The Gene Schwartz Japanese Tea Ceremony Distraction-Free Writing

By Ruth Barringham


I was thinking this morning about Japanese tea ceremonies for two, and how they are mostly a silent affair, as one person prepares and pours the tea and then both people sip in silence. It's supposed to be an extremely meditative experience.

Speaking is not banned, but if they do talk, they cannot discuss anything that is not in the small room they're sitting in.

And that reminded me of Eugene Schwartz and how every day he would prepare himself a cup of coffee and sit with it at his desk. He would then take out whatever writing project he was working on and then just sit there and only give himself the option of drinking his coffee, working on his project, or doing nothing. And so for the next 3 to 4 hours, it's all he was allowed to do.

And the two things, the tea ceremony and the Gene Schwartz project-coffee-or-nothing discipline, are roughly the same thing. You have to stay, you cannot be distracted, and you have to do what you have to do or do nothing.

This is a great discipline especially the part about you can't leave in body or mind. So if you don't want to drink your coffee or deal only with what is in front of you, then you have to sit there quietly and do nothing.

Imagine sitting and working for 3 to 4 hours a day with absolutely no distractions?

It’s just like the author Maya Angelou who used to rent a hotel room just for writing and make the staff remove the TV and all the pictures on the walls so that nothing could distract her all day. At night she'd go home but in the mornings she'd always be back early to write again.

So she too gave herself no option but to write and not be distracted, by leaving home every day and locking herself into a sparse hotel room.

But this is the all-or-nothing type of discipline that is required to stay focused and productive.

The tea ceremony, the Gene Schwartz discipline and the Maya Angelou hotel discipline are all basically the same thing. Staying put, concentrating only on what they are doing and not allowing any distractions to creep in.

I find I write more if I'm away from home in the library or in the park. I can also write on a long train journey, or in a hotel room while on holiday. I think it's because in all these instances I've removed all distractions like household chores, gardening, reading, internet surfing, relaxing, or any of the hundreds of other distractions working at home.

Even now I'm sitting on the bed and writing this in a hotel room while I'm away for the weekend to watch an NRL match at the Sunshine Coast Stadium.

I just had a spare hour before we head out this morning so I took the opportunity to write.

I wasn't even sure what I was going to write about, but then I remembered thinking about the Japanese tea ceremony and next thing I knew I'd poured out all my thoughts about it.

And it was easy because I had the time and no distractions while I'm in the hotel room this morning.

I didn't even have to cook my own breakfast or wash the dishes and now I'm going to venture out without even making the bed.


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