Staring at a shelf of books on all things writing, I never know which one to choose. I want the best one. I want the one that will infuse my writing brain with the knowledge and inspiration of all the great authors.
But, there’s so many. Click on author, Jody Hedlund’s Helpful Writing Books page alone, and you’ll find a long list of choices.
Stuck with the funds to buy only one book recently, I gravitated towards a collection of authors’ advice on writing, a book whose cover stood out to me: bright orange and red and yielding the words “Secret” and “Miracle.” I picked it up because, well, I want to know the secret to and the miracle of writing a complete novel.
In Alarćon’s chapter titled “Getting Started,” he asks several published authors, “What is most distracting for you? How do you deal with it?”
About one third of the authors he interviewed answered with the same irresistable pull: the Internet.
This I write, as I work diligently on a post I hope readers will click to, read, and comment on in their own spare time.
While the Internet as a distraction is nothing new – there are plenty of articles by other writers about ways to avoid the Internet when you should be writing – what’s new for me is a glimpse I got, from Alarćon’s interviews, into the reasons why I turn to the Internet instead of my work in progress.
Jennifer Egan (author of The Keep) says:
I find that there is some part of me that is always looking for a way to pull myself out of a state of deep concentration….The Internet is a naughty accomplice to that desire (p. 118).
Anne Enright (author of The Gathering) says:
I think a lot of distraction is anxiety. If I am too anxious to work on the piece at hand, then I work on something else (p. 119).
For me, that “something else” often turns out to be emails and Twitter. Ouch.
Today, I wrote in my morning pages about how many precious minutes I use up browsing Twitter or reading articles on writing, instead of using that time to write. I will avoid working on a draft if I don’t have a significant amount of time to tackle a big chunk of the project.
Just as soon as I get started, get into the grove, I think to myself, I’ll have to stop. It’s difficult for me to trust that short spurts of writing eventually add up, even as I do trust authors like Becky Levine who can attest to the fact that “baby steps [in writing] can lead to big productivity.”
Of course, I produce better work when I have bigger chunks of time to sit and concentrate. Still, something is better than nothing, and I wonder how much of my quick dips into the Internet don’t stem from a little writer’s anxiety?
Jennifer Egan shares a little more of her experience, which might explain why I cling to the internet, and she offers one strategy for getting back to the work:
A writer friend of mine, Lisa Fugard, once told me that she had a sign next to the door of her office that said, ‘Why are you leaving?’ Many times she found herself walking through that door with no idea of why. Then she made herself sit down again and continue working. I try to have a mental sign that asks why I’m leaving when I find myself suddenly typing something into Google for no particular reason, as if I had nothing else to do (p. 118).
I value Google, email and Twitter. But, on days when I have to ration my writing time, I have to be more vigilant about avoiding their draw and ask myself “What am I looking for?”
If what I’m surfing through isn’t time sensitive or relevant research for the story I want to write, then I can close down the application and open up that draft instead.
What are your biggest distractions and how do you deal with them?
Alarćon, Daniel. The Secret Miracle: the Novelist’s Handbook. New York, New York: Henry Hold and Company, LLC, 2010. Print.