Every Author’s Worst Nightmare (distraction)

What are the costs and consequences of being distracted? Besides the oft-cited dangers of texting while driving, there are the costly mistakes due to inattention and the speed of technology. For example, Jonathan Franzen, best selling author of The Corrections, brought out a new book entitled, Freedom. The press call this a masterpiece, but the author announced that the first run of the book is recalled.

The problem? The wrong file was used to publish the book instead of the most recent, edited version. Some distraction lead to a major technology OOPS!

From The Observer (Guardian.UK):

Jonathan Franzen wrote his bestselling novel The Corrections wearing a blindfold to avoid distraction from the outside world. If he used the same approach for his new book, Freedom, you can understand how he might have ended up with a few typos. Fortunately for him, and for the rest of us who produce drafts full of spelling mistakes even with our eyes open, publishers have copyeditors on hand, magnificent professional nitpickers and pedants.

Somewhere along the line, this process went awry for Franzen and Fourth Estate, the UK publisher of Freedom; instead of the final edit being sent to the printer, an earlier draft was sent. During the editing process, successive versions of the same novel flit back and forth between author, agent, typesetter and publisher in a series of email attachments, presumably all with variations on the same file name. At each stage, these drafts are sent to various other people, so it’s easy to see how the mistake could have happened.

This can happen to any of us. Although technology allows for easy access and collection of information, you can suffer from too much of a good thing. One of the ways of battle with the Technology Demon is to conquer computer clutter. Do you find yourself searching through your documents for files or are you distracted by outdated reports, misplaced or inaccurately labeled files? You can become frustrated and overwhelmed because you can’t find what you need.

You can reduce distractions by clearing the computer clutter weekly or monthly. Make an appointment with yourself so you can accomplish these tasks:

  • Weed out outdated material saved from the Internet.
  • Organize files into folders in the “My Documents” section of your hard drive.
  • Back up work on a flash memory device or a compact disk. There are also several services which back up your files online.
  • Throw out diskettes, CDs or DVDs that you no longer need.
  • Keep childrens software in a separate section and give away items you no longer use.
  • Create a hard copy of critical email addresses. Maintain a hard copy list of log-in, membership password, and phone numbers for stores, organizations or networking groups.
  • Keep a extra supply of labels to affix on disks or CDs.

I make it a point to save documents, especially manuscript edits, with the date. On the document itself, I note the page I last worked on and major items that were revised or added.

When sending files to editors or other professionals, I make sure the subject line has the name and date of the edition or document (this may have helped Franzen).

About Geraldine Markel, Ph.D.

Geraldine Markel, Ph.D. is principal of Managing Your Mind Coaching and Seminars and is author of Defeating the 8 Demons of Distraction: Increasing Productivity and Decreasing Stress. She is co author of Finding Your Focus: Practical Strategies for the Everyday Challenges Facing Adults with ADD and Helping Adolescents with ADD and/or Learning Disabilities. At the University of Michigan, Dr. Markel served as faculty in the School of Education. She coaches adults and adolescents with ADD and/or learning disabilities and specializes in working with independent professionals, writers, and graduate students.
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