Self-Control and the Writer

When Zadie Smith admitted last week that she used Internet-Blocker Self-Control to help her write, it unleashed a large, unsympathetic twitter debate about the merits of using the internet for research while writing. But–and here’s a secret–I use it too. I block ten minutes at a time, write like crazy, and then check my email/Twitter/Facebook/buy shoes online. Then I repeat. I get that I’m a grown up, and that I should have actual, rather than virtual, self-control. But for me, it helps. So this week, I’m exploring ways to drown out the white noise that permeates your brain from other sources when what you want is quiet writing time.


1. Go back in time.

Easiest way not to be distracted by the internet? Use a pen and paper. I still write by hand a lot. I write on my lunch breaks at my day job, on the bus, when I’m waiting for someone to arrive. It’s a short, concentrated burst, and there’s no social networking to check.


2. Make your writing time shorter.

I’ll be honest. I get a little bit twitchy when longer than half an hour passes without checking my email. So I don’t write for longer than that without doing it. Sadly, forging a career as a writer sometimes means being instantly accessible. After all, you don’t want to miss that last-minute slot at a reading for one sentence do you? Accept your limitations.


3. Network socially.
When it comes to social networking, though, I think designated times work. I have a time of day when I check and update Twitter, and that’s it. If I miss the latest hashtag, that’s something I can deal with.

Ultimately, I think dealing with distractions should be about prioritizing. Be realistic about your attention span–something which, in general, gets shorter the more accustomed we become to instant technology. Set aside your time for writing, and stick to it. We can all do with learning a little more self-control, Zadie.

Helen Dring is a fiction writer from Liverpool, England. She is studying for an MA in Creative Writing and is currently writing her first novel. She likes fairy tales, ghost stories and modern history.

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