Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

Too Many Distractions? Time to Clear the Mechanism!

Written By: Tracy - Feb• 20•12

The metaphor is all right there in the image.

As I write this, there is a home inspector crawling all over my house. I hear his footsteps in the attic. Just when I’ve gotten used to that, I hear him slither around, like an army of tiny little mice, down in my crawlspace. He’s testing the smoke detector and blasting the heat for 30 minutes to make sure that the heater works.

With all these distractions, how is a writer expected to get any work done?

Focus! Focus! Focus!

Have you ever watched the Kevin Costner movie For the Love of the Game? In it, Costner plays a retiring baseball pitcher on a quest to pitch a no-hit game. Even if you don’t love baseball movies (and I do), the movie is worth watching because it has a great metaphor for being in the zone.

In the movie, Costner’s character Billy Chapel calls it “clearing the mechanism.” When Chapel is completely focused, he can’t hear the distractions going on around him. Visually (this movie was directed by Sam Rami, usually known for more genre-based work) the fans in the stands blur out, and the volume lowers until all that’s left is just Chapel and his catcher.

As writers, we need to try and clear the mechanism before we work. This is easier said than done. But here are a few tips that work for some writers I know.


A lot of writers I know have a soundtrack for their work. They pick a few songs that remind them of their characters, or they listen to stirring music (like soundtracks) when they’re writing exciting scenes. This helps them to create excitement that comes across in their work.

This technique sometimes works for me. But usually I find words distracting when I write. And stirring soundtrack music always makes me want to get up to run around the house to act out the drama that I’m writing. (One of these days, my husband is going to come home and find me swinging from a chandelier). Instead I try to pick unobtrusive instrumental music. Classical music is always best. This creates a barrier between me and the world without pushing itself into my conscious brain.

Clean Up

A cluttered desk may be the sign of a creative mind, but most people I know feel bad about themselves if they’re working in a cluttered space. Not to mention that when things are cluttered, I always want to clean them instead of focusing on writing.

Cleaning up my desk first removes any potential distractions from my view and keeps me from procrastinating.

Cushion Up

Have you ever tried to work while sitting in a chair with a loose spring? Instead of focusing on work, you’re focusing on that spring that keeps poking you.

Make your desk more ergonomic, while you’re at it. If you are going to sit in the same chair for 8 hours, buy an office chair that is designed for that kind of abuse — one with Lumbar support. Lift your screen up to eye level and take your keyboard down so that it’s level with your arm rests.

Turn Off your Phone/Internet

I find it ironic that my PDA is still called a phone. I actually call someone less than 1% of the time. The rest of the time I’m texting, receiving e-mails, checking articles on Zite and throwing birds at pigs. None of this is productive.
And if I do manage to write, I stop to look up something. Which takes me on a wiki walk, because looking up one thing leads me down a rabbit hole to something else. Better to turn off a phone, make a note to research that important fact later and get on with the plot. Or if you can’t get away from digital distractions, go old school and write with a pen and paper.

Ultimately, “clear the mechanism” is just a fancy way of saying “eliminate distractions.” But when you can manage to do that, you’ll be surprised how much your productivity will go up.

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  1. I think my biggest distraction is my day job. Lol. Craziness from it can steal my mind away….

  2. Tracy says:

    Depends on the job. Yours must require a lot of mental energy. I know a lot of writers who get extremely focused when they have to work around work. It’s during vacation (when you would think that you should have more time to write) that a lot of people fill up their time with more distractions.