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The Internet is Killing Me

By Angela Hallstrom

Six months ago, I decided it was about time to start my new novel. I had some ideas, some characters, some themes to explore. I was excited about it, even. Ready to dive in! And after six months I am thrilled to report I have written a grand total of twelve pages.

Yes, thank you. Thank you very much.

I have a number of excuses for my failure to get my butt in gear. First excuse: life. Kids, homework, church callings, actual paid work (70 freshman comp students last semester, give me strength), freelance editing, PTA, laundry, etc. etc. Second excuse: legitimate writer’s block. Writing is hard and, for me, beginning is the hardest part. Once I get going I have some momentum, but starting something new can be almost painfully difficult.

But it’s the third excuse that’s the topic of this post. It’s the Internet. When I started writing my first novel I had a lovely dial-up Internet connection. It took ten minutes to fire up the computer and log on, and forget the amount of time it took to download graphics. And even though I liked visiting a site or two, blogs weren’t anywhere on my radar screen then. Without the social element, the Internet was like an electronic newspaper, except it took four and a half minutes to turn a page. So when I sat down at my computer with an hour or two of quiet time, I wasn’t tempted to do much more than open Microsoft Word and get down to it.

That was then. This is now. My ancient Dell has been replaced by a zippy little MacBook, and that MacBook is a portal to all sorts of enticements. And so, okay, I’m not as disciplined as I should be. I think I’m going to sit down and do some good, hard work . . . but it’s so easy to click on Firefox (I’m just going to spend 10 minutes, I tell myself, and check a couple of things) and before I know it I’ve been sucked into the vortex.

Plus, now I have a blog, and even though I only post once a week or so, I spend a good chunk of writing time working on it. And then there’s all my friends’ and family members’ blogs, blogs I love to read and then feel I’ve gotta leave a pithy comment or two. I can’t forget the bloggernacle—Segullah being, of course, one of the best of that bunch—and if I’m not careful I can spend an hour and a half checking out what hundreds of smart, interesting people I’ve never met have to say on hundreds of smart, interesting topics I never knew I was actually interested in.

The trouble is, the time I spend perusing the Internet is valuable in many ways. I love the social connectedness I’ve found with old friends and new friends through blogging. I love the conversations that the bloggernacle enables. But I also know that I’m neither as organized nor as disciplined as I ought to be, and it’s just a lot more fun (and a heck of a lot easier) to cruise around blogland than it is to face the blinking cursor on the white and silent page.

So I’d love to hear from all of you. How do you balance your blog time with the other more arduous jobs you’re supposed to get done on your computer? This could range from school work (how many people in the bloggernacle are avoiding doing their dissertations? :-)) to work work (has your productivity suffered?) to creative work (see me raise my hand high in the air). And do you think the blogging explosion will have any lasting effect on writing as a genre? What if, instead of toiling silently, writing and revising an essay or a story or a poem, too many writers get pulled toward the instant gratification and social nature of blogging? Especially our younger writers. Is there a chance that instead of honing their skills in the traditional genres, they might instead focus solely on blogging? And would you even consider that a bad thing?

I know there are many skilled and dedicated bloggers here at Segullah. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

About Angela Hallstrom

(Advisory Board) grew up in Utah, then moved to Minnesota, then came back to Utah, then packed up her husband and four kids and moved to Minnesota--again!-- in the summer of 2010. Although she loves the Land of 10,000 Lakes, she dearly misses Slurpees, Sunday dinners at her Mom's house, and eating a whole entire Cafe Rio pork salad while lunching with her Utah-based Segullah sisters. And yes, she finds it telling that everything she misses about her hometown is somehow related to food. She has an BA in English from BYU, an MFA in creative writing from Hamline University, and has taught writing to high school and college students.

21 thoughts on “The Internet is Killing Me”

  1. You have a blog? Why don't I have a link to it?

    Balancing is the hardest part of blogging–and I've been all over the map on it. I justify myself by saying, "Well, I don't watch TV." or, "I've been too sick (or tired, or injured, etc) to do anything else so I blog." Or my personal favorite, "I have nothing better to do while waiting up late for the teenagers to come home."

    Lame, I know, but oh well.

