Writing: Don’t Let Interruptions Get You Down

In my apparently ongoing series on how to use your life and your world as sources of inspiration, I bring you my post on interruptions.

I recently followed Penguin (the publisher, not the Batman villain) on Twitter and they posted a link to a short article by author Virginia Lowell. [[edited to add: story not there anymore!]]

Despite my love for cats, I gave Olivia Greyson, owner of The Gingerbread House, a Yorkshire terrier. Don’t get me wrong, I grew up with dogs and love them dearly. However, Olivia has a dog because of yet another interruption to my doomed writing schedule. One sunny summer afternoon, while I was writing Cookie Dough or Die, I glanced up to see a huge black Labrador on our tiny back porch. He stared at me with friendly intensity as if he’d checked out a few homes in the area and chosen ours. I tried to ignore him and get back to work, but it was hopeless. Those limpid brown eyes….

No family in our neighborhood included a black Lab, but my visitor was clearly someone’s pet. I joined him on the porch for a chat. I learned he was friendly, a gentle giant, and eager to follow me anywhere. I also realized he had no collar. With the Lab trotting beside me, I walked across the street, where my neighbor gardened while her feisty little Yorkshire terrier protected the perimeter. When the Yorkie caught a whiff of black Lab on his territory, he let loose a torrent of deafening yaps. Yorkies are like that. It struck me that he had no idea how small he was. In response, my sweet newfound buddy—did I mention he was the biggest Lab I’d ever seen?—bunched his substantial muscles and roared at the little guy. Things were not going well. War was averted when my neighbor grabbed her Yorkie and locked him inside her backyard fence. He kept yapping, but at least no blood was shed. The Lab relaxed at once. He seemed happy to hang with us while we discussed how to find his owner.

The story has a happy ending. While we talked, we noticed a van driving slowly down the road. The Lab’s family had been searching for him for close to an hour. When the van’s back door opened, the Lab leaped inside and settled next to an overjoyed little boy. Frazzled Mom explained the dog had escaped from their fenced back yard, and he couldn’t wear a collar due to an allergy. All was well. And I’d lost a chunk of precious writing time.

Back in my living room, I lifted my laptop lid and knew at once that Olivia needed a Yorkshire terrier. And Spunky was born. Spunky escaped from a puppy mill and wandered the streets of Baltimore before a rescue group caught up with him. He is smart, brave, and noisy… and he has proven himself helpful when there’s a murder to be solved. Next I gave Chatterley Heights’ gangly young deputy sheriff, Cody, a gigantic black Lab, prone to running away. Unlike the dogs in my real life adventure, however, Spunky and Buddy are the best of pals.

When I read a good story, I sense the author’s deep involvement in life, combined with a habit of noticing the small yet telling details. I love those stories. And I always wish I’d written them! So now when my concentration is under assault, I think of Spunky and Buddy, and I remind myself to be open to the interruptions. Because it’s during the interruptions that life happens.

Like Virginia’s story about the dog or like Kanye West breaking into Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the MTV awards, you can’t predict what will happen during a day or even during the next hour. Of course you have to budget writing time, but don’t block yourself off from the world either. The world is where the stories are.

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