Tag Archives: technology

Too Much Internet Usage Can Wreck Your Writing Productivity

I just read James Sturm’s “My (Probably Crazy) Plan to Give Up the Internet” at Slate Magazine, and it got me thinking about the stories I’ve heard from writers over the years who’ve also had to go cold turkey from the internet due to an addiction to online RPGs, or web surfing, or chat rooms, or compulsively checking their amazon sales rankings every few hours.  There’s just sooooo much that can be done now online to waste the precious hours of each day.

I’ve had problems myself with wasting too much time on the internet, especially web surfing and reading news sites.

The best advice tends to share a common theme–separate the work and play areas as much as possible.  Have a “writing” computer AND a “play” computer.  Make sure the writing computer has no internet access or games on it.

I haven’t gone so far as to have two computers–yet–but I have learned to limit my internet usage to only music while I’m writing.  No email or chat are allowed while writing by making sure I’m logged out of all my accounts.  And when I catch myself breaking the “only music while writing” rule, I turn the network connection on my computer off.

However, I suspect I’ll have to go to keeping the network connection always off while writing, and listen to music through an iPod.  The temptation to go surfing over to Wikipedia for just-in-time research is so strong at times.

High-intensity thinking activities, like writing or debugging, do require chunks of uninterrupted time to do.   That needed chunk may be as short as 10-15 minutes, but if one’s getting email pings and surfing during that time period, one can find that the ability to focus has significantly deteriorated.   I found that this was true for me when I took a hard look at my work habits, and I’ve noticed my ability to focus (and therefore my productivity) has improved since shutting off internet access while writing.

Backup the writing files or documents, or suffer the consequences

The hard drive in my ancient Apple 17″ Powerbook G4 laptop finally began to die about a week ago.   I should have replaced the hard drive years ago (the laptop will be 7 years old this June, bought it in June 2003), but I never got around to it.  So it’s been slowly dying, making noises when it gets too hot lately.

Thankfully I paid attention to those noises, and 1) did almost daily backups of my writing-in-progress, 2) did backups of all my writing files every two weeks, and 3) bit the money bullet and ordered a refurbished Apple 17″ MacBook Pro laptop to replace the old laptop.   So when my old laptop hard drive crashed in a spectacular way last Wednesday (*almost* got the new laptop in time–it arrived on Friday), I was in a position to recover with over the weekend.  So take it from me, backup all your writing files every 2-4 weeks, and backup your work-in-progress nightly.

And make sure you keep some of those backups in a place safe from fire and theft.  Buy a firebox specifically designed to protect software backups, and store the disks in there.  Also, get a safe deposit box at a bank, and every 1-2 months put a backup in that box.

If you don’t use a computer for your first draft writing (i.e. you write everything by hand), get a firebox big enough to put your work-in-progress in there at night.

Whenever I started to feel like “these backups are too much hassle,” I asked myself “how would you feel if  your laptop breaks down, is destroyed, or stolen?”  That question always drove me to backup my writing.  And as a result, my laptop’s hard drive failure was a (relatively) painless process to recover from.

I’ve known writers who’ve lost years of writing work in a fire because they didn’t have copies of their writing files in a fire-safe location.   Anyone who makes their living from their writing, or hopes to do so, needs to have a plan for backing up their work on a regular basis.  Make sure the backup plan covers hard drive failure, fire or flood, and theft.

I’m very fond of that old laptop, and plan to keep it.  The current plan is to get a replacement hard drive, then give it to my spouse to use as a a test machine for running the Linux operating system.

Jeff VanderMeer’s BOOKLIFE

I heard about Jeff VanderMeer’s BOOKLIFE: STRATEGIES AND SURVIVAL TIPS FOR THE 21ST-CENTURY WRITER through word of mouth, and so picked up a copy.  There aren’t that many books out there right now that tackle in depth the usage of social media by writers to promote their work.  Also, VanderMeer’s own website had been pointed out by others to me as an example to study, so I definitely wanted to know what he had to say.

First off, I think  VanderMeer’s separation of a writer’s life into a “public booklife” and a “private booklife” is a terrific idea.   It’s especially needed in this era of social media and cell phones.  Knowing where to set boundaries can make the difference between burnout and long-term productivity.

I’m going to let him explain in his own words why he created the two definitions:

This point I cannot emphasize enough:  your Public Booklife and your Private Booklife work in tandem…but you must separate them out for balance and peace of mind.  Writers get into trouble otherwise.  For example, the minute you start thinking about how to market or leverage something while writing it, you’ve lost the focus you need to make your work reach its full potential.  Many of the ideas in this book are ultimately about strengthening your ability to be two different creatures at very different times.

I found I preferred to read the book backwards, starting with II. Private Booklife, then Booklife Gut-Check, and then finally I. Public Booklife.   My reason for doing so (I did actually start out in Section I., then switched to II.) was because I needed more time to think about who I was as a writer before being able to figure out what would and would not work for me as VanderMeer discussed the myriad choices now available for public relations in the Public Booklife section.

Because I’m jaded as a reader of books on writing, I found the best stuff was in Public Booklife, Booklife Gut-Check (in particular the discussion on multitasking and fragmentation), and hidden away in the extensive appendices.  I ended up taking notes as I read those sections because they kept triggering brainstorms.

This is a very helpful book for writers considering how much time and money to spend on efforts to create a “platform.”

Cory Doctorow’s Publishing Experiment

Cory Doctorow has offered himself up as a guinea pig to test two areas of hot debate: 1) does offering a work as a free e-book lose or gain the author money in the long run, and 2) would an author make more money on a book by self-publishing or by going with a traditional publisher.

Here’s what he says:

I’m a contrarian on both of these propositions: that I’m losing money by giving away e-books, and that I’m losing money by using a publisher. I have a nice little Goldilocks gig going—not too hot, not too cold, just the right amount of DIY, independent publishing and just the right amount of professional support and administration from my publisher to sell. But I’m as curious about both propositions as anyone. While it’s fun to argue about whose intuition is more correct, I think facts on the ground beat a priori assumptions every time. So I’ve come up with an idea to get some facts in evidence, while making some money and raising a little hell.

So Doctorow’s third collection of short stories With A Little Help will be done using a self-publishing model, and he’s going to keep track of the sales numbers and actually share the data.

Data he’ll be tracking:  Profit & Loss, E-book, Audiobook, Donations to him, Print-on-demand trade paperback, Premium hardcover edition, Commission a new story for the book for $10,000 (already sold), Advertisements, and Donation of books.

He’ll be posting monthly to Publisher’s Weekly.  His first post is here.

Keep an eye out on what happens with this experiment in the next year or two.

The future of publishing – The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

If you want to get a handle on how technology is going to change the world of publishing, I recommend reading Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail (ISBN 1-4013-0966-4). His book explores the impact of online distribution and markets in detail, and I found it hard to put down. In fact, it was his book that inspired me to start a blog.

The phrase “the long tail” has to do with statistics, what they call the “long-tailed distribution”. In reading this book I found I gained a good understanding of traditional and online distribution methods, and the economics of retail shelving.

The good news is, technology is lowering the cost of production so that more writers can publish or self-publish their work. The bad news is, the markets are getting flooded with more books and e-books than ever. So filters (i.e. customer reviews and suggestions at sites like Amazon.com, or reviewer blog sites) are going to be critical to match readers with writers.

As a reader, I feel at times overwhelmed by the number of books being published each year. I long to find new writers to read, but then I get exhausted just thinking about all the books by favorite authors I have yet to get to. Instead of having too little to choose from, now there is too much.