Sometimes to write, you must stop

Came across this post over at The Write Practice.

Joe Bunting says that sometimes, in order to write (create), you must stop writing. He uses Bob Dylan and Ernest Hemingway as examples of artists who stopped their chosen work, put it aside, and came back better than ever. Bunting says that he does not write once a week. That includes no Tweeting or emailing. He takes a break.

Conventional wisdom suggests that you’re not a “true” writer if you don’t write EVERY DAY. Well, I’m not much for rules or some conventional wisdom. I take writing breaks, too, and like Hemingway, I let my subconscious do its thing. If I’m trying to figure out a difficult scene, I’ll stop writing and go for a hike or walk. Maybe watch a movie. Go do chores or other things that need to be done. And usually, BOOM the solution comes. Sometimes it takes a few of those time-outs to get the scene where I need it to be, but that’s okay. I have other projects I’m working on, too.

I’m a fan of taking time off from your writing to recharge and re-connect with the world. I’m ESPECIALLY a fan of taking time off from Tweeting and emailing and FaceBorg-ing or whatever the heck else you do online (and yes, I am well aware that I am currently blogging online), because spending too much time online might be bad for you. See Tony Dokoupil’s “Is the Web Driving Us Mad,” here in Newsweek/Daily Beast for some food for thought about that.

Quotes from that:

The current incarnation of the Internet — portable, social, accelerated, and all-pervasive — may be making us not just dumber or lonelier but more depressed and anxious, prone to obsessive-compulsive and attention-deficit disorders, even outright psychotic. Our digitized minds can scan like those of drug addicts, and normal people are breaking down in sad and seemingly new ways.
Altogether the digital shifts of the last five years call to mind a horse that has sprinted out from underneath its rider, dragging the person who once held the reins. No one is arguing for some kind of Amish future. But the research is now making it clear that the Internet is not “just” another delivery system. It is creating a whole new mental environment, a digital state of nature where the human mind becomes a spinning instrument panel, and few people will survive unscathed.
“There’s just something about the medium that’s addictive,” says Elias Aboujaoude, a psychiatrist at Stanford University School of Medicine, where he directs the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Clinic and Impulse Control Disorders Clinic. “I’ve seen plenty of patients who have no history of addictive behavior—or substance abuse of any kind—become addicted via the Internet and these other technologies.”

It’s pretty sad (maybe scary?) when you’re trying to conduct an experiment at a college and you ask undergrads to participate and forgo using technology for a day and you don’t get any participants. The U of Maryland was one school that did. It asked 200 undergrads to stop using technology for a day in 2010 and to keep a journal about it. ONE DAY, people. Just one day. Some of the responses included: “I clearly am addicted and the dependency is sickening,” reported one student in the study. “Media is my drug,” wrote another (Dokoupil, “Is the Internet Making Us Mad?”).

Last year, MTV polled people between the ages of 13 and 30 on their web habits, and discovered that most felt “defined” by what they put online and unable to look away because they were afraid of “missing out.” Living online also means you may not know who you really are: “This evaporation of the genuine self also occurred among the high-school- and college-age kids. …They were struggling with digital identities at an age when actual identity is in flux.” (Dokoupil).

What I learned in high school,” a kid named Stan told [the researcher], “was profiles, profiles, profiles; how to make a me.” It’s a nerve-racking learning curve, a life lived entirely in public with the webcam on, every mistake recorded and shared, mocked until something more mockable comes along. “How long do I have to do this?” another teen sighed, as he prepared to reply to 100 new messages on his phone.

Doug, a Midwestern college student, said his life was “just another [computer] window,” and maybe not his best one. More recent studies suggest that our digitized world may support even more extreme forms of mental illness. At Stanford, a researcher

is studying whether some digital selves should be counted as a legitimate, pathological “alter of sorts,” like the alter egos documented in cases of multiple personality disorder (now called dissociative identity disorder in the DSM). To test his idea, he gave one of his patients, Richard, a mild-mannered human-resources executive with a ruthless Web poker habit, the official test for multiple personality disorder. The result was startling. He scored as high as patient zero. “I might as well have been … administering the questionnaire to Sybil Dorsett!” [the researcher] writes.

So maybe read that piece, and think about your own online habits. Most of us have to work with technology through out jobs, and we do use it to stay in touch with each other and/or do whatever it is some of us do as writers/artists to get the word out about our work. But really think about what you’re doing online and how much time you spend there. And maybe start backing away and re-connecting with real people in your life who inhabit your real-time existence.

Be a rebel. Back away from the intertubes, and take a break from being creative. Let things re-charge and let your subconscious do what it does: come up with cool ideas. 😀

Happy Sunday.

Comments are closed.