The Organized Writer: Web-Free Writing

by Jeff Abbott on January 15, 2009

I know of several writers who say they’ve banished the Internet from their offices. This is easier said than done. Most modern laptops and computers have Internet access built in. So, even though you can turn off the system’s internet access, it’s still just a click away. Some writers swear by being Internet free; others say it’s more trouble than its worth.

So, this week, I am trying an experiment. I’m continuing my first draft of a new novel (at least for the next week) on an older Mac that doesn’t have ANY internet access. It’s an old lime iMac that  requires an Ethernet connection to get online. This Mac is an old warhorse. I’ve moved my current manuscript to the machine and am using an older version of Word for Mac that will run on this near-abacus. My laptop with Web access is not in my studio.
So, today, the first day of the experiment, I generated 5,000 words. Wow, that’s a ton for me (for most writers). 2,000 words would be a very good day. I just got into a groove, a flow, and there was no stopping me. There was no distraction, at least of the online variety. These are first draft words, certainly not polished, but I advanced the story, that’s all I can hope for.
And I think that’s the rub. I’m not necessarily wasting time online, but I am letting my flow be interrupted by email, or by the urge to check a research fact (today I needed to know what a forty-foot cargo container looked like, an easy Google, but I had no Google, alas), or as personified by the Web, the availability of the outside world. And I did have internet access–I had my iPhone. I don’t really web surf on it for extended periods but it does have email access. But perhaps it’s different, not having email a click away. Although I was actually expecting a couple of important emails, I didn’t check email but once. I did come downstairs for lunch, checked email, responded to an important one, and shut the laptop off. After lunch, back to Web-less writing.
I would NOT want to edit on this Mac, or rewrite. The screen’s sort of small, and the system’s a bit slow. But getting that first draft done–for that, I think it might be perfectly fine.
We’ll see how the experiment pans out.

    { 8 comments… read them below or add one }

    Kristan January 15, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    Actually I just started this experiment myself, but in a different way because (a) I have no old computers around, and (b) omg I LOVE my MacBook.
    Check this out: http://www.ibiblio.org/fred/freedom/
    (I have no affiliation with Freedom, so this is not a shameless plug!)

    Ann Victor January 15, 2009 at 11:17 pm

    I’m sitting looking at stickers all over my screen which say “Stop procrastinating” “Focus” “Do NOT Browse” etc. Hope your experiment is more successful than mine currently is! (But when we’re back from the bush I am writing first and only then switching on the laptop!)

    Jeff Abbott January 16, 2009 at 9:05 am

    Hey Kristan: Yeah, Freedom is cool. This is a bit different in that the writing machine is used solely for writing. That’s what some of my friends have tried, with varying levels of success. So we’ll see how this goes.

    J.T. Ellison January 16, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    I’ve been toying with the idea of buying a dedicated laptop. But I’d want a modern version, with all the bells and whistles, because I’m too used to the new programs. The trick would be to get Dell or whomever to build it without wireless. Because you’re right on the money, the ease of distraction is so frustrating.
    I tried a one hour off, 5 minutes on internet routine yesterday that worked great. I’m going to try again today. I wish Freedom has a windows version…
    And I think it’s just so funny that we all struggle with this. It seems like such a no brainer – just turn off the internet — yet we’re all still looking for tricks to get around it. A whole new generation of writers with problems… in the past, they couldn’t get ideas so they drank themselves to death. We internet ourselves to death…

    Kristan January 16, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    Ah, “solely a writing machine” in the sense that you’re mentally programming yourself too, so you think “oh, I’m at this machine, thus I must write”? That makes sense… Kind of like how people who have a hard time falling asleep are supposed to leave their beds until they are drop dead exhausted so that the bed, mentally, becomes a place where you sleep (not read or agonize or watch tv)?

    Jeff Abbott January 16, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    I actually don’t think this problem is about resisting the internet. I think it’s about getting into that zone where we do our best work. The old problem used to be the phone, or whatever we allowed into our workspace that could interrupt our thinking. Now, it’s the internet. It might as well be a gabby neighbor or a ringing phone or anything that can throw a speed bump in our way. (A friend of mine can write for hours in noisy cafes, but cannot write in a library: he says the books are too big of a distraction, he wants to browse through them.)
    I should have come up with a different title for the posting: the web is a symptom, not the problem itself.

    Sam January 16, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    If Walter Gibson were alive and writing today, I wonder if he’d be able to maintain the 100,000 or so words per month output that he managed in the 1930s. Manual typewriter with no distractions vs. a word processor with Internet access–which would win?
    I’ve got to start turning off the wireless card when I write. Perhaps I’ll make a belated new year’s resolution.

    Kristan January 17, 2009 at 8:54 am

    Jeff, I think you’re right, that the internet is not the problem in and of itself, BUT I think the reason it gets so much focus is because the gabby neighbor or the ringing phone are not as appealing of distractions. (At least for most people.)

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