When I started writing it was before the internet, or at least before the internet became more mainstream. My parents never got the net while I was still living at home and though I did get it when I moved out, the internet was a lot different than it is now.
Chatting to friends was done in IM windows rather than on platforms like Facebook. Crappy blurry webcams you could make fun of rather than Skype and everyone used Yahoo as their search engine because who the hell had heard of Google!
If you searched for anything you got interesting webpages right on the first page. Not some of the rubbish you get now that doesn’t even link to anything that you are actually looking for.
That being said I don’t hate the internet but I have noticed a change. Both in its use and its effect.
Despite the fact I ran several busy Yahoo Communities and usually had about 10 chat windows open at once, in those early years I go so much done. I could write well over 1000 words a day (even on days where I was working full time and maintaining my house).
It was nice to be able to interact with friends like that or group IM convos together and have a brainstorm.
As the years have moved on I find the internet (among other things) has become a real distraction. Not to mention an addiction. I also think it was easy to convince myself I wasn’t addicted because I don’t have Facebook (never saw the appeal) never had Twitter (until recently but it’s used for my business and I tweet and run) didn’t have a Youtube channel etc.
I had a blog on OpenDiary that was very private and set to allow about 10 people to view it. Again this became a small enjoyable community and I did have a website that allowed me to meet some great people who became close friends.
Now I can admit that I am just as locked into the internet as most people and with less of the benefits that I had before.
Typical Day online
Almost every day I will check my emails (I have like four accounts but this is to stop my main account from being hijacked by family members who don’t know how to use BCC or from newsletters that I can’t seem to unsubscribe from).
Please note I CHECK the emails but I almost never reply to any or even file/delete any. No I seem to like the punishment of checking emails for about a week before getting overwhelmed with the amount in my inbox and having to spend hours clearing through.
I check my shop. Understandable as I am getting more orders so these need to be processed and shipped. But I check my shop a little too often and refresh my stats page more than I ever should.
I check my blogs (I have two) but until recently was not updating them as much as I should have been.
I check deviantArt though I am almost never in the frame of mind to reply to all the comments and favourites.
I check the news (or at least MSN’s biased version) I hate the news, it really depresses me and I could do without that crap EVERY day. Especially since as mentioned it is usually pretty bias, badly written and missing some really key facts. But it’s become habit.
I will then usually repeat all this, almost immediately (after all, I may have received a new email….that I am not ready to reply to!)
If I’m being good I will log in to my degree module I’m studying to check where I should be up to. (I am rarely this good) and when I do it depresses me because I am usually pretty behind… though that may be because this module is boring.
Attention Span, What Attention Span?
It has been suggested that due to short bursts of programmes on TV (after all most 30min shows are actually only 20mins when you remove the ads and after like 8mins they go to those ads) that we are losing our attention span.
The internet also does this and worse, if your broadband takes more than like 10 seconds we are all raging. We will open multiple tabs to check things all at the same time. While waiting for email to load we dive to another tab and check the forum we wrote in….
Does any of this sound familiar?
I caught myself doing this recently and was shocked at just how bad I had gotten. Locked in the obsession of finding something else to check.
How often have you spent HOURS online without actually being able to clearly account for your time? We jump from web page to web page, one article leading to another, the first barely being read before we move on. (And don’t get me started on Pinterest… which I love… like I’m some sort of pinterest junkie!)
For over a year my writing has suffered. I used to write so much, I would be thinking of scenes so much I would rush home just to get them down before my brain monster lost them in the “to file” pile.
Now while I think of them, I find myself struggling to focus long enough to actually WRITE them. Then they vanish, I get frustrated, depressed and …. go and waste time on the internet because I’m not in the mood to do anything else.
What’s worse, my writing is usually done on my computer (not laptop) which is specifically not connected to the net. This was designed to help reduce distractions. But the laptop is so easy, so convenient.
This does not just affect my writing (though that is my biggest issue). It is affecting my study for my degree, affecting my business, affecting my full time job. I have a lot of balls in the air and I am struggling to even focus on them, never mind keep them up there.
What Can Be Done?
Acknowledge – Acknowledging the problem is the first step. Not easy. Think about yourself, do you do the above? Do you jump between tabs, flit endlessly on the internet, check your phone every few minutes just in case a text message slipped through when you coughed? Do you spend time trawling through forums looking for things to reply to? Do you struggle to focus in class, in work, at home? Do you find doing work or chores that take longer than 15mins hard to do, hard to continue doing?
Stop – Try and notice when you are actually physically doing it. When you realise, stop, pull back and wait. If you are jumping between tasks and not giving anything true focus. Stop. Shut all but one of your browsers, and focus on just one thing.
Waiting or Stepping away – If you find (like I did) that I would browser hop because one page took longer to load, then either force yourself to wait or step away. I started using the time to move things into the kitchen, straighten the living room. Even if it’s just opening the curtains or putting a cup in the dishwasher. You will have done something more productive than just jump to another browser.
Make a list – Before you go online, if you have actual things to do like checking emails, checking bank balances etc. Make a list BEFORE you log on. Then get those things done first. One at a time, not all at once. This was a big issue for me, despite being the queen of to-do lists I would forget this point, go online with like 10 things I needed to do then 3 hours later I would shut down only to realise I hadn’t done any!
Decide on your time – Do you want to spend 2 hours on Pinterest or Facebook or a forum? If you do, fine but plan it! Otherwise limit your time to say 30mins. Get a timer, put it on and go. You will find you become more efficient if you know you only have a small window to do things. If you have blog posts, listings or something else to upload. Write it in Word while you are NOT connected to the net. That way you just have to go in, open and paste. If you decide you just want to chill and spend all day browsing the net then make that decision consciously rather than falling into it without realising.
Switch off – If you have finished being on the computer close it. Don’t leave it “just in case” because you will find an excuse to go back online. The same can be said for your phone. If you aren’t expecting a call and don’t really need it, switch it off, put it on silent, put it in another room. Check it maybe twice a day. Personally I am not a big phone person and I hate that we spend so much of our technological knowledge of re-developing the phone (seriously we could have made invisibility cloaks or rocket-packs by now!) and I hate that having a mobile phone seems to mean to other people that you are available 24/7.
Understand you might fail – When you realise you are suffering from Distraction Syndrome your brain will fight your attempts. You will find your mind flitting between tasks, trying to remind you all the things you need to do (that’s why a pad and pen are best) give your mind some quiet time. It is actually really difficult when you realise you need to make a change and you physically try. It has become so ingrained that we open multiple tabs, that we check and recheck and recheck again our emails.
A Day Without – If you can, try and go a day without the internet or your phone. Even better if you can make this a weekly thing. Or try a cut off such as no internet except between 8pm and 10pm every day.
We writers are living many lives. The characters that are important to us are always there, beneath the surface. Their stories, personalities, sorrows, joys are always present. Add to that life’s responsibilities and everything else then distraction can be very damaging. After all we need time and energy to release these characters, to tell their stories before we become weighed down by them.
Distraction Syndrome has also become another trigger for writers’ block and let’s be honest. That’s the last thing we need.
I hope you found this useful. If you like my tutorials why not follow my blog, I now upload new posts on Fridays (mostly) 🙂
NB: Photo purchased through http://www.depositphoto.com
I hope this article shines the light on this and if you too suffer from it, I hope it offers some guidance.