“What Now?”

Dear Writers Who are Addicted to the Internet, today’s thoughts are for you:

I have just returned from a weekend in Portland, oh green rainy haven of the west, and am now back in this dusty desert of ours.  A handful of gratitude to the guest bloggers who were able to take us through the weekend, Bob Sabatini, Marisa P., Randi Beck, and Elizabeth Tannen.  I decided to ditch my computer and spend my time drinking the best coffee in the world in one of my favorite cities in the world and, for four days, I left my computer at home and spent my time writing by hand.

I love this city, and I love that I got to spend my time catching up with my good friend Liz Collins

This afternoon, as my airplane rocked its turbulent way into Albuquerque, I was lucky enough to sit between two writer friends and colleagues, Katie Pelltier and Jennifer Simpson (who blogs for Writer’s March on Thursdays).  I love talking writing on an airplane.  I like imagining what it must be like to overhear us babble about desires for book deals, our writing projects, and–my personal favorite–our writing neuroses, including, but not limited to, our evasion strategies.  The top three categories of the plane ride: teaching, working, and the internet.

As Katie said, “One second, I’m writing, and the next I’m suddenly checking my email even though I checked it three minutes before.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the impact of computers on creativity.  Ann Patchett, in her book (once a speech), What now? writes about the day she became a dishwasher in a restaurant where she used to work.  As Patchett says,

…it was while I washed that I finally learned to stare.  Oh, maybe I’d played around with staring in school.  Maybe I looked out the window every now and then when I was stuck trying to finish a paper, but I had never stared deeply.  Catholic school and college and graduate school had prepared me both for how to be part of a group and how to be the group’s leader, but none of them had taught me the most important thing: how to be alone.  I had never stared as a way of solving a problem or really seeing the details that make up a story, which is to say I had never just stayed still, been quiet, and thought things through.  In the end, it was the staring that got me the novelist job I wanted.

In a world increasingly more tech saavy, we have also become increasingly impatient.  We have one second of downtime and we seek to fill it.  Stuck in a story? There we go surfing the web, looking for answers by forgetting we need one.  Next thing we know, three hours have passed and we’ve read every facebook status update, checked our email twenty times, and balanced our checkbooks.  I would argue that the internet may be the biggest killer of creativity in this world (yes, i understand the irony of this blog and that statement).

Today, writers, I hope you’ll think of Ann Patchett’s advice, and let your brain wander for a minute.  It’s in the stillness that we solve our creative problems, and here are a few ideas for how to rid yourself of your internet addiction.

  1. Try weening yourself off of the internet.  I recently read that television is addictive (it releases endorphins that your body craves) and then more or less makes your brain flatline.  I think the same is true of computers.  Break the addiction if you have it or stop it before it starts.
  2. If you have home internet, try making someone else take your internet box with them when they leave for the day.  (This tactic was used by Flannery O’Connor Prize Winner Lori Ostlund, whose collection The Bigness of the World, is a real gift to the literary world.)
  3. Go to a coffee shop that does not have internet.
  4. Create a space in your home that you designate as “internet-free.”  In other words, when you are at your writing desk, you allow yourself only to write there.  It’s extremely important that you NEVER let this slip.  You’ve got to condition your brain to understand that internet cannot be everywhere.
  5. Cancel your internet.  Try it for a month.  Save yourself a hundred bucks.  Use it to buy yourself twenty cups of expensive coffee.

3 thoughts on ““What Now?”

  1. so by writing this comment I am 1. busted for hanging out on the internet instead of putting my FIVE HOURS in… and 2. Astounded that you saw THAT Portland as featured in the above photo. You musta been in a different part of town than me!

  2. Ah, the portland of this past week and the portland of the past time i was there. They doth converge. In truth, if I had a “real” picture (you nonfiction writer you), I would have had an image of me sitting in a cloudy tea shop. Alas.

  3. I do not find it ironic. I think the internet is a tool, which–like any other tool–can be used well or abused. Something I have found to be very helpful in my writing came to me from the internet, first in the form of an e-mail I got on Feb. 28 which was then followed up by a blog this crazy writer friend of mine started (perhaps you’ve heard of it?). I could go on at great length about how this month has invigorated my writing (and I might do just that April Fools), all out of something I found in an e-mail and on the internet. I think it might be more useful to wean ourselves of the junk that’s out there and the habits that destract us from our work.

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