‘The Write Tools’: a blog series featuring authors, artists and their favourite tools.
Today's guest is Ben Pobjie, writer, comedian and poet. Ben is the author of Superchef and Surveying the Wreckage, and has written regularly for The Age, the ABC and New Matilda.
Many writers, I have found, enjoy total solitude when they write. I know of more than one who considers the ideal writing environment to be a remote country house, with no phone, no internet, and no company, nothing whatsoever to divert their mind from the pressing task of getting the words down on paper – or on the screen, if you’re not one of those weirdoes who still writes on paper.
This is the way some writers find they do their best work – in peace and tranquillity. Personally, cut me off like that and within half an hour I’ll be bouncing off the walls and going all Jack Nicholson in The Shining. It sounds ridiculous, but I need distraction. I need something else to direct my attention to. Let us be frank: I need Twitter.
I just can’t write if writing is the only thing going on. I can’t just sit in front of the black and white on the screen for hour upon hour, typing typing typing, never deviating from my course, single-mindedly slogging relentlessly on like a husky-sled through the Yukon with a steadfast refusal to look either left or right until the job in front of me is done. When I do that, I freeze up. I go into literary paralysis. I end up staring blankly at the screen, chewing my lip, completely lost as to what to do next.
Because no matter what I tell my mind it should do, it is going to wander. When I come to a point where I don’t know what the next sentence is, my mind will skip off to pastures new, getting some relief from the strain of creation and hopeful that in those fresh mental fields will be found rare and exotic flowers that I can bring back with me when I return to the job at hand. And strangely enough, it works. When I get stuck, I turn my attention to something else, and when I come back to the piece I’m writing, I’ve more often than not found the answer. Sometimes it might take half an hour, sometimes it might take three seconds, but what I’ve discovered is that distracting myself is a far better – and more enjoyable – way of riding over the bumps in the road than simply boggling at the screen waiting for inspiration to strike. Or just writing any old rubbish and hoping I can fix it in the next draft. My brain just doesn’t work that way. This doesn’t mean there aren’t times when I’ll write solidly for long stretches – when the words are flowing it’s a desperate rush to get them down before they slip away, and those times are precious and must be savoured when they come along.
In addition, not all distractions are equal. I need to be able to distract myself, but it’s no good if others are distracting me. Having the TV there, or a news site to switch to, is fine; I’m in control of whether I look away from my work. Having my children flocking about asking for snacks and drinks and fighting and striking up conversations about Superman and falling over and squawking and asking to play with my iPhone is quite different – they’re prone to distract at the wrong time, those moments when my concentration is on high-beam. Unwanted distractions, from kids or phone calls or door-to-door salesmen, break focus, rather than massage it as controlled distractions do.
And that’s why Twitter is my ultimate writing tool. Every time I find my focus flagging, my will to write drooping, or my inspiration sputtering, I can flick to Twitter, say hi to a friend, catch up on the news, and perhaps most importantly, toss out some gags. Twitter is not only a distraction, but a stimulant: when writing energy levels are low, I can start cracking jokes or crafting observations in 140 characters or less, and give a jolt to the system – the ability to fire off spur-of-the-moment tweets adrenalises, sparks the creative glands into action, and frequently helps the process of plunging back into the real work I’m trying to do. And most importantly, it’s in MY hands – Twitter can’t tear me away from my work without my consent.
Not everyone can work this way – I am probably in a tiny paradoxical minority in needing distractions to stay focused. But it works for me, and I can honestly say, when I sit down to embark on another flight of literary fancy, Twitter is my co-pilot.