Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Whitehead on Online Distractions

Colson Whitehead talks Internet distraction and writerly willpower over at the Publishers Weekly blog. Excerpts:
The doubters ask, how do you get any work done if you're RTing and LOLing all day, which is also fair, introducing the topic of Internet distraction in general. We've all read interviews where the author moans, "I'd never have finished my opus if I hadn't rented out serial killer Joel Rifkin's old hostage pit." Not only did this cinderblock retreat lack Wi-Fi, we learn it was also soundproof and windowless, a Lecterian Yaddo.

I say, yes, you can rent out a hostage pit. You can also close your browser. It's called willpower. If you can't muster the will to lay off Gawker, how are you going to write a book? ...

There are those who moan, oh, Shakespeare wouldn't have written all those wonderful plays for us to "modern update" if he'd had Angry Birds ... Is it so terrible, here in the 21st century? A sonnet is perfect Tumblr-length, and given the persistent debates over the authorship of his work, the bard would have benefited from modern, cutting-edge identity theft protection. The old masters didn't even have freaking penicillin. I think Nietzsche would have endured non-BCC'd e-mail dispatches in exchange for pills to de-spongify his syphilitic brain, and we can all agree Virginia Woolf could've used a scrip for serotonin reuptake inhibitors. I digress. The Internet is not to blame for your unfinished novel: you are.
Read the whole thing. I want to expound upon Whitehead's comments at length. I want to analyze them and synthesize them, post my own reconstituted musings here and check my comments every, say, seven-and-a-half minutes to see if any of you fine folks have responded. I also want to surf on over to to check out the latest SF-related distractions, sneak on to to see if they've updated their detailed reread of The Name of the Wind and sign in to my email for the thirteenth time today. But I'm not going to. Instead, I'm going to plant my rear in the seat and enter some edits. It may not satisfy my desire to grab a fistful of online ephemera, but it'll certainly prove more productive in the end.

(Picture: CC 2006 by kainet; Hat Tip: Nathan Bransford)


Chestertonian Rambler said...

Self-control is one thing, and an important, crucial one at that.

Priorities, I think, are more.

I love video games. I once found it hard to imagine giving them up. Now, I tend to play them quite infrequently, particularly when I know I am so frazzled and tired and stressed I can do nothing else. (But also when I'm on vacation.)

The difference isn't any moral improvement. The difference is that I pour myself into way too many other things. I edit, I write, I grade, I teach, I spend time with my wife, I research, I play board games, and I sleep. Right now, I care enough about each of those that video games often fall out of my life.

So I wonder if part of writing better involves, not getting rid of distractions, but deciding to write. Or, more to the point, putting ourselves in positions with encouragement, creativity, or whatever else it is that fuels those mad evenings bent over the keyboard. Sometimes, I wonder if distraction isn't a term for what happens when one is too tired, confused, frustraed, or whatnot to work, and the answer isn't more discipline but more refreshing distractions, the better to make room for more thought.

Loren Eaton said...

Yes, finding the right distractions is important. In fact, I'd say that what one does in his leisure time ultimately shows what his interests are. And that can sometimes be discouraging.