Dangerous distractions

Anne Janzer
3 min readMay 16, 2024
Arrow on pavement pointing straight ahead, with another pointing to the side. Feet standing at that point—indicating making a choice.

“Maybe I should polish up an old manuscript and crowdsource the funds to publish it.”

An author friend suggested this in an author group discussion of crowdfunding. At first glance, it sounded like a fine idea.

But wait. This author is taking his career in an entirely new direction-one that has nothing to do with his old novel. Right now, that manuscript sitting in his drawer is a dangerous distraction.

An attractive nuisance.

A seductive sidetrip.

These distractions call to us when we’re embarking on something new or uncertain-like struggling with that next book. They tempt us away from the writing that we would find most rewarding.

What’s luring you away from your most important work?

The danger in the detour

In any writing or author marketing group, you’ll hear dozens of exciting things to try. Offered with the best intentions, these projects might not serve your best interest. Only you can decide.

In my friend’s case, publishing an older manuscript sounds like a fine idea-and that’s why it’s so risky.

You can spot obvious time-wasters easily. (Or, I hope you can!) The most dangerous distractions are those that sound logical or “pretty good.”

Your inner warning system should go off whenever you contemplate a project that is slightly off your usual course but…

  • It sounds quick or easy
  • It promises the possibility of a small financial return in the short term
  • Everyone else is doing it.

To channel Steven Pressfield, these diversions are Resistance dressed up like Business.

I’m not immune to distractions. My writing career is littered with detours. Here are a couple obvious ones:

  • I published a third edition of Subscription Marketing well after I’d decided to stop writing about marketing and was addressing a different audience.
  • I developed an online course on running discount book promotions-fun, but not the core work I want to be doing at the moment.

Each of these would have been great projects had I been on a different path. But they didn’t fit my current goals, my most important work. They aren’t losses or mistakes … merely delays. And, because my heart wasn’t fully engaged, I couldn’t muster the excitement to support and promote them.

My friend decided to focus on his core effort and let the older manuscript sit for now. Its time may come later. Or not.

Distraction? Opportunity? What’s the difference?

What about those people who preach saying “yes” to possibility again and again? Won’t you miss a lot of wonderful opportunities if you put blinders on?

I’m not suggesting you reject all other activities out of hand (unless you’re in a sprint on a manuscript.) But, before saying yes, check in with yourself.

Anyone can suggest a wonderful project-only you can decide if you really want to act on it right now.

Ask yourself: Would I rate this higher than the thing I most want to do right now? Or am I attracted to it because it seems easier or faster?

Listen to your gut. I’ve always known, deep down, when I was starting a detour to resist the work I truly valued.

Already on a detour?

Are you looking around you right now thinking, Oops! I’m on a detour! I’m not doing the thing I value, not yet.

Don’t beat yourself up. The world pulls us all off course, and you are not alone. Sometimes we don’t realize which direction a path takes us until we’re partway down it.

Take a moment to ask yourself what success look like for you. What do you dream of doing with your writing? For example, is writing a book the most important thing this year? If so, does this project take you closer to that goal?

If you’re not heading in that direction, figure out how to change course.

Should you abandon the current project? Hard to say. If there’s value in finishing it and the finish line isn’t far, go ahead. But don’t let the sunk cost fallacy keep you pouring effort into something you don’t really want.

Keep exploring

Need help focusing on just a few things to work on? Cal Newport’s new book Slow Productivity may help. Read my review here.

Originally published at https://annejanzer.com.



Anne Janzer

Author, Writing Coach, Unapologetic Nonfiction Geek. Writing about Writing Itself (very meta). AnneJanzer.com