Writing Tip #17

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.

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5 thoughts on “Writing Tip #17

  1. Great reminder about the TK. So often I lose momentum after spending too much time researching a not very important fact. It helps when I have that aha moment … aha, I can TK and stop wasting time and get back to work! Although I don’t make it a habit, I have submitted stories with TK(s) and editors appreciate the placeholder, as long as I fill in the blank(s) asap.

  2. I agree, Dina, that interruptions to a novelist can act like a reset button, a respite that may actually refresh the mind, providing more clarity at the next writing session. Other times, of course, not so, but this is life, isn’t it?

    I also agree entirely about the Internet. I don’t realize how dependent I am on it until the connection is interrupted for some reason. I feel cut off, cut off from everything, because everything is at our fingertips with the Internet.

    Blessings to you…

  3. I would suffere a horrible death if I locked myself away from the world. I’ve tried it and I’m way less productive. The perfect compromise for me is sitting in the same room as my family…with my head phones in…

  4. The way I write duplicates the way I live: life among the masses alternating with solitary holidays. It’s how I stay sane. I’m an introvert who long ago learned to ‘put myself out there’ because my job required it, but I love squirreling myself away. I need it for recharging. So, while some of my writing is done sitting in the family room with my laptop, partially tuned out to my DH and the television, and with tweets or e-mails popping up from time to time, my most productive sessions are in my office, unplugged to all interruptions. Of course I know the internet is just two clicks away if I have an unavoidable research question, but if I don’t hold to the discipline of only writing, I’ll never get it done.

    Writing is such an individual thing, isn’t it? We all have different approaches and it’s interesting to see what works for some and doesn’t for others. Interesting post, Dina! :)

  5. Hi Dina, loved reading this. I use xx???? instead of ‘DK’ – stopping the flow isn’t good, research can take minutes or hours! I also laughed when I read that normal daily life is like a ‘reset button’ when you get interrupted. Personally I need that, or I forget that my little world isn’t actually the real one. My study is like a little cocoon, I have a window to the world through which I look out, but everything inside it is made by me! Getting outside puts it all into perspective and sometimes something I’ve been fretting over big time becomes almost laughable! Thanks for directing me here, I will be back. Best regards and every success with ‘Baby Grand’.

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