I came across this article - The Extinction of Deep Thinking & Sacred Space - yesterday. Ironically it talks about exactly what I was doing when I stumbled on it: poking around online or checking email because I'm bored or stuck with my work. Reading updates I don't need to and articles I don't care about. That's me! I do that - I thought - almost everything it says! And I was pretty freaked out because the more I thought about it, the more I realized the truth of what it posits: that we've become such a culture of multi-taskers and information gatherers that we've eliminated our time to just think, ponder problems, big and small. Solve. Create. I can't speak for anyone else, but this is pretty darned dangerous for someone who writes books. Without pulling up any of the interviews I did when The Mark came out, I know I attributed a LOT of my creative process to mental quiet time. It's when I work out pretty much everything about my stories - the characters' personalities and motivations, what plot point should happen next, twists and turns along the way. I'm in the thick of drafting a book right now and in the clear-eyed moments I had after reading this article, realized I haven't been giving myself nearly enough time to think about it.
How did that happen? What changed?
When I was writing The Mark, my kids were younger, toddlers and babies. In all honesty, playing with them then didn't require a lot of mental engagement. I could push a swing or dig in the sand or drive toy cars and leave my brain free to wander. Not so anymore. They have lots of questions that require real answers. They want to play Monopoly or learn to throw a football or read books. This is all good, of course, but with that mental meandering time gone, I should be making it up somewhere else. Instead, I've slipped into frittering it away with that most deceiving of devices: the iPhone.
Don't get me wrong here either - I love the iPhone. I'm astonished daily by everything it does. My calendar is organized, I can buy that thing I've been meaning to as soon as it comes to mind and it's saved my butt with directions more than once. But I don't need to check email or surf the web at every red light and gas pump and in line at the grocery store. That's not multi-tasking, it's obsession.
And in letting myself get sucked into it, not only am I losing my plotting time, but also that critical element of writing fiction - observation. What does the air smell like after a storm? What does worry feel like? What's outside a convenience store that your character might visit? It's impossible to notice things when your focus is narrowed to a two-by-four inch computer screen.
So, effective immediately, I'm on an information diet. I'm going to stop filling my brain with gobbledegook it has to sort through like sale racks at TJMaxx. When my kids are all home, the iPhone goes somewhere else, in a room far from where we'll need to be. Maybe my bedroom closet. Overnight, it gets charged downstairs so if one of the kids gets up, I won't be tempted to check email in the middle of the night (yes, I do this) or go online if I don't fall back asleep right away (yep, this too).
It's trickier when they're in school and I have to keep it nearby so I'm reachable. This - and during my writing time - is where discipline needs to kick in. But I can do this. I run regularly, even though I kind of hate it. I've written four and a half books while having three kids (not all at the same time, of course). I can do will power.
So, here's my plan:
1. Check email on a mealtime schedule only - morning, noon, night.
2. Reclaim quiet moments. Don't turn on the TV to fold laundry. Don't take the iPhone to the gas pump. If I'm stuck in my writing, don't cop out by going online. Think. Do nothing. Be at peace and let things sort themselves out.
Pretty simple. Wish me luck.