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Opinion: Don’t Let The Internet (Tail) Wag The Author (Dog)

Opinion: Don’t Let the Internet (Tail) Wag the Author (Dog)

Debbie Young

“Take that smartphone away from me, quick!”

Debbie Young, Commissioning Editor of ALLi's advice blog, writes in praise of being offline.

Hmm, that's doesn't exactly make sense, does it – going online here to praise steering clear of the internet? But that's exactly what I'm going to do, while I'm still fresh from a fortnight of staying (mostly) away from my computer.

Although I'm an atheist living in a multi-cultural society, with a school-age child in my house I'm conscious that the priority in the Christmas/New Year holiday season should be to spend quality time with family, rather than staying hunched over a computer keyboard.

The rest of the year, working from home, there's no real escape from my job other than self-discipline, and I find it hard to keep off the computer. I recharge my smartphone by my bed each night, which offers the easy temptation to just do that one last check on social media and emails before I set the alarm. (All power to Joanna Penn, who blogged the other day that she's just invested in an old-fashioned alarm clock to break herself of that bad habit.)

My first few waking moments each morning are habitually spent seeing who has tweeted me overnight, whether I've gained any new book reviews, and whether I've missed anything exciting on Facebook from my friends on the other side of the world. (That latter is not as frivolous as it sounds: I've picked up breaking world news from Facebook friends before I've heard it on the radio or TV, such as the siege in Sydney before Christmas, which I learned about at first-hand from my Australian friend Rebecca Lang, also an ALLi author member.)

The Christmas Holiday Effect

Once upon a time, when I still had a 9-5 job away from home, the start of the Christmas holidays would be my cue to collapse with whatever virus was doing the rounds, as I dropped my guard to relax into the holidays. Since I've been working full time from home, my immune system has gone into overdrive: I've not had so much as a cold. But I had had a very busy autumn – launched two books, completed NaNoWriMo, spoke at some events and worked hard on some long-term projects – and I needed to power down. My daughter's two-week school holiday provided the excuse that I needed to “go dark” for a little while and recharge my creative batteries, not to mention those of my laptop.

At first it felt rather naughty to set up an out-of-office reply to say I'd be away from my desk until 27th December. I almost expected the school truant officer to call to set me back on track. Then, as I relaxed into the break, I gained the courage to extend the message to excuse my absence until today, the day that my daughter returned to school.

Further Endorsement of Time Offline

Debbie Young writing in a notebook

Sometimes, the pen is mightier than the keyboard.

When my smartphone packed up halfway through the holiday, depriving me of internet connectivity when I was out and about, I had the good sense to treat it as an opportunity to sever the links further. As my grandmother would have said, “The fairies did that, to teach you a lesson.”

What also strengthened my resolve was the shock of discovering just before the holidays that a friend previously very active online had just withdrawn from the internet completely. She'd bravely deleted all her social media accounts, book reviews and any other evidence that she had ever been on the internet. Searching all the links I had for her, repeatedly finding nothing but missing page messages, was an Orwellian experience, yet I could understand why she'd taken that action.

I didn't want to become the next indie author to be burned out by the internet, not least because my livelihood depends on my internet presence.

My bold move precipitated a strange yet not entirely unexpected result: a boost not only in my physical energy but also in my mental and creative capacity. Yesterday, as the fortnight drew to a close, I woke up full of ideas for my next collection of short stories, Marry In Haste. I sat up in bed to write the first story so quickly that it felt like taking dictation. Two weeks of turning hermit were vindicated.

The benefits didn't only show in my writing: I also found the will to clean the fridge. Anyone who knows my natural aversion to housework will realise what a big deal that is.

The Internet is Not the Only Net

I met ALLi author J M Forster for coffee, before our charm offensive on the local high street bookshop, which snapped up copies of both books shown

Selfie time: with ALLi author J M Forster on an offline charm offensive on the local high street bookshop (the proprietor snapped up copies of both our books)

During the odd moment that I dipped my toe back into the ethereal water over the holidays, I realised many others were conspicuous by their absence, and how foolish I'd been to feel that I'd be missing a trick if I stayed away. I found more time to network with real people – my local bookshops, local radio, real-life readers – and was more aware of what was going on in the real world.

Consequently I now feel empowered to turn my back on the internet more often in 2015, possibly going dark every weekend.

We indie authors may make the bulk of our sales online these days, but it doesn't mean we need to be online 24/7, like some anxious helicopter parent hovering over our babies.

So this year, pay attention to how your time online is affecting you. If it's getting you down, take yourself offline for a bit, and return only when you really want to. Any decent online friends will understand and respect your decision. Your absence may even give them the courage they've been seeking to take a much-needed internet break themselves.

And don't worry – whatever else happens in 2015, I can guarantee that the internet will still be here on your return.

Happy New Year, online and offline, and happy writing!

Twitter bird outlineOVER TO YOU

How much time do you spend online? Do you go ever self-impose internet exile? Any tips on the topic you'd like to share? Please feel free to leave a comment – and if you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends!

EASY TWEET “#Authors: don't let the #internet tail wag the dog! – by @DebbieYoungBN for @IndieAuthorALLi: https://selfpublishingadvice.org/unplugged/”



This Post Has 15 Comments
  1. Spot on, Debbie, about the necessity to break out from compulsive blogging and browsing. Liked the story of your disappearing friend! I’d never do that though. The net is mostly your friend, though like all friends you need a break from them occasionally.

