The Case of the Distractible Writer

The dog toy basket on the porch
(note the new, orange, toy)

One of the hazards of working at home is the distractions. This is true on any given day for any given work-at-home writer. Plenty of distractions.

Doing the laundry when editing awaits. Walking the dog even though you haven’t finished your blog post. Vacuuming when you know you should be finishing a draft. Cleaning the bathroom when all else fails.

But those are the normal garden-variety distractions. Yesterday I was all set to have a productive day of editing at the dining room table. But it was not to be. Yesterday was different.

First there was the dog toy. We went to take the dog for her morning walk and when we went to get “that toy,” the one she must take every morning, it was gone. Someone, some dog must have removed it from the basket on the porch where we leave it after every walk. Abby smelled all over the porch and then kept looking up at MEH (My Engineer Husband), as if to say: “Can’t you do something?”

He couldn’t and neither could I. And I was annoyed—what animal or person comes and takes a dog toy off a porch, out of a basket? And Abby, normally very easy going, was distracted on her walk. And in the car on the way home from the dog walk woods she let us know:

“Ruff ruff grrr grrr ruff ruff growl?” (roughly translated to “who took my damn toy?”)

I had no answers. And yesterday afternoon I had to go to Planet Dog and bought a new toy.

Later, after MEH left for work, I was sitting in my office—on the other side of the house from the kitchen/great roomand I heard a noise: a scrabbling-climbing kind of noise, like scraping toe-nails on wire. (Believe me I now know what scraping toe-nails on wire sounds like.) So of course I went to investigate—toe-nails on wire, for goodness sake! And I found—sawreally—a squirrel climbing up the outside of the window screen. A first. I mean the window is five feet off the ground.

The squirrel 
I did what any writer/blogger would do: I snapped a photo with my iPhone, of course.

Then? Back to work. A few minutes later, I heard a thud against a window in the laundry room. Again, I rushed to investigate. A bird had flown into the window (no, not through the window, against the glass)—and the small bird was lying outside on the grass. This always rattles me, I don’t like seeing injured animals. I went back and forced myself to concentrate on the editing at hand.

Another hour later, I heard a big crash—also from the laundry room. I go in to find the iron has fallen off the shelf where I keep it. But it hasn’t only fallen, it seems that it has leaped to the floor in some botched attempt to escape. It is now positioned on the floor about 2 feet from the shelf where I keep it, halfway to the washing machine. Is this even possible? I call MEH at work, and he muses: Maybe the ghost of Mr. Able?

But there was some good news from that trip to the laundry room: the bird was no longer lying under the window. Either it had come-to and flown away (of course, what I’m hoping) or some cat/dog/squirrel/other bird/chipmunk/person (maybe even one and the same with the dog-toy-taker?) had taken it away.

Of course by now it was time to walk the dog again. Now that she’s almost-10 she’s figured out my rhythms as a writer, and I’m absolutely certain she knows when I am the most immersed in my work (this was not one of those times, obviously!).

Does this toy belong to anyone you know?
But yesterday it may have been this… when we got outside, there in the middle of the driveway was a stuffed animal—and Abby went over to it immediately. Perhaps she heard a small child passing by in a stroller or car, calling to its mother, in some language only understood by small children and dogs:

“Gaga googie m-otha-gy stuf-otha-g fe-d ani-otha-g mal fe-otha-gll do otha-g-own. SHEESH!”

Loosely translated: “Mom, wait, I dropped my toy in that driveway! SHEESH!”

Obviously after Abby heard the plea, she alerted me in her doggie way, the only way she knew how. Pretending she had to pee. Since no child was in sight, I moved the toy to safety at the edge of the driveway where parent and child will notice it on their next trip by!

And then of course Abby pulled me down the driveway and we went on a walk—by then she had to save face and really pee, right? And why not let her take the peeing-pretense one last step? What else would a distractable writer like me do? On my way around the block, I got a pretty good idea for a blog today, and by the time I got home I wondered… is distractable spelled with an “a” or an “i”?

It doesn’t really matter, because I’m plenty distractable or distractible, however it’s spelled, believe you me.

Are you distractible? Here’s some actual scientific information I found while researching this highly-distracting post!



