As writers all over the world report on the results of their NaNoWriMo, ALLi blog editor Debbie Young proposes NoPCMo for December – a month of stepping away from the computer to engage with real life.
Towards the end of November, I had a technological crisis. Both my PC and my netbook ground to a virus-induced halt on the same day. I had to despatch them together for repair, leaving my study a computer-free zone.
At first I perceived this to be a major crisis. After all, who can be a self-published writer without a PC? But then I realised that my unscheduled detachment from the internet was giving me much-needed breathing space. Slowly recognising how much modern technology has taken over my daily life, I came to the conclusion that I ought to unplug more often.
The calming effect was similar to the relief I feel on holiday in the Scottish Highlands whenever we enter a black hole for mobile communications: peace at last. No temptation to take a quick glance at Twitter to acknowledge interactions and mentions, no possibility of checking my latest book sales or blog visitor stats. No compulsion to click on interesting Facebook links, one of which, one day, I'm half-convinced will reveal the Holy Grail of writing success. Nor did I worry about the weight of my email inbox, usually shouting at me constantly in the background to jolly well get on and empty it.
After a little more undisturbed thinking time, it occurred to me that the most inspiring moments I've had in the last couple of months have all taken place offline. These incidents included:
- sharing a coffee with local novelists and poets with whom I'd connected on Twitter but never actually met in real life (and, oh, the luxury of conversing in sentences of more than 140 characters for a change!)
- attending other indie authors' book launches
- attending the book group at my local library to talk about reading, writing and book reviews
- visiting a friend of a friend who'd contacted me to ask advice about self-publishing (my first tip: join ALLi, of course!)
- attending a writers' conference in London, hooking up with Orna Ross and Rohan Quine and meeting some lovely new people who were keen to join ALLi
- attending Triskele Books' events at the Chorleywood Literature Festival, meeting lots of ALLi members (including Rohan again!)
- visiting the local radio station to talk about my latest book
- spending an afternoon chatting with Orna over tea at the Free Word Centre, before meeting other literary types at its open evening
All of these activities filled me with ideas for future work, and I was buzzing long after the events were over. I felt like a rechargeable battery just given a top-up from the mains.
The same was true for my book marketing campaign. My single most effective tactic throughout the previous month had not been picked up from the internet, despite the heaving swell of information that is the internet, but from an evening's shopping trip with my sister.
I'd been feeling guilty for taking time out for such frivolity, especially when there was nothing I needed to buy. Then while passing a superstore's self-service photo printing machine, I noticed it was possible to create from a single jpeg a sheet of passport-style photos for just 39p. Returning with a memory stick containing cover images of my books, I quickly produced a pocketful of what look like books destined for a doll's house. With the price per print less than 5p, they're especially useful for my charity fundraising book, currently available intangibly, only for Kindle.
Ever since, I've been handing these little pictures out to very good effect. Recipients react as if they're an amazing innovation, pocketing them as a reminder of the title so they can place an order when they get home. Yet the concept is so cheap and simple that I wonder why I've never thought of it before. (More info on my Off The Shelf Book Promotion blog here.)
The important point is that if I hadn't cut myself some slack and taken the night off to go shopping, I may never have thought of it all. So goodbye guilt, I'm off on another shopping trip with my sister tomorrow night!
Recharge Those Batteries
So as writers all over the world re-emerge, bleary-eyed and aching from the month of social isolation that is NaNoWriMo, I'd like to propose the perfect antidote to restore their creative, emotional and physical strength: a computer-free December. I've christened it NoPCMo. Give it a try – you never know where it might lead.
Of course, I am only half-serious – I'll be spending my fair share of time at my keyboard this month, with many writing and editing projects on the go. But I won't be chastising myself at taking time out for Christmas and New Year celebrations, which, when you have a small child, as I do, start about now. I'll also be resolving in the New Year to spend a little more time offline.
If you did NaNoWriMo, how did you get on? Will you do it again? Or are you now stepping away from your computer?
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[…] After NaNoWriMo, how about NoPCMo? […]
It was lovely bumping into you both those times, too, Debbie. I haven’t been to the Highlands much, but your mention of their calming effect reminds me that I once experienced just such calm from spending a full hour losing myself intensely in the details of them in an atlas, simply as a session of deep reading/looking: just this representation of the glens and peaks and extensive areas of roadless landscape on the map, aided by the imagination, was a real antidote to that flickering of pixels (though of course a much lazier way of enjoying the place than actually going there!).
Armchair travelling – the most soothing kind, especially when fuelled by such a powerful imagination!
I agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly but I admit that it only seems to happen for me when I’m away on holiday so I don’t have my laptop with me. Since I started writing seriously earlier this year, I feel like I’ve been sucked in by Twitter and on the days when I still work at my day job, I find it incredibly weird not to be checking everything every few minutes. I do try and get away from it all though and going to work does help with that (probably one of the few plus points!) I think we all have to keep in mind that life goes on outside our gadgets and that a break is beneficial every now and then 🙂
It is just too tempting, isn’t it, Julie?! I did once try out a programme that Catherine Ryan Howard had recommended (er, on Twitter, actually!) that sets a timer running on your computer that records exactly how much time you’re spending on different applications – but the results were so embarrassing that I swiftly deleted it!! Thanks for sharing your experience, and good luck with your writing!
Thanks, Matthew – very happy to have your endorsement! 🙂
Can I offer another form of this compulsory rejection of slavery to electronic and media necessities in our lives? Like all writers I frequently hit the blank wall and sit string at the screen waiting for a revelation, or inspiration to flash before my reddening eyes.
Sometimes that may occur, but if it doesn’t, i turn everything off, pick up a notebook, a cup of coffee and head off to a favorite place. just by doing this, i have been able to bridge the void and usually end up writing two or three chapters with that ancient implement called a pen.
I should mention that as I live in a non-speaking country, it is not possible to to go out and converse with others in my native tongue.
Please excuse the typos’ obviously I’m emphasizing the need for independent proof-reading.
Good point, Alastair – I always take notebooks (the old-technology paper kind!) on holiday with me and love writing on paper without distractions as you describe. It strikes me as a totally different activity to writing on-screen – I’d be interested to know whether it involves different parts of the brain from typing.
I’m intrigued by the thought of living in a non-speaking country – do they really not speak at all, or just not in your language? Being dropped into a non-speaking country seems to me like it would make an interesting story in itself! Thanks for your thoughtful comments.
I didn’t do NaNoWriMo, but I can’t recommend a period vacation from the computer, or, at least, a vacation from social media, strongly enough.
I went on a social media sabbatical in the month of August this year. Not only did I get more done, I was more relaxed and, generally, more cheerful! Of course, it’s all subjective, but getting out of the echo chamber now and then is certainly worth a try.
If I had done NaNoWriMo, I probably wouldn’t be writing these words on December 2. 🙂