All modern writers face the persistent distraction of the media culture, through social media, email, and every other facet of the digital age. How do the pros keep themselves on track? Most of the time, there’s no real secret: it always comes down to hard work, determination, and will power. But occasionally, giving in to that urge to connect–much like allowing yourself a rewarding
“It doesn’t matter what social media you’re plugged into, or what’s going on,” counters Neil Gaiman. “At the end of the day, it’s still always going to be you and a blank sheet of paper, or you and a blank screen. My process as a creator is always the same. You write the thing you want to read. And you go on from there.”
“I have 2 million Twitter followers,” he says, “ but those 2 million followers are not going to do anything to get my stories written for me. They’re great fun to talk to–for distraction.”
This may sound anathema to the writer as apostle of solitude. Gaiman says, gabbing online helps him when he’s stuck. Earlier in his career, he’d play solitaire when faced with writer’s block. Now, “I talk to Twitter, retweet and comment on a couple of interesting things, answer a question, and then feel not as lonely as I did 10 minutes earlier…and I cheerfully go back to work.”
So: Gaiman uses the distraction of distraction to escape his own distraction. And the quick jolt of human contact gives him the courage and confidence to get back to filling blank pages.
Other authors have famously taken rather drastic steps to avoid the distraction of social media and the Internet in general. Jonathan Franzen, National Book Award-winning author of The Corrections, famously glued a cut-off network cable head into the ethernet port on his laptop, physically preventing himself from accessing the internet in any way. (This was before the days of wifi.)
Incidentally, did you know that WordPress (the app that powers this website) has a built-in Distraction-Free Writing mode? Click the box with four arrows above the righthand corner of your entry box and it will expand the text entry area into a fullscreen word processor. It won’t stop you from Alt-Tab-ing over to Facebook or Twitter, but you’ll at least have fewer things going on on the screen you’re writing in.
How do you avoid distraction when you’re writing? Do you take an abstinent stance, eschewing all access during writing hours, or a more lenient approach, allowing yourself occasional dips into the social media pool when the urge is too strong to ignore?