How To Stop The Internet From Sabotaging Your Writing Routine

Editor’s note: this is a guest post by T.S. Bazelli of Inkstained.

Do you suffer from Connectivitis*?

A common side effect of modern technology, that leaves one stressed when disconnected from the internet or parted from a cell phone?

Symptoms may include:
1. Anxiety when you can’t check your email.
2. Missing holes in time when you’re surfing the internet. There’s always one more article, one more email, one last tweet.
3. Panic if you’ve left home without your cell phone.
4. Compulsion to check the internet one last time before going to bed, even though you’ve checked your email an hour ago.
5. A need to have a computer constantly running, or you have a Blackberry/iPhone/smartphone with a data plan. It’s the first thing you turn on when you get home, oh wait it’s already on!
6. Sending texts while at dinner with friends, or in a meeting, or while in school.
7. Constant switching between browser tabs while working.

The cure: Internet detox.(Yes there’s only one cure)

This is my confession.

I used to go away for a weekend, off camping, or on holiday, and I would not feel relaxed unless I checked my email. Holidays were not fun. Something was ticking at the back of my mind telling me the quiet was wrong, that something was missing, and the first thing I would do when I got home was turn on the computer.

I didn’t even know I had a problem until I packed up, moved away to Greece, and had to make due with a borrowed computer and a 56k modem (sometimes). Every email took 3 minutes to load, and after a while I just gave up. I started checking my email just once a week. Man was that hard. I only knew one person in the city. I hardly spoke Greek. It was a very lonely time for a while.

The first few weeks were the toughest, but as time went on, for some reason the days started to feel longer. I would go out with friends, and there would still be time left in the day, even after school, after homework. After a while, the anxiety melted away, and you know what? I finally felt relaxed, for the first time in a long time.

When I came back home, I suddenly I found myself busy again, running around, complaining about a lack of time. How come the days felt shorter? Why didn’t I have enough time? I started timing myself on the computer. How much time did I spend checking email, blogs, Twitter, Wikipedia?

Honestly, I was spending more time than I realized. I had to take back all those times I complained that I was too busy to write. I had time, but I was wasting it!

I tried another an experiment. In the month of December, I decided to physically unplug the network cable when it was time to write. Unfortunately, unplugging wasn’t enough. My willpower really sucks, so I had to move my laptop into a room where the cable wouldn’t reach (thank goodness I don’t have wireless).

You know what happened? I used to write at a good pace of 1k a day, but in one month, I’d written 70k (I still can’t believe it). I got faster. I could sit and write for longer stretches of time. It surprised me too.

You know we’re all busy with life, with work, with all the other things. A little less stress and a little more focus, is not a bad thing. I never realized how much anxiety this constant connection caused until I stopped and unplugged. These days I enjoy my vacations. I think I am a happier, healthier person too. Here’s some things I learned:

  • The world will not end if you do not check your email.
  • The internet keeps on going even if you’re not there.
  • You don’t have to be committed to keeping up. A weekend, a week, you can just jump back in after. Clear your feed reader. Start fresh. You’ll feel better.
  • If it’s important it can probably wait until you get back. If not, someone will find a way to get in touch with you.
  • People won’t unsubscribe from your blog if you go on vacation for a week. Don’t feel guilty about taking a break if you need to. If you’re going away for longer, you can always schedule your posts ahead of time. Remember, if visitors are reading your blog on a feed reader, they only get notified when you post something new, not if you don’t post. *Note, for disbelievers I have experimented with this too. You may not get new followers if you haven’t updated, but your old ones won’t just disappear that quickly.

Here are some tricks and tips to make it easier to unplug:

  • Put your phone on silent, and even disable vibrate. Leave it in another room for a while. It won’t run away. I promise.
  • If you are connected via a cable, unplug. If you have wireless, turn off the router if no one else needs the internet, or if you have a laptop there’s a button that will turn off the wireless signal.
  • If that’s not enough, physically get away from an internet connection. Walk farther than your cord can reach. Find a cafe where the Internets not free, or there is none. What about writing in the park if the weather’s good?

