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Opinion: Why Authors Need To Step Away From The Internet

Opinion: Why Authors Need to Step Away from the Internet

Debbie Young writing in a notebook

Debbie Young, resorting to old technology

Author and ALLi Advice blog editor Debbie Young makes the case for self-published authors to occasionally turn their backs on the ever-hungry beast that is the world wide web.

As indie authors, we sell most of our wares in a marketplace that never sleeps. In theory, at least, we are able to reach new readers 24/7, all around the world, without leaving our homes. But with this privilege comes a never-ending action list of online marketing tasks – and a ton of related stress.

Build a website – blog and guest blog – tweet and retweet – pin and repin – share an update – share a story on Wattpad – like for likes – schedule some posts to reach other parts of the world at their busiest times – schedule some more to get ahead of yourself – check your sales stats – tweak your keywords…. 

Sound familiar? Yes, we all know we should prioritise. Ring-fence marketing time, limit online hours, protect writing time. But how many of us are that disciplined? Not me, I confess. Even for those with the best time-management skills, the pressure can still build up, because the internet is always there, begging to be fed.

Night time cityscape photo of New York

The internet – like a city that never sleeps

The Virtual City that Never Sleeps

In most other kinds of trading, there is enforced downtime. Few shops are open 24 hours a day, every day of the week. Most countries have public holidays when all stores must close by law. When I used to work in the commercial world, I used to love Bank Holidays, because they meant everyone would be out of the office, so I wouldn't feel like I was falling behind for taking a day off.

By contrast, for the self-employed author-publisher, it's hard to take a day off from the internet. If we do, we worry about what we're missing. We sneak online through the backdoor – our smartphones – to just check those Amazon stats one more time, or to see who's unfollowed us on Twitter, or to feed our tweet schedule.

Who Needs Big Brother Anyway?

It's not that we fear Big Brother is watching us. Actually, we, the authors are generally the ones doing the watching. But too much time online can make us feel more tense, more anxious about our chances of success, more concerned about comparing our lot with other authors' success. Worst of all, it distracts us from the most important thing that we do: the writing.

Addictions creep up on us slowly, and an internet habit can quickly becomes an addiction, and an antisocial one, morphing imperceptibly from invaluable tool to covert bully, driving us like slaves to feed its endless appetites.It's only when we fall into a black hole of unconnectivity now and again that we recognise its stranglehold.

A power cut, an internet outage or a trip to a place with no mobile signal can feel at first disproportionately disastrous. But if it lasts long enough, our mood swings the other way as we savour our short-lived freedom, and our creativity goes into overdrive. When do I get my best ideas? In the shower, or driving, or walking, or pushing a grocery cart. Never in front of the computer.

Only when we step away from the machine do we realise how energising life unplugged can be. It's like having an electronic surveillance tag suddenly removed.

Permission to Unplug

So this summer (or winter, if you're in the southern hemisphere), be bold. Give yourself some offline time and relax. When you return to the web, you'll feel more energised, less jaded and more enthusiastic, and what time you do spend online will be quality time, not begrudging drudgery.

Go on, pull the plug. You know you want to. I promise you the internet will still be there when you come back, and so will the readers.


How do you manage your online time to keep it a positive experience? We'd love to know your top tips!

Why #authors should turn their backs on the internet now and again by @DebbieYoungBN #selfpub Click To Tweet



This Post Has 35 Comments
  1. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve booted up my laptop to write, found myself thinking ‘I’ll just check emails…’ and found myself, two hours later, still online without a word written…

    A previous blog mentioned that our best moments of inspiration rarely come when we are online and for me that is certainly true – driving to/from work/ ironing/sitting in the bath/any unrelated to writing activity tends to produce inspiration, but being online and busy blogging/tweeting/checking emails requires too much concentration …

    If I am in full writing flow, I just don’t go online at all – sometimes I will even put my laptop in ‘flight mode’ to avoid desktop notifications, because they can be too tempting…

    The Internet is a marvelous tool for writers – but like all tools, it should live in the toolbox when not required (preferably with the lid closed)!

  2. Thanks, Debbie. A really lovely article! I used to check my sales every day and be disappointed with the results so much so that I had even thought of quitting many times but finally I realised that if I need to have a writing career I should do away with becoming too results oriented. It does nothing. It does not drive your sales. It only kills your morale. And worse it becomes an addiction. Now I review my sales and statistics only once in a week and feel so much better, happier and productive. 🙂

  3. Debbie, I wanted to reinforce your idea with a little of my own recent experience. I have taken a huge step back from all social media for a period of six months. I rarely blog now and use twitter and facebook only very rarely. My website is there and monitored but is not updated or visited much. I don’t check stats or sales and guess what? My writing is getting better and more enjoyable.
    My sales have not declined. This withdrawal has been a deliberate attempt to find out for myself what impact social media had on my sales and readership.
    I’ve not completed the experiment but so far the conclusion seems to be: intense media activity does not bring sales. Good well produced work that is recommended reader to reader produces a slow and steady increase in sales over long periods of time.
    Addiction to the net produces stress, worry and wasted effort and time.
    Good writing well produced is the only thing that sells my books.
    I’d love to hear of any other method that truly works.

