Once upon a time, in another century, the self-image of an aspiring writer included locking themselves away in a garret away from people and distractions where the writer could work without distractions. This image was beautifully portrayed in the story, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, when Jo suddenly comes out of her dark room to find the seasons had changed.
Roll ahead to the twenty-first century and we’re all writing on computers instead of a typewriter, or even a pencil. We’re connected to the Internet and our writing sessions get interrupted by e-mail notifications, pop-ups to tell us we have messages on e-mail, or social media, texts, phone calls and the postman ringing the doorbell because we’ve been doing our Christmas shopping online. How is a writer to get anything done at all?
About ten years ago, my creative flow kept getting interrupted by prank calls on a land line. I had, up until then, resisted joining modern technology and getting a mobile phone (cell phone to the Americans). I also kept getting unexpected high phone bills because my daughter kept using my phone to call her boyfriend.
As I don’t particularly like phones and don’t hear well on them, I hardly ever used the thing anyway and only kept it in case of emergencies. So, I went out and got the cheapest model of mobile phone available and had the land line turned off forever. Peace and quiet reigned! It was then that I realised just how much we are indoctrinated into telephone culture and a form of slavery to the ringing bell.
I began to break the training of a lifetime and with the caller’s name or number displayed on a mobile phone, I developed a habit of doing the unthinkable; I didn’t answer the phone. That bell we have all been trained to respond to since childhood slowly lost its hold over me and eventually I even turned it off, just leaving my phone on vibrate so that I wouldn’t miss any calls that I actually did want to receive.
Meanwhile, as my on-line presence increased, I also took pop-up notifications in hand. I don’t mean the spam for which we have blockers, but the message notifications that appear in the corner of the screen, demanding that you drop everything and go on Facebook to see what some friend you hardly speak to had for lunch. Even private messages can usually wait.
I’ve found that going onto Facebook will usually deplete my energies and leave me finished working for the day. So, the obvious solution is to do my work for the day and only look at my notifications when I’ve finished and am at leisure to shift into social mode.
All social media has settings and we can choose not to be bombarded with notifications 24/7, but look at our accounts in our own time and on our own terms. I believe e-mail programs also have these notifications. I still use web mail so I see my messages when I decide to log-in to my various accounts. I keep personal and business accounts separate that way too.
What I’m getting at is that we don’t have to let the busy pace of modern life intrude on our creative time. Obviously if you have children in school or someone else you look after you will need a means by which you can be contacted in an emergency, but this means doesn’t have to be available to all and sundry.
Sometimes it pays to take a pace back from the increasingly hurried pace of the world and protect our personal creative pace from trivial intrusions. I now have a smart phone, but I keep it in the living room, at the opposite side of the house from my work space. The ringer is off. I check messages when I emerge from my day’s work. I have no message notifications of any kind enabled on my computer.
I still have to answer the door when the postman or courier brings my packages and I do have real life family who interrupt me at times, but turning off the technology leaves me free to hear the stories in my head and write them down before some distraction allows them to float away. Between the hours of 9am and around 4pm I’m a recluse, hidden away in my virtual garret and unavailable to anything less than the house burning down.
And that makes me happy.
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