I have often read about writers who can spend all day in their writing rooms, working on their novels like a 9 to 5. For me, I can never sit that long. When I was writing my first novel, I could sit for four hours, maximum. But now, as I work on my fourth, I found it difficult to keep my mind on my work for more than an hour at a stretch. What the heck happened? I’m no neuroscientist, but I think the internet happened. Since the advent of facebook, twitter, and smart phones, my mind has started to work differently. I had always been a multi-tasker, out of necessity, but in the last few years, it has become ridiculous, and ultimately destructive. Once I found myself eating lunch, reading a book a book, and playing Words With Friends all at the same time. I check email while I am talking on the phone. On a lunch date, I neaked glances at my phone while I friend was gone to the ladies. When I saw something awesome rather than study it, I thought: INSTAGRAM! Watching TV, I also solved Sudoku puzzles. To do so many things at once, I dipped into only the top layer of my experiences and constantly darting in and out. I was doing a lot of things, but I wasn’t doing any of them well. I tried to get back to my old way of doing things but my attention span was shot and I was incapable of that deep thinking that creativity requires. I knew I had to make a change.
If you have tried to reach me lately, you know what that change is. I am friend-zoning my smart phone. By that I mean, I still use it, but me and my iPhone are no longer in love. I avoid taking it it with me when I go out. If I am meeting a friend or going to a movie, that’s what I’m doing. Email can wait until I get home. When I see something awesome, I look at it and try and imprint it on my mind rather than distract myself thinking about what it will look like as a twit pic. Just being without my phone for a few days, it was really clear how different life is without a tiny computer in my pocket. Not being able to google everything makes me dig into my memory to remember song titles. If I have forgotten the name or location of a restaurant, I have to roam the streets of NYC looking for it. I feel like I am getting my main brain back.
And it is helping me get my writing mind back as well. As you may remember, I used to blog all the time, but then I stopped and I believe this is because I was always on twitter, communicating 140 characters at a time. It was fun, easy and more interactive than taking the time to construct a blog post. But you see, I’m back here in blogland and I really think it’s because I have changed my relationship with my smartphone.
But on to the writing ritual part of the post.
To build my stamina back up, I use my faithful egg timer. For the first week, I set the timer for 45 minutes. For 45 minutes I sat at the desk and tried. At first I was looking at it all the time and i couldn’t believe that only 15 minutes had passed. Slowly, I increased the time. An hour, an hour and a half. Now, I can sit and work for three hours, although I do get up and have a snack or two.
(And I don’t know that this counts as a ritual, it’s more of a habit, but I try not to look at any thing with internet connection until I have written for two hours. I turn off the WiFi card on my computer before I go to bed. I put my phone and iPad in airplane mode. If I need an alarm, I use a regular clock.)
I know this may seem crazy because we are in such a connected moment in history. But face it, writing a book is a crazy thing to do. It’s not a part of everyday normal life. Writers are outside of the fray. We do things differently.