The most depressing quote about writing and distraction comes from J.K. Rowling:
“The funny thing is that, although writing has been my actual job for several years now, I still seem to have to fight for time in which to do it. Some people do not seem to grasp that I still have to sit down in peace and write the books, apparently believing that they pop up like mushrooms without my connivance.”
When I first read this quote I was shocked. J. K. Rowling is the literary equivalent of Rumplestiltskin. Every word from her laptop apparates from the air and falls as a gold coin in Universal studios development offices.
Until I read this, I imagined her sitting on a velvet throne somewhere in Bloomsbury with a retinue of eager interns catering to her every need. But this is apparently not the case. To hear J.K. tell it, there are people in the world who think that taking a meeting is more important than allowing her to spin her magic.
If J.K. Rowling has to fight for writing time, what hope is there for the rest of us?
My writerly distractions are not so rarefied and no one is begging to take a meeting with me. On the other hand, I am easily distracted. I once lost an entire day’s work to a squirrel.
Last Christmas my charming nephew Adriaan and his equally charming friend Tin Tin came from the Netherlands to stay for a month. Like proper Dutch teenagers, they were astonished at the vast array of sodas and flamin’ hot snacks available at our local H.E.B grocery store. We made repeated visit to the snack aisle where they questioned me like cultural anthropology grad students from a more evolved, yet blander culture. “How is this possible?” What is a Taki?”
And of course, they sampled. Tin Tin and Adriaan settled on the deckattached to the dining room with a variety of different snacks and drinks, determined to find the perfect epicurean representation of the American experience. Eventually they settled on Cheetos, Mountain Dew, double stuff Oreos and peanut M&Ms, supplemented by bowls of ramen.
They left crumbs and half-drunk cans of Mountain Dew. Every morning an industrious squirrel would clean up the crumbs and drink her fill like the magical elves from the shoemaker tale.
When Adriaan and Tin Tin left for home, the squirrel continued to visit the porch, combing the cracks in the boards for Cheeto dust and Oreo crumbs. This went on for several weeks. I thought it was adorable. I write in my dining room with my elderly half-blind Pomeranian at my feet, and Wolf the cat in a box on the table. I began to think of the squirrel as a nimble cartoon forest creature come to assist me with writing and cleaning.
Then one day, the squirrel exhausted the last of the Cheeto dust. She jumped up on the back of a nearby chair, leaned over and knocked on the glass door. I looked up startled. She made eye contact and knocked again. Her message was clear:
“I need more Cheetos.”
I decided to ignore the squirrel, thinking she would scamper off. This is what squirrels normally do. Squirrels invented scampering. Instead, she stood on her back legs, looking offended. And then she knocked again. Creepy.
I needed help, so I decided to wake Wolf the cat. It wasn’t easy. Wolf likes his sleep. Wolf looked up from the box, and watched the squirrel for a few moments. Then he went back to sleep.
By now the squirrel was actively examining the weather stripping around the door frame, looking for a gap she could squeeze through.
I thought briefly about searching my pantry for stale tortilla chips to give her. If I fed the squirrel, she’d go away and I could work.
But if I fed the squirrel she’d just come back the next day with bigger demands. It was time for the squirrel to go cold turkey.
I went back to writing, but I couldn’t ignore the repeated knocks on the door. Finally I gave up on writing and went to the front room and put on some loud music.
The squirrel came back a few times over the next week, but she never knocked on the door again. Which is good. I have enough distractions in my life without having to contend with an aggressive squirrel strung out on mountain dew and Cheetos.