Monday, November 9, 2009

'The Write Tools' #5 - Rachael King

Welcome to another edition of ‘The Write Tools’: a blog series featuring authors, artists and their favourite tools.

Today’s guest is New Zealand novelist Rachael King, whose most recent book is Magpie Hall.

Rachael, your tool is Mac Freedom, which is almost an anti-tool. Can you explain?

When I’m writing, the internet has always been the equivalent of the water-cooler or the cigarette break. I write some, then I check my email or a few different websites, then I write some more. The trouble is that the internet started becoming like a magnet. It was utterly compulsive. Even when my writing was going well, my internet breaks started becoming more and more frequent. Like, every two minutes. I was drawn into its vortex, even if I told myself I wasn’t going to go there. It was as though I had no control. I didn’t. It controlled me.

So I installed Mac Freedom, which shuts off your connection for a specified amount of time. I usually go for 60 minutes. With no access to the internet, I had no choice but to write for 60 minutes. It was a revelation. I was writing more in those 60 minutes than I was in a whole day. The internet, while being an incredibly useful tool, is evil, evil, evil. I love it.

So your writing was suffering before you downloaded this? You were distracted by...what?

Yes, absolutely. I was looking at useful websites for research, but I was also spending a lot of time reading blogs (also useful of course) and visiting Facebook mostly. Sometimes if my writing was going badly, I thought I could find all the answers on the internet, if I could just work out what the questions were. Mostly the problem came from breaking my writing up so I never fully got into the dream. I was blown away by how much I could write in an hour once I was in ‘the zone’ again.

Can you describe the feeling of not being connected to the internet?

For the first few minutes, itchy. Then a little excited because I think of all the things that will be waiting for me at the end of the 60 minutes. Then relief. So sad.

But there's always Solitaire, or Tic-Tac-Toe, or some other computer amusement. Or is it only the internet that sucks you in?

Just the internet (Facebook has an excellent Scrabble programme – I am currently playing 6 games with friends, including my mother). I don’t even know if I have those other games on my computer. See, now I have to go and look. Thanks a lot.

Rachael, you're aware of my sad fountain pen fetish. Why not just use pen and paper?

I do! When things got too bad, before Mac Freedom, I often used to take my pen and exercise book to the closest café and write with all the bustle around me. I do like typing straight into the computer though as I can type faster than I can write with a pen and my hand can’t keep up with my thoughts. Also, it’s a hangover from the day my dad gave me his old typewriter and I decided that typing my thoughts rather than writing them made them better somehow.

Speaking of typewriters and pens, do you think yesteryear's authors were less distracted?

Oh absolutely. They just took the phone off the hook and away they went. If they wanted to do research they had to go to the library so they probably saved it all up to do it all in one day.


Rachel Fenton said...

That's so bonkers-brilliant! Although I don't have an internet addiction (and no face book page), I do get sucked into the internet once I'm on it. I forget that I was only going to visit two or three blogs and then look something up! End up with dry eyes an hour later, thinking, now what was I looking for?

innercitygarden said...

I have been known to set an alarm to treat my writing like an exam. Setting a particular amount of time to devote to creative work has always been essential for me.

As for writers in the past being less distracted, well I know I had no trouble finding procrastination tools before I got home internet, there's always another cup of tea, trip to the loo, load of dishes or just a little tidying of the workspace that one can do.

LiteraryMinded said...

After reading this I've decided I need a chair, table, umbrella and typewriter for my new verandah, and I will lock myself outside for fiction writing.

Damon Young said...

Rachel: I did download Freedom (to get the screenshot), but I've not tried it yet. I must be addiction-free! (ahem)

icg: Yes, I agree. Though perhaps Rachael was thinking specifically of research - what used to be a more focused activity (rambling around books, newspapers) is now a series of seductive clicks.

Angela: Yes, I agree. In fact, what we all need is our own cafe, complete with waiters and a quartet.

Elisabeth said...

Talk about the internet as distraction. I too find it has stolen away precious minutes from me when I would otherwise be doing something more 'learned'.

But I too love it.

I can't imagine cutting it off for an hour at a time. But it sounds responsible.

innercitygarden said...

Oh research is a great distraction, the internet is an enabler, but I can just as easily wander through books and old newspapers researching completely irrelevant but quite interesting details.

I took to writing them down at some stage, and then putting them physically aside. That way I felt it was safe to stop thinking about the diversion because I could return to it for another essay in future if I needed to. Which turned out to be quite useful for me. So it's not the getting diverted that's the problem, it's ordering the distractions, and treating them the same way you do the "relevant" stuff.

Damon Young said...

Judging only from my own wanderings, I do think the library offers a slightly less distracting meander. The Ballieu has rarely led me astray, even when I've flitted from book to book, shelf to shelf. Whereas the intertubes...

I suspect the physicality and pre-categorised character of the library has something to do with this.