Over the past few years, I’ve grappled with a relationship problem that’s severely impacted my writing:  My computer and I have been growing slowly but surely apart.

As a companion for my day job publicizing books and businesses, Mac has been perfect.  I can spend ten hours a day gazing into his face and running my fingers over his keys, completely absorbed in our never-ending conversation without noticing thirst or hunger or even my kids’ pleas for attention.  But — call me fickle — when I’m in the mood for dreaming up fiction, that same conversation, droning with emails, tweets, new Writer Unboxed posts and Facebook comment threads, feels like a set of shackles.  It demands that I listen to it, and it alone, the instant my fiction work becomes the least bit difficult.  Which is often.

The result may sound familiar to anyone involved in a similar triangle: Mac recently became a burden and serious nuisance during my precious, painfully limited time in fiction mode.  Every few minutes he’d reach for me with an e-mail I just couldn’t leave for later, a news article I absolutely had to read and tweet right away.  (For example: did you know that men’s underwear sales can be an indicator of economic growth?!? Who could resist?)

Even when I’d tune out or turn off Mac’s most powerful source of attraction — that amazing, irresistible WiFi connection (*sigh*) — I just couldn’t get it out of my mind.  I’d find myself promising him that I’d pop by and log on in ten minutes, or five, or as soon as I’d finally written a coherent sentence.  The quality of my time with fiction deteriorated into a series of furtive encounters punctuated by the promise of hurrying over to visit Mac.

Eventually, I fessed up and acknowledged that it was time to stop leading this double life.  If I wanted to give my love for fiction a fighting chance, Mac would have to go.  Cold turkey.

Logically, this could mean only one thing.  Because Mac also tempts me to waste time revising and revising while drafting, cutting and pasting, re-ordering text and browsing over frequently to Thesaurus.com, my new fiction companion would have to be…paper.  Totally electronics-free.

At first, it felt awful.  Those legal pads I bought — yellow for one main character, white for the other — were ugly, messy and dry to the touch.  My right hand ached constantly, and the sight of my handwriting, awkward as a middle-school crush, made me cringe.  Hideous arrows grew in the margins as I noted where I’d move sentences around or insert new words.  Even the ashy smell of paper made my stomach turn.

But to my surprise, I soon found my imagination working more freely than it had when it was under Mac’s spell.  The mere notion that revising was impractical somehow helped my thoughts gel more quickly into ideas that I could actually use.  Characters were coming alive of their own volition without getting stuck behind the agonizing barrier of word choice.  The broad story line just unrolled before me in a way it never has before, and even those arrows in the margins, those blotchy scratch-outs and my own penmanship — ick! — turned into a sort of visual prompt, an abstract but visible map of tone and mood.  And the smell, well…it grew on me.

Could I be in love?

While I’m trying not to think too much about the future, I do suspect that at some point I’ll have to find a way to reconcile with Mac.  To begin again with him on new terms.  Perhaps he’ll hold my hand as I begin revisions.  Or help me store my new novel’s pages somehow.

But for that to work out, we’ll have to agree to just be friends.


About Sharon Bially

Sharon Bially (@SharonBially) is the founder and president of BookSavvy PR, a public relations firm devoted to authors and books. Author of the novel Veronica’s Nap, she’s an active member of Grub Street, Inc., the nation’s 2nd largest independent writing center, and writes for the Grub Street Daily.