The Temptations of Tea…

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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

21 responses to “The Temptations of Tea…

  • oliviaboler

    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. 😉

  • WESTOWN GIRL

    Too true!that’s how I started my blog. Soon I’ll be painting again to avoid writing….:/

  • pierrmorgan

    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?

  • lovelylici1986

    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. 🙂

  • Samir

    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!

  • Gabi Coatsworth

    I hope you’re not suggesting that writing can happen without tea? Sacrilege…

  • MacLeod Inc.

    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.

  • Maestro's Journal

    In appreciation of your blog and with all due respect for your writing, I have nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award.

  • Jacinda Little

    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.

  • Janet

    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/

  • l menefee

    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…

  • golanskistreasures

    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 . . . .

  • Vikki (The View Outside)

    Housework? Oh no no no lol….FaceBook, my blog, e mails, other peoples blogs, and cappuccinos 😉

    Xx

  • theliteratecondition

    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!

  • CarlyBeth's Blog

    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 🙂

  • Rachel Peterson

    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! 🙂

  • Linda Joyce

    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.

    Happy Writing,

    Linda Joyce

  • The Art of Cycling and the Aristotelian Tradition « Trail's End Saloon

    […] 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 […]

  • maggiemyklebust

    In my book, writing never could have happened with out tea…

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