Scribble Scribble Scribble
Posted on January 5, 2016 Posted by John Scalzi 40 Comments
So, I started a new novel on Monday and so far, so good; the writing is coming along nicely and it’ll be nice to keep it coming at this clip. For me, the major problem is not writer’s block or plot issues or anything structural involving the novel; I generally don’t have problems with those once I start, and with this new novel, thankfully, I didn’t have any real issues starting.
No, the problem is that the Internet is an attractive nuisance. And not just in the sense of that it distracts me when I need to be writing. No, as I get older, I find that actually plugging into it before I do any novel writing scrambles my brain enough to make it hard to get any appreciable progress made for the day. I think this is a combination of me getting older and the Internet just plain doing a better job of angrying up the blood or otherwise distracting me. I also think it also has to do with a certain amount of habituation, i.e., if I’m checking email, by brain just goes “Oh, we’re on the Internet now,” and just fires up those parts of my brain that work on the Internet. These do not, by and large, correspond to the novel writing parts of my brain.
How to deal with this? Well, I’ve made a new rule, which really isn’t a new rule, but kind of an update rule. And the rule is: before 2,000 words or noon, whichever comes first, no Internet at all. No blog, no Twitter, no Facebook, no email, no checking the news. When I sit down at the computer (usually around 8am), I disconnect it from the network. I leave the cell phone in the other room (and unless you’re my wife, daughter, editor or agent, if you call the landline, it’s not going to get picked up, either). No Internet. At all.
Now, this is similar to the rule I had before, which was no Internet while I was writing. The change is that previously when I woke up, I’d check email and Twitter and what have you, or before I started writing on the novel I might put up a blog post or a Big Idea piece. And I’ve found I can’t really do that anymore — off my brain will go, into a non-novel-writing mode. So: No Internet. At all.
And, well. So far, it’s working swell. The words are flowing, the plot is bubbling along, the characters are quipping and so and so forth, and when I get to about the 2k mark (or noon, whichever comes first), I pack it in for the day and do other things. The side effect, at least so far, is then I slide right into the other tasks pretty happily and efficiently, knowing that the thing I really have to do, i.e., writing on the novels, is already done for the day and not hanging over my head.
That said, I don’t want to get too excited, as it’s two days in to this particular novel writing session. There’s still lots of time to me to screw up my groove. But on the other hand, the more you do something, the easier it gets to do it. Also, and unsurprisingly, the Internet seems to get along just fine without me when I’m not there, which is a thing my feeder-bar subconscious wants to deny. Surprise! I’m just not a big deal on the Internet! Well, I’ll get over that one day, I suppose.
In any event: Hey, I’m writing a novel. Again. Let’s see how this one goes.
Good rule to rule them all.
Congratulations on getting back to it! Not suggesting you don’t enjoy writing or anything else you do, but I always took on the difficult or unpleasant tasks of my day first so that everything else was gravy. Plus it’s no fun doing the things you like with the dread of the other stuff hanging over you. Work first, play later, so to speak. As for the Internet, biggest time suck of our lives!
5 am to 6 am is no internet and just writing. Doing it first thing in the morning has always been best for me, before the internet, job and demands of life take their toll on my brain. Nothing like getting down to some work on a new novel.
Good rule and I hope the Big Ideas don’t lose anything from it.
Ugh need a edit my own comment feature…what I meant was didn’t think posting a Big Idea would be such a time suck but then I realize how easy it would be to go down that rabbit hole based on my own experiences
Siri, what did I open this browser for?
Funny I had a pretty similar experience. I also just started my new novel (fourth book of my ongoing Space Opera series) and also started two days ago and went with a somewhat similar recipe which is to write at least 3 hours or 3000k words (whichever comes first) and then do the rest of my day with a happy feeling. I am a bit of a night owl so morning is a vague concept for me sometimes. Still, what I have learned so far after writing three books is that writing before anything else in my day works much better for me to feel happier the rest of the day, and even do tasks I absolutely loathe (any kind of admin work really) with much more ease (no longer dreading them as obstacles to my writing). If I start the day with tweeting, email, or surfing, then I usually also lose that writing mood, and no matter how much I tell myself “I’ll do some writing later after all my tasks are done”, I often don’t. If you haven’t read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, well, I really recommend it, to anyone really. It explains this very well as the solution to defeat resistance every day. Everytime I get “stuck”, I just re-read it (it’s a very fast and condensed read) and it gets me back on track.
I haven’t went as far as disabling the network (I kinda need my cloud services to save my books), but I’m considering turning off the cell phone and any kind of computer notifications though. Especially with ADD the cellphone is the worst case of … “oh look a squirrel” for me, and it’s simply too easy to get distracted by phone pop-ups (tweets, emails,…) and notifications.
Great post & wishing you all a wonderful evening.
At the Joe Hill NOS482 book tour at Dayton, OH…he made a similar comment. Must produce “X” amount of writing before emails, internet, etc.
That’s the best idea I’ve heard in ages! I always sit down to get some writing done and think to read some news first and then it’s all over. You’re getting a Christmas card this year sir.
I’m really glad to see this; it’s a win win scenario you have created, and I like win win scenarios, particularly since there are a lot of people who seem to be incapable of winning anything and therefore are reduced to complaining about you.
I suspect the usual suspects!
Thank you for posting this John. I have always been really curious about how writers handle being in charge of their own time and how they make work for themselves.
This kind of information is really appreciated. Feel free to add more about how you structure your time and day when convenient.
