As a writer how I spend my day is entirely up to me. I do not have people looking over my shoulder making sure that I’m doing my work. It’s just me and the story I’m trying to write. There is nothing, and no one, stopping me from checking my email, surfing the web, reading the latest headlines, or perusing and posting on Twitter or Facebook. Doing these things is a lot easier than writing a book, and to be honest, a lot of times, more enjoyable.
I’m old enough to remember when important mail arrived in a stamped envelope. To receive a phone call you had to be inside your house. To visit friends you had to physically find them.
I don’t miss those low tech days, but I do wonder if I control technology or does technology controls me?
My wife Marie and I have gone on several cruises the past few years. The food, accommodations, and service were outstanding. We saw wonderful places. But the thing I enjoyed most about the trips was the fact that I was unplugged. Yes, I could have paid for the internet aboard ship, but it cost a fortune and was slower than a three-toed sloth, so I didn’t bother. Yes, when I got to a port I could have found fast and free Wi-Fi, but I didn’t want to spend my limited time in Portugal on Madeira Island reading and answering email or surfing the web when I could watch the real surf breaking over the shore.
Instead of feeling panic over my inability to communicate at sea or in foreign lands I felt incredible relief. It was as if the malignant chattering beast had been surgically removed from my brain and pocket. Having no control put me back into control. I was able to pay complete attention to the people and events in my immediate surroundings. During one three week cruise I completed a draft of a novel. Admittedly a very rough draft, but it certainly would not have happened if I had been connected.
Which got me to thinking. What if I went on a mini-cruise every day? What if I checked my email and the internet for as long as it takes me to drink my first cup of morning coffee, then shut it all down until evening after I had finished my work?
This was easier said than done, just as thinking about writing a book is much easier than actually writing a book. Because I am weak I needed help. It wasn’t enough to close my mail program and turn off the Wi-Fi connection. Reversing these actions is no more difficult than turning on a light in a dark room. I’d do well for an hour or two then something would pop up in my writing that I absolutely needed to look up…a word, a person, or a place. I’d turn the internet back on, find what I absolutely now desperately needed for my story then I would check and answer my email, which would inevitably lead me to thinking there were other things I needed to check, which…will only take a few precious minutes then I’ll shut it down again…and suddenly the chattering beast was back, hungrier than it had been before because I hadn’t fed it enough of my time during its morning snack.
I don’t have a wireless free cabin in the deep woods to write in, nor do I have a cruise ship docked in my backyard. But I do have this simple little software program for my Mac called Freedom. Some of you know about this program, but for those who don’t here’s how it works. You simply enter the amount of time you want to be unplugged (up to eight hours), hit a button, and you’re free. There is a work-around for getting back online, but you have to force quit the software and reboot your computer to accomplish it. These two steps are usually enough for me think about what I’m doing and decide not do it.
What about the smart phone you might ask? I outsmart my phone by simply turning it off. If there’s a dire emergency from a family member, or a friend (or an editor) they can always call me on my landline. I have Caller ID. If it’s not for me, and it usually isn’t, I don’t answer it.
Around four or five o’clock the internet pops back on as if by magic. By then I’ve hopefully gotten my writing in for the day and I don’t mind wasting some time checking in with the world beyond the story I’m working on.