Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Internet: Friend or Foe, Part 2

Last week I wrote about the siren song of the internet and how hard it can be to focus on work when there are all those important web sites about cats, the corn cam, and “Mad Men.” Jim Kendrall, a writer currently in the Master of Arts in Writing Program at Johns Hopkins, offered some additional suggestions about places to go that may help keep your writing front and center:

--“University Library: I’m fond of the American University library [in DC]. I’ve always been able to find a quiet spot. There’s something about a university campus that makes me, well, thoughtful. The downside for me is the thirty-minute commute (during non-peak traffic times). My laptop has no wireless capability but, alas, I need to remove the chess game.

--“The car: Nothing like sitting in a perfectly quiet car off in the corner of some parking lot. Maybe a coffee in the cup holder. So maybe a parking lot near a Starbucks somewhere. Get a power cord for the laptop that fits in the cigarette lighter. Shut off the cell phone. For extra room sit in the passenger seat. Zero distractions. So quiet you can hear yourself think. And, you can read out loud or talk to yourself if you want to. A car stays pretty warm in chilly weather.

--“In the dead of winter, at home: But late, late at night. The whole world is sleeping, just you and your tap-tapping on a non-internet connected laptop. Hit the sack at three or four a.m. Then sleep in.”

I love the idea of writing in the car. There’s a park I like to go to sometimes where I can park and look out at the river. Yes, of course you can get out of the car, but I’ve noticed I’m not the only one who prefers sitting in the car instead. And, no, sorry—I’m not telling where this park is; there aren’t that many parking places!

Jim also added this interesting bit of advice: “Okay, this one’s a little weird, but on the subject of distractions, sometimes I find, that when I’m typing, the very appearance of the words on the screen is distracting. I think it has to do with my lack of patience to stay out of edit mode. So, when that happens, I reduce the font to some imperceptible size so all I see are fuzzy dots. That way I can remain in the writing dream state and still see out of the corner of my eye that I’m actually capturing text.”

And there was this bit in the recent interview with Tova Mirvis on Paper Cuts. I’m certain that the sudden need to click over to the internet—like the sudden need to run to the kitchen and unload the dishwasher—is related to a hard moment in the writing, and the best way to get through a hard moment is to keep going:

"How much time — if any — do you spend on the Web? Is it a blessing or a distraction?

"Hours, hours, hours, and almost entirely distraction. For a long time, I didn’t sign up for wireless, so that I could write in the disconnected upstairs of our house without being able to check my e-mail. Having to go downstairs to plug my computer in was enough to keep my temptation in check; I’d parcel out those forays downstairs and online as a reward for a few hours of solid work. Eventually I succumbed to wireless and now it’s a constant battle. For practical matters and specific information, and for communicating with people you don’t really feel like talking to, who can argue with the Web’s prowess? But usually when I’m online, I don’t have a specific purpose. I’m looking for something to be looking for. Or I’m hoping to stumble on a salve for whatever anxiety or restlessness has sent me there in the first place. Sometimes when I’m frustrated with my writing, I’ll google the names of my characters, or random words or ideas from my novel and see what I find, as though the search engine is powerful enough to turn up what exists in my mind and which I can’t yet access."


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.