    1. David, I am really glad that you have stepped back online long enough to read this post and read your comment, and I am much heartened by your experience. If you’d like to come back and write a guest post about it whenever you feel the time is right, I would love to run it. And now having responded to the latest comments, I’m getting back offline to spend a couple of intensive hours focusing on my creative writing, something I’ve been doing far too little of lately!

  4. Thanks for this advice! It’s always healthy to give yourself some time away from the virtual world that never sleeps. I was reading a book on writing by Jeff Vandermeer and he said that sometimes when he’s working on a project, his wife hides the modem from him so that he can be more productive. I find that it’s all too easy to start out with the best of intentions when you open up your browser, only to find that hours have flown by and you’ve barely gotten anything done. I think that’s why I prefer writing the first draft of my stories by hand – less of a temptation to distract myself by surfing the Internet.

    1. Zed, I love the modem-hiding wife – a great way to support the writing husband! I know quite a few writers who use old laptops for their creative writing – so old that they can’t be connected to the internet! Another great avoidance tactic, though personally I prefer writing the first draft on paper, as you do.

  5. It’s really all about balance. I have a nail salon that I’ve reduced to part time work as I want to spend more time writing (including the online activity that goes with self-publishing). If I spend more time in the salon, I make more money with the nail business. If I publish more books each year and spend a decent part of my week being active online, then I make more money out of my writing. Unfortunately, at the moment, this leaves very little time for non work related activity. So I get what you say about stepping away from it all, but I’m the only one earning any money in our family of three adults (and a dog). Sometimes it’s just not possible to slow down. My problem is in getting a good balance. I tend to feel guilty if I’m not working, at least I have to vacate the salon and come home and I choose to shut up shop on certain days. I plan on retiring from the nail business next year so it will be interesting to see how much of that spare time I will have gets eaten up by my online work, lol. To counteract that, I’ve been making a list of hobbies I want to spend more time on. Hopefully they will fill in those freed up hours. We’ll see.

    1. It sounds like your self-publishing activity is going really well, and and your planning is admirable. What a great idea to list the hobbies so that you don’t end up spending all your time online.I wish you every success.

  6. If only unplugging were that easy…

    I find I write, live, and think much better (and clearer) if I get to breathe and be offline, but at the same time, whenever my offline time amounts… I hear that nagging voice in the back of my head saying
    You should be marketing…
    You should be networking…
    You should be blogging, tweeting, commenting…”

    I’m still training to make that voice shut up on command.

    1. I agree, it takes a lot of practice to stay away – I haven’t mastered the art yet, though I think I’m getting a little better at it. Keep up the training!

  7. The internet is great for getting your stuff out there, but it’s also full of so many bright shiny things that distract you from your purpose. I log on with the loftiest of intentions. I write my blog. I send out tweets, all the while doing my best to walk that fine line between effective marketing and spam. I post on my Facebook author page. Then I end up getting into a Facebook discussion that has nothing to do with writing. Or I click on some interesting article that someone else has posted. Or I get caught up in the latest trending hashtag.

    When visiting my father at his retirement community, a great many of the residents told me they’d read my books (my dad loans them out) and really liked them. Most of them don’t go online. They’re not on Facebook or Twitter and they don’t read blogs.

    So now I’m publishing my ebooks on Create Space and working on getting speaking engagements in retirement homes. Because I’m not going to reach these readers on the internet.

    1. Very good point, Judy! And how great that your dad is such an advocate for your books. good luck with your speaking engagements. I bet they will be great fun, and bring you much more enjoyable and genuine connections with your readers than any amount of tweeting etc.

  8. One of the advantages of living off grid with nowt but a 4 GB dongle:) It makes you use the internet sparingly. I wholeheartedly agree, the internet is a fantastic tool, but it’s not the source of creativity.

    1. Perfect summary there, Atulya – I think you should tweet your statement “the internet is a fantastic tool, but it’s not the source of creativity” – and I’m going to write it on a card and stand it up on my desk in front of my computer! Thank you!

  9. Sound advice. The internet provides so many creative opportunities to get the message out but sometimes we all need to take time out to enjoy real life.

    1. Jack, you’re right – real life is too often under-rated! On Monday afternoon, the sun was shining, and I downed tools, switched off my PC, and took my daughter and her best friend on an impromptu trip to our local wildlife park. The conversation along the way was so energising – haven’t laughed so much in ages, and certainly had a lot more fun than another couple of hours spent at my keyboard!