  1. Oh Julia, again you have made me laugh! Oddly enough, I was musing the same thing today, that working from home is sometimes damn near impossible! Writing at home is, actually, doing other stuff from home and sometimes finding time to write in between the other stuff… yes, that’s about it, so I can completely relate to this. As for the squirrel, bird, dog toy, iron… do you know what, it’s just one of those weeks – on both sides of the pond!

  2. JM Merchant says:

    Oh boy am I distractible! Last night I made some progress on updating my story wall (literally story wall, one wall of my bedroom is covered in wallpaper liner on which I stick photos, character profiles, random “eureka!”s that come to me in the middle of the night…), I was hoping I could either continue it today or do some work on the outline on my laptop.
    But no.
    There’s blogs to read, housemates to bug, socks to find, publicity to send to people for shows…not to mention that constant niggling of “you promised Milli another story and you still haven’t done it!”

    Hope your mystery toy finds it’s owner. And maybe mystery dog will return Abby’s toy!

  3. That little toy was so cute. How it got there and Abby’s persistent rescue is the makings of a children’s book. And I am definitely a distracted writer. TTFN, got to go switch the wet clothes to dryer.

  4. Oh this made me laugh so hard. My day was like that yesterday but I used the toilet excuse. It’s been thoroughly cleaned so I need a better plan for today. The squirrel looks like its hanging from a ledge, too funny. Distractible is too close to destructible and I know some day I will hit spell check and click on the wrong one. Someone who it not distracted will be sure to point it out!

  5. Abi, Oh my, that’s PERFECT… writing at home really is finding time to write between the other stuff. Do you have neighbors like I do that really don’t believe I do anything? Maybe they watch me wandering around doing these haphazard things then taking pictures of myself doing these haphazard things….oh my. 🙂

    Jo, I LOVE the idea of a story wall! (You should definitely blog about it w/ pics!!, very very cool!) Yeah, those niggling thoughts are murder on the writing, no question…. always there in the back of the mind!

    Jamie, I agree, the toy (which at last glance this morning was still there) IS so cute. I keep thinking of the little guy/girl who lost it 🙁 Good luck w/ the laundry, that’s on MY list (and floor) today too!

    Suzie, Glad to give a laugh 🙂 I have to say I have not used the toilet excuse since…. well can’t remember, probably when I last had company! Destructible would be another way to describe my day yesterday, no question and no spell check needed! 🙂

  6. Oh good, now I don’t feel so bad about my Monday. I had THE most unproductive day ever yesterday! The only saving grace was that I signed a new client, but the bulk of the work that went into that happened last week (yesterday was just a matter of sending out the contract). So I didn’t actually do much.

    I felt like I did a lot, but when I realized how much time had passed I didn’t have much to show for my day. At least you have a cool picture of a squirrel climbing a window 😉

  7. E.J. Wesley says:

    I hear you loud and clear on this Julie. I try to get out to a local coffee shop at least a couple of days a week to write because I can’t seem to keep ‘home stuff’ from occupying my time.


  8. Natalia, Amazing, really THE most unproductive day ever? I sometimes think these changing seasons lead me to being distractible — true for you too? (Or are your seasons changing?) I really need to harvest my time more wisely and develop better concentration skills or SOMETHING… these days are happening more than they need to. (Of course, I did get the cool picture, though! 🙂

    E.J., I wish I could write at a coffee shop — that’s really distracting to me too. Last time I did end up writing a pretty interesting character sketch of the group of people in front of me, but I feel like it’s a struggle to concentrate on an existing project when I have other people around. I envy you your ability to concentrate in those surroundings!

  9. Country Wife says:

    lol, loved your story, and the pic of the squirrel was priceless! Hope Abby’s toy comes back, though. I am putting my money on the squirrel, because I have seen how much they can carry around.

  10. Missy Olive says:

    HIGHLY distractible! which is why I’m reading your blog instead of writing.

    My best distraction here in the middle of Connecticut was the day that five deer came in to our yard to graze.

    Off to write!

