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
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
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!
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/”