The Internet: Writing Friend or Foe?

Hello wordsmiths,

It’s Forum Friday and as such time for another open discussion among the writing community.

Today’s issue is the internet.

Here’s the question:

Do you disconnect from the internet when you write? Do you find that it helps? What, in your estimation, are the advantages of writing with internet access and do they outweigh the obvious disadvantages (Facebook, email, StumbleUpon, etc. etc. etc.)?

I did a little experiment today: this morning, after a single round of checks (email, blog, and news) I flipped that tiny switch on the forefront of my laptop from right to left and thus turned off the wireless.

Now, I use the internet for a number of things when it comes to writing: music (which I find both mood-creating and productivity-boosting); research; a Thesaurus and Dictionary that is far more up-to-date and comprehensive than what my Microsoft Word 2003 has to offer.

However, in the course of my little experiment this morning I realized that I also unwittingly use the internet for other things whilst writing: an alarming number of quick, almost reflexive “I’m stuck on this sentence / just got to a stopping point, so I think I’ll pull up Firefox and see if anything is new on __________ and ____________ and ______________” checks, for instance. At least SEVEN TIMES between eight thirty and noon I caught myself absentmindedly opening that internet window. And if each of those instances had led to just another few clicks or words, can you imagine how much time that would have eaten up? Five minutes, twenty minutes, an hour? (For regardless of what you’re doing, if your browser is open chances are good that one click will lead to another.)

Honestly, I think that even when I MEAN well– when I open the browser to look up a word, or fact-check, or Google-image something so I can better describe it– I get sucked into the availability of information and distractions. And yes, I remain logged out of Facebook until evening, but that doesn’t mean I don’t check email a laughably unreasonable amount of times.

So how did my writing go today? Well, by noon I had written 587 words. That’s rather good for me (considering my heavy habit of self-editing).

I’ll try it again tomorrow.

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to try writing without internet access for a day, or at least a few hours– and see what happens! Then tell us all about it.


10 responses to “The Internet: Writing Friend or Foe?”

  1. I’m soooo guilty of this! I would probably get way more writing done if I followed you example and just disconnected once in a while…but then google is so handy in so many ways 😉

    1. Google IS handy…but try disconnecting anyways! At least once I think it’s worth doing: just see what happens without the internet at your fingertips. I find that if I can skip past those parts where I might want the internet, earmark and come back to them later I meet my word count goal much faster (and that means more progress!) If you do try it I hope you’ll let me know what your experience is 🙂

  2. My dear Julie,

    This is such a timely post -:)! Ever since I stared blogging, only five months ago, little by little I got ‘hooked’ on various social and other attention snatching sites … and boy have my writing slowed down! I have been thinking about strategies to curb that addiction, and I am probably going to do just exactly as you suggest. I also noted that, while my writing projects slowed down, blogging never did … hmmm!

    Many thanks,

    1. Interesting how that plays out, isn’t it? I think blogging can appeal because it’s for fun and doesn’t seem like work the way stories and books can 😉 As always I look forward to reading more of your work. Cheers!

  3. Writing without the internet is the only way I could have actually completed my novel. I was forced away from the internet for a few hours each day and spent it writing my book down on paper. I’ve said already before that I suddenly went from taking nine months to write half a book to merely two weeks because of this. It astounds me how much I distract myself from the things I WANT to do.

    I do the EXACT same thing though as you do, Julie. I’ll stop somewhere and be unsure which way I want to go next in my writing and so I stop and look some stuff up. I mean sometimes it is actually good stuff, like for my research, I often look up and read interpretations of faerie tales and various other things that lead me on long stretches of research hours. But most of the time it is looking at the most random things that don’t really matter!

    Lately I’ve managed to quell this, possibly because I realize now how precious my time is and that I really have to pick and choose certain things I want to do and therefore I’m left with no time to splurge. Instead I’m budgeting my time now. Like one day I might say to myself, okay, you get to play a game today, pick one and freakin’ stick to it. Then the next day I’ll realize I have some awesome ideas I want to get written down, so I decide: okay, you get three hours till bedtime, time to start writing! And I literally now solely do my writing using my kindle and a pencil and paper. Kindle to look back on works I’ve written already and to use a thesaurus (My kindle can’t connect to wireless where I am at home).

    So far, it has improved my productivity immensely. I really think it is worth it to get away from the internet if you REALLY plan to actually write something in a reasonable amount of time. (Think Nanowrimo). The key is just making sure you can access the stuff you might want to. Maybe you realize a new character would be introduced in the particular part you are working on and you haven’t really decided what they would be and you really need a name for them, well, instead of popping online and looking it up, instead place a filler name, doesn’t matter the name, just so long as it makes some sense to you, then replace it later on.

    The huge benefit to writing with pencil and paper is: you already are aware it is a rough draft, because you HAVE to go back and retype it up on a computer later on. So if you notice something you don’t like, just mark a note that way when you go back over it while typing it up later you can actually fix that problem. This saves on editing minds, especially the people that go back over their writing instead of continuing their writing.

    Remember, the first draft of writing is written with the heart. The second draft and editing is written with the mind. Let your heart be free with that first draft! You never know what you might run across.

    1. Thank you for your words of encouragement, Jordan 😀

      Budgeting time is a great idea. It really is such a precious commodity.

      As far as drafts go, however, something in me is obstinate. It seems that no matter what I tell myself or the approach I take I am always struggling to get a sentence, paragraph, transition or detail right the first time, and as such spend far too much time going back and constantly editing myself. This is making a first draft an incredibly long ordeal. I’m really hoping I can get my daily word counts up for Nanowrimo!!!

  4. The internet is definitely bad for my writing progress. Every time I open my computer, I have to check two emails, my blog, Facebook, and QueryTracker. And, like you said, one click leads to another. I just don’t see how I can get away from it. If I turned off my WiFi, I could turn it back on in 10 seconds. Erg. There’s no escape. Maybe I need to take a notebook and a pen out to the woods.

    1. If you can’t keep the internet switched off, that does sound like the logical next step…well. Minus the woods part. Maybe just take a pen and paper to your nearest / most favorite cafe 🙂

  5. Happy to have stumbled across your blog! A friend of mine recently referenced Freedom which is some sort of timed Internet blocking program (or they have one that will just block social media or the sites you instruct.) I’ve not tried it, but after reading your post, I just may. I know I would be sliding that wifi button back and forth otherwise. It is so easy to get sucked in. But see what happens? I find cool new blogs!

    The link is here if interested:

    1. The internet is a slippery slope in and of itself, isn’t it! Usually once I set a goal (that excludes internet use) I am pretty good about sticking to it…but all the same, there may be something in that Freedom tool! Thanks for reading and cheers 🙂

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