Merryn Walters

13 September 2012

Distracted from writing copy? Who, me? No-ooo…

Deadlines, schmeadlines. When you write for a living, distractions make life unbearable. Or should that be, bearable…

Douglas knew about distractionsConcentration is important, you agree? I mean it’s a necessary factor, vital perhaps, in keeping our juices flowing.

The lubrication in our river of inspiration, a veritable pool of WD40 for those rusted cogs of creativity. Distraction is our nemesis; diversions are doom.

So when a robin started head-butting my shed window (from inside the shed) and one of my geese started doing Pilates moves in the garden, I was moved to ponder how much productivity we do lose each day, thanks to the inherent distractions of our trade – and, conversely, how much greater our capacity for better work can be because of them.

People (in general)

For a start, there are clients to deal with. Heaven bless ’em. Lest you think I’m about to bite the hand that passes me my daily bread, I’m not. But if direct clients aren’t emailing to find out how things are going, they’re phoning you to take part in a conference call and talk through what you’ll be doing to get things done. Clients, eh? Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em. A distraction, they are …  which is why it *can* be an advantage, occasionally, to work through agencies.

Whether they’re old hands, young dudes, or Antipodeans on a six-month visa – they’re kinda hoopy in their own way. But there have been whole days of my life during which, if I *had* kept a record of my working day broken down into 15-minute slots (and believe me, I’ve been asked to do this a couple fo times by people Who Know No Better), I’ve had to perfect the art of telling huge great porky pies about Exactly What I’m Doing With the Draft. Distracted? Me? No-ooo…

  • Downside – the more time I spend dealing with people, the less time I have to do the work those people are asking me to do.
  • Upside – when you listen to people for long enough, you hear what they’ve been trying to say between the lines in the brief. There is almost nothing more important, in our line of work, than remembering the fact your client didn’t use a copywriter to write the brief. Because if they had…  If they ha-aaad…

The Internet (in particular)

“It’s there. It’s square. It fills me with despair, Google on, Google on…” OK; OK; joking aside, the internet is a great distraction. It’s also a great font of wisdom and an endless source of inspiration. Validation. Substantiation. That, and you *can* turn the darned thing off. No really, you can close the browser window. I did it once. It was a Tuesday, 2008 I think; I remember that it was raining…

  • Downside – one billion gazillion pages of poorly written copy that frustrate the hell out of grammar terrorists everywhere.
  • Upside – I can have food delivered to the shed. (I’m working on wine.)

Social media

Love it or loathe it, it’s here to stay. All shiny, and tweety, and circle-y, and connecty, and booky and – for some reason – mostly brought to life in a rather regal shade of blue at one time or another in its timeline. People stalking people; individuals asking questions of a world anonymous; liking the unlikeable, posting images of the unmentionable; filtering instagrams from infobots and pictures from pinterest links … there’s nothing quite like a ‘lite’ link for unburdening a heavy toll on your working day.

On the other hand, for many of us the idiosyncrasies of social media are a masochistic delight. Imagine, dreaming up the killer headline to beat all killer headlines, and then realising you’re seven words over and 23 characters under – all at the same time. The book and bird have the final word in, erm, my book. As in – they’re a huge distraction.

  • Downside – I have a head full of trivia about WW2 stories, pies, LOUD DADS, blaspheming pandas and the county I live in.
  • Upside – I don’t feel quite so alone, when I’m working on my own. Much.


OK; OK; just proving a point.

New technology

Another moot point.

  • Downside – my hard drive(s) and phone(s) are full of distractions and I don’t have the intelligence to access most of them.
  • Upside – I’ve just discovered the [Shift] [Apple] [Cursor key] combination, left and right, moves me from tab to tab in Safari. Excellent.


Every writer is a reader, or should be. So look into my eyes and repeat after me, ‘…books are not distractions; your Amazon bill is a valid business expense; books are not distractions; your Amazon bill is a valid business expense…’

  • Downside – there isn’t one.
  • Upside – inspiration, relaxation and infinite reminders and reassurance that I may not be as crap at my job as I sometimes think I am.


It does play on your mind, somewhat. Go on, admit it. Today for example, before I was distracted to write a blog entry, I was crafting copy for one of my favourite clients. It’s taken about three days so far; we’re at draft eight (I love these guys, everyone has at least one client like this), and history dictates there’ll probably be another round of ‘can we just add a couple of new features in to this paragraph here, please?’ amends before we even get close to ‘ – and the invoice goes to…?’ Result, I’m working for tuppence an hour. Woe is me. Et cetera.

  • Downside – my propensity for being soft in the head doesn’t pay the Burgundy bill.
  • Upside – the patience involved in writing a piece that’s paying me the princely sum of £100 has led to some incredibly detailed, relationship-building conversations about the business and its future copy needs … which should pay handsome dividends. Eventually.


Regardless of your sex, there’s a point at which the dust in your shed – metaphorical or not – starts jamming up the ‘F’ key of your laptop. There is a moment in every copywriter’s life when one lays a quill next to a roll of virgin parchment and it promptly disappears for a week. Dust, schmust; work, schmirk; I don’t own an iron or a TV but I *do* have access to a nail gun and a scythe.

  • Downside – the washing machine on full spin is not conducive to conference calls.
  • Upside – the new strap for a well-known brand’s product came to me while I was carrying out an MOT on a chainsaw. I. Kid. You. Not.

So what have we learned from this, I ask rhetorically. Well, if you’ve made it this far then the ultimate distraction has to be a blog on The Professional Copywriters’ Network. If you haven’t read this far then, then so long and thanks for all the Douglas Adams quotes…

  • A deadline in the making

What do you think?

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Alan Carr

October 18, 2012 at 10:16am

You want distractions? I got a distraction…

New Honda dirt bike, it’s sunny, and I live on the island of Borneo.

And right now, apart from skimming PCN, I’m working on the privacy benefits of virtual dedicated servers.

Dirt bike.

And how their private environment means you can enjoy root access…

Dirt bike.

And of course, you do get your own IP address with those…

Dirt bike

Dirt bike

And unlike other companies, you even get a private mail server, so no more blacklisting! How kewl is that?



*Goes to get helmet and gloves…*

Judith Coyle

October 19, 2012 at 12:01am

I definitely needed to read this… TODAY! The internet is the worst tool of mass distraction.


May 10, 2013 at 1:56pm

One of the most enjoyable articles on writing I’ve read in a long time – thank you.
And, of course, an excellent distraction…

Alison Winn

August 30, 2013 at 3:40pm

Don’t know what you mean – lost track. Phone pinged to notify me of a Facebook update and I’ve been sifting through posts for the last 10 minutes. Eeek:)