Tag Archives: social media

Unplugging (or: How many times do you check Facebook or your email in one hour? The truth hurts.)

IMG_0161

Haven Writing Retreats

September 9-13 (FILLING FAST)
September 23-27 (FILLING FAST)
October 7-11
October 21-25

…When you see a * it means I thought about checking FB or email. When you see a *** it means that I fought and lost.

as featured in Huffington Post 50

I do not have ADD or OCD. I’ve always been a highly focused, project-oriented person, and not a big fan of multi-tasking. I like to choose something, give it everything I’ve got, and then move on to the next thing. For the last five years, however, I have been writing four books. I don’t recommend this, unless you have a committed and long-term writing practice. *  I don’t really recommend it even if you do. It’s a fractured way of going about the writing life. But it’s what I had the heart for. Sort of an eeny meeny miney moe. Each one provided different oxygen and I am grateful for the stories they helped me breathe alive. I’ve completed two of these projects and am hoping they will see the light of day before too long. But in that fracture, I allowed something pretty corrosive to leak in: the internet. *

The internet is a writer’s friend and a writer’s enemy. It gives us community and support in an otherwise very solitary profession. Just ask my 4,000+ Facebook friends. (Most of them are writers I’ve never met before, but if they asked me to help get the word out about their writing, my answer would probably be, “of course.”) *  It’s a generous platform, especially for writers. But the internet is also a big problem for writers. We’d be fools not to use its powerful tentacles. Blogs, guest blogs, interviews, videos, podcasts, webinars…makes my brain hurt just thinking about all the ways I haven’t used it, but even the most internet savvy writer out there still lies in bed wondering if they’ve done enough to promote their work and if they’ve given their stories the oxygen they deserve once they have life. I’m fairly sure there isn’t a writer out there who at the end of the day says, “Yup—I did it all. I am fully cyberly self-expressed. Check.” ***

I miss the days when the only buttons I pushed were on my keyboard, writing books and essays. I never had leaks. Maybe the muse would pause for a cup of tea or a walk with the dog, but when I wasn’t mothering, I was pretty much writing. It was heaven. Now, approximately every thirty seconds (I timed myself), I think about the internet. That email I forgot to respond to. *That blog post I should write.  *Oh, and I wonder who’s got an interesting article up on Facebook that might inspire the muse, or how my friend’s new pug is today on Instagram, * or what witty thing that poet I follow is Tweeting about.  * I’ve let the internet fracture what was already a fractured writing practice, divided by four books. I lead writing retreats where people unplug and write for five days. I need to do the same. I need to reclaim my focus and luxuriate in it.

It’s not like I’m not writing. It’s that I’m writing in too many directions. A few weeks ago, I decided that I needed a good old fashioned lock down. Somewhere with no wifi. Somewhere I don’t recognize. In a place I am not responsible for. I needed to remind myself who I am when I’m totally focused on one large project.  * So I chose one of my books which needed to be edited from top to bottom, and drove to a remote town in Montana to a cabin on a country road called Sweathouse Lane. And that’s what I did. Sweat. (Blood and tears included). I brought enough food for a few days, my laptop, my journal, and a change of clothes. That’s it. I made sure my cellphone wouldn’t get service. * I made sure I couldn’t get anywhere near the internet. And I worked. For eighteen solid hours I worked on one…project.

At first it was sort of a Goldie Locks feeling. I found myself pacing around the kitchen. No one to interrupt me. Nothing for me to interrupt. I sat on the living room couch. Too soft. Sat at the kitchen table. Too hard. Sat on the front porch. Too hot. And so, as I often do, I took to the bed. Basically, I didn’t move from that bed except for ablutionary reasons, for eighteen hours. I couldn’t believe how freeing it felt. Without the temptation of the internet, *I was able to hold all 350 pages in my head and heart and balance it all until it felt stable. Whole.

11692510_10152812503791266_7126759875304212145_n10423740_10152813477876266_3738931421759944360_n11058562_10152813735896266_7134224916415129574_n10390024_10152813769001266_804287410855557470_n

Whether or not you are a writer, I challenge you to sit down for one hour and write something…something inspiring with a good lesson at the end…even if it’s just for your eyes only…and notice how many times you think about going on the internet. * It might be one of the most powerful exercises of your life, because it might show you something about yourself and how your brain works. Where the leaks are. I’ve learned in this hour that I think about the internet when I’m pausing, or when I’m trying to find the courage to go deeper into my thoughts. That’s scary. Because it means that the internet has become my binkie. And that’s when I’m trying to focus. What would happen if I did this experiment when I wasn’t trying to focus? Say, stuck in gridlocked traffic. Or lying on the beach on a summer day, trying to relax. If we are constantly checking the internet, are we ever totally focused, never mind totally unwinding? Are we ever really taking a day off? Do we have to go to a remote cabin with no wifi in order to remember what it really is to pause? Or sit on a meditation mat? The ultimate challenge would be to see how many times you think about plugging in to the internet on a meditation mat! I’m too chicken to try that one.