Thereโ€™s no reason to be scared of unplugging. Try it. You may be surprised at the results.

Do you have any tips for maintaining focus?

* Yes I made that up.

T.S. Bazelli is a technical writer by day, and writer of fiction by night. When sheโ€™s not plugged into a computer, youโ€™ll likely find her with a nose in a book, making a mess with a sewing machine and scissors, or terrorizing the house plants. Ink Stained is her blog about genre storytelling and the craft of writing.

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57 comments on “How To Stop The Internet From Sabotaging Your Writing Routine

  1. Most of your comments hit me squarely in the keyboard. Well done.
    I’m one of the people who work very hard to avoid getting done the work on the plate. I don’t know why. Well, perhaps I do, but do not want to admit it. Still, your post hits the mark.

    Time to rethink my priorities.


  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Theresa. Theresa said: RT @ollinmorales: How To Stop The Internet From Sabotaging Your Writing Routine: […]

  3. Leianne says:

    Oh this is so me! Thanks so much for the advise, I’m looking forward for my success in unplugging from the net ^_^

  4. Ollin says:

    The only way we can get our writing done is by limited our time on the internet. Get writing done FIRST, and then have fun without feeling any guilt!

    Great confessions T.S., we all have been there.

    • T.S. Bazelli says:

      Yup! Now the internet is a reward instead of a distraction. It’s good to know I’m not the only one that struggles with this. Thanks for asking me to guest post today Ollin!

    • Bebete Indarte says:

      Exactly…the last years I found myself completely addicted to networks and abandoned my ‘simple blog’ finding loads of excuse for not writing anymore.
      I know my skills, like my writings style, love writing. Fortunatelly this year 2011, decide to make some changes and I found the ‘zen habits’ and now your blog to give me more focus on the simple things. I’m very glad and want to write soon again, cause I’m a happier person when I’m writing.

  5. Great post, I unplug my internet connection, turn off my landline and also put my mobile on silent, it’s the only way I can concentrate to write ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. I recently kept track (to the minute) of all my online time, and it was…alarming. I can completely see how your word count could sky-rocket by going off-grid. It’s all about balance~

    • T.S. Bazelli says:

      Yeah you’re right. I still spend time surfing the internet (more than I should), but I make sure my writing time is the priority, and uninterrupted ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. T.S. Bazelli says:

    Exactly! Thanks for reading!

  8. Every Internet user needs to have a read through this. Thank you, Tessa, for this informative and inspiring share. I agree that once you unplug yourself from the continuous mental grind that the Internet leaves you with, you become more productive. Heck, I sometimes even check email while in the theatre! I know, it’s rude, but ah. . . blame the addiction!

    Though I must add that now my habits have far improved ๐Ÿ˜‰


    • T.S. Bazelli says:

      Oh you’re one of THOSE people. Hehe just teasing you. The temptation is everywhere. We’re all so distracted these days. It’s hard to focus on anything anymore.

  9. Tracy says:

    Being plugged into personal connections via the Internet at work is a huge compliant by business owners and companies looking to employ the younger generation. Do you have any suggestions for business owners and employees to make the work environment productive and limit 20-something employee “stress” from not being able to Tweet in the middle of a meeting?

    • T.S. Bazelli says:

      I hadn’t thought about that much, but I’ll have a go. How about making meetings more interactive so that all employees have to participate in some way (and have no time to tweet or text)? Also I think if managers do not bring their phones to meetings it would be a better example of the expectations (I see managers constantly on their blackberries). Smaller meeting sizes also might reduce the texting/tweeting. Those ideas won’t always work, but maybe sometimes.

      • Ollin says:

        Great idea T.S.! May I also suggest adding a group meditation? A moment where the whole team just takes the time to become present, fully aware, and leaves all of the stress they have brought with them out the door?

        You can read books by John Kabit Zinn to learn great meditation exercises.

        Good luck to you Tracy!

  10. Marnie says:

    Hmmm. How about talking to someone (on the phone or in person) when you feel the need to connect instead of going straight to Facebook or Twitter? The former will nurture your soul much more than the latter.

