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That Crazy Friend

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Photo by Karol Franks

I have this GREAT story I want to tell you about, and … Oh darn. Can you hold on for a second? 

Okay, I’m back.  Where were we?  Right.  This GREAT story.  It has this amazing plot and you won’t believe… whoops.  Sorry.  Gotta go again. I’ll be right back.

Here I am. Sorry about that.  I’ve got this friend.  You probably know her.  She’s great — always around when I want to talk, the first to tell me interesting news, and when I need a laugh or advice, she’s right there.  But between you and me, the problem is, hanging with her makes it almost impossible to get anything else done. Like writing.  Or concentrating.  So, what were we talking about again?

Does this sound familiar to you?  If you replace the word ‘friend’ with ‘Facebook’ or ‘the Internet’ I’ll bet the answer is yes. 

A few weeks ago I was trying to write.  My email program kept dinging, reminding me I had new mail; I could hear Facebook burbling away on the posts I had followed; and one of my favorite authors had a new blog post up I couldn’t wait to read (so I did). 

Shortly thereafter I realized that if the Internet took human form, I could arrest it for stalking.

Seriously.  Most of us wouldn’t tolerate this type of interruption from real people — if a friend did this, calling us every fifteen minutes, constantly stopping by during time we’d set aside to work, we’d pull the plug on that relationship. But we’ll allow ourselves to be derailed by cute pet pictures, celebrity wedding photos, and memes telling us how important it is to stay focused.

Why?

[pullquote]I realized that if the Internet took human form, I could arrest it for stalking.[/pullquote]

I think it is because writing is hard, and writers have always looked for an excuse to put off putting their butts in the chair.  Before the Internet, the excuses weren’t nearly as much fun, or as easily accessible.  Magazine or book reading eventually came to an end.  Friends, desperate to get their own work done, hung up the phone.  But with the Internet, the reading and chatting can go on forever, or at least as long as we have a connection.

So I’ve decided that it is time to set some boundaries on this relationship.  Here’s what I’ve been doing:

Paying myself first.  I’m working on my own fiction for at least an hour a day before I do anything else.  (Sometimes I cheat and set the timer for 15 minutes before I start so I can scan headlines, email, and Facebook, but when that timer goes off I’m done. And it’s amazing how fast 15 minutes can go by.)  Once my hour is up, I turn to my paying freelance work, which I HAVE to complete by a certain deadline, which keeps me motivated and productive.

Shutting off the Internet.  While I’m in ‘writing’ mode, as opposed to ‘research’ mode, I turn off the wireless connection to my laptop.  So far, I’ve relied on willpower to keep me from turning it back on, but if that fails, I’ve heard good things about the Freedom app [2] Internet blocker. 

Putting my laptop away when I’m done working.  When I first started freelancing from home, I had one rule — no television on during the work day.  I was afraid I’d get distracted and spend all my time watching Oprah instead of writing.  Today, I’m trying to make my rule “No Internet browsing during work and no screens during family time.”

This last one is really hard — my family has all types of screens, and it’s so tempting to take five minutes and just check Facebook or scan email when we’re reading, playing games, or watching a movie.  I’m not as good at putting my computer back in my office at the end of the day as I’d like to be, especially since checking in with my online friends is such an enjoyable and relaxing habit.  But like any vice, it needs limits or it will take over. And I’m finding that by focussing on what’s in front of me in real life, instead of what’s on my screen, I can return to work refreshed and ready to write. 

The downside to these new practices is that I’m not as active on some websites that are important to me.  Some days I feel as if I’m missing out on all the fun, and I definitely miss connecting with my online writing friends.  I’m still working to balance how to follow everyone’s blogs, posts, and comments with time to write and just be still and breathe.

The good news is that over the last month I’ve definitely become more productive and focused. I’m powering through my novel’s revisions, and I’m even finding I’m reading more books.

So — do you find the Internet to be your best friend or an intrusive stalker?  If it’s the latter, how are you setting boundaries?

About Liz Michalski [3]

Liz Michalski's first novel, Evenfall, was published by Berkley Books (Penguin). Liz has been a reporter, an editor, and a freelance writer. In her previous life, she wrangled with ill-tempered horses and oversized show dogs. These days she's downsized to one husband, two children and a medium-sized mutt.

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