September 3, 2013

Writing With Distractions

Giacomo & Slick

Giacomo & Slick

Writing With Distractions

I often read, with some degree of envy, about writers who are going off on a writing retreat. Leaving the world for a weekend or even a whole week, and taking their computer to a mountain hideaway, or a beach resort, or a cabin in the woods.

“I just can’t focus at home,” I noticed one offered as an reason for going. “I have two children.”

“My spouse interrupts me too much,” another one said.

And yet a third made mention of the continual need to “get up and feed the dog and cat.”

It was when I noticed the singularity of “dog and cat,” that I sat back in my chair and shook my head. A dog and a cat. I would kill to be bothered by a dog and a cat every night, and you could throw in an interrupting spouse, and two children. If these people think they have writing distractions, they haven’t lived on an animal sanctuary.

Living The Dream

That’s what we called it twenty years ago when my wife tricked me we decided to start an animal sanctuary. It began simply enough, with a rescued potbelly pig, and then another. Add in a couple of abandoned dogs, and then a few more pigs. Toss in a wild boar, a horse, a feral cat—and pretty soon we had 45 animals. All the animals were outside, in one of three separate barns. Mind you, these animals weren’t suffering. The dogs had a 12 x 20 air-conditioned room with tile floors and cushy dog beds. And the pigs had a similar sized room with plush carpeting in a huge walk-in closet, replete with fluffy blankets and even a pillow for Queen Shinobi, the oldest of the potbelly pigs.

Writing was a joy. I had an 18 x 30 room all to myself, with a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows looking out the back of the property. I could see all the dogs—and that’s where the troubles started. All the dogs could see me. They lined up on the fence and stared in the window, and zeroed in on me with such pitiful eyes. If it thundered, they’d cry and whine. One of our Australian shepherds got injured and I brought her in until she healed.

She refused to leave, and I relented and let her stay. Pretty soon, other dogs got injured. I swear it was a conspiracy, and they were hurting themselves on purpose. Before long they took over the room and I was relegated to the kitchen table. My room had become their room.

We Can Help You Write

We Can Help You Write

Another long day

Another long day

Suck It Up

It proved to be a minor inconvenience, as I simply moved my writing to the kitchen, where I stared through 6’ of windows into the lovely room that used to be mine. But the dogs didn’t respect my privacy, so I had to install a metal gate between the kitchen doorway and what was formerly the writing room became the dog room.

Prior to bringing the dogs in, I had very few disturbances, the occasional trip to refill a wine glass or to grab a snack being the worst of them. Things changed. This is now…


A Typical Night

I decided to document a typical night to give you an idea of what writing with distractions really means. This was from Friday night.

  • I let a cumulative total of 36 dogs in and out the back door. This constituted 8 separate trips.
  • I filled one water bowl 3 times and the other 4 times.
  • I got up from the table to threaten them 6 times for excessive noise.
  • I was serenaded by a tree-frog duet on the kitchen window.
  • I was scared into jumping out of my seat when one of the newly-acquired feral cats swatted at a bug on the window next to my ear.
  • I had to stop a shoot-out to escort a lizard out the door, one who obviously gained entry during one of the many trips to let the dogs out.
  • I stopped a love scene to find out why the dogs were barking ferociously, only to discover it was our favorite garter snake trying to make her way home. (That’s another story.)
  • At 11:00 I stopped to get more wine, knowing that writing cannot take place at that time because the train passes by and when it does, the train whistle blows, which triggers the coyotes in the woods next to us to howl. The coyotes howling triggers my dogs to howl, and it usually doesn’t stop for several minutes.
  • By midnight things are normally settled down and the dogs are asleep. But God forbid a thunderstorm comes within 30 miles. If that happens, our giant great dane, Briella, will jump the gate and race to get close to me. Side note: Have you ever tried writing with a 180-pound dog up your ass? Trust me, it can’t be done. 

If my writing sometimes seems disjointed, please forgive me. I was probably crying at the time.

dogs napping

Nap Time

Bottom Line

I often hear of authors writing 5,000 words a night. I’m awe stricken and filled with envy. If only I had a room to work in, I think. Then I look at my huge writing room, filled with Great Danes, and Australian shepherds, and rat terriers, and mutts, and I think, what fun would that be?

Ciao, and thanks for stopping by,




Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of:
No Mistakes Resumes
Murder Takes Time
Murder Has Consequences
A Bullet For Carlos
Finding Family
He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”


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10 Responses to “Writing With Distractions”

  1. I was grinning ear to ear when I read this.

    I’ve sworn up and down that I can’t work in a noisy environment but after reading this, I realize that noise is relative.

    While it annoys me to work anywhere there are people, I am blissfully unaware of animal roughhousing–unless someone is hurt or trying to kill someone. 😀

    A few years ago we had a geriatric rottie. Every day, it seemed she required more and more help. Special food, special walks, chemo, and long trips to the vet. When she died, I walked around in a daze because I felt I had nothing to do. The last year of her life had kept me so busy every waking moment was full.

    Now I’m doing it again with Tank. I never think about the time involved. It’s a labor of love, which I know you know full well.

  2. Maria, you’re so right. On the rare occasions the animals are all behaving, I sometimes get up to check on them and see if I’m missing something. In the long run they’re worth it.

  3. OMG!! I just loved this post. Thank you for the laughs!! It’s a wonder that you have written more than 1 book, maybe even a miracle. I can’t imagine having, I counted 18 sad eyes watching me. I loved the picture of the 3 dogs on your, or should I say their, leather couch. The one in the middle looks like the dog my son rescued. Same brindle fur and I have to say the best dog I have ever met! Fantastic post!

  4. Cheryl: You’re right, it is their couch. And yes, those sad eyes can be damned persuasive. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. The caption “we can help you write” with a pack of them staring at you is the best. LOL

    Yep, that about sums it up. I think they usually do feel like they’re helping. (Note the word “usually”).

    Now, as far as the pups having to go out every 5 minutes…err, um….they may have justified that in their minds with something like: “we’ve got to go out and survey the territory to make sure Giacomo is safe”, but I think we all know the real deal with that one. 🙂

  6. Yeah, I think this post is better understood by those who know the animals. They do take advantage of me.

  7. Great post. I think it really depends on what kind of writing you are doing, as to whether yo can write with distractions. If I’m writing straight journalism stories, I can rite with distractions. If I’m writing creative non-fiction, really need silence in order to concentrate and do my best work.

  8. Thanks for stopping by, Doreen. I’m the same way with different writing. If it’s non-fiction, I find I need to focus more, and if it’s fiction, I can tolerate the distractions, at least most of the time.

  9. I laughed out loud. I write early–really early–in the morning while family is sleeping. But I still close my door to keep the cat out. He likes to get in my lap, rest his head on the keyboard to see what I’m writing, purr, get down. Then back up again, turn around several times, get down . . . you get the picture! I think of your situation as writing with a complete team of enthusiastic cheerleaders.

  10. Vicki: Thanks for stopping by. Yeah, the animals are fun, despite me complaining about them. I even wrote a few of them into my book as the detective’s pets. But they rule the roost at his house too. Imagine that.

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