    As for how will blogging affect writing in general, I am ambivalent. Blogging has helped me become a better writer in some ways and has encouraged me to submit my writing and get published. But it has detracted from my skills as well. I notice I tend to be more casual and familiar in my tone now.

    Recently I read an interesting essay (or was it a blog post? the difference is harder to tell these days) discussing how the Internet has shortened our attention spans. The premise was that the Internet could undermine all of literature because not only are people reading whatever they're reading on the Internet instead of from books, they are no longer capable of giving hard copy publications the attention they demand. Definitely food for thought.

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  2. I definitely have the same problem, Angela. When I sit down at the computer all alone in my office to get some work done, it's just too easy to click on the internet and instantly connect with the world, especially all the great people on blogs like this one.
    This was really brought home to me this week when I had to spend several hours on a plane and took my laptop with me to get some work done. With the internet just not an option and no other distractions, I was able to accomplish more in two hours than I sometimes complete in a whole day at home.
    When I get home from this jaunt (I'm waiting for my daughter to give birth), I'm thinking about setting a timer when I'm on the internet. of course, that's assuming I can discipline myself to pay more attention to a timer than I do to my alarm clock, but I've going to try it anyway. I would love to hear others' suggestions.

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  3. I read that article you're talking about, Dalene — well, half of it before I lost interest, actually. (But half was about 5 single-speced pages — which is a lot in websurfing terms.)

    For a few people blogging has already become a legitimate source of income (if you consider dooce.com, for example, "legitimate,") and I tend to think that blogging will bring out untapped talent and skills in some folks. I also think that, as with email, people will eventually tire of blogs to an extent (while some blogs will still flourish.) I also believe that sometimes media feeds other media — naysayers warned that the popularity of film would stop people from reading, but I don't believe that's really happened (and, having worked at a library, I can tell you that whenever a movie based on a classic book comes out, there's a huge spike in that book being checked out.) I do notice that the internet has shortened my attention span *for internet reading* (but not for reading books.) As for writing books, I've never tried to write one, but I do know that it's hard for me to get work done at the computer, so I feel for you on that point. I guess it's a question of finding a way to organize and structure your computer time (which of course is easier said than done) with a timer or some such arrangement. Is it possible to use a 2nd computer that's not connected to the internet to do your book-writing on?

    Good luck — I love the internet, but it's sometimes a vice for me, so I can relate to this post in that sense.

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  4. A couple more ideas — have a writer's blog (or writing category on your existing blog) NOT for putting your work on, but for posting about the fact that you've worked on your book. Ask people to cheer you on.

    Set a timer and give yourself a certain increment of internet time for every increment of time spent writing.

    Quit anything else you can — PTA or whatever. Maybe none of it can be pared, but having that much on my plate always makes me crave internet down-time.

    Again, good luck — I'm definitely rooting for you to find time to write your next book, since I loved the last one so much.

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  5. Angela, today I made my husband set boundaries on my computer, so the internet only works during a couple hours of the day, so I could get something done. I have a very very hard time with this. And writing? Or productive internet work? Both are hard for me to get to. Blogging is just so interesting. As you say, it fills a need I never knew I had.

    But the computer-limit thing may work for me, I think, since I keep myself deliberately ignorant of how it works, and it forces me to be a bit more productive.

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  6. No, I can't. But DH can. We have UTOPIA, and the parental controls allow you to set when the internet works and when it doesn't. On each computer, even. I only have him do the main computer, because it's always calling me away from the dishes and so forth. But my laptop, my working computer, still has internet access.

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  7. How do I balance? I don't. I really struggle with this, far more than I want to admit. I'm a technical writer and I work from home. I have a part-time babysitter in the morning, and when she is here I'm supposed to be WORKING. Lately, I'm having a hard time making myself do it. I work for three or four hours in the morning and then a couple of hours at night after the kids are in bed and that allows me to stay home with my kids, which is really important to me. And it's very good money.

    I have no problem walking away from the computer when my "work day" is over. I don't think about blogging when I'm with my kids or friends or anything like that. But when I'm sitting at the computer, and I'm supposed to be writing something for a client, it's just so much more fulfilling to go check out the comments on my latest post, or to write something that I know is going to get good feedback. (This goes back to Angela's comment the other day – the validation thing.)

