Posted On December 13, 2013 by Print This Post

“Listen to the Silence” Combatting distractions and keeping the focus on your writing with Pamela Mingle

With a few keystrokes, you can jump from that scene that’s giving you fits and hop onto Facebook, check your emails, buy a book from Amazon…and why not pay a few bills on-line or treat yourself to a new pair of shoes? Although the internet has simplified some processes in our lives, it can be a time suck when it comes to your writing. Author Pamela Mingle talks about that need to be connected and how to disconnect and focus on writing.

Welcome, Pamela!

I had an epiphany of sorts the other day. Actually the feeling had been growing slowly and steadily, but there was a moment of realization when I knew for sure.

I was reaching for my iPod at the gym to adjust the volume, and it hit me.  I am never (well almost never) without access to the internet. I sit, walk, work out, wait in line, eat, even watch TV with some device delivering a song, book, website or other social media. I check and re-check email, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Goodreads, blogs, forums—you name it. My mind, instead of being allowed to rest, wander, daydream, or engage my subconscious, is continually bombarded by noise and information of one kind or another.

This can’t be good for my writing. So why is it so hard to stop?

It never used to be this way. Before I joined several of the social media sites, when e-mail was the only distraction, and not a very compelling one, I had it under Pamela Minglecontrol. But publishing a book changed me. When my first book, Kissing Shakespeare, was released, I wanted to be sure I did everything in my power to promote it, and that involved more time on the internet. I blame my smart phone for making it all so convenient. It became too easy to be online and otherwise to be constantly reading or listening to something. To make it seem as though “connecting” was the most important part of my life.

Does preoccupation with the internet matter to most people?  Maybe not.  But if it’s taking you away from what you’re supposed to be doing, you, like me, have a problem. For writers, this problem is a serious one. If writing is your top priority, and you find yourself spending less and less time actually doing it, something must change. If you’re serious about your writing, that is.

What to do?

First, set some goals and decide what it’s going to take to accomplish them. They might be very specific, such as, “Re-write end of novel,” “Write a thousand words five days a week,” or “Write an hour a day before work.” Or they may be big-picture goals. “Finish WIP by end of the month,” “Submit ms. to critique group by January,” “Write first five chapters of new novel.” Whatever your goals, the next step is to figure out how to achieve them.

No matter how much time you carve out for writing, that time must be inviolable. If it’s early in the morning, before your day job, don’t give in to the temptation to check Facebook first. Wait until you get to work to do that. (Don’t tell the boss I said that.) If you have a more generous allotment of time to write, as I do, protect it. If you don’t, you may never meet your goals. Schedule times for checking e-mail, posting on Facebook and Twitter, or blogging, and stick to it. And while you’re at it, think about whether any of your social media commitments have become too burdensome. Could you eliminate one or more of them?

One trick that works for me is setting a timer. Start with thirty minutes and work up. I tried fifty, with a ten minute break, at the end. Enough time to take a short walk. I know some writers who turn the wireless off on their computer until their designated internet time.

In the long run, though, reliable old self-discipline works best, even if we have to re-train ourselves to it.  I’ve noticed a tendency to jump onto the internet when I’ve got a knotty problem to work out in my WIP. Obviously an avoidance technique. I fight it by forcing myself to push back from my desk and fold laundry, wash the dishes, or reorganize a shelf. Often, the solution to my problem will then present itself. Every time we give in to the internet urge, we simply grant it more power over us.

For years I had been in the habit of taking long walks and allowing my mind, even if it was only at the subconscious level, to mull over matters of character, plot, scene, or the evolution of the story. I carried a pad and pencil with me in case I had an insight, and frequently, I did. Sometimes I’d listen to music; other times I simply absorbed the sounds around me. By observing the environment, I’d often feel inspired to jot down a short description, which varied depending on the season. Many of those descriptions made their way into my writing.

Recently, I’ve been listening to audio books on my walks.  The act of listening rather than reading makes me more aware of an author’s style, language, the way they use POV, and other aspects of their writing. At least, that’s how I justified always having  earbuds in my ears. It would help my writing. But sometimes I’m too caught up in the story to even notice. So I’ve started making a little deal with myself. For the first half the walk, no audio. Just free thinking time. This is a good way to train myself to “live in the moment.”  As I’ve gotten better at this habit,  my time with the other person’s story shrinks and my own voice returns.

How long has it been since you’ve sat in a quiet room and simply allowed the silence to envelop you? It’s calming, centering, and quiets the mind. I don’t do it often enough. Even if no great revelations occur, I’ve taken a few moments to get away from the endless distractions that are so much a part of our media rich society.  When I return to writing, my mind seems clearer and more focused.

Putting your writing first is difficult enough in the press of everyday living. Why add to your problems with too much time with your gadgets? Control them, or they will control you. And don’t forget. Listen to the silence.


How do you combat distractions (or disconnect) when you’re writing? Share your tips with us!

Author Toni Blake joins us on Monday, December 16th. 


The Pursuit of Mary Bennet

THE PURSUIT OF MARY BENNET, (William Morrow – December 1, 2013) is a continuation of Jane Austen’s beloved Pride and Prejudice, with a focus on the discontented and socially awkward Bennet sister Mary. With spot on prose and a solid, compelling plot, Mingle breathes new life into the cast of Austen’s immortal novel—skillfully recapturing the atmosphere of Pride and Prejudice, to pen an insightful and intriguing portrait of Mary—the Bennet sister most likely to be overlooked.


