Send me the Displaced


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 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, all the stuff you do that is not the stuff you are SUPPOSED to be doing, is the bane of a writer’s life. 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. 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 think I’d get a lot more writing done if I didn’t have an Internet connection in my office.

Still, 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. I recently heard of an app called ‘Freedom’ which will block your internet connection for an hour, making you get on with that section you’re meant to be finishing today… maybe I need to try it out right now… bye…


About suehealy

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. TV 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. Stage 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). Radio Her radio work includes nine plays broadcast on BBC Radio 4 (Opening Lines winner), WLRfm and KCLR96fm. Prose 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

13 responses to “Send me the Displaced

  • Maria Matthews

    Yes I suffer from displacement activities I’m currently searching for a cure.

  • Jeff Schwaner

    One working cure is to have three wonderful children. By the time you actually get to your desk, and can sit down for more than five minutes (this is usually in the late hours of the night) you already have the first lines of what you’re going to write practically falling out of your head.

  • SarahFindlay

    It’s true what you say about painters. I use painting/drawing as a displacement for my writing and vice versa. There’s still a certain amount of discipline required for both though!

  • Kathryn Eszeki

    I think I’ll try that App!

  • claudiajustsaying

    Displacement Activities, has a whimsy sound, but the effects?

  • Randall A. Golden

    Lately I’ve found that if I back away from the internet, go find something to read on paper that has a different “voice” from internet users and writers (preferably fiction), and then come back 15-30 minutes later to what I was trying to write, it helps jump-start my brain and words start flowing again. Weird effect, but it’s been working for me.

  • paulaacton

    I want that desk! I think my issue at the minute is a need a new chair for my desk as my daughter stole mine and I have been using a rocking chair which is fine except it encourages you to lean back and relax far too often.

  • claidig

    Currently animal/house sitting before going on holiday, and had a plot synopsis due in today. Spent most of yesterday cleaning and rearranging the kitchen. The synopsis got finished around half 3 this morning, but I have to say the kitchen looks all the better for it 🙂 Who needs sleep anyways…

  • ericathrone

    This was an incredibly helpful post. I knew that I tended to avoid starting work by finding other things to do, but I had no idea there was a name for it. Right now I’m just trying to find an activity that works. Maybe guitar practice, since I fail at getting going on that too.

  • Peekiequeen

    So it has a name, that act of pulling us away from the moment and the words? So very nice to know I’m not alone and no worse off by doing laundry.

  • hilarycustancegreen

    I have a whole spread of displacement activities, but I find gardening is the complimentary activity to writing, you can allow the weather to push you gently between that and the writing.

  • broadwriter

    I’ve tried to ‘displace’ on writing. What I mean is that I have a main story that I am working on (novel, actually), and then I have a secondary story that I work on when I am stumped/weary of/avoiding my main story. It works out occasionally, through often I use displacement to distract me from both.

    I wish I could draw or paint to my satisfaction! I have often thought that illustration of my stories might help me keep up with them, but so far it’s only been good enough to help flesh out complex scenes for writing.

  • Gerri

    Thoroughly enjoying your writing…and some good advice!

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