  11. Country Wife, Glad you enjoyed it!! And the picture… I was so annoyed that my iphone had a delay or I would’ve gotten the critter looking in the window at me!! HAHA. And thank you for the amazing insight!! Maybe it really was a squirrel that took the toy — they can carry a lot, and we have SO many of them. Never would’ve occurred to me! THANKS!! 🙂

    Missy, Okay, clearly you know what *I* would’ve done if those five deer were in MY yard: write a blog 🙂 And I should say, right outside that window we used to have really huge sunflowers that were DEVOURED by deer within 5 feet of our window (there were footprints!) which is about 5 feet from where we sit on the couch every night. I have to say it was a little creepy to me to think they were that close…. next blog maybe I’ll have a pic of a deer face at my window 😀

  12. Oh -the squirrel picture is HILARIOUS. Yes, it seems the writing gods didn’t want you to be writing yesterday! I’m having one of those distractible days myself – a CAT climbing the screens, tired eyes that are making ME feel tired, a pile of dishes chanting “clean me,” etc. etc. YOU KNOW.

    First thing I thought was: Mr. Able (with the iron). For sure! Here’s to today and tomorrow, and days when we’re more focused. For now, I think a nap is in order.

  13. Emma Pass says:

    I am HIDEOUSLY distractable – I write in short bursts punctuated by longer bursts of doing lots of other things, like Twitter, checking emails, playing with The Hound, wandering out into the garden, making coffee, reading blogs, eating, daydreaming and so on.

    Great post, Julia – I loved your photo of the squirrel. And if The Hound found that toy there’s no way it would have been left sitting at the side of the road!

  14. Yep…I’m highly distractable. Going to vacuume the living room right now, as a matter of fact, since you just reminded me it needs to be done!
    Now where’s that vacuume…

  15. Pet says:

    You should look at writing as the distraction from work (all the rest). What a fabulous life then, isn’t it? 🙂

  16. lkramer14 says:

    Julia, fabulous posts. At least you take your distractions and make word magic out of them. I am currently my own distraction, unable to focus on anything and then getting mad at myself when I give up, only to try to force myself back into focus. I give up. Thanks for the giggles. Love the squirrel picture. And I’m glad I am not the only one with a talking dog.


  17. Melissa, The squirrel was a hilarious find! (and distraction, too!) I would love to see a pic of your cats climbing the screen — have you already posted that? Sounds so familiar… maybe just mentioned before? Yes, the iron was a definite Mr. Able moment… so far into the middle of the room (which I would’ve taken a pic of except that room is a MESS 🙂 Hope the nap helped!

    Emma, First, I love the name “The Hound.” Is that your dog’s real name or a nickname? And your days sound a lot like my days. In short, the writing life! As for the toy, our dog is not a chewer, thank goodness so the toy was fine (and by the way, has now been reclaimed by its owner, or at least is gone — maybe dragged off by another hound!?)

    Cynthia, Hope the distracting vacuuming went well. As you say, I’m wondering where mine is as well! Hahaha! 😀

    Pet, You are SO right! The writing should be the distraction to the rest except then I would probably never get ANYTHING done with it! And yes, it is a truly fabulous life!

    Lisa, Glad you enjoyed the post & had some giggles; what a huge compliment to say I was able to make “word magic” out of my distractions. I think to some degree we’re all our own distractions, so I know exactly what you mean. It’s very tough especially when so much is on all our minds! (p.s. as for the talking dog, you have NO idea. I’d write a whole blog post about me talking to the dog and me answering AS the dog, but I think my kids would kill me 🙂 So I’m glad to know YOU have a talking dog, too!

  18. Hilarious. I don’t know why I never get distracted from time wasters and into doing something productive. I wish it worked that way too 🙂 I’m a little creeped out by the iron, though. I hope your house isn’t really haunted.

  19. This was funny!! How many oddball things can happen in one day when you’re supposed to be writing? It’s like the universe (and even the birds and squirrels) knows that you’re trying to concentrate, so they all have to use extra-kooky devices to get your attention.

    I can easily be distracted – unless I have a plan. If I sit down and make a list and stick to the list, I can be very productive. Such as today when I’m catching up on non-writing stuff before the 10K Day tomorrow. And if I have a list plus a motivational goal (eg., when I finish all this I get to work on my screenplay) then I’m really focused.

    Not much happens around here and I don’t have any pets or any kids at home, so when I’m writing I can go into my own world and stay there for hours. I can even forget my addiction to checking my email. I love that feeling, when it’s just me and the writing. . . .

