Multi-tasking: good or bad for writing?

Multitasking. How it’s done. Yep, I’m achieving HEAPS.

I like to write in the evenings with the TV on (provided it’s not too loud). I’m not sure why. I could certainly save on energy if that wasn’t the case. It’s downright immoral really. But it’s as if the distractable part of my brain wants something going on when it emerges from the story – to stop it thinking up procrastinating ‘shoulds’ (e.g. making vast amounts of minestrone for freezing, or weeding the wild patch in the garden – arms flailing every so often at the orb spiders’ webs). The TV is the opiate for the distractable part of my brain – and it sends me back to the relative interest of story writing. Sad but true.

I used to be happier doing homework with the TV on. In the days when I had homework. Though I did go through an admirable phase of listening to Bach or Mozart’s piano concertos, during university. It was a short phase. But I really admired myself for it. I was sure it was having some kind of remarkable cognitive impact. Yay me. As I said, didn’t last that long …

I’d love to say I set my alarm for six and spring up to do my required daily word count – in a quiet office with a peaceful garden view (yes, I have one available). But, no. I like to write in front of the TV hum. Or in a café, on my lunch break. I even prefer to mark essays in a café (only I don’t because I have a horror of leaving one behind somehow and thus breaking the confidentiality students should be able to expect – oh, plus a latte ring stain is unmistakeable and just doesn’t look that professional).

One theory. I was an only child (until 16) and I used to often bring my own little activities with me (drawing, or writing) when my parents took me out socialising. Not that they were crazy partiers at all – but I did become very adept at blocking out background chatter in order to create my own pleasant little worlds. To the point where I perhaps started to enjoy the reassuring hum of voices as a backdrop to my flights of fantasy.

I’m sure we all know that feeling of sitting down in the hushed atmosphere of a study space, blank page before us – the universe attentive to our every word. Eeek.

So, TV. That’s where it’s at. Until I evolve.

And just to balance things – here’s my critique of the addictive quality of TV watching. Yep – I fell off the wagon:

Much more sensible advice than mine on writing practices:


11 thoughts on “Multi-tasking: good or bad for writing?

  1. Just a note. I wrote this in complete silence and peace and then had to go back and edit it about four times due to typos and missing links. Coincidence?
    Quick, where’s a puppy, a gardening tv show and a coffee???


  2. See, I have to have music going at all times. I hate silence. Absolutely hate. On the flip side, my music has to by without lyrics, so I pile on the soundtracks, the instrumentals, no Bach though. Lots of techno and trance because I’m a dork like that (and they’re great if you’re writing a long scene and need a repetitive song to keep in that mindset). My husband, on the other hand, has to do everything with a TV show on. It drives me nuts.

    Very rarely do I do anything in silence.


    • Haha, I adore techno. A lot of it sounds the same, but I seem to latch onto these little riff-like bits in each song. Besides, all of them are about 8 minutes on average. I have one mix that’s an hour long. Very focused.


  3. Staring a blank page is scary enough; if you’re ONLY staring at a blank page it can be really hard to start typing.

    I sometimes write in complete silence, but usually I like to have music on. I also have some sort of clickable game open somewhere, and when I get to a slight lull in my pace I go click. It keeps some part of my brain busy while the rest is deciding what should happen next. I don’t quite know why these ‘distractions’ help, but somehow they do.


  4. I am with you on distractions (especially television and puppies) when I write. Works well for me when I write my weekly short stories. For the big project, in other words – the novel that never seems to get closer to being finished – I have found I need to be alone, in silence. Probably because I read the most recent pages out loud and then dive into typing whatever happens next. Is talking to yourself out loud a problem? Hmmm. I hope not.

    You are kind not to leave latte rings on your student’s papers. Mine knew that without them, their grades were never as high…

    I came across your blog via Freshly Pressed. Glad I did. I will have to stop by frequently.

    Cheers. D.J.


    • yes, there’s a humanitarian element to consider – good point – good coffee leading to more forgiving essay consideration.


  5. and sometimes your subconscious seems to work a story issue out while you’re doing something relatively mindless, rather than just sitting there rubbing at your temples and trying to think, think, think.


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