Time away from the interweb universe is a good thing. It is especially a good thing when you consider that as a writer, the internet often functions as a serious distraction. But even if you are not writing, it is good to unplug if only to recharge your own batteries.
I typically like to unplug over the weekend, if only from work devices. Which means I don’t like to check my email, or even sit in my office, during the weekend. I stay off Facebook, for the most part, but I have been known to be on Twitter on weekends. It’s the desktop that I avoid. Ironically, I am now sitting at my desk on a Sunday afternoon writing a blog post about unplugging, because I am trying to catch up before the end of the April A to Z Challenge.
I believe unplugging is very important for a writer (hey, for anyone!). You can find any number of articles, opinions, or writerly advice columns to back me up on that one. In many ways, I think that writers of the past had it easier than us. Not so many distractions. But then hey, they didn’t have the internet (for research, now) and they didn’t have the bliss that is copy and paste or the ease of printing multiple copies.
I remember back in college, when computers were first being used, and I was still using a typewriter. I had a professor who would allow us to make certain changes in our papers for a better grade. But in order to do that, we had to type the whole paper over again. For a 10 page paper, that was two hours of work for me. For one paper, I told her that I was okay with the B. She asked why and I told her I didn’t have time to retype the whole paper. She allowed me to retype only the section in question, so I did. But she had assumed (as many of my profs did) that I was living on campus and so was using the rudimentary computer center in the basement of the library (which used BankStreet Writer!), and so could easily make the change (inserting my floppy disk) and print out a new paper. But I wasn’t, so I couldn’t. Okay, but that’s a different story.
This is just to illustrate the beauties of modern word processing (as we used to call it back in the day). However, as we all know, it has its foibles and its snags. If you are typing away on your home computer or laptop, you are likely on a machine that is hooked up to the internet. So if you hit a snag, like what is the capital of Bulgaria? you can simply search for the answer and you are done. You might even check a couple sites to be sure. But then while you’re online, hey, you want to check to see if that book is in at the library, and oh, there’s a new message on Facebook, and you really should post about that upcoming event that you’ve been meaning to share. And then you see a link to an article that sounds interesting…
And so it goes. Suddenly, an hour has gone by and whoosh, you have written like one paragraph. There are several schools of thought on this. The old-school of thought, that I tried to practice (and that made more sense back when using typewriters), was to just get it all down. Type it all up. If you need to look something up, make a note and look it up later. Don’t let it slow you down, don’t get bogged down in research, don’t go chasing facts while you’re in the midst of the writing process. Research is research and writing is writing.
Only now, it’s so easy. It’s so easy to just go over and click that icon. Mozilla, my friend! So nice to see you! And then go down a long rabbit hole of indeterminate length. But it doesn’t have to be like that.
In addition to the old-school method of just getting it down – or perhaps in tandem with it – there are several things you can do to avoid that rabbit hole. There are apps and programs that will effectively shut off your internet (I know someone who uses the ironically named program Freedom and swears by it). You can have a separate device that you use just for writing. This can be a different laptop, or a device designed solely for this purpose. Or you can, maybe, use your indomitable will to resist the urge to click.
While I was at AWP, I saw one such device being demonstrated. It is called the Hemingwrite (no subtle play on the writer’s name), and it is only meant for writing. There is no internet connectivity, except for the fact that your file is saved to the cloud. There is also no revising, no saving of files. No hard drive. I’m not really sure how this would work. You could likely retrieve your file from the cloud and then work on it later. But this is for pure generation. The best part, though, may be the fact that it actually looks like a typewriter. The Old Man would be proud (truth, the Old Man would likely be horrified, but well, that’s another story).
I liked the feel of it, and I liked the nostalgia of it, of course. Bear in mind that this is from someone who still has her old Smith Corona in the closet (I remember how excited and proud I was when I bought that – correction all the way to the beginning of a line! Oh my gosh!), as well as an old black metal Royal in the basement (which I’ve been meaning to promote to the office). There is nothing quite like having to bang on those keys to get your point across. In fact, if the Hemingwrite has any flaws, it’s that the keys are too soft, and it doesn’t have that clackety clack sound (not like the app called Hanx Writer designed by Tom Hanks that lets you type on your tablet while making the noises that evoke thoughts of yesteryear. Yes, I downloaded that).
Or you could, you know, just go commando. A pen and paper. The old yellow legal pad. My favorite is a notebook that my husband bought me, wrapped in suede, with a tie-closure. It’s soft, yet firm. And works on the deck, never needs battery replacement or wifi connection, and is fairly durable. I take it on trips. Go ahead, go old school. Or go for a walk. That works too, if you really want to unplug.