Why Are There Always So Many Other Things to Do?*

One of the things that writing requires is discipline. Sticking with a project, not letting yourself get too distracted, and seeing it through, are all difficult to do. That’s especially true with today’s social media and instant accessibility through email, text, and so on.

And then there’s the fact that a lot of writers do their writing at home. So, there’s always laundry, bills, pets, gardening, and all sorts of other things to pull the attention away from that manuscript. Trust me. Am I right, authors?

It’s that way in crime fiction, too. Writers try to make time to write, and when they’re on deadline, that’s even more important. And, yet, they do get pulled away from the manuscript, especially when there’s a murder investigation. Don’t believe me? Here are a few examples.

Agatha Christie’s Ariadne Oliver is a detective story writer. She’s well-enough known and popular enough that her publisher knows her books will sell. But that doesn’t mean she has no pressure to write. She does get distracted, though. For instance, in Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, she’s working on an adaptation of one of her novels for the stage when she gets drawn into a case that Hercule Poirot is investigating – and that ends up impacting her, too. Of course, Mrs. Oliver doesn’t welcome all distractions. Late in the novel, Poirot telephones her for a very important reason. She, however, sees it another way:

‘‘Have you got to ring me up just now? I’ve thought of the most wonderful idea for a murder in a draper’s shop…’’

She’s not happy to be interrupted, but what she tells Poirot helps to solve the case. Of course, fans of Mrs. Oliver know that sometimes, she welcomes distractions…

In Ellery Queen’s Calamity Town, Queen takes some time away in the small New England town of Wrightsville. He’s there to get some writing done, and he’s looking forward to some peace and quiet while he stays in a guest house owned by John and Hermione ‘Hermy’ Wright. But soon enough, he gets distracted by family drama among the Wrights. It seems that their youngest daughter, Nora, had been engaged to a young man named Jim Haight. He jilted her, though, and left town abruptly. Now, Haight’s back, and everyone hopes that Nora will give him short shrift. Instead, to everyone’s shock, she takes up with him again and, in fact, they marry. Then, evidence comes up that Haight may be planning to kill his bride for her money. Queen isn’t sure that’s true, but there’s no denying the evidence. Then, on New Year’s Eve, Haight’s sister Rosemary, who’s been staying with the family, dies after drinking a poisoned cocktail. The assumption is that Haight is the murderer, and that the cocktail was intended for Nora. Haight is duly arrested and put on trial. The only people who question his guilt are Queen, and Nora’s sister, Pat. Together, the two look for the real truth behind Rosemary’s death. Queen fans will know that this isn’t the only time when Queen is pulled away from his writing…

Lilian Jackson Braun’s James ‘Qwill’ Qwilleran is a newspaper journalist (he’s written a book, too). As a result of an odd series of events, he ended up in the small town of Pickax, in rural Moose County. Now, he does a twice-weekly column, Straight From the Qwill Pen, for the local paper. He’s become somewhat of a celebrity in the area, too. Like most journalists, Qwill is naturally curious. And he follows up when he thinks there might be a good story in something that’s happening. Since he’s in the newspaper business, he understands about deadlines, and he does his best to keep them. But, because he’s curious, he often gets involved in murder investigations. And sometimes, that distracts him from filing his stories promptly. In more than one novel, he rushes to the newspaper office with his copy just in the nick of time (much of this series was written before it was common to email copy).

Linwood Barclay’s Zack Walker is a science fiction author whom we meet in Bad Move. He’s worried about his family’s safety, living as they do in a big city. So, he persuades his wife, Sarah, to go along with his plan to move to a new suburban development, Valley Forest Estates. Along with the increased safety, Walker is looking forward to having more space, and hopefully more time, for writing. And that’s what he’s working on when he starts to get distracted. First, there are some problems with the new house the family has bought. So, Walker goes to Valley Forest’s sales office to lodge complaints and requests for service. While he’s there, he witnesses an argument between one of the company’s sales executives, and a local environmentalist named Samuel Spender. Then, later on the same day, Walker finds Spender’s body near a local creek. Before he knows it, Walker’s drawn into a web of murder and intrigue in his quiet, suburban development, and drawn away from his writing.

And then there’s Lynda Wilcox’s Verity Long, whom we meet in Strictly Murder. Long isn’t, strictly speaking, a writer, herself. She’s PA to successful crime writer Kathleen ‘KD’ Davenport. While Davenport is popular and sells well, that doesn’t mean she can be heedless of deadlines and commitments to her publisher. So, Long has to do her job, too. And her job is mostly to find and research old unsolved crime cases that Davenport can use as inspiration for her work. But Long does get distracted from her research at times, especially when she stumbles across cases of modern-day murder.

See what I mean? Writers really need to have focus and discipline. Otherwise they get distracted by all sorts of things, including murder. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must get back to work on my novel. Oh, wait, there’s that laundry to do. And shouldn’t I be looking over this month’s bills? And there’s that meeting later on…


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul McCartney’s Distractions.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Lilian Jackson Braun, Linwood Barclay, Lynda Wilcox

27 responses to “Why Are There Always So Many Other Things to Do?*

  1. Distractions abound like never before over here! I used to be able to mentally step aside from distractions (while writing in the middle of the living room with 7 children and extras). But the bookshop, now that, slows me down. The forty minute walk each way is great for thinking so that’s a bonus. But writing when people come in for advice regarding writing and publishing and whatnot (damn that word has really entrenched itself in my vocab) plus general bookshop duties … oh and Facebook x4, and Twitter x2. Throw a few sirens into the mix (who can ignore them?). And suddenly it’s taking me 18 mths to write 100k. Who knew it would easier to write in a crazy loud household than in a quiet bookshop? (To be clear, I always got the housework done before writing – but dinner didn’t always happen in a timely fashion or at all. That’s what cereal is for. :))

