Finding Your Space Inside the Noise
John Palisano, HWA Vice-President
Our phones are always on. E-mails ding, and texts sing ringtones. Facebook and Instagram beckon with always-on instant conversation. When we get inside our cars, connected maps guide our way. We withdraw money and pay for goods by swiping our phones over pay stations. We take pictures with our phones and share them. Even when we go to sleep, phones can monitor our sleep. There doesn’t seem to be an escape.
Many writer friends of mine have complained about this lately, and it got me thinking.
For many, the rise of portable devices has helped them carve out a lot more creative time. When I got my first iPhone many moons ago, I was thrilled when I had a Note app I could use during lunch breaks to bang out a few hundred words. It was relatively primitive. I had to E-mail the work to myself. Copy it into a Word file. Format it. Clean it up. But it was good because it gave me an opportunity to do another pass while I was at it.
That was before the rise of always-on notifications. Multitasking devices became the norm. How many of us have insistent people who just can’t understand why you’re not answering them immediately as soon as they text, Messenger, or E-mail?
And there’s so much to distract us on our computers and devices. As writers, we are confronted by the ultimate library at our fingertips. We can go down the rabbit hole of whatever strikes our fancy and call it research. We can engage in countless threads talking about writing and the business of writing.
Many of us have books to promote. With the changing publishing landscape, it’s almost all on the backs of writers to promote their works, their appearances, and we are constantly told we need to maintain and cultivate our brand.
So, where do we go when the barrage of noise becomes too much? How do we manage when the notifications interrupt us even as we are trying to write in Google Docs or Scrivener?
Some have special programs that turn off their Internet while they work. Some special writing programs are made for distraction-free writing. They act like old-fashioned word processors. For many, they are terrific solutions. It fits the bill for a lot of writers.
Even so? For someone like me, who admits to having a real problem not turning away from my work to check that latest E-mail or message, I quickly found ways to bypass these programs and get back to my Internet addiction.
In the end, the simplest solution became necessary. I had to go back. ‘Way back. To where it was most simple. Most primal. The original iPad. A dollar store spiral notebook and a good pen. Nothing fancy.
That works for me very often when I feel the discord of the Internet fragmenting my thoughts and making it impossible for me to focus.
And the notebook is light. I don’t have to turn it on at the airport. It’s not glowing where the person next to me at Starbucks can see it easily. I often doodle when I’m stuck. There’s something unique about writing longhand that feels like creating in a way nothing else does.
I’ve driven into the mountains with a Moleskine and just sat and sketched and written. I keep a small one on me while I’m working because my job takes me out into places where there isn’t reliable Internet, such as medical facilities and out-of-the-way hills and valleys. So it can be an excellent way to get writing done.
Of course, this means I’ll be transcribing down the road. Again? It’s an opportunity to edit and clean the work up.
And do I still use phone apps and the computer to write first drafts? Absolutely. And I think that’s one of the great things we have: numerous ways to get those ideas out of our imaginations and onto the page.
And sometimes we just need a little Zen. A little break from the data avalanches. A little quiet within the ever-howling storms, so that we can steer those storms out from inside us and give them a life forever within our work, our souls, and our stories.