There’s a huge difference between a distraction and a disturbance, and unless you are a writer you won’t appreciate the subtleties. Writers are often known for self-inposed and acceptable distractions, such as watching back to back episodes of a show for research purposes, but once the guilt kicks in, self-control does take over. Disturbances are another matter; it’s when people don’t take writers seriously and interrupt them because they think a writer can stop and pick up things at will. It doesn’t work that way, and any small interruption can set a writer back, so please #DONOTDISTURBTHEWRITER.
Contrary to belief, with various depictions on television of writers who frequent cafés and coffee shops all day, I have yet to find an understanding and peaceful place to write in public. You’ve seen the archetypal writer depicted in numerous scenes; ear buds plugged in and their eyes fixed on the screen of their laptop, with a large cold coffee and a plate full of crumbs. The thing is most of these places are either full of yummy mummies who are happy to let their offspring run riot (we’re supposed to tolerate this?), or people who are meeting for a cheap date or hook up. Gone are the days where one can write in a café undisturbed and be inspired at the same time.
The best place for a writer is a room with a locked door so there can be no disturbances, even if people knock at the door you can ignore it, and it goes without saying to switch off your phone and your wi-fi. Remove any temptations, no matter how strong willed you maybe. However, distractions can so tempting, especially when you have a block. You end up checking your Facebook to see if anyone has responded to your posts, and it would be rude not to reply, or to see if anyone has liked any of your Instagram photos, and suddenly an hour has passed!
Don’t get me wrong though, I can handle white noise such as traffic, seagulls marking their territory, or the roar of a storm because these are things in nature that you can’t control. I draw the line at barking dogs, or people playing music loudly with their windows open. Seriously, I lived next door once to a house where the kid had a drum kit and played with his windows open. I made a run for the library up the road, but gone are the days too when ‘quiet’ in the library actually means that. What it actually means is not to answer your cellphone in the library.
Reference libraries are different, and you can complain there although it’s not always effective. Once a man got warned about six times to keep the noise down, and between the rest of us there was a silent camaraderie as each other gestured whose turn it was to go and complain. Only in New York did I see a librarian challenge a man who shock horror hadn’t put his phone on silent, and then proceeded to answer the call and have a conversation, and not in hushed tones. The rather brave librarian reprimanded the man, who carried on talking, and then created more of a disturbance by physically attacking the librarian for asking him to leave. I congratulated the librarian on my way out, as I was glad some people still respected what ‘quiet’ in a library means.
When a New England heatwave struck, I was living in a place with no air conditioning and was forced to find sanctuary with reliable air conditioning just so I wouldn’t faint. We over tipped in one café as we felt guilty for being there for a couple of hours with a coffee an hour paired with slice of banana bread. Next we tried the Peabody Museum café, which was fairly quiet and had a good selection of muffins. I actually got quite a bit of work done there and it also had good natural light and decent toilet facilities. That came to an end when a jobsworth and over zealous security guard told us after a couple of weeks of visiting the café that we weren’t allowed to stay. Why, he never said because the café was a public area and we ignored him as we genuinely had coffee and cakes we were eating. He then made the excuse that our backpacks were a security risk and weren’t allowed in the café, so we checked them in, but he still tried to move us on. That put an end to any of us wanting to become members there, which several of us had been considering and let’s face it the arts needs all the money they can get. I do loathe small town folk at times, and the indignity of being asked to leave the Peabody Essex Museum for no reason other than we were not old, with white hair. Remember it as the place where artists were denied a place to sit and create.
Even the sanctuary of your own home alone doesn’t guarantee a writer to be disruption free. I was sitting writing and ignored the door, had my phone switched off, but had the television on as white noise only to find a Jehovah’s Witness had come around the back and who was trying to let himself in. Despite what people may think, a writer doesn’t switch on and off at will. When they have the momentum they have to keep going, forsaking food and sleep. Distractions are about self-control and the seasoned writer will have the ability to resist. I don’t need my phone on and I can live without having to check my social media. Disturbances on the other hand are from others who have a blatant disregard for the writer, and the fact they are creating. Don’t disturb a writer, and if they haven’t returned your call or replied to your email, the chances are they are on a roll. I get annoyed when I am disturbed, and a door is closed for a reason. Writers need to zone out to create, which is why I prefer to write at night when everyone is asleep There are no cold callers, delivery men asking if I can take a parcel for a neighbor, and dogs only bark if there is something wrong. I often wake up and can’t wait until the end of the day when I know I can finally write in peace and quiet.