(map of THE ORPHAN ISLAND)
An interesting thing happened today. A friend told me this story:
She (we’ll call her Arabella) was in a library, and she mentioned my name.
The librarian was familiar with my books, and complimentary, but she commented, as a side note, that I spend a LOT of time on Twitter. She wondered aloud if perhaps the quality of an author’s work goes down when they’re online all the time.
Arabella, being a very good friend, emphatically disagreed, and said she’d read my new book, and loved it, etc. etc.
This librarian raises a good point. And I wonder what you think about it.
I’d like to start by saying that I try to divide my “writing time” from my online time. That when I’m in and out of Twitter (and you can see me there) I’m NOT typically at work.
This summer, for instance, I’ve been Skyping and Tweeting and Facebooking even more than usual, because I’ve had no childcare, NONE, and so I haven’t been writing at all. Except in very early morning hours, now and again, before everyone wakes up. I’m not working on a novel. I’m on vacation. And while the kids play Lego, and while the popsicles freeze, I tweet.
Usually I use a program that block me from the web for three or four hour stretches, to insure I don’t break the rules I’ve set for myself.
I’d also like to add that the book I’ve written that most people consider my strongest, Bigger than a Bread Box, was written within the Twitter bubble. And the book most people consider my weakest, Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains, was written before the advent of social media. Hardly a controlled experiment, but it’s something to mull.
But all that said, I’m absolutely addicted to social media. I can feel the addiction, whenever I’m typing. Arabella likened this addiction to a sugar addiction, when we were talking about it, and I think that’s right. The web IS a distraction. I lose focus because of it. It’s much harder than it used to be to dive into my work in a totally absorbing breathless way. And I miss that feeling of disappearing into the story for hours and coming up for air. I do.
If the web isn’t affecting the quality of my work, it’s affecting my experience of work, my process. In much the same way it affects the experience of reading a book. Reading for 10 hours in bed on a Saturday is like visiting an island. Stopping for a break every 20 minutes while reading isn’t like that, is it?
This is why I’ve actually made a crazy decision about my new novel, The Orphan Island, which I’ve outlined, and am beginning work on next week.
I’m GOING BACK TO DEAD TREES. For real. I’ve painted the characters, with actual paint on actual paper. I’ve painted the island, and will continue to add to it. I have an outline, on paper, and scraps and bits of notes and dialogue, in a little box beside my bed. And today I acquired a stack of legal pads and three new mechanical pencils.
I will, in the end, type this book up. But not until I’ve written a draft of it, longhand.
So we’ll see. We’ll see what happens when I go totally offline as I write. If The Orphan Island is the best thing I’ve ever written, maybe that will tell me something. About slowness. About needing a bubble to write in. About solitude.
But I want to say that I don’t owe this decision to the librarian, or to Arabella. The timing of that conversation was only a coincidence. This is a decision I’ve been moving towards all year. Though I only made this promise to myself yesterday. After a fight with Lew, who was very upset to discover that he’s not allowed “screen time” during weekdays, now that summer is over.
“Why?” He asked me. “Why can’t I play Minecraft? And watch TV?”
“There’s nothing wrong with screens,” I told him. “Screens are fine, sometimes. But I want your brain to be able to do other kinds of work too. I want your brain to be happy when it isn’t looking at a screen. I want your brain to be enough for you, all on its own.”
So. Yeah. There we are.
I’ll still see you online, around. And you’ll see me. Because I’m an addict. But also because I think Twitter and Facebook can be amazing forces for good in the universe (just today a Facebook friend dropped off two donated snare drums for my kids’ school band, because I posted a need on Facebook). And because I’d miss my friends. And because, honestly, it’s something publishers expect. But when you do see me, I won’t be writing. Not at all. And when I’m writing, you won’t see me. Not even a little bit.
Not until I’ve written a book. A good one, I hope.