    I have half finished novels that I think I could actually get published at some point, if I could stop blogging long enough to finish them. Sometimes I think, hey, if I ever get to that point, I'll bet a lot of my blog readers would buy my book. So I kid myself into believing I'm building a platform or something.

    I would have to have TWENTY times the number of blog readers I have right now in order to replace the income I get from my paying clients. TWENTY TIMES. I've either got to get some serious publicity or I've got to stop being ridiculous and step away from my blog.

    Decisions, decisions.

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  8. I have no idea what you're talking about. I simply got up 2 hours earlier than the kids so I could work on my writing and here I am, still not ready to face the blank Word file. So I'm perusing the blogosphere. "Just for a second" I tell myself. "Just until I get some creative juices flowing." I don't have a problem. Nope.

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  9. Ah, kindred spirits. I appreciate all your comments and insights. I agree that setting a timer or otherwise disciplining oneself would be very helpful. And Zina, I really liked your comment about how having too much on your plate makes you crave internet downtime, and that quitting some of the "extras" would help, too. I agree. In fact, I puposely decided to seriously cut back on my PTA commitments next year and just focus on going into my kids' classes every once in a while. (I've had to learn that simply because I "ought" to do something doesn't mean I "should." So somebody else can head up the literacy program next year . . . :-).

    And Sue, I DO think that blogging is a legitimate art form in its own right and don't think it should be discouraged, but I also wonder how many novels might never be written because of it. But perhaps that's assuming that novels are inherently better than blogs, and in some instances they aren't. There are many people who are fantastic bloggers who wouldn't be very good novelists and vice versa. In fact, my blog is nothing special. (Dalene, that's part of the reason you've never heard of it :-). The other reason is because, although it isn't a private blog, it's mostly written for family and close friends and there are lots of kid pictures and family stories on it, so I don't promote it.)

    Anyway, for me, I know that I need to get a better handle on how to manage my computer time. I need to have a more disciplined approach or else I'm never going to do the hard work necessary to write another novel. All y'all are just too interesting, and too fun. Reading blogs has become my internet comfort food and it's time to go on a diet ;-).

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  10. Emily– I think I need to talk to your husband. Everyone in my family who knows how to manipulate a mouse (read "everyone over the age of four") has problems establishing limits on the computer.

    Angela– in response to your question, I always aspired to be a writer, but lacked both the discipline to work hard on something and thick skin to allow it to be rejected. So I just didn't try. I taught other people how to write and helped them develop thick skins instead. For me, blogging has been a bridge. It has the instant gratification that writing for conventional publication doesn't, and for every negative comment, I probably get ten or fifteen positive comments (well, not so much when I post at fMh, lol). Anyway, both of those factors have made me feel self-confident enough to make the move into "real" writing, which is what I wanted to do in the first place.

    But really, I have no self-discipline. I blog at three different places, and spend way too much time at two online communities. I probably invest almost as much time in online stuff as I did at work when I had a full-time job (ok, I'm exaggerating, but not by much).

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  11. Angela – when I read your life's "to do" list, I thought to myself that you're probably starving for down time. Hence, the pull to fun internet use, instead of serious word processing use. And that made me think of another topic – maybe another post to distract you from your novel? – what do we do with our creative urges/professional pursuits when our lives are filled with the demands of everyday life?

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  12. I think Angela's original post and the writing-focused comments are good. We've been discussing something similar at A Motley Vision (warning Onan gets referenced in relation to blogging).

    Part of the reason I blog is that because of professional and family responsibilities, I find that I just don't have the energy for more difficult writing. So, yeah, a post on what to do when your lives are filled with everyday life would be great.

    On the other hand, the Atlantic article that was linked to is pure bunk. Or to put it more nicely: the claims the author makes aren't backed up by his evidence. It's the kind of faux-trend story that journalists are so fond of writing (with that take-down-the-beloved-icon headline — the only thing that was missing was a pun in the headline or subhead). I'd be very interested in what neuroscientists and neuro- and socio-linguists have to say on the subject of the Internet and attention span. But I don't buy the whole "pancake thinking" argument. I also think that some of his evidences seriously misinterprets things like what Internet traffic patterns show and how people use the Web effectively.

