Off-Line

Though I know a lot of writers who use it, I’ve held out so far on buying minutes from Freedom to keep me off the internet.  But I certainly get the allure.

When you’re banging your bloody head against your story working on your book for endless hours, changing past tense to present, shuffling chapters, seeing yet another scene or paragraph that took days or even weeks to get perfect but that’s just not working, it’s too easy to skip town — virtually anyway — to check your email (who can stand knowing there are unread messages out there?!) and click on CNN.com for the 27th time (what if you miss the latest news about the debt ceiling or that Pa Walton died?).  What if your friend posts a new, adorable photo of her cat playing in the snow and you don’t “like” it right away—– will she, god forbid, think you don’t like her?

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I’ve been reading these 2 Dani Shapiro books, and when checking her website —- because who can read a book anymore without checking out the writer’s website? —- found this essay (well worth the read) on what it’s like to live in a world with constant internet access.  In part, she says:

Except that every once in a while, I find myself caught up in a long conversation with a friend—the kind that happens after an exchange of emails has stretched into paragraphs and paragraphs, and finally talking feels like less effort. When this happens, I’m overcome with the sense that I’m wasting time. Not that I don’t want to talk to my friends. I do. I want to talk to my friends over a glass of good red wine and a cheeseburger in a dimly lit cafe. Instead, I pace my house, receiver pressed to my ear, doing other things while talking. I organize the pantry. Make myself a cappuccino. (Are you in the subway? a friend asked just yesterday while I steamed the milk.) I run a bath, and soundlessly lower myself into the steaming depths so that they have no idea I’m lying there naked. Fretting, all the while. Shouldn’t I be doing something else?

And that’s really the crux, isn’t it?  The constant notion that, no matter what we are doing, there is “Shouldn’t I be doing something else?”

What are your strategies for staying off-line?

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12 thoughts on “Off-Line

  1. Tara DaPra

    This. Yes. I try not to check email once I get home at night, but I usually fail. It’s like the more I check it, the more I need to re-check. It’s gross. I find myself sitting with my beautiful child for two precious evening hours and unable to be present with him. Typing this makes me want to cry.

    I’ve found “Self-Control” useful, a program that lets you ban yourself from going online, or at least to particular websites, for select periods. There’s no way getting around it, even if you uninstall the app or restart your computer. Then once you get through the 90 minutes or whatever you set it to, you can “reward” yourself by taking an internet break. I also read “The Now Habit” over Winter Break and that got me thinking about how much energy is wasted, not only by checking email/Facebook/my bank account one hundred times each day but also how much energy goes into then feeling guilty about not getting more done. So I’m making progress, but it’s a tough change (as evidenced by my immediate reading of your blog as it arrived in my inbox).

    Self Control here: http://visitsteve.com/made/selfcontrol/

    1. Teri

      Maybe nobody is here but you and me? They’re all being good, and off line??

      It breaks my heart to imagine you finally at home of an evening, your beautiful boy cuddled up on your lap, while you check email and surf —- but sadly I think this is where most of us are. The internet has provided yet another avenue to do all things at once, and yet barely remember doing any of them. Present but not, all day/night long.

      I wish you were coming to AWP this year … I’ll miss you!

  2. jpon

    I used to be a constant email checker, but I’ve surprised myself with how disciplined I’ve become in the past couple of years. I quit the program and keep it off until I’m done writing. I do stay connected to the internet, but only to check facts regarding what I’m writing. Honest.

    Yes, I know it’s weird.

    1. Teri Post author

      I’m going through a phase (for a few years now) where I feel rude if I don’t respond right away to email. It’s a like self-imposed illness.

      Which reminds me of the “emergency” calls my old friend Dr. Ruth (yes, that is really her name!) would get on weekends.

      “But doc, it hurts really bad when I do xxx.”
      “Then stop doing it.”

      Words to live by.

  3. independentclause

    Freedom.

    Even though I sometimes check my email every three seconds, I haven’t started checking my phone over dinner with friends. And if it weren’t for my incessant Internet addiction, I wouldn’t have found you guys online. I wouldn’t have the essays I stumble across that help me write. And I wouldn’t have a quick and easy way to look up what a wave function is, for example, when I need to know.

    But when I ramble halfway across the Internet like an idiot or like [my friend’s name redacted], that’s when I resort to Freedom. Best ten dollars I ever spent. Or if I’m revising, I print it out and go sit somewhere at least ten feet away from the computer.

  4. Paul Lamb

    I suspect I might benefit from such a device, but I know I would feel resentful the whole time that I had limited my “opportunities.” Still, when my creative writing engine is hitting on all cylinders, distractions don’t seem to be a problem. (Which is my self-deluded rationale for avoiding such self control when the writing isn’t coming and I need to just stay at it without distractions.)

    1. Teri Post author

      Oftentimes self-delusion is our greatest friend.

      My neighbor read this blog post and said, “It’s easy. I don’t have a smart phone, and I don’t open my computer until I need to do something. So I’m never online.”

      And when I tried to convince her that she’s missing out on good TV — True Detective, Homeland, House of Cards — she said something about it being a good thing to NOT be addicted to series.

      Note to self: Listen to your neighbor. She’s smarter than you.

      1. Josey

        (I’m pretty sure if she saw one episode of True Detective she’d be singing a different tune. It’s better than just about anything else right now…and I’m not just talking about other TV when I say “else”)

  5. Josey

    I’m not so much crushed by the weight of “isn’t there something else i should be doing” but more by the “when am i going to have time to do it all” — a state of unrest that i attribute to keeping a 5 & 10 year old fed, (mostly) clean and feeling loved, while trying simultaneously to keep myself fit, productive and happy.

    i’ve stopped trying to regulate my online activity (and by “stopped” i mean quit worrying about it as i never really took any steps toward shutting it down.) right now, it’s part of my job and i like my job…so be it. i’m going to be online.

    with the way my current life is structured, what i need to do is define specific hours when i can be unplugged (early morning, after kids are in bed…weekends) that are for one thing: writing, and during that time only writing is accomplished. no email. no social media. no reading other people’s stuff. right now, it feels like the only way i’ll take my own advice is to have a drill sergeant who gets in my face demanding i give him 180 minutes of solid writing time…now if only i could find a drill sergeant…

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