With a few keystrokes, you can jump from that scene that’s giving you fits and hop onto Facebook, check your emails, buy a book from Amazon…and why not pay a few bills on-line or treat yourself to a new pair of shoes? Although the internet has simplified some processes in our lives, it can be a time suck when it comes to your writing. Author Pamela Mingle talks about that need to be connected and how to disconnect and focus on writing.
I had an epiphany of sorts the other day. Actually the feeling had been growing slowly and steadily, but there was a moment of realization when I knew for sure.
I was reaching for my iPod at the gym to adjust the volume, and it hit me. I am never (well almost never) without access to the internet. I sit, walk, work out, wait in line, eat, even watch TV with some device delivering a song, book, website or other social media. I check and re-check email, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Goodreads, blogs, forums—you name it. My mind, instead of being allowed to rest, wander, daydream, or engage my subconscious, is continually bombarded by noise and information of one kind or another.
This can’t be good for my writing. So why is it so hard to stop?
It never used to be this way. Before I joined several of the social media sites, when e-mail was the only distraction, and not a very compelling one, I had it under control. But publishing a book changed me. When my first book, Kissing Shakespeare, was released, I wanted to be sure I did everything in my power to promote it, and that involved more time on the internet. I blame my smart phone for making it all so convenient. It became too easy to be online and otherwise to be constantly reading or listening to something. To make it seem as though “connecting” was the most important part of my life.
Does preoccupation with the internet matter to most people? Maybe not. But if it’s taking you away from what you’re supposed to be doing, you, like me, have a problem. For writers, this problem is a serious one. If writing is your top priority, and you find yourself spending less and less time actually doing it, something must change. If you’re serious about your writing, that is.
What to do?
First, set some goals and decide what it’s going to take to accomplish them. They might be very specific, such as, “Re-write end of novel,” “Write a thousand words five days a week,” or “Write an hour a day before work.” Or they may be big-picture goals. “Finish WIP by end of the month,” “Submit ms. to critique group by January,” “Write first five chapters of new novel.” Whatever your goals, the next step is to figure out how to achieve them.
No matter how much time you carve out for writing, that time must be inviolable. If it’s early in the morning, before your day job, don’t give in to the temptation to check Facebook first. Wait until you get to work to do that. (Don’t tell the boss I said that.) If you have a more generous allotment of time to write, as I do, protect it. If you don’t, you may never meet your goals. Schedule times for checking e-mail, posting on Facebook and Twitter, or blogging, and stick to it. And while you’re at it, think about whether any of your social media commitments have become too burdensome. Could you eliminate one or more of them?
One trick that works for me is setting a timer. Start with thirty minutes and work up. I tried fifty, with a ten minute break, at the end. Enough time to take a short walk. I know some writers who turn the wireless off on their computer until their designated internet time.
In the long run, though, reliable old self-discipline works best, even if we have to re-train ourselves to it. I’ve noticed a tendency to jump onto the internet when I’ve got a knotty problem to work out in my WIP. Obviously an avoidance technique. I fight it by forcing myself to push back from my desk and fold laundry, wash the dishes, or reorganize a shelf. Often, the solution to my problem will then present itself. Every time we give in to the internet urge, we simply grant it more power over us.
For years I had been in the habit of taking long walks and allowing my mind, even if it was only at the subconscious level, to mull over matters of character, plot, scene, or the evolution of the story. I carried a pad and pencil with me in case I had an insight, and frequently, I did. Sometimes I’d listen to music; other times I simply absorbed the sounds around me. By observing the environment, I’d often feel inspired to jot down a short description, which varied depending on the season. Many of those descriptions made their way into my writing.
Recently, I’ve been listening to audio books on my walks. The act of listening rather than reading makes me more aware of an author’s style, language, the way they use POV, and other aspects of their writing. At least, that’s how I justified always having earbuds in my ears. It would help my writing. But sometimes I’m too caught up in the story to even notice. So I’ve started making a little deal with myself. For the first half the walk, no audio. Just free thinking time. This is a good way to train myself to “live in the moment.” As I’ve gotten better at this habit, my time with the other person’s story shrinks and my own voice returns.
How long has it been since you’ve sat in a quiet room and simply allowed the silence to envelop you? It’s calming, centering, and quiets the mind. I don’t do it often enough. Even if no great revelations occur, I’ve taken a few moments to get away from the endless distractions that are so much a part of our media rich society. When I return to writing, my mind seems clearer and more focused.
Putting your writing first is difficult enough in the press of everyday living. Why add to your problems with too much time with your gadgets? Control them, or they will control you. And don’t forget. Listen to the silence.
How do you combat distractions (or disconnect) when you’re writing? Share your tips with us!
Author Toni Blake joins us on Monday, December 16th.
THE PURSUIT OF MARY BENNET, (William Morrow – December 1, 2013) is a continuation of Jane Austen’s beloved Pride and Prejudice, with a focus on the discontented and socially awkward Bennet sister Mary. With spot on prose and a solid, compelling plot, Mingle breathes new life into the cast of Austen’s immortal novel—skillfully recapturing the atmosphere of Pride and Prejudice, to pen an insightful and intriguing portrait of Mary—the Bennet sister most likely to be overlooked.
Bio: Pamela Mingle, a former teacher and librarian, lives in Lakewood, Colorado. She is the author of Kissing Shakespeare, a time travel romance for young adults set in Elizabethan England (Delacorte Press, 2012). Pamela is a member of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Pikes Peak Writers, Romance Writers of America, and the Jane Austen Society of North America. She and her husband are frequent visitors to the United Kingdom, where they enjoy walking and visiting historical sites. For more information please visit her website or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
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