When the Hindus are trying to separate from their thoughts and transcend worldly attachments they say “Neti Neti,” which is Sanskrit for not this, not this. In my attempts at meditation, I say “Neti, Neti” as much as I’m showing red asterisks here in this essay. I wonder if there’s an emoji for Neti Neti? *

I have simply got to make my time around computers more yogic. I have got to designate email time and social media time to definitive slots and take vows to observe them. Or my mind is going to become permanently fractured and my writing (and my life) will reflect it. For now, I’m going to take a walk with my dog. No phone. Neti Neti. * Neti.

“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”– Thomas Merton

13 Comments

Filed under My Posts

Welcome Spring!

 

 

 

 

2013 Haven Writing Retreats

June 19th-23rd (full– wait list)
August 7th-11th (now booking)
September 4th-8th (now booking)
September 18th-22nd (now booking)

Thank you for my winter haven respite, wherein I gave over These Here Hills to you, worked on a book, and watched from afar while you created community in your blog entries and beautifully rich interactions.  It was a joy to think that community can happen whether or not face to face.  It can be word to word.  Congratulations to Darla Bruno for winning the contest!  She is the recipient of a scholarship to my Haven Writing Retreat in Montana!  I will be back now at These Here Hills and look forward to sharing with you here.

Some people object to social media.  They say it is not a real community.  Well I just recently did an hour live chat with Book Trib and I loved every minute of it.  I might be a talking head on an awkward laptop camera, and I might be alone in my office answering questions typed in from participants, but in this format…there is still community.  Something happens when we make ourselves available to question and answer whether in person or not.  Thank you Book Trib, and to those who participated!  For those of you who didn’t catch it, here you go.

Leave a Comment

Filed under A Place For Writers To Share, My Posts

The Traveling Writer Blog

Here’s a Q&A I did for the great Blog: The Traveling Writer by Alexis Grant. She takes an interesting social media spin in her questions. Check it out by clicking here.

1 Comment

Filed under "Those Aren't Fighting Words, Dear", A Place For Writers To Share, My book: This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, My Posts

Morning Light

You know when the cloud lifts and the light comes in? When things are vivid and asking you to smile and go easy and say thank you? Annie Lamott says these are her two favorite prayers, “Help me help me help me,” and “Thank you thank you thank you.” I’m not sure how it is that we shift from the first to the second, but this morning, after a month of Help me’s, there it was: Thank you.

I’ve spent the last 20 years when I’m not working or being a mother, escaping to my office to write novels. And as of a year ago yesterday, when my New York Times piece got published in Modern Love, my life utterly changed. Suddenly I have a product which brings in a pay check and pays for my kid’s soccer cleats and organic strawberry splurges, (but not quite health insurance)…and in order to perpetuate this, I don’t have time for those novels. Not now.

This blog brings me joy because in it I get to share my little moments. I get to hear from readers and know that my writing has helped them somehow and respond to them. But for the last month, as I tread through the strange new waters of social media, Twittering and Facebooking, and investigating the amazingly powerful communities like Good Reads and She Writes and Blogher, and Huffington Post, and and and…I just started to want out of those waters altogether. I wanted to make some tea and sit here and do what I know how to do and that’s write books.

It seems like a LOT of writers feel this way. Especially those of us who didn’t come up in the age of the internet. Especially those of us who are used to long moments of focusing on one thing and making it as good as we can. Widening the third eye takes focus and solitude. Sometimes social media feels like there’s a swarm of mosquitoes in my office biting at me and I can’t find that focus. It’s maniac. I complained about it all month to cherished author friends. Sort of guiltily, because there’s so much to LOVE about the opportunity social media affords the writer. It means you can reach your audience without the publishing world. That is fantastic news! It’s just a new paradigm, and it has turned my writing life as I’ve known if for half my life up…side…down.

One author friend shared this quote with me:
I start a book as a poet-warrior armed with the noblest intentions, but by the end of the publishing process, I feel like a door-to-door
salesman
.” — James Sturm.

Do you think that when Longfellow wrote these sagacious words:
The heights by great men reached and kept, were not obtained by sudden flight. But they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night,” he meant that we should fragment our energy into piggybacking on other people’s dreams and successes, obsessively, from our dark room by computer screen glow? Or that he meant that we should be using those upward toiling nights to mine our lives, widening that third eye until it’s sharp and keen like a hawk, putting our hearts and minds to a focus, not a series of shoulder taps.

Don’t get me wrong, I am thank you thank you thank you (and a bit of help me help me help me) in regard to social media. But this morning, I vowed that I would do like I used to. Wake up early, make some tea, and sit down to work on a new novel. And with a fresh new document that one day will become 300 or 400 pages…when the teapot screamed, I went into the kitchen and saw the cinnamon buns I’d lain on a plate for the kids, wrapped in morning light. Beautiful and basking.

There is freedom in creature comfort.

37 Comments

Filed under "Those Aren't Fighting Words, Dear", A Place For Writers To Share, Food, My Posts