  20. Ann says:

    What a fun, funny post! As for distractions – it depends on what I’m doing! If I’m cleaning the bathroom, ironing clothes, folding laundry….I’m the easiest person in the world to distract!

    If I’m cooking or reading a good book – you can play a kazoo in my ear and I wouldn’t notice!

    Fortunately, hubby is willing to let me be when I’m doing something and I don’t want to be disturbed. I try with him, but he’s more successful!

  21. Shary says:

    I am not good at multi-tasking. I’ll start off doing 2 things and wind up doing 5 because I forgot what my first task was and wander off. It isn’t good for my writing. I manage, but I am SLOW!

  22. Mary Kate, I recently finished a very-mind-consuming first draft, and during that ten days I really was thoroughly distracted by my writing work (and NOTHING else could take my mind off of it). It was so exciting!! I wonder if all these odd things happened then — would I have noticed? In any event, thanks for your comment! Nice to meet another distractible writer 🙂 Thanks for your visit to my blog — and most assuredly I think my house IS haunted, just not dangerously so. Check out my Mr. Able posts!

    Milli, Your comment made me think of the old Disney movies, like Snow White, with all the birds and forest animals flitting around the characters’ heads. So funny. Yes, that’s what it felt like! I’m so impressed that if you have a plan you aren’t distracted. That’s very powerful. As for nothing happening there… it sounds nice, but I wonder… maybe I’m one of those people who LOVE distractions because I turn it into crazy writing 😀

    Ann, Glad you enjoyed the post. You sound like you have amazing single-mindedness when cooking and reading. That’s wonderful! I know what you mean about our husbands letting us do our own things — MEH’s the same… you and I, we’re lucky that way 🙂

    Shary, It’s interesting you’d mention the multi-tasking aspect because that’s so true for me as well. It’s very hard for me to change gears and focus on one thing then go back or have several things requiring my attention. Then I am SLOW too 🙂

  23. That’s hilarious. My distractions come with names: Alex, Julianna and Nicholas. And they are 6, 4 and 2. The hazards of being a stay-I-mean-work-at-home Mom. 🙂

  24. Kathleen, So glad you enjoyed the post! As for your distractions, they sound delightful! (Mine are in college and I miss those particular hazards more than I can say! 🙂 Thanks so much for your comment & especially for your visit to my blog — nice to meet you!

  25. Barb Riley says:

    Ha ha ha… she asks, “are you distractible?” Oh goodness, YES! But I love how you turned your distractions into a blog post. I believe you had the forces of the anti-concentrating-universe lined up against you yesterday.

    My nephew once dropped his very fave stuffed animal on a walk and the woman whose front lawn it fell onto set it up on her porch in clear view. When my sister retraced her steps, with my nephew in tow, they saw his beloved “Daddy Gund” stuffed animal waiting for him. In a neat twist of fate, my sister became good friends with the mom who put it back out. It warms my heart that you set the toy back out within view, and, of course, that Abby’s maternal instincts led you to do so.

  26. Barb, As you know, I’m all about the blog posts 😀 so OF COURSE I’m going to write about my distractiblity!! That said, yesterday was particularly distracting, yikes. You’ll be glad to know that the stuffed animal has been retrieved (or at least is gone), but now I’ve ready your story about your sister, I’m BUMMED that I didn’t make a new best friend! As for putting it in plain view? Of course! (Wouldn’t anyone, I hope?) Thanks for the wonderful story! 🙂

  27. Susan Okaty says:

    Great post, Julia, as always. I could have written my novel ten times over if I recaptured all the time I’ve wasted being distracted by unnecessary things. I think we writers need an office that is outside the house to go to where all the interruptions and temptations wouldn’t surround us. I’m sure we’d still find ways to be distracted!

  28. Haha, I love you, Julia! This sounds like the exact kind of day that you just HAVE to have sometimes, complete with every kind of madness occurring all at once. I hope the replacement toy met Abby’s approval. 😉

    I have to tell you, I was going to write a blog post about being an immensely distractible just yesterday! Woohoo, we’re on the same wavelength, yet again. XD


  29. Susan, Isn’t it so true… when I think of all the distracted and wasted time over the years, I SHUDDER! Still as a writer I sometimes think those times are both inspirational but also times I’m writing “in my mind” — at least that makes me feel a little better 😀 As for an outside office… then I’d probably be distracted by wondering what was going on at home. LOL never satisfied!

