Writing in the age of distraction

I was hanging out with my nephews the other day (they are ages 4 and 6), and they navigated their way to Amazon.com on their iPad to show me which Legos they want. They were clicking around, zooming in and out, tapping the shopping cart. I feel like an old person saying this, but it’s crazy how times have changed.

It’s apparent to me now that I grew up in a technology revolution. I remember pay phones. I remember landlines. My sister had a pager. I remember dial-up AOL connections, the magic of those first chat rooms. I remember my first cell phone, good only for calls. I remember when texting went from “not a thing” to “a must.” I remember how I resisted, telling people, “Don’t text me. I don’t have a texting plan.” This is hilarious to me now.

Granted, I’m not that attached to my phone. I am a utilitarian texter. I don’t get into many text conversations. I use texting to send my husband grocery lists and tell people I’m “on my way.” I’m sporadic in my social media usage. I think I’ve posted a handful of selfies, and most of them were taken when I was slightly intoxicated. When I get home from work, I leave my phone in my purse so I can hang out with my husband. He is hardly ever on his phone, and he gets annoyed when I am (unless I’m playing Words with Friends, because he likes to play my turns).

It goes without saying that there are pros and cons to how involved we are with ourselves and each other and our larger world, thanks to Facebook and Instagram and all the other apps that make it possible to share anything and everything. It’s addicting–all this information, all this content. And it’s overwhelming. I worry that people will stop reading books (or, if they do read, the books will be short and airy because everyone has ADD now, developed in response to the sheer amount of sensory input we receive).

neil gaiman

In this Writer Unboxed post, Allie Larkin writes about how her writing experience has changed as technology has evolved.

“[With my first book], I had lots of time to think things through. Social media wasn’t a big deal yet. Streaming video wasn’t a thing. My phone only made phone calls. There was much blank headspace to be had. Even when I had a full calendar, I still got stuck in line at the post office, and we did not yet have the technology to tweet about it…

But the internet took over. It got too easy to fill downtime. Not just in hedonistic ways. I do most of my research via audiobook when I’m walking or cleaning, and I’m grateful to be able to learn while I’m in motion. But my free thought time has become jam-packed with structured thought.”

My thoughts exactly.

My writing time is so different now. Before the Internet, I went to the library to do research. I had so few minute-by-minute distractions. I focused. My days were full of blank moments for reflection and contemplation. Now, I can’t even sit at a red light without the temptation to fill the time with something on my phone. What’s lost are those empty spaces, when ideas used to emerge and solutions to writer’s block made themselves apparent.

I have to try really hard now to create distraction-free down time. It’s especially difficult these days because I feel like if I go off the Internet for 24 hours, I’ll miss the real-time collapse of our government. Kidding, kind of. But, seriously, with all the political upheaval, I’m struggling to find the line between being informed and going insane. I can only absorb so much. And I’ve definitely been writing less because my mind is just…tired.

It does no good to fight reality, though. And I think writers will adjust to the world as it is. Stories will change, as they always change as society shifts. The way people read will change. Sometimes I worry I’ll end up like a 21st century blacksmith, trying to find a place for my weird, outdated passion. I will always write novels. I know that. That’s the one constant, even as my writing routine changes. I admit I’ve developed a bit of the ADD I mentioned above. And my writing reflects it. I don’t sit in a quiet room and write for several hours anymore. Well, rarely. Most of the time, I write in spurts–10 minutes here, 20 minutes there. The pace is more intense, because the pace of my surrounding world is more intense. In the end, I still write books. And I believe people will continue to read books, if only to escape that intense pace for a precious little while.

4 thoughts on “Writing in the age of distraction

  1. Oh my goodness, I am right there with you. There is no room in my head for anything, these days. I think I might be one of those people that goes to a technology-free adult camp. Like, that’s how much I need a forced break from all of this…but I’m not strong enough to do it of my own free will.

    Great post!

  2. I can relate a million times with this. In every way though I admit I spend too nuch time online (I don’t put my phone away when I get home and should!). I know less distractions would make me a better and more productive writer yet the allure … it’s constant! When I want to write though – I can make it happen. But it’s a matter of not giving in to every little ding, blink or notification. Sigh!!!
    PS I love your writing Kim and hope to be a published author myself someday – you inspire me!

    1. Thanks, Melissa! I agree with what you said–it’s a matter of not giving into every little ding, blink, or notification. So hard! Keep at it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *