Not every novelist is an island. I think most of us have this image in our heads of the solitary novelist, the writer chained to her desk, hanging a “Gone Fishing” sign on the door and pounding away on a computer keyboard with empty microwavable trays around her, undisturbed, until the Great American Novel has been written. Front door bolted. Phones turned off. Internet unplugged. This is apparently the process that Jonathan Franzen has, to shut away the world so that he can process all the things he’s noticed about that world.
Totally makes sense. But the problem is: I can’t write that way. I just can’t. Trust me, I’ve tried.
Well, first of all, I have three kids. And as I much as I’ve thought about shipping them off to military school while I finish my novel (just kidding, kids), I find that I enjoy the little reprieves of a quick hug or kiss or making a quick meal for them while I’m writing. It’s like a reset button.
Then there’s the matter of the internet. I just can’t unplug. I can for vacations, when I rarely take my computer with me unless there’s something pressing, but when I’m working, even if it’s on my novel, I must be connected. I can’t really explain why other than to say that when I’m unplugged, I concentrate less than when I have the internet at my fingertips. When I’m unplugged, all I tend to think about is the fact that I’m unplugged, and if I need the answer to something, I can’t get it. For me, internet access is like knowing where the fire exits are in the school auditorium. They’re there, lit up, just in case I need to use them. And it calms me.
Plus, sometimes I just need to know something fast. I mentioned in Writing Tip #7 that writing “TK” into your manuscript when you need to research or confirm information is something that has helped me stay focused when I’m in the throes of writing and don’t want to be disturbed quite yet. “TK” can be a lifesaver, a placeholder that lets you know all the information that needs to be filled in later on. However, there are many other times when the writing isn’t quite so feverish and I like to go off and check a fact. Or surf a bit. Or check email. Or post on Facebook or Twitter. Sort of a virtual “stepping away” so that I can return to my manuscript clear-headed. Again, like a reset button.
So if you’re like me and thrive under constant interruption (most of it self-imposed), don’t sweat it. You’ve got enough to worry about.