    Ashlee, I love that you’re writing one too! Can’t wait to read it. I think this is such a common thing for us writers…being at home just brings up so many little things. Can you imagine how much happens that we NEVER KNOW ABOUT? Pretty funny! Let me know when you post yours — can’t wait! (p.s. yes, the toy did meet Abby’s approval, although she doesn’t seem to like it quite so much…)

  30. Liz says:

    I’m totally distractable! But I’m so impressed at the photo you caught of the squirrel dangling ever-so precariously.

    Poor Abby. 🙂

  31. Ado says:

    Okay Julia, I’m laughing out loud here (seriously). Yet again something we have in common – all the critters running hither and yon in our houses – but that shot of the squirrel just GOT TO ME. It’s up there w. my husband’s fall on his arse at the water park.
    Thanks for the giggle today.
    I really needed it esp. since I only have months to live. (PS: Just kidding – doctor says it’s allergies but, he is full of shit. I’m dying.)
    I’ll be sure and check for Baco in the Boxo today-o.

  32. Liz, You aren’t going to believe this but that squirrel was NOT dangling!! It was clinging to the screen for all it was worth — and I’m just mad that I missed a shot of it looking in the window at me. My iPhone let me down and took too long to bring up the camera, can you believe it? As for Abby, she’s okay now — thank goodness her attention span is almost as short as the squirrel’s! 🙂

    Ado, Isn’t it so true with the critters? YIKES… this house not so bad. Overrun with chipmunks (in our kitchen) so I can relate to your husband’s note. But no snakes or black widows or excessive numbers of roly polys like we’ve had in houses past… still so glad I could amuse you with my squirrel pic! It was hysertical in person more so 😀 As for Mr. Baco — I checked w/ the post office and they suggested that you might have (she meant must have by her look) missed a slip in your box…. “Does she know to look for a slip?” I assured them you do know all about collecting packages BUT that in fact it better get there soon since you may only have months to live…. let me know!

  33. I can definitely relate! I get distracted by various errands, and “neighborhood noise” can really get to me sometimes, especially if I’m editing client work. Your day sounds especially distracting! I think the iron would have probably unsettled me the most.

  34. Erika Marks says:

    Wow, was this a fun one! (For us the readers–I know for the woman who wrote it it had it’s er, LESS fun moments!;)

    We have these crazy squirrels here too–just today one was almost that high off the ground on our screen! What gives?

    Do I dare for a status report on the bird…?

    Oh, and for the record I am VERY easily distracted!

  35. Boy do I know distraction. And it doesn’t necessarily mean the internet or tv. I’m usually thinking about all of the things on my to-do list. I’ll just do a quick vacuum. I really should pay those bills. I should send an email to that person. Before you know it, hours have passed.

    This is the funny thing about distraction: If I leave my house and go to a coffee shop I can completely focus. Even though there are lots of noises and people around, I can concentrate.

    But then again, I don’t have wildlife dive bombing my windows. 🙂

  36. This was so fun! Hey–at least your distractions were of the real life variety and not just Twitter (that’s what mine usually is.) I never feel as bad about neglecting the writing when it comes to my kids. (I think the animals around your house count too!) The picture of the squirrel is my favorite.

  37. Great post. At least you had entertaining distractions. I can’t believe anyone would be cruel enough to steal poor Abby’s toy. I can totally relate to her annoyance. I have to say I’d be thrilled to see a squirrel shimmy up my window though.

  38. Erika or should I say Dear Equally Disracted!? It was a bit of a fun day–at a point I thought to myself “what next???” Still, I’m perplexed by the squirrels too! I’ve never seen one that high off the ground on a screen, and now you say so too? It must be too much encroachment on natural habitat?! (p.s. as for the bird, it’s gone — I’m going to believe it flew away!)

