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Trying to hold that thought

September 21, 2008|CAROLYN KELLOGG

TWO writers I keep up with on the Web have restricted their online activities so they can get more work done.

Tayari Jones, whom I follow on Twitter, regularly tweets about the progress she's making on her new book. She recently dropped the news that a colleague "made me face the awful truth. tweetdeck is not compatible w/my goal to finish my novel."

Jeff VanderMeer, meanwhile, explains the drastic steps he takes to keep from being distracted by the Internet.

"Okay," he posts, "I'll admit it: work on my new novel, 'Finch,' is going well because every morning my long-suffering yet often amused wife Ann hides the router box and my cellphone. I get up around 7 a.m., I have my breakfast and watch something innocuous like BBC News or Frasier for about half an hour, and then get down to work. . . . Around 2:30 I call Ann on our landline and she tells me where the router box and the cellphone are (it has Internet access on it) so I can finish up the afternoon with necessary emails and other work, before going to the gym."

VanderMeer doesn't trust himself to stay away from the Internet, which he admits "is, for me, a harmful and insidious enemy of novel creation." He elaborates: "A novel takes a great deal of uninterrupted thought, not to mention uninterrupted writing. A novel in gestation does not brook interference of this kind. . . . The sustained effort required by a novel should not include multi-tasking on other things, if you have the option."

What if typewriters had also been telephones? What if you could press the top of your legal pad and have the newspaper pop out? What if your fountain pen broadcast your favorite radio station? Today, when the tool of novel writing is also a tool for all kinds of communication, it seems like a miracle that anybody gets anything done.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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