I'll be on a writing retreat for the next three days and therefore won't be on-line again until Monday -- so I'm throwing the conversation here at Myth & Moor over to you, with a question:
In Dani Shapiro's lovely book Still Writing, she speaks about the value of developing a writing rhythm that includes periodic breaks in order to give the mind a chance to ponder creative problems in an unstructured way. (She calls this "ritualized dreaming.") For previous generations of writers, this often took the form of cigarette breaks -- but almost anything else will do: going for a walk, making a cup of tea, etc., etc. Anything, that is, besides the Internet -- which Shapiro calls "crack cocaine for writers."
"This," she says, "may be the most important piece of advice I can give you. The Internet is nothing like a cigarette break. If anything, it's the opposite. One of the most difficult practical challenges facing writers in this age of connectivity is the fact that the very instrument on which most of us write is also a portal to the outside world. I once heard Ron Carlson say that composing on a computer was like writing in an amusement park. Stuck for a nanosecond? Why feel it? With a single click of the key we can remove ourselves and take a ride on a log fume instead.
"By the time we return to our work -- if indeed, we return to our work at all -- we will be further away from our deepest impulses rather than closer to them. Where were we? Oh yes. We were stuck. We were feeling uncomfortable and lost. And how are we now? More stuck. More uncomfortable and lost. Our thoughts have not drifted [in order to uncover a solution to whatever problem is at hand] but, rather, have ricocheted from one bright and shiny thing to another."
Zadie Smith agrees. Number 7 on her list of writers' "dos and don'ts" (in the Guardian article linked to yesterday) states in no uncertain terms: "Work on a computer that is disconnected from the Internet."
Almost every writer I know wrestles with this. The Internet is a wonderful tool for fostering community among creative folks, promoting one's work, and engaging with readers. It's an equally wonderful tool, alas, for procrastination and "feeling busy" while never actually writing. Some writers (artists, etc.) eschew the Internet altogether, or have Internet-free spaces for creative work, or use Internet-blocking tools like Freedom or Anti-Social...others are on-line practically 24/7 and have created careers that rest on constant enagement with their fans...so there's a wide variety of approaches to this issue; and, obviously, the only one that is "correct" is the one that works for you.
But it's clearly a thorny issue, for I don't personally know very many writers who feel like they've gotten their on-line/off-line balance exactly right; and I admit that it's an issue I occasionally wrestle with myself. When I get the balance right, then this blog and other forms of social media add a rich dimension to my creative work, supporting the writing, editing, and painting I do off-line. But it's all too easy to tip that precarious balance over...and when that happens, spending time on-line can leave me feeling drained and jangled, not invigorated and inspired.
Real life, for me, takes place outdoors, at home, and within my local community. I want my art to reflect these thing; and my Internet use to support these things (as well as engagement with the larger, worldwide community of folks who make and love Mythic Arts); but neither art nor life-online is intended to replace these things altogether.
I'm genuinely curious about how the rest of you engage with the Internet, how it effects your work, and whether you control your on-line time in any specific way. And yes, it's ironic that I'm asking this question while engaging with you all through cyberspace.
The Internet is both a blessing and a curse...but the aim, for me, is to keep this powerful communication tool in the blessing column just as much as possible. Achieving that goal is a work in progress, constantly re-evaluated and adjusted. What about you? What works, or doesn't work, for you? I look forward to reading your comments when I return.
The Pre-Internet, writing-related photographs above: Woman Writing by Louis Edward Nollau, 1936; an old typewriter; Suffragette (The National Woman's Party), 1919, by Harris & Ewing; Edwardian Woman Writing by Cochrane, exact date unknown; and Women at a Paris Cafe, 1952, photographer unknown;