Friday, November 30, 2012

"Angry Birds helps me think" and other fallacies

A few months ago I had an interesting experience.

I awoke at 5:30 fuzzy-brained and ready to seize the day (not so much a virtuous act on my part; I find seizing the day by its coat-tails is the only way it can drag me out of bed that early to write).  After sitting down to the computer and slapping myself in the face to wake up, I opened my manuscript and read a bit from the know--to sort of get me into the story again.
65 pages later I was still reading and feeling pretty good about myself as a writer. I thought to myself, "Boy, you've certainly earned a little break after all that," and so I decided to "see what was going on in the world."

Well, according to the internet news agencies, there was a frickin' boatload of things going on.

And I watched them all.

Oh yes, that story about the sad lives of lottery winners?  When I win powerball, I won't make their mistakes.

The couple arrested for giving their horse shots of scotch?  I'm sure that will help me as a writer someday.

That monster cold front that was going to set records in Oklahoma later in the week but won't come near Connecticut? That was going to come in handy

And then of course there were the video clips. They usually are shown with the tagline: "You won't believe what this pug/kitten/baby/hamster can do!" or "You've got to see this!!!" I can't remember what clips I saw, the dancing pug or maybe the surfing flamingo--I'm sure they were amazing. 

But, forty-five minutes later, as the familiar sounds of waking children signaled the end of my writing time and the beginning of the day, I closed my manuscript, unable to talk my way out of the truth that I had wasted an entire morning on nothing.

How did this happen?

Well, I'm sure it would be easier on my ego if I just said I've got writer's block and went about my day, but it is not writer's block. I know what writer's block is: that awful self-inflicted disease of the creative juices that makes you second guess every sentence you write. But this is not writer's block.

The truth of the matter is this is something worse.

As any artist can attest, art--like most worthwhile things in life--doesn't always come easy. Sometimes it is hard and often (very often at 5:30 in the morning) it can feel very much like trudging through brambles, and it's amazing how good the human brain is at finding easier paths.

So the problem isn't writer's block but more a matter of honesty.
The first lie is the term "news". When did dancing pugs become news? And should it really be of national interest why a couple fed their horse whiskey? There are a lot of people and animals and celebrities (yes, they are another species) who do things that the news agencies tell me I've got to see, and just because their website has "news" in the title they expect me to set aside something as important to me as my writing and watch?


You see it's really a brilliant rouse when you think about it. The online "news" agencies get their money from what? ADVERTISING. Which means the one thing they want you to do when you go to their sites is to do what?

Spend as much time there as possible.

Now this would be a lot harder if these sites just stuck to real news. But instead they turn to stories that are aimed at grabbing your attention rather than informing...and I just don't have any time for that anymore.

I remember when I was younger, the big fad (addiction would be more accurate) in school was the "Guinness Book of World Records" and I would have gladly exchanged any of my bugle boy pants for a chance to see the fattest person in the world or the woman with the longest beard adorning its glossy pages. My mother, however, told me,"the book is not the type of thing I want you to spend your time reading." I didn't understand until much later what she meant. "Life is too short to drink bad wine," was a magnet she kept on the refrigerator at our house and our mom intended us to live by it.

The second lie, unfortunately, is with myself. I told myself that watching the internet news is important, that Angry Birds gave my mind a much-needed rest and so on. For writers, using our writing as an excuse for doing things that are a waste of time or harmful to us is nothing new.

In short, the only way to keep the creative juices flowing sometimes is to tell that annoying part of the brain which is searching for an easier, more entertaining task, to shove off and remove internet "news", Pinterest (Oh yes, ladies, we're on to you), and computer games from the list of acceptable activities when we are at work writing. Becoming a writer is hard enough without letting your brain sabotage your own efforts.

But before you go, you've got to see this!!


  1. Thanks for not mentioning that I shoved you off the pillow and said, "You'll thank me later, dear." :)
    This is a good reminder for all of us, though. I'll try to join you at 5:30 tomorrow, okay?

  2. Oh my goodness! I'm guilty as charged. There was one day that I told my husband that I HAD to write, then he caught me on Facebook. I looked straight at him and said "It's part of my creative process." He just gave me that one eyebrow, head shaking look and walked away. I realized how dumb I sounded. Next time I'm tempted, I'll think about that :)

  3. This is SO TRUE. In fact, I wrote a post similar to this last month, about how I was wasting valuable writing time on the stupid Internet. It's such a double-edged sword - I love the Internet for being a great research source, for connecting me with family, friends, writers, and publishing industry people, but oh my - the plethora of banal and unimportant stuff on the 'Net is terrible, and I get sucked into it FAR too much (Pinterest included).
    Great post!

  4. For me to finish my last (and only) finished MS, I stopped blogging, facebooking, XBOX 360'ing, and I-don't-remember-what-else for almost an entire month. I had to. Progress had ground to a halt. And I was editing, which to me is easier (albeit more of a grind) than trail blazing a new story!
    HOWEVER, according to Rudolph Erich Rascoe, "What no [spouse] of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working when he's staring out the window."
    (you're right about this phenomenon not being new)

  5. Well, here I am wandering around the Interuniverse and watching a pug dance, when I got up early to write. Yep. Doing just what you're blogging. I wasn't going to even check my email. But after writing 99 words (including the words "Chapter 2" I am.