  10. Debbie… We need this reminder once a week at least. I like to pack hard copy and hike to a cafe, preferably at some distance from home, so I get exercise on my way to a quiet spot where I rent a table for three bucks and bear down on some revisions, or mind-map a new blog post. It’s possible that those who can habitually turn their backs on the Internet in order to protect their writing time will prove to be the ones who actually produce the best work. Perhaps we’ll all get better at outsourcing all these pesky online jobs. Thanks for the post. ~ PJ

    1. Well done, PJ, that sounds a great strategy – and I love the notion of renting a quiet spot for three bucks by way of a coffee in a cafe! I will bear your notion in mind that those who habitually avoid the internet write more/better stuff – that will give me more strength to walk away from my PC more often. Thanks for joining the conversation here, with your great comments. Best wishes, Debbie

  11. Wise words! Most weekends I do manage to stay away, but by Monday morning I think “I’ll just quickly check…” and 5 hours later, still checking 🙁

    I tend to binge or starve when it somes to the internet- when I do get offline for a while, it’s so liberating I don’t come back for weeks. My anxiety level definitely goes down.

    I suppose I’ll have to try and be more disciplined about that, though.

    1. Piper, I know just what you mean! At least in the ancient days of dial-up internet connections, we remained more aware of how much time we were spending online. These days, we perceive all time spent connected as more or less free of charge. It’s too easy therefore to let the hours clock up unintentionally. I have a bad habit of checking my phone for last-minute messages before I go to bed, and before I know it, I’m heading for another much-too-late night. 🙁 But when I cut myself off, such as on holiday in wifi blackspots, I never feel afterwards as if I’ve missed out – probably because I’m so calm by then that I don’t care even if I have missed something!

  12. Oh My Gosh! I cannot believe this dinosaur thinking here in the 21st century. The internet is the authors best friend and like many other trades, professions and crafts it should be embraced wholly. The internet has given authors so much power, control and potential that pre-internet days and traditional medial hasn’t. Here are some examples:
    1. Getting your work out to a wider audience around the globe using various mobile devices.
    2. No expensive shipping and distribution of printed books which in themselves are expensive to proof-read, edit, print, bind, finish, design, promote etc.
    3. No submitting drafts to editors and publishers which sit on desks, in drawers or in filing cabinets for months if not years only to be rejected after reading a few pages.
    4. Great income streams and far higher profit margins for the author.

    These are just a few examples of why all authors whether experienced or just starting out should embrace and defend the internet as much as possible or risking the alternative which is everything mentioned above plus earning 10pence for every £7.99 book they that is bought (or 10cents for every $7.99 depending on which side of the big pond you reside).

    On that last note I’m surprised any author wants to bother with a printed book or traditional media such is the low income street which at best can be described as peanuts. The internet should be an author’s number one platform for sales, income, exposure, promotion etc. and a printed book should be regarded as an expensive luxury and a limited print edition of an ebook sold online.

    Author’s not embracing the internet is dinosaur thinking of the highest order and look what happened to them.

    1. Isaac…

      I appreciate your energy. A writer better be feisty, or else. Maybe your ideas come from a fictional character you’re writing. They sound like the protagonist of my new novel, who is a bombast. We need more of them. They spice up life. But sometimes they overlook the facts in order to make a loud point.

      I don’t think the article was dissing the Internet with all its many advantages. I believe it was saying that to create written art takes not only time but uninterrupted time. And that ideas spring from activities quite unrelated to the computer. I’m not a brain scientist but I’m pretty sure that can be verified.

      As for your guesstimates of royalties from traditionally published books — I think you’re a little off. The standard is 7 -10% of gross, so on an $8 book, that would be 80 cents. Which sounds low, I agree. I want more! And I do get more on my eBooks on Amazon. So why am I thinking of going back to a traditional publisher for my next novel? Because in theory they can get it in front of buyers who don’t ‘do’ eBooks, for instance. And get the book reviewed by serious literary mags, and on serious book lists, book clubs, and media outlets. It’s just a different world, and I play in both. And both will continue to exist, I’m pretty sure about that.

      So I would suggest maintaining your enthusiasm in these discussions, but opening your embrace to all books however they might hit the market. Cheers, mate. ~ PJ

    2. Isaac, you misunderstand me – I’m not saying step away from the internet for ever, nor disregarding its power, nor am I some kind of anti-technology Luddite. I’m just saying it’s a good thing to take time out from it, for as long or as short a time as you wish. It’s too easy not to do that, and for the sake of our mental heath we all need to give ourselves permission to switch off now and again.

    1. Tee hee! Thanks, Theo. I think I’m going to come back and reread what I’ve written every time I start to realise I’m suffering from internet overload, to give myself permission to switch off. Bizarrely, just after I’d finished posting the article, the internet connection on my PC cut out – do you think it was trying to tell me something?!

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