I turned on the air-conditioner with the remote and immediately checked email. This is my habit. Like a gunslinger drawing two pistols and firing. Wrote this sentence as the email downloaded. Eleven messages. A quick glance: DOROTHYL which says there are 603 lines of text waiting to be read. The FCCT sent me a notice of upcoming events. Google Alert has four entries where second-hand copies of my books are being sold on amazon and ebay. Some Fan mail. An inquiry about getting published. An invitation from a fan.
Normally, I would go through the emails as if they were actually sent to me personally, deserving my full, undivided attention. Then I would mark down an event in my diary, send a note about it to friend, reply to emails. Then I’d open Mozilla to be informed who had added me on Facebook or had written on my “wall.” I’d check the NYT website, Bangkok Post website and couple of blogs.
In other words, I’ve been sailing through the afternoon with a hurricane on my back, accomplishing nothing. Forget hurricane; it is more like being stuck on an informational treadmill. There is no direction on a treadmill. You just run. There is a degree of excitement in this racing through messages, websites, blogs, comments, wikipedia entries, running words and phrases through google. If you love information gathering, then it doesn’t ever get any better than the Internet. You get to be that kid in the ultimate candy store. Gorge until you can’t see straight. Gorge until you can’t think straight or at all. And at the time you are doing this, it all seems so compelling, fun, and rewarding. But sitting back at the end of the day, I ask myself one question:
How much have I written on the new novel?
Not much to write home about. I have a fairly complete outline and the first 10,000 words. My outlines are rough guides and the finished book usually looks like a distant cousin. The books should be further along at this stage. I feel that I am falling behind. Partly this is a function of distraction.
Writing a book requires long hours of focused attention. You can’t mulitask and write a novel. Because you have to keep the whole story, plots and subplots, characters, their connections and motivations inside your head as a unified whole. This is a fragile territory. One that is easily disrupted. You have to create the emotions for those characters, make their lives and what is at stake for them real. You must concentrate on their lives to have any hope of doing this.
The Internet temptation is the beginning of the end of mental terrain that authors have occupied since the invention of writing. Movies and TV had the potential for distraction but the Internet is in a league all of its own: it is a social networking for vast numbers of strangers with something on their mind, a belief, an opinion, a theory, a fact they discovered. It is perpetual show and tell. All the searches, online reading, emails largely coil together in one lump at the end of the day. If you are writing novels, the idea is to turn all the metal into something tangible. Not a car or a lawn mower. But a book that runs 100,000 words that others will buy, read, enjoy and demand all their friends buy, read and enjoy.
Or so goes the theory. Next week I will talk about how Georges Simenon’s death marked the death of the writing space that authors occupied for thousands of years. I’ve already written next weeks blog before leaving for India. I will be in my room working as you read this week and next weeks blog.
Think of me unconnected to the outside world. Lost in Calvino’s latest case. He’s in New York and the story moves between New York and Bangkok. Think of me writing a New York and Bangkok story while in India.