Send me the Displaced

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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 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…

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About suehealy

Multi award winning Irish writer/playwright Sue Healy’s work has been supported and developed by the Abbey Theatre, the Peggy Ramsay Foundation, the Heinrich Boll Association and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. Her 2016 play ‘Brazen Strap’ ran at the King’s Head Theatre, funded by Arts Council England. Her work has also shown at the Hackney Attic and Etcetera Theatres in London. Sue’s nine radio dramas have broadcast on BBC Radio 4, WLRfm, KCLR96fm. A UEA Creative Writing MA alumna, she spent eleven years in Budapest, editing Hungary A.M. Presently, she is London-based, researching a PhD on the Royal Court Theatre. Sue is Literary Manager at the Finborough Theatre. 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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