    Jackie, Now YOUR distractions are the SENSIBLE distractions called taking care of business. Mine rarely are because often I let those kinds of things go way too long without attention… so that’s good you do them!! I think that’s so interesting that you (and someone else mentioned this) can avoid distraction by going to a public place. Definitely more distracting for me… although as you say I’ll avoid the wildlife divebombers 😀

    Nina, Okay, true confession time — OF COURSE I was on Twitter WHILE I was being distracted by all these other things!! So sad. And I sometimes wonder… if I were so lucky to be back to kids at home, would I even notice some of these things (like the bird & squirrel)… probably not! Either way, you get the way more fun side of writing at home w/ those three, almost four, wonderful kids!

    Leah, So glad you enjoyed the post! Yes, entertaining is the word! 😀 I so agree about Abby’s toy — I have to say that was THE MOST annoying of all the things that happened. For some reason it seems that dogs are often allowed to roam free around my neighborhood. Very very annoying and I’d probably write a blog post about it but I don’t want to RANT against certain neighbors… (p.s. I wish I could send a squirrel shimmier your way, now THAT was entertaining in addition to being distracting!!)

  39. says:

    Wow, Julia. You had quite a day. I would’ve given up. Yes, I give in to my distractableness all the time. 🙂

  40. Lisa Ahn says:

    Hilarious!! I love this post. Yes, I am very distractible. Kids, laundry, and the internet top my list. Sleep too. I get sleepy during my afternoon writing session and a sleepy person should not be anywhere near a delete button.
    Snacks distract me.
    Okay, now I’m thinking about food.
    Wait, what were we talking about?

  41. You crack me up! I totally relate to getting stuff done around the house when you should be writing– I always feel like I’ll be able to concentrate better once things are in order. Problem is, in my house things are never in order for long so nothing gets done!!

    Love the squirrel-y on the window! Clever little critter. xoxo

  42. VV, I’m with you, I gave up! I tried to concentrate, but how could I! As with you, I give in all the time 🙂

    Lisa, Glad you enjoyed the post! Sleepy in the afternoon — ME TOO! I always save 1/2 cup of coffee for a pick me up, but it doesn’t always work! Snacks work too 🙂

    Stephanie, Glad to crack you up 🙂 So funny, I never ever am distracted if my house isn’t in order. It seems like I work/write better when it ISN’T in order. Strange, huh? I agree, the squirrel was clever…. not a chipmunk, but still 😀

  43. Sometimes, it’s just a day/life filled with distractions!

    And with that said, I hope I, too, don’t see you around much for a while. 🙂 Good luck on your edits.

  44. Beverly, Thanks for coming by and for the comment! Take care & here’s to both of us making great progress! 🙂

  45. Mahesh, Yes, the iron was very unsettling, no question. And I know exactly what you mean about neighborhood work. Mowing, chain saws, dogs barking. Argh. Terrible! (p.s. thank you so much for commenting & sorry for blogger being spotty & letting me know on Twitter!)

  46. I’m the opposite extreme. When I’m writing nothing can distract me. I close myself off from the real world. Not always a good thing!

  47. Kelly, That’s wonderful!! I can see how you may not always like this ability, but what a great thing to rely on under deadline or when there are a lot of distractions around you! I’m like that when I’m super consumed in a project or draft–but the conditions have to be just right. I wish I could do it all the time like you can!

  48. Distractions are the reason why my husband and I moved to a small mountaintop ranch when I decided to take my writing seriously several years ago. And it worked. I’ve turned out a number of books since we’ve been here, and can leave the mountain for social activiies whenever we want. (One of the joyss of retirement.)

  49. Jean, Your mountaintop ranch sounds AMAZING!! Although I love living near the ocean, I very much miss the mountains (we lived in Colorado for a long time). You have such a good point about creating an environment that cuts down on distractions — very wise! It sounds lovely and incredibly helpful for productivity, wonderful! Thanks so much for the comment and also for the visit to my blog! Nice to meet you!

  50. Oh dear, I am soooo distractible. I try to switch off the Internet when I really need to concentrate on a piece of writing, or go sit in the library’s cafe, overlooking brilliant green trees while reading/writing and drinking coffee. That’s how I regain my focus.

  51. Claudine, Nice to meet another distractible writer!! That is a great idea to re-set or regain your focus by sitting in the library cafe to overlook the brilliant green trees. Sounds lovely! And I so agree about switching off the Internet — I have sworn off Twitter this week to try and get back on track, and it’s definitely working! Thanks for your comment and for your visit to my blog!