    • It is hard to juggle it all, isn’t it, Cat? And I can imagine how often you get pulled away from your writing when you’re at the bookshop. There’s so much going on in a place like that. It’s funny you’d mention the whole ‘family’ thing, too. My first novel was written in an open ‘office’ space that separated our living room from the dining room. Talk about your placement! We’re in a different place now, and I’ve got my own home office, which is great. But that doesn’t mean there are no distractions… Oh, and about dinner? Nothing wrong with the occasional cereal. Or leftover, re-heated food. When the budget’s there, there’s always order-in and takeaway, too. Custom-made for writers! 😉

      • I discovered that when I eventually got a separate home office that I felt isolated and ended up going back to writing amidst the chaos! Now I write mainly in my bedroom with the door open, and the (last two) kids coming and going (and music playing of course). Less distractions in my room, I can’t see the dishes that may need washing, or the laundry basket. 🙂

        • 😆 Yes, it is easier when you can’t see the dishes or laundry basket, isn’t it, Cat? I know what you mean about having too much isolation, too. I generally leave my home office door open for the same sort of reason (plus there’s better air circulation). My home office has a window, too, so I hear the sounds of cars, people walking by talking, and sometimes dogs barking. That keeps me from feeling as though I’m in a sensory deprivation chamber.

        • Currently feeling very isolated. My publisher is not communicating, editor resigned, the silence is deafening.

        • Oh, I am sorry to hear that, Cat! I hope things get sorted soon. That really is isolating! I hope you get good news soon…

        • Honestly it’s not looking good. Almost 2 weeks since we were supposedly going to hear!
          But on the plus side … I have ALL my books in our bookshop now. And that’s super exciting, and will make filming for your project super fun. 😀

        • Oh, I know it’s going to be great, Cat! Can’t wait to see it. And I am glad all of your books are in the shop now. That’s great news. Here’s hoping you get good news soon.

  2. Alex

    Another wonderfully detailed post again, Margot. And yes, it’s true, writers have a hard enough time of it these days with so many new distractions.

    As for my own writing, which I do during the winter months up here, in the Frozen North, is more to do with the weather than anything. I find it more conducive to concentrate when the snow is howling outside, instead of brilliant sunshine. A lot less distractions.

    And laundry? That’s what we have partners for, right? 😀

    • Thanks for the kind words, Alex. And you’re right: partners are very useful for things like laundry, cooking, dishes, and so on, aren’t they? 😉 I agree, too, that the weather really does make a difference when it comes to concentrating. It’s a lot harder to be drawn away by the outdoors when the there’s a gale-force wind, or lashing rain/heavy snow, or some other such bad weather. When the weather’s beautiful, it’s very hard to avoid taking a walk, or giving the dogs an extra run, or….or….

  3. Let’s just hope we don’t find a body when we go for a walk in the park…or something worse. Distractions make it so hard to finish those writing projects!

  4. mudpuddle

    in Edgar Wallace’s “Green Rust”, secret agent Beale is hot on the trail of the evil Dr. Van Heerden… but will a sudden love interest sidetrack him from delivering the world from a treacherous blackmail plot?

  5. Well, I do hope your distractions are a bit less lethal than some of these! If there’s a mysterious bundle in the laundry basket, I’d leave it for someone else to do… I always wondered when JB Fletcher got time to write given the number of dead bodies she stumbled across. I love Mrs Oliver – I really must re-read one of the books she’s in soon…

    • Mrs. Oliver is a great character, isn’t she, FictionFan? I love her, too. And, if you ask me, Christie novels are pretty much always worth a re-read. I agree with you about J.B. Fletcher, too. How many times is she trying to work on one of her novels when there’s a knock on the door, or the telephone goes, and she’s off on another mystery. I wouldn’t want to be her editor! And yes, I’ll be careful about laundry baskets. And about large, overstuffed trash bags… 😉

  6. When I was at university I spent the most time studying in a church where it was difficult to be distracted especially at night. Now it could get too quiet and creaking pipes would startle me. I will struggle all my life with distractions.

    • I think a quiet church is a good place for study, Bill. As you say, there are few distractions. But there really is such a thing as ‘too quiet,’ isn’t there? I think distractions are an issue for a lot of people

  7. I’m so easily distracted – reading blogs is high on my list right now! So time consuming.

  8. Reblogged this on Author Don Massenzio and commented:
    Check out this interesting post from the Confessions of a Mystery Novelist blog on the distractions faced by fictional writers that are part of the story in crime fiction.

  9. Col

    Not crossed paths too many times with authors in my reading – Misery comes to mind, but its a different kind of book from the point you were making. Jessica Fletcher from TV – it’s a wonder she gets anything written.
    The odd journalist springs to mind – Gerry Conway from Liam McIlvanney

    • Ah, yes, Conway! Thanks, Col; I should have mentioned him. And I ought to spotlight a Liam McIlvanney novel one of these times. I agree with you about Jessica Fletcher, too. With all of her sleuthing, I can’t see how she gets a word written, either.

  10. Focus? Discipline? I have none. But your posting — another gem — helps me find things to read. So I’m off to the library for a basketful of mysteries. Thanks, Margot. BTW, I’m taking a break from blogging for a while because we’re moving. When I get settled, assuming I survive, I will resume blogging with new focus and new discipline in a week or so at https://mysteryinthelibrary.blogspot.com/

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