Bio: Pamela Mingle, a former teacher and librarian, lives in Lakewood, Colorado. She is the author of Kissing Shakespeare, a time travel romance for young adults set in Elizabethan England (Delacorte Press, 2012). Pamela is a member of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Pikes Peak Writers, Romance Writers of America, and the Jane Austen Society of North America. She and her husband are frequent visitors to the United Kingdom, where they enjoy walking and visiting historical sites. For more information please visit her website or follow her on Facebook and Twitter. 

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18 Responses to ““Listen to the Silence” Combatting distractions and keeping the focus on your writing with Pamela Mingle”

  1. Morning Pamela!

    The internet is a huge distraction for me…I always want to get everything “done” before I write. So I go through all the emails and make sure I’ve done the bookcovers/websites/jewely everyone has asked me to, THEN I go write. Not a good way to get writing done. =)

    I did finish nano this year though, and my best writing time is late in the evening, after work, after DH is in bed, after the cats have settled down.

    One thing I did discover though, is that the less I read, the worse I write. Due to a change of schedules, I’ve been reading much much less than I usually do, and I really struggled with my writing. I think when you read, you innately know where parts go in a story – first turning point, black moment, etc. and when I wasn’t reading, I’d forget, and not have the “flow” to the story.

    Well, that’s my theory anyways. =)

    Thanks for posting with us!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | December 13, 2013, 8:43 am
    • Carrie, I do the same thing! I feel like I have to “get everything done” before I write. I fight it by not opening up my browser until I’ve written for an hour. That’s on good days–sometimes I simply can’t do it!

      Thanks for your reply!

      Posted by Pam Mingle | December 13, 2013, 11:29 am
  2. Thanks for a great – and much needed – post. I must have the attention span of a five-year-old. I can be deep in a story and then suddenly wonder if I’ve chosen the right name for the hero/heroine or whoever. I’ll then zip over to search the meanings of names, lists of names from various ethnic backgrounds, back to meanings of names, etc., etc.

    I can spend HOURS this way without even realizing it. I should stick to a NaNoWriMo plan recommended to me – just name them “Hero” and “Heroine” until most of the book is written. I’m not sure I can pull that off, but at least it might cut down the distractions.

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | December 13, 2013, 9:40 am
  3. Hi Pamela!

    I don’t spend that much time on social media, but I can spend hours doing research. Sometimes, I think I’m a better researcher than writer.

    I love the premise of your book. I thought Mary would end up with Mr. Collins. But that was not to be!

    Thanks so much for blogging with us!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | December 13, 2013, 1:59 pm
  4. Hi Pam,

    Love Mary Bennet! The Internet is my siren. I find it a mesmerizing time suck.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | December 13, 2013, 4:38 pm
  5. Enjoyed this, Pamela. And you know what? IT popped into my inbox this morning and I saved it until tonight (after writing and when I’m relaxing) to read it. Now…if I could only be so good about ALL of the internet!! I’m stuck in having to answer emails first thing before I write, but I have gotten better about turning OUtlook off while I’m working. FB has become an increasing time-sucker so I’m trying to use it as my “carrot” when I’m done writing. I refuse to twitter and enjoy walking in the quiet. I too find that getting up and moving around or doing a small chore helps me to figure out where I’m going next in my work. Hear, hear for silence!!

    Posted by Carol Baldwin | December 13, 2013, 6:15 pm
  6. Hi Pamela, Thank you for your honest and clear discussion of this topic. I too use timed writing and focused daily writing goals. If I notice I’m procrastinating by jumping on social media, I gently bring myself back to the page and remind myself of my specific goals. I notice I procrastinate too if I feel overwhelmed by what’s in front of me. This especially happens during the editing phase. My solution is to create a daily doable goal so I can feel I’m climbing that mountain one step at a time.

    Re: research, I use Scrivener to write my first drafts so I create a blank file for something I want to research later or use placeholders in my manuscript. I especially like “xxx” for the names of things I don’t know off the top of my head.

    I like what Carrie said about reading. If I’m too long away from reading polished prose and only see my stuff and my client’s manuscripts, I start to feel parched. That’s when it’s time to spend a Saturday afternoon lounging and reading!

    Thanks again for your insight! It’s always refreshing to hear other people’s stories from “in the trenches.”

    Posted by Beth Barany | December 13, 2013, 8:25 pm
  7. I miss and crave rest for my brain. There’s so much “noise” in my life, including time at the computer, that I never seem to achieve mental rest. I’m still building online presence, but I do try to keep it reasonable. 🙂 Thank you for the tips. I’ll be keeping them in mind.

    Posted by Robyn LaRue | December 18, 2013, 2:44 pm


  1. […] The internet is a writer's friend and foe. It's a critical tool for research and networking, but are you spending too much time on-line when you should be writing? Pamela Mingle shares tips on balancing your on-line time and writing time.  […]

  2. […] “Listen to the Silence” Combatting distractions and keeping the focus on your writing Paula Mingle talks about how to get control of the distractions and get the real work done. […]

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