Writers aren’t the only ones struggling these days, you know: technological distractions are a productivity challenge for everyone.
by Josh Trapani
The latest issue of Poets and Writers showed up at my apartment bursting to the brim with information on summer writers retreats and conferences. These annual rituals never before registered in my consciousness. But this year I have a manuscript under revision – not my first manuscript but the first one I’m revising like this (which makes me wonder if this is the first time I’m doing it right). Meanwhile, to say I’m oversubscribed in daily life is an understatement. My wife urged me to check out the retreats and think about applying: I could get away for a week, really crank on my work, and maybe learn something too.
Yet hard on the heels of Poets and Writers comes this piece from the New York Times to remind me that, even alone for a week in a rustic cabin in the woods, if I haven’t escaped from the internet then I really haven’t escaped. The piece begins with a focus on writers retreats but eventually broadens to encompass the larger curse of technological distraction, a malady from which authors at all career stages suffer. “I calculate that if I keep this Internet crap up for another three decades,” says author Junot Díaz as quoted in the piece, “I’ll lose roughly a novel and a half to my Internet distractions.”
Fair enough, but this is where the piece loses me. You know, writers ain’t the only ones struggling these days. Technological distractions are a productivity challenge for every worker everywhere. Junot Díaz and I can fail to (respectively) write a novel and crunch the numbers from the latest research expenditures survey as we face off against each other in rousing Battleship tournaments on pogo.com.
I’m becoming of the mind that less can be more. It’s one thing to be a full-time writer: I’ve dreamed of it myself for years. But give me nothing but endless days and the blank page and I’ll be playing Internet Checkers within 20 minutes. Instead, I’ve got 7 to 9 a.m., and then I must transition to my day job. You won’t find me working on my novel at 10:30 a.m. or 3:00 p.m., and by evening I’m cooked. Those two hours are my writing day: use them or lose them. And no score on Bejeweled 2, no matter how high, gets me any closer to that National Book Award (or, heck, to finding an agent).
It’s got its obvious downsides, but in a way I’m happy that
my writing time is limited. Knowing time is finite helps me use it more wisely and avoid silly distractions.
Would that this same maxim could as easily be applied to that most important finite
duration: my life.