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Photo of the 1895 Montparnasse derailment (via Pexels)

It seems that when I am working on a novel, especially during an intense stretch like NaNoWriMo, I should not be allowed to read, watch, play, or listen to anything that does not contribute in some specific way to that project. I get derailed way too easily.

For example, I was plodding along pretty well through most of NaNoWriMo this year, and stayed more or less on topic. I wasn’t actually expecting to reach 50,000 words this month, but I had hoped to reach at least 40,000. (Instead I got almost 37,000, which is still quite respectable, but a bit less than I would have liked.) If you follow my LeNoWriCha Logs, you’ll notice that I made two mistakes that severely cut into my word count. The first was at the beginning of the month when I watched Star Wars Rebels. That put me in the mood for Star Wars fan fiction, and my FC Tenko is very persistent in taking over my headspace. I managed to shake that off, and then made the mistake of going on Steam during their Cyber Monday sale. I got completely and utterly mentally derailed by an otome game called Amnesia: Memories for the last week of November. Like, the staying-up-until-3:00am-staring-at-the-computer-screen-until-my-eyes-felt-like-they-were-going-to-burn-out-of-my-skull kind of derailment.

It’s a little frustrating that I have to think twice before exploring any media because it can quickly blossom into an obsession (albeit a short-lived one) that drags my attention away from what I’m working on. But is that because I have an addictive personality, a short attention span, or am just bored by my current project? All of those reasons are a little depressing.

If it’s because I have an addictive personality…

…well, I don’t know exactly what to do about that except try to avoid anything that I think likely to addict me while I’m working. (This is a big reason why I am wary of any mind-altering substances.) My obsessions are usually short-lived and media-based, but they still cause miniature crashes and roadblocks, wrecking havoc with my functioning. Because these obsessions are usually so short-term, it might not seem like a huge problem, but if I skip from one obsession to the next, then I could go months before they burn out of my system and I can fully focus on my work again.

If it’s because I have a short attention span…

…well, that’s something that’s become a major problem for me since the internet came around, and I find it extremely difficult to change this as long as I can connect to the net in some way. The older I get, the harder it becomes to focus. I can still do it for long periods of time, but those times are fewer and farther between. They tend to be rare treasures rather than a regular habit. Distraction and cheap stimulation is easy to find, just a click away. (Even while writing this, I keep hopping to Facebook to Twitter to Pinterest to Yahoo then back to Pinterest…) I know it’s bad for me and makes the creation of art harder. But I have yet to find a solution that is practical, effective, and lasts longer than a few days.

If it’s because I’m bored with my current project…

… well, that’s bad. Like, really, really, really bad. It’s said that if the writer is bored while writing the scene, then the reader will be bored reading it. The sticking point with Pleasing the Sea is that both of my main characters have major aspects to their personality or interests that are alien to me. I haven’t had in-person interactions with friends for so long that I’m having trouble translating or picturing how their vastly different personalities interact with others. Marianna is an extroverted socialite, which is something I have no real concept of except from an outside perspective. Darius is an accountant, another area I have no experience with.  I know that economics and trade can be interesting and I love seeing characters who are good at negotiations. But I’m having serious problems crafting it myself. It’s been really hard to step outside my own mind into theirs. I like the characters and am interested in their story, but the translation of those ideas and the crafting of scenes is dragging like a fat cat’s foopah. Which means I get bored and frustrated, which leads to me wandering away to look for easier stimulation, which I just can’t keep doing because I’ll never get anything done!

Chances are that my derailment is a mixture of all three of these problems, and then some. I also feel a bit guilty now that my 5-day vacation is almost over and I have nothing tangible to show for it because I spent the first two days playing Amnesia: Memories and the other two watching Ouran High School Host Club. It was fun while I was playing and watching, but of course now, with the return to my day job looming on the horizon, I feel like I could (and should) have spent my time more wisely.

Do you experience derailments in focus and inspiration like this? If so, what methods do you use to combat it? I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts on the matter.

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