My family has been snowed in six days. Today, a second blizzard is dumping another two feet of the white stuff. With Jack, my husband, immersed in his imaginary world of HO-scale trains; and Tristan, my son, conquering empires in the world of Wii, I should have the first draft of the great American mystery novel completed by the time we’re dug out around Easter. Don’t you think?
When it comes to explaining my lack of progress, I like to recount how on Sunday I offered to make my men a nice hot breakfast. Jack declined. As soon as the kitchen was clean, after I turned off the light, he asked, “What are you fixing me?” How else can I explain only a few readable paragraphs after clicking away on my laptop all afternoon?
My family has been wrongfully accused. The true thief that has been stealing chunks of time is a gang called Technology. Its members (E-mail; Facebook, Ipod, and Twitter) sneak in through the portals of cyber space to rob us of uninterrupted progress.
Produced by PBS, Digital Nation addresses the monumental changes in our society, both enlightening, and some disturbing, since we have plunged into the digital age. While viewing Digital Nation, I was hit by how technological advances have adversely affected my writing habits.
Thirty years ago, I wrote my first book on an electric typewriter. Determined to be a novelist, I devoted all of my spare time to banging away on my IBM Selectra. The television was off. Meals consisted of peanut butter sandwiches that were quick and easy to make. Hours that I used to sunbathe for a golden tan were spent composing my masterpiece. I stopped going out with my friends. Not a minute that could be devoted to literary creation was wasted. At the end of the summer, I proudly emerged from my bachelorette apartment pale, thin, and socially bankrupt.
In three months, I had written the Great American Catastrophe, all 846 pages of it in hardcopy.
We have come so far in just the last twenty years that there is no excuse for anyone to not be a writer (except for complete lack of talent). So, with no place to go and no demands on me, why is it so hard to compose a simple strangling in Windows 7 when three decades ago I was able to kill off the whole membership of the Screen Actors Guild over three short months without the benefit of a spellchecker?
While the delete button has opened a whole new world, it has also slashed my attention span to the length of an inch-worm. While we sit in front of our laptops thinking that we are actually writing and doing it well, in reality we are constantly being distracted and giving in to those distractions freely. We feel like hotshots being able to check e-mails; program our DVR; make dozens of new friends who we’ve never met or most likely ever will; download the latest tunes; write a job proposal; IM our spouse in the bathroom about what he wants for dinner; spy to see what our son is really doing on his laptop in his room; and google to find out what had become of that teen idol we had pledged our luv-4-ever while in our underwear. Then, at the end of the day, we scratch our heads and wonder why we’ve only written seven paragraphs in the last seven hours.
As much as I would like to blame technology, or even my family, the problem doesn’t lie with the distractions. There were distractions back when I wrote the Great American Catastrophe. They just weren’t as convenient to give into. With the click of the button, I can escape choreographing a shootout in a parking garage to check out Jill’s dog Elvis in the snow on Facebook. Swooning over Elvis should only take thirty seconds, but before going back to the shootout I need to accept Shanti’s friend request. Suddenly, I have only six minutes to forward an e-mail to eleven friends or suffer the curse of Mother Theresa. By the end of the day, that moment has turned into three hours with only one hour spent doing actual writing.
I have had to be reminded that writing takes discipline. It is the same discipline I had back when I was a teenager when I gave up Fantasy Island to become the next Jackie Collins. Today, I have to tell my thumb, "Don’t touch that button! Keep on writing until Mac Faraday catches up with his killer."
Elvis will still be on Facebook.