It sounds easy enough: Commit to one internet-free work day each week.
That resolution is related to another one this year: start each day with writing rather than email or other distractions.
But wouldn't you know? On Wednesday, after taking my older daughter to school, I started my computer and went straight to the Inbox. It took a few minutes before I realized what I was doing.
On Thursday I was smarter. I didn't turn on the computer at all.
You see, the internet is a comfortable habit, a ritual. It's also an incredible time and creativity black hole. When I spend the first hour of my day reading and answering emails, visiting blogs, checking out news sites – my mind is already crammed with other people's concerns and ideas. It's even worse than that; the habit leads me to internalize much of what I read and begin thinking stupid thoughts such as:
* Why bother writing at all when the publishing industry is going to hell?
* What do Sasha's adventures matter when compared to our failing economy?
* Who'd care about Darnda in the face of global warming?
We all know how productive those kinds of questions are.
When I read JT's recent posts on the writing life I realized I'd been thinking along the same lines. What were my work habits? Were they helping or hindering me?
The most important question of all was: Why do I feel so overwhelmed and undercreative?
Problem #1: CLUTTER
Physically — my office and house are full of unnecessary crap. Compound my packrat ways with three other people and you've got a real mess. There's no visual peace.
The good news is that I can throw stuff away, get rid of the papers I've kept since grade school. Shedding the junk, the tangible things, of my past life is incredibly liberating.
Mentally — Oh, boy. Talk about running in circles. Whether it's on the internet or worrying about the kids, my husband, my career, money, making dinner . . .
I never feel like I'm doing enough.
Here's the kicker: Mental quiet nurtures my creativity like nothing else. It's essential. But I've put myself in a position where it's so rare it almost feels like cheating. I've forgotten how to BE quiet without feeling guilty.
A remedy for this is a little more difficult to build into my life than you might think.
Problem #2: Marketing
I honestly believe that just about everything an author does that touches others can fall under the rubric of public relations/marketing. Because of this, I've allowed myself to feel like I HAVE to do everything. Every email MUST be answered personally and sincerely. New marketing outlets MUST be found, researched and pursued. Every blog MUST be visited. You get the idea.
I feel like I'm never doing enough.
Here's the pisser: You've got to have new product to market. Otherwise it's a case of diminishing returns when you're only flogging your past works. If I'm constantly worried about marketing, I'm not writing my fiction and expanding my "product base." I know that sounds utterly unromantic, but it's a business reality for my career trajectory.
Back to last Thursday . . .
One of the things I noticed when I sat in my office chair that day was that the computer pulled at me even though it was off. There was this weird palpable vibe, a nervous tingling in my stomach. A hum. I felt tethered from the machine right to my heart.
I left the room and edited hardcopy at the dining room table. I wrote with pen on paper.
And . . .
I had breakthroughs in plot points that had been bugging me for months.
In the afternoon, I went back into the office and began throwing out some of the junk I'd kept for future maybes. Jettisoning an old term paper would make me think of something in another part of the house and I'd get up and throw that out too. In the middle of that flurry of activity with all those connections coming to the fore and all those synapses firing, my mind was wonderfully at ease.
I could feel the shift and it energized me.
My internet-free work day demonstrated that peacefulness is more complicated and less easily defined than I thought. Much of the noise comes from within. Guilt is born from a misguided idea that accessiblity or the old butt-in-chair AT THE COMPUTER technique is synonomous with productivity.
It's not for me.
I realize I've painted myself into a psychological corner. I've surrounded myself with technological temptation and noise and have convinced myself that it's my real work. It's easier in a fragmented life like mine — with kids and other obligations — to justify grabbing a few minutes to shoot off an email than it is to sit there staring at a blue sky.
But which activity is ultimately more important?
Which one fosters the mental environment for creativity?
I know that my happiness and productivity are linked to finding more time for blue-sky gazing. So far, a potential antidote is to turn off the computer at least one work day a week. Since I can't go on long retreats, it's the respite I can provide myself that will keep me in touch — and will affirm and strengthen — my attempts to find the quiet to be creative on a daily basis.
I might end up w/o the computer more frequently than that; it feels so good. Or maybe I'll find something else that's even better.
The internet/technology aren't intrinsically bad. Not at all. But I've found they're culprits in the way I approach my craft.
What about you?
How do you find the consistent and real silence to hear your own thoughts, to let your creativity speak?