What We Can Learn From The Great Gods of Writing: Distraction Can Be Good. Find A Hobby.

Nabokov catching butteflies

Vladimir Nabokov and his wife were avid butterfly-hunters (yes, butterflies), who went on frequent butterfly-hunting trips together. He enjoyed studying them and once stated “The pleasures and rewards of literary inspiration are nothing beside the rapture of discovering a new organ under the microscope or an undescribed species on a mountainside in Iran or Peru.”1 Poet Les Murray collects “images, postcards, photos, bits of verse, weird newspaper snippets, [and] labels” and compiles them into ledger books.2 Luisa Valenzuela plays solitaire on her computer as a form of distraction.3 “Carpentry” was Arthur Miller’s “oldest hobby,” an activity that he was engaged with from the time that he was five.4 Miller also took breaks from writing by shooting ducks with a rifle at the window of his study, and he called his room an “excellent duck blind.”5

My advice: Sometimes, the trick to writing a good paper is taking the time away from it. It is possible to get too close to your draft and consequently fail to see where it needs improvement. The Internet is a common distraction tool among college students, who usually use their laptops to write their papers and find it convenient to just go online to their favorite sites. This is generally a bad form of distraction, as it is easy for this “distraction” to become a full-fledged activity, and for the students to just stay online on Facebook, Twitter, (blogs!), or other sites instead of returning to their work. Instead, other hobbies might be more helpful in helping the student take time away from a paper while ensuring that they stay motivated. Fellow writing tutor Lauren Kuhlik keeps little toys in her drawer that she takes out to play with when she wants to think about her paper further or take some time away from it. She says, “I need something to do with my hands while I’m thinking, or taking a break, otherwise I might find myself going online when I should be working. It’s also a good diversion for any excess energy that I have.”

By Vernie Chia ’11

1 Nabokov, Vladimir. The Paris Review, Fall 1967. Interview by Herbert Gold. Print. 14 Dec 2010. 2 Murray, Les. The Paris Review, Spring 2005. Personal Interview by Dennis O’Driscoll. 14 Dec 2010. 3 Valenzuela, Luisa. The Paris Review, Winter 2001. Interview by Sarah Lee, Ksenija Bilbija. Print. 14 Dec 2010. 4 Miller, Arthur. The Paris Review, Summer 1966. Interview by Olga Carlisle and Rose Styron. Print. 14 Dec 2010. 5 Ibd.

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