  2. Ha, ha, this is well timed. I’m about to fly off to my other life in the Cretan village of Kritsa, where wifi is free to all for two hours a day.

    Last time we were there, in October, there were problems that restricted access to just 20 minutes arghhhhhhh. Now, the weather was so lovely we were out and about, and to be honest it wasn’t really such a problem. However, only this morning I started panicking, what if the awful weather in Crete continues and the wifi isn’t fixed? I’ve been procrastinating about getting our own broadband installed, I’m sure the process will take ages and be expensive.

    BUT, now I come to think about it, this is the answer rather than a problem. I’ve 40k words of a sequel novel languishing since nanowrimo that can gain more attention if the internet noise is limited. I’m also signed up for #blogging10, so as long as I can read the assignment and post the results later I don’t actually need to be constantly on line.

    Oh yes, then there’s walks to have, photos to take, places to visit in the name of research…

    24 hour access to the Internet? No thanks, and if I’m really stuck I can always go to the taverna for a beer and use their Internet.

    Once again, I owe you thanks Debbie x

    1. Hi Yvonne, and thanks for your long and thoughtful comment. Kritsa’s approach to the internet sounds brilliant – it would certainly focus the mind on using the internet wisely in the time allowed, and discourage any flitting about on FB etc going off at tangents rather than focusing on what you went online to do.

      Good luck finishing your NaNoWriMo novel – I’ve got that on my list of things to do myself, and funnily enough mine is set on a Greek island, but it’ll have to be written in the colder English climate!

      Have a wonderful time in Kritsa! x

  3. Due to the thick cob walls of our Devon cottage our wi-fi won’t reach the bedroom anyway which is probably just as well!
    I’ve recently upgraded my laptop from ye ancient no-wifi and it’s much harder not to “just check something out on the internet” while I’m writing. But if I’m in the zone, I usually don’t want the interruption. It’s just when I’m not quite in the zone…
    I’m definitely going to be more specific about my online time this year, though – ooops! Is that a new year’s resolution?

  4. Those fairies were right, Debbie. I’m off on holidays next week, to a place where there will likely be no internet. Whilst I’m panicking about/dreading the number of emails I’ll have to trawl through after almost 3 weeks, I’m SO looking forward to no phone, no computer, no internet. Hello real world, I have missed you!

    1. That’s one of the many reasons I love going to the Scottish Highlands on holiday, Liza – no internet signal! I reckon if they put that in travel brochures, they’d get a lot more bookings for out-of-the-way places! Have a wonderful holiday in the real world!

  5. well said Debbie!!! I reckon I’d get more done if I came to it fresher now and again. I’ve just got to get my website sorted properly and get a couple of books online then I’m off out to play, hopefully meeting new writer friends in Hawkesbury & Bath!

    1. There’s a lot to be said for fresh eyes, Lynne! I’m also going to try to take more breaks during the working day. As I work from home, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t get up from my desk every hour or so to do a minor chore such as loading the washing machine, rather than doing all that stuff before or after I’m officially working. When I started working from home, friends said to me they could never do that because they’d spend all day distracted by the housework – not a problem I’ve ever had!!

  6. I agree it is so easy for hours to go buy scrolling down facebook feeds and twitter and Google plus. There is a definite art (I have not mastered) to using it all efficiently but not wasting chunks of time on it.

    1. I reckon surfing the net is another form of time travel, Richard (and I know from the novels you write how much you love time travel) – because the minute you get on line, time really does fly by, each minute much shorter than a minute spent waiting in a supermarket queue, or whatever!

  7. Gosh, that’s really interesting, Elegsabiff – can you please post the link to your blog post here? I’d love to read it and I’m sure others would too. And zombie cyber flea – that’s a good image to remember when I find myself clicking wildly and aimlessly…

  8. My NYR was to severely restrict my internet access to specific times, stop clicking on links to hop about some kind of zombie cyber flea, and close everything down when I am working. So far so good, productivity on the writing front has shot up and concentration levels are recovering – phew.

    In my case this was triggered by realizing that while several friends weren’t reading as much as they used to, they all put it down to different factors. I’m not enjoying reading myself much. It used to be my greatest pleasure, I’d assumed it was because I guiltily felt I should be writing. When I went looking for answers, though, many of us are having the same problem, the internet is re-training our brains to expect interruption, titillation and distraction constantly. I did a blog on it, wondering if everyone else already knew that, and got back some startled comments. A little freaky. Whatever the reason or motivation, reducing internet usage seems to be the way to go …

  9. How well I understand the pull of being constantly plugged in. While I do not take my phone, etc. to bed, my computer is usually the first thing that gets attention when I wake up and the last before i get ready for bed. When I have to be away for a day or two I feel obligated to steal time to check my e-mail, at the very least, and to let everyone know I will be AWOL. Absent Without Leave. But we DO have leave. No one is holding a gun to our heads.

    While I don’t foresee myself going completely dark for any extended time, I do think I, and many more of us, need to think about how we balance our lives. Being able to comfortably say, “I’m off-line until such-and-such a time” ought not to create anxiety or guilt. We are writers, first and foremost, not media slaves. Or are we?

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