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Why Distraction Is Necessary

Most people who speak negatively about the Internet and social media criticize these things for being a massive waste of time. Shave days off your life in the time suck that is the World Wide Web.

We’ve all had days when we regret having spent so much time stalking photos on Facebook and reading celebrity gossip. But I believe that distraction is necessary and that a reasonable amount of Internet time-wasting can actually help you nurture your creativity.

A few weeks ago, I went to see one of my favorite writers, Lorrie Moore, speak at the Paris Review Interviews at New York University. She spent a few minutes talking about technology and the way it affects her ability to write. Moore admitted that she was one of the last of her friends and colleagues to sign up for an e-mail account because she was afraid that being so connected would interfere with her writing.

Ultimately, Moore was delighted by the discovery of e-mail, but she admitted that she needed to learn how to strike a balance between being connected and remaining focused on her work. She said that she knew of some writers who went so far as to remove the modems from their computers in order to kill their temptation to surf the web.

Personally, I like to keep a browser window open while I write on my laptop. I often need long stretches of mindlessness before I can continue to the next paragraph. I cannot write in long, extended bursts – rather, I am slow and steady, writing a few sentences at a time.

If I wasn’t mindlessly surfing the web, I’d be staring at the wall. I might as well use my idle mind time to look at photos or breaking news stories, which sometimes give me ideas I’d otherwise never have.

Sometimes, being connected while I write helps me move forward when I’m stuck. Perhaps I’m not quite sure how to describe something – I can easily use Google Images to find a photograph of it and have a closer look. Or maybe I’m not sure where exactly I want to set a scene – Google Maps can help with that.

One of the characters I’m currently writing is obsessed with modern art. With just a click of the mouse, I can expand my very limited knowledge of art to the point that my reader will believe my character when she talks about an Alexander Calder mobile.

With e-mail, I can receive feedback from my trusted readers and writing friends quickly and efficiently. In an interview with the Paris Review, famed editor Robert Gottlieb said, “The first thing writers want—and this sounds so basic, but you’d be surprised how unbasic it is in the publishing world—is a quick response. Once they’ve finished a new manuscript and put it in the mail, they exist in a state of suspended emotional and psychic animation until they hear from their editor, and it’s cruelty to animals to keep them waiting.”

Well, good news, writers – the Internet can help your work travel at the speed of light, and it presents a myriad of new outlets for you to share your work.

Are you able to manage distractions while you work? Do you welcome them or blame them for your inability to focus?

(Photo by Oyvind Solstad)

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