In a recent LA Times blog post, Carolyn Kennedy quotes two writers who say they physically remove themselves from internet temptations in order to get down to the serious, concentrated effort required to write their novels.

One of my theories about Alaskan authors is that we are, in general, folks who are happy being several degrees removed from the mainstream. We enjoy a certain degree of isolation. One downside was not feeling connected with the literary mainstream and, to a certain extent, with our audience. Another was geographic distance that made book promotion difficult, especially for children’s writers who depend on school visits to get the word out. My writer friend Claire Rudolf Murphy left Alaska several years ago partly for these reasons, and she is still much missed.

I’ve noted the downsides of Alaskan isolation in the past tense. Though the internet hasn’t erased them, it has definitely blunted their effects.

The internet is just one of hundreds of potential distractions for writers to drift away from the hard work of developing characters or unsticking themselves from the tough middle of a novel. At the fingertips that should be busy penning a saleable book is one of our powerful distraction.

Perhaps more important is the effect of the internet on language and thought. Collectively, our minds are shifting to texted sound bites. In twenty years, who will have the patience to read – or write – a complete sentence, let alone novel? Since the advent of television, we’ve had doomsday predictions about the slow slide toward illiteracy. In many ways, the writer’s best research friend may also be her worst enemy.


  1. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    You’re writing about my concerns, precisely. I use online access as self-sabotage all the time, and I love to hear stories about people monkeying with their computers to prevent too much online time. (I asked a tech guy about how to restrict my computer’s internet use and how to block specific sites at certain times of the day; he couldn’t seem to stop thinking I was trying to protect my kids, even when I told him that I was the problem.)

    On the OTHER hand, as you’ve pointed out, what is true for the nation at large might not be true for us in Alaska. When I feel completely cut off (from both writers and the publishing centers of power), that can lead to anxieties of another kind which sabotage productivity just as much. Blogging helps me reach other writers. Online self-publicity efforts make me feel like I’m doing something to get my book out, which helps me bug my own editors/agent/publisher LESS. I also like to remind myself that in the past, writers spent nearly as much time writing letters and visiting literary salons as we spend online.

    The best thing might be to alternate periods of connectivity with periods of almost complete isolation. In the end, only time will tell…

  2. So true. Balance is all. Anxiety can cripple creativity, and interaction can stimulate it…or cripple it. A juggling act, to be sure. It’s nice, I suppose, that we have options. I was interested to read in the comment thread to Kennedy’s LA Times piece that there is a service that will block all access to the internet for 6 hours at a pop.

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