Dead trees, good books, and honest librarians…


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.


8 Responses to “Dead trees, good books, and honest librarians…”

  1. Laura Ruby Says:

    I think it’s fabulous that you’re full-on dead tree for this new book, Laurel. I think every project demands its own process and this sounds amazing. (I wish I could paint, well, anything!!!)

    That said, I am SO ANNOYED that someone felt entitled to judge you (or anyone) for the time you spend online. I mean, how does she know how many actual minutes you spend on Twitter or Facebook? One can write a tweet or a post in thirty seconds. Also, you’re an extrovert. Socializing is how you get the energy to write, no? Also, also: it is no one’s business how much time you spend on Twitter or Facebook or singing songs to the cat (okay, yes, this last is *my* special addiction, but you get my point). I agree that technology can be distracting, perhaps even addicting, and finding a balance between screen and life is important. But then writing is a solitary, lonely activity that can be crazy-making in good ways and bad. You do what you must in order to deal with that. (See: cat songs).

    Also, also, also: raspberry.

  2. Megan Frazer Blakemore Says:

    This post is like looking in a mirror — or maybe you are my conscience. I’m working through a tough part of a rewrite and the internet’s siren call is irresistible. Do I really think I’ll find the answer to my plotting problem on Twitter or in the Dear Prudence advice column? When the writing is going better, I don’t stray as much, but when I struggle, it’s hard to resist.

  3. Joanne Toft Says:

    I am wondering how she knows you are on social media so much? It must mean she is there as well. Hmmmm- is she on twitter and Facebook while at work? Shouldn’t she be helping engage people with books? Just wondering?

    I agree it is easy to get lost in cyber social land and not get to writing but we each need our free moment to relax and say hi to the world. Keep posting. And writing. :)

  4. Ann Stampler Says:

    What, has the (you should excuse the expression; just think of me as a truly PC feminist person unhinged by rage) bitch been stalking you? Yes, Laurel, if only you would make changes in the way you work most comfortably, alternating periods of intense concentration and living in your head with periods of connection and interaction online, your books would be soooo much better. I am just flabbergasted at the amount of clueless writing advice and (maybe) well-meaning and (kinda) self-righteous judgments out there. I say, do what feels best for you; look at the beautiful books you’ve produced without the helpful librarian’s input.

  5. Leandra Says:

    I absolutely love what you told your boy. I’ll have to steal it when my little fellow is old enough to complain when the TV’s shut off! =)

  6. Mirka Breen Says:

    Nice Ms. Librarian is spending too much time on Twitter, why with so many new books to read and explore.

    For myself, first-draft writing time is holy, and segregated from all other types of typing activity. For me they don’t mix. But I make no assumptions abou8t how this works for others, or how others work.

  7. Ruth Schiffmann Says:

    Ahhhh, I do love legal pads.
    Enjoy the experience of going “old school.” Can’t wait to hear back on how it all works out.
    Love the Orphan Island map, btw.

  8. Melissa Ross Says:

    Well, it seems to me that you are a prolific writer so your tweets and posts don’t seem to hamper your creativity. Maybe for you the social networking actually fuels your creative juices. And I have to tell you that I wandered over to your website from your twitter profile. I was down and on the verge of tears when I read your profile and chuckled. So your twitter account actually led me here which has led me to discover the books you have written which I now plan to read. Thanks for helping me laugh!

Leave a Reply