I’ve noticed how over the past few years the immediacy of the Internet has habituated me to doing things in short periods, flitting from one page or app to the next. I find that I never concentrate on any one thing for a couple of hours, and it’s been ages since I’ve been lost in reading a novel. That’s bad.
I need to fix that. I need to be able to dive deeply into something again for long periods.
Excellent rule! Now that I know that Twitter and RSS are much less likely to be interesting (and no Scamperbeasts) until noon or so, maybe l’ll be able to get some things done as well.
I hope you’ll keep reporting on how this works for you. I wonder a lot about how all this internet is affecting us.
I need to find this balance for myself. The Internet is definitely an attractive nuisance. (In my case, I’m in an office surrounded by people who send LOTS of email and IMs and will happily come over to bug me if I don’t answer them, so it’s going to be a tricky balance to strike.)
*Nudges Internet* DON’T THROW OFF HIS GROOOOVE!
Which usually comes first, the 2000 words or noon?
Thank you. This looks like a very good idea that I will try out. I have a lot of editing to do and while I am good at not allowing myself to be distracted while I work, getting to work is a bit harder – especially since it’s the kind of work without a ‘going to an actual office’ stage
Not doing anything on the Internet on editing/writing days before you have done so many hours/pages looks like a very good idea.
To file under: ‘Not every simple idea is good but most good ideas are simple’
This is your brain. This is your brain on kittens. This is your brain on all the kittens in the world on the Internet. Any questions?
This is a great rule. I have used it myself. Good luck on your new novel!
Jerry Pournelle had his “Monk’s Cell” for decades.
“Angrying up the blood,” is the perfect description. My habit is do peruse Fark while eating breakfast, and usually the humor in the headlines makes for a good start tothe day. Every now and again though, one of those stories comes across of such wanton human cruelty and/or stupidity that my morning is lost to a lot of tiny fist shaking. My guess is that your new technique will soon enough be habit. Hope it works and thanks for sharing.
There’s this brain study they did with vets. Because of it, I discovered that multitasking, TV, inter webs, and the like have trained our brains not to think. Our brains will come up with a billion other things to do rather than have to think. We’ve become addicted to the blink-flashy of entertainment and have become, as a society, a little ADHD.
this is key: “knowing that the thing I really have to do, i.e., writing on the novels, is already done for the day and not hanging over my head.”
I relate to this SO well…. I started the same “new rule” on Monday…. only…. changed it by Tuesday. My Tuesday rule was that I work on non-novel in morning when my brain is fastest for it…. break at 2…. sit in the sunny window that blinds me at this time of year so I can’t be distracted by editing or Internet but can only, blindly, type into my novel and see what I wrote much later. :) Today is Wednesday….and it’s cloudy.
I need to do something like this. Obviously I’m failing right now…
I sort of have the opposite problem; I get into writing mode for the day, and then nothing else gets done. Cleaning, cooking, paying bills, paying attention to the spouse… it all gets forgotten (that last one in particular gets me into trouble). Consequently, I tend to schedule my writing for the end of the day, the side effect being too many nights staying up late.
Sounds like a plan. Not surprising that engaging in social warfare can be a significant distraction or disruption. I can’t do it anymore and think straight. And then there’s the stress of forum battle, so good plan.
Isn’t 2000 words in a day an unusually high number for a novelist? I recall Charlie Stross saying that 500-1000 was a pretty good day’s work and that seems to be echoed by a number of other writers (Brandon Sanderson being a notable exception).
I have pretty much the same issue with the Internet. However, my writing depends on Internet access (even with the novels to some extent). What sort of works for me is an app called SelfControl that allows me to block things like Facebook for a certain amount of time. Let’s emphasize the “sort of” solution, though.
Happy Working! BTW today’s xkcd seems to be in a similar conceptual territory with “Tale of the Wicked”: http://xkcd.com/1626/
1) You can’t believe how irksome it is to hear someone younger than some of my shirts complain of “getting older.”
2) I wish I could do the same, sometimes. But mainly I work via the internet- it would be kind of non-productive, unless I went back to coding sheets (clue: not gonna happen).
@Christian – 3000k words is a whole series before lunch! :)
Also – if the mobile is a real distraction due to apps etc, think about a Samsung S5 or later; there’s an “ultra power-saving mode” that turns off wifi, apps etc and leaves you with a monochrome screen that can text and call but not much else. As a bonus, you get about 9 oe 10 days standby from a charge,
Interesting idea; I think I’ll give it a try.
I’ve started writing much more recently and I am finding the same problem. I will definitely have to keep this in mind as I find a schedule “that works”.
FWIW, I believe the reference was to one of Satchel Paige’s rules: “Avoid fried foods, which angry up the blood.” Jury still out on which is worse, fried foods or the internet.
So THAT’S why you post all those kitten pics! To distract the competition.
Good and inspiring. I’ve employed a similar-style rule of thumb for How The Day Begins. When I follow it, the day is A Good Day. When I don’t, eh, not so much.
The rule: Start the day in creation, not consumption.
Astonishing how predictable the results are. It’s hard to stick to it. Linky internet things on portable devices are enticing. I give in to enticement all-too-often.
Has John Blogged about how much he plans out a novel in advance and how much time he spend brain storming? If so can someone post a link. I dont think he is an outline writer. Just curious what kind of notes he works off and what he does to brainstorm before writing. He said he only does 1 draft which tells me he must have notes to work off and probably editing afterwards of the same draft.
I would be curious about that as well Guess.
I make this stuff up as I go along, man.