Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
I spend too much time online.
There, I've said it.
Much of my Internet time is work-related--research for my writing, stuff for Writer Beware. As for the personal stuff--Facebook, YouTube, reading the news, emailing friends, following interesting links--there's nothing wrong with that, as long as it doesn't completely take over your life, or interfere with other activities.
Where the problem arises, for me, is in the procrastination factor. It's much too easy to use the Internet as a way of putting off difficult tasks (that chapter where I've gotten stuck), or things I don't feel like doing (that trip to the gym), or even things I do feel like doing but can't somehow drag myself out of my chair to undertake (walking in my garden on a sunny spring day).
I'm also much too prone to succumb to the urge to do online research while I'm writing, rather than just making a note and moving on--which as often as not leads to a protracted Web session and a lower word count for the day. And even when I'm not procrastinating, I fear that the multi-tasking behavior I tend to fall into online--composing a Writer Beware email, checking personal email, looking at my Twitterfeed, surfing Facebook, all at more or less the same time--is not good for my brain. The split-second focus, the grashopperlike jumping from item to item, and the intolerance of slowness encouraged by the Web is detrimental, I think, to the sustained, intense, singleminded concentration that's so important for writing.
I've tried a variety of strategies to keep myself on track (simple willpower, unfortunately, isn't enough). I concentrate on email, blogging, etc. in the morning, and reserve the afternoon and evening for working on my fiction. I keep email and nonfiction writing on my desktop, and use my laptop just for fiction writing. To make even more of a mental and physical break, I move to a different location to work on a book--I usually sit downstairs in the dining room.
These strategies help. But they can be circumvented, so they don't always help enough. I've often wished there was a way simply to turn off my web access for several hours at a stretch, and eliminate all temptation (although I'm well aware that a procrastinator can always find a way to procrastinate--the moments just before I sit down for my daily writing session are the only ones where housework seems appealing).
I also know I'm not alone in struggling with this problem--which is why I was doubly pleased to discover this blog post by ShelfTalker's Elizabeth Bluemle. She spoke with a number of writers about their distraction-circumventing techniques, and got some fascinating responses (it's really interesting how many writers move to a different spot, or use a different computer). She also links to a program called Freedom, which lets you block the Internet for up to eight hours at a time. You can disable it once you've set it--but you have to re-boot, and, theoretically at least, "the hassle of rebooting means you're less likely to cheat."
We'll see. I've downloaded Freedom to my laptop, and intend to give it a try.
Do you struggle with distraction and/or procrastination? How do you cope with it? Please share!
EDITED TO ADD: Some great suggestions have been made in the comments for other programs to block various aspects of the Internet:
RescueTime is a time management tool that includes a Focus Mode "to voluntarily block the distracting parts of the internet for a period of time you specify."
LeechBlock is a Firefox add-on "designed to block those time-wasting sites that can suck the life out of your working day. All you need to do is specify which sites to block and when to block them."
For Mac users, there's SelfControl, which "blocks access to incoming and/or outgoing mail servers and websites for a predetermined period of time." You can't get round it by re-booting or re-setting the system clock--you have to wait for the timer to run out.
I'll add to this list as additional resources are suggested.