    I also have to wonder why novels should be privileged over blogging (or even over other forms of storytelling). There is, after all, a commercial aspect to why the novel became the dominant form of fiction (although it has now been replaced by the film). Of course, I love novels and have the exact same bias, but I have begun to interrogate that a bit. Perhaps community building is more important than creating long-form fiction? I don't know. And this is not to really disagree with any of the comments — they all ring much too true to my own experience and attitudes.

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  13. William, all I can say is it's really strange that Theric's post on AMV and my post should appear on the very same day. Probably just coincidence (or maybe all the frustrated Mormon novelist/bloggers are approaching some kind of divine convergence 🙂 but I think this is a topic worth exploring in detail.

    I don't necessarily believe novel writing should be privileged over blogging, but I DO think that novel writing, as well as other forms like poetry and the personal essay, requires more discipline (at least it does for me) and that discipline comes in the form of revision. Almost everything I write for blogs (mine, or Segullah's, or comments on other blogs) represent fly-by-the-seat-of-my pants writing and a similar style of thinking. I very rarely revise anything blog related, and if I do, it's to change a word or mark of punctuation here or there. There's none of the wholesale "throw it all out and start again" that is the hallmark of other forms of creative writing I've engaged in.

    I wouldn't call anything I've done as a blogger "art." And before folks get all crazy on me, I'm not saying blogging isn't art or never will be art. I'm sure there are bloggers out there who put as much care into crafting or revising a blog post as I would into a short story. When *I* blog, though, I'm not in art-making mode. I'm in conversation mode, and those are two very different gears for me. I totally Theric's Onan, seed-spilling metaphor (as graphic as it may be) because blogging can be like that sometimes. FOR ME. Again, not for everybody. But for me.

    Yes, food for thought . . .

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  14. See? Told you I don't revise my blog posts. It should read "I totally GET Theric's Onan, seed-spilling metaphor." Whoopsie. And there should have been an extra parentheses after my blogalicious smiley face.

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  15. "but I DO think that novel writing, as well as other forms like poetry and the personal essay, requires more discipline (at least it does for me) and that discipline comes in the form of revision."

    I totally agree. But I don't know that necessarily needs to be the case. I have written a (few) posts that have gone through multiple revisions and required as much discipline to write as anything else I've written (granted, I have yet to tackle the long form of a novel). Patricia at AMV routinely revises her posts. And there have been some blog posts over the years that have been as good as any personal essay that has appeared in Dialogue, Sunstone, Irreantum or other Mormon journals — or even national ones.

    That said, I think the blog format has its strengths and weaknesses (as you've already pointed out). Which is why a model like Segullah's is excellent, imo. You are basically a community of readers, writers and editors that expresses itself in multiple ways/forms. It's a model that I personally think the AML should employ (but I've already said that in another arena).

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  16. .

    How exciting that we're all on the same page, Angela!

    I think it's too soon to say what blogging is or is not. Early novels were a little awkward and stilted and great art took a few decades to really arrive. I'm sure the same thing will happen here. If blogging survives. I worry about this Twitter phenomenon. Dear me, will we soon be reduced to keeping greatness to 140 characters or less?

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  17. Shelah–this is what my husband said (to Kathy, after she asked) about how he does it:

    I'm using our wireless router, which has access restriction options. If you use a wireless router, tell me the make and model, and I can look it up for you and see if it has a similar functionality.

    If you don't use a router that has a this feature, there is another option. There is a free web filtering software package called K9 that is available from k9webprotection.com. It allows you to restrict internet access to certain times of the day, and requires you to enter a password to get around the restrictions. So you'd need to have someone else make up the password if you wanted to use this for yourself.

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  18. Ang,

    Great post! I'm relieved to hear that I'm the only person who has written 15 pages of a novel only to find myself surfing the web instead of writing page 16. I would like to chime in on your question about the possible impact of blogging on the next generation of writers. Speaking only for myself, it is because of blogging that I am even considering attempting to write a novel or a few short stories. Before blogging I had no idea that I could write anything that other people might possibly enjoy reading, but my blog has helped me to gain some confidence and improve as a writer.

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