishes were sitting in the sink. Now, many of those ailments have found their cure in my attempts to sit down in a disciplined manner and finish revising my manuscript! Thanks for the insights. Now, as soon as I’ve made a really good cup of tea I can get back to my writing . . . .
March 22nd, 2012 at 09:51
Housework? Oh no no no lol….FaceBook, my blog, e mails, other peoples blogs, and cappuccinos 😉
March 22nd, 2012 at 17:42
The volume of responses and “likes” says it all. Thank you for helping put displacement activities into perspective and for reminding me it’s not just me. Which makes the avoidance seem more manageable, like something I can understand and not dwell on. It’s true, doing the dishes never seems so necessary as when I sit down to write. And that’s okay. They’ll still be there waiting for me when I’m done.
A new tactic I’ve developed recently: write for 45 minutes then take a 15 minute break and do something completely different, like wash the dishes. But it is absolutely necessary to stop and come back to writing when those 15 minutes are up! But it’s a nice break for my back and my eyes, and in walking away from writing, I often make connections or solve problems in my work I might otherwise have struggled with for much longer.
Thanks for your great posts!
March 22nd, 2012 at 20:43
Reblogged this on Trail's End Saloon.
March 23rd, 2012 at 18:04
I’ve been sitting here for two hours and no words have come out. However, I’ve gotten up twice to do laundry and clean the bathroom 🙂
March 23rd, 2012 at 18:36
Those displacement activities –sheesh, if it weren’t for those, nothing in the house would get done! 😉 Only when an accomplished chunk of said activities have run their lot is writing sometimes more approachable, but that is if there’s any energy left. It’s more about juggling the energy, and braving the ideas that swarm between our ears. They are there. I think writers are just scared to lift their veil to them. Thanks for a great post! 🙂
March 23rd, 2012 at 19:33
I agree, all writers have displacement activity; however, when most of us sit down to really write, that’s what we want to happen, right?
I have presented at seminars a session called *Stop! to Start* where I give tips and specific things a writer can do to dissipate displacement activity, to activate both sides of the brain, and conquer blank screen-itis. I have blogged about the tips, too.
On the lighter side of that (chuckling), I need to do my *Stop! to Start* process now. Chapter 6 is calling my name. The calm call is turning into a shout.
March 23rd, 2012 at 19:46
[…] on the pending rewrite of “Q” without even trying. As writer and editor Sue Healy pointed out at her blog on Wednesday, sometimes what “you’re working on needs time to settle, or percolate in your […]
March 31st, 2012 at 09:39
In my book, writing never could have happened with out tea…