  11. I don’t do it often, but every once in a while I take a trip that forces me to disconnect. There’s no easy way to get to the internet, so I’m just off — and I love it. For all that I love the net, it’s just so freeing to not have to login to a load of sites and keep track of things. Instead, I get to connect to my family, my friends and to the world around me.

    Now, I don’t tend to do this of my own accord, but I sure do enjoy it when it does happen. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. GH Bogan says:

    This was like an intervention for me. I found myself checking the email on my phone while reading your page on the computer. I don’t need detox, I need tech rehab!!

  13. souldipper says:

    Thank you, Ms. Bazelli and Ollin! Very, very helpful. Your mirror is well polished and the image is too glaring. *Promises to leave this computer in 20 minutes and go to bed early for a change.*

  14. unabridgedgirl says:

    I can honestly say I’m okay if I don’t have my e-mail, facebook, blog, texts, etc. for a few days and what not. In fact, my friends complain because I’m hard to get a hold of…I’m that bad with a phone and texting. That said, I really just don’t have any more excuses to NOT finish my manuscript. Ha. Great article, though. (As if that’s shocking!)

    • T.S. Bazelli says:

      I’m actually pretty bad with my cell phone, but I just obsess over email, and spend too much time surfing the net ๐Ÿ˜‰ Yup, no more excuses for you!

  15. Jan O'Daniel says:

    So glad you shared this. Like you, I’ve found this to be true. I’m even using a $10 program called Freedom (for Mac) that let’s me lock myself into an offline state so I can be more productive. I need reminder posts like yours to realize that it’s within my ability to create a more productive writing routine.

    • T.S. Bazelli says:

      That’s a good recommendation for software to use. I think there are other programs that do something similar as well. It’s just so tempting to procrastinate isn’t it?

  16. I was usually very good of getting disconnected when I’m on vacation. Except last time. We were staying over at my brother in law, and we had internet. At first it seemed nice that I could still check my e-mails, etc. but then I realized that made me feel I’m not on vacation, I’m not completely relaxed. Bad idea. So I immediately disconnected myself.
    When I work, I still think I do need my internet connection. As long as I could be completely honest with myself if what I’m doing is real work or just procrastinating, then I’m fine. There lies my true challenge.

  17. […] How To Stop The Internet From Sabotaging Your Writing Routine ยซ {Courage 2 Create}. This entry was posted in writing and tagged writing tips. Bookmark the permalink. […]

  18. Tony Noland says:

    I spend more time on the internet than I should. I’m working to correct this.

  19. G E N E V I E V E says:

    Thank you for this. I only get one hour to write every afternoon – while the little ones sleep. The other day I accidentally spent the ENTIRE time on youtube! Embarrassing! You know how few music videos that is? I started off doing “research” for a short story about the Grunge movement. I would up not writing a word. Yikes. You are so right on.

  20. I do suffer from over abundance of blog reading . Your post is a hard reminder to do something about it. Thanks for the story in Greece.

    But I’m slightly opposed to tricking yourself to have focus. Can’t we just work on the actual problem – our concentration/focus levels?

    I quit smoking after 6 years. When I did it, I actually cut it abruptly. It was not gradual, no nicotine patches, no buddy support or group therapy. Just willpower.

    I know it’s a losing battle trying to build the will power for focus (I can’t do it). But if you persist, one day we “may” prevail.

    What do you think? Maybe I should try that experiment and blog about it.:-)

    I loved ollin’s idea of having a home page which says “WRITE”.

    • T.S. Bazelli says:

      If you try it you should blog about it! I’ve found that it’s a lot easier now to resist temptation, because I’m not looking for/expecting that constant distraction of the internet. I guess, for me, unplugging has been a way of re-training myself to focus rather than a trick.

      • Exactly what I wanted to hear – “re-training myself to focus”. Sometimes it becomes necessary to try approach a problem with different solutions, even if some of them may sound unconventional.

        I mean, How long can I keep telling myself – write. Dammit write. Wriiiiiteeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee


        I’ve just read your ideas again and I will make one more attempt at the old-fashioned way tomorrow and if that doesn’t work, I will try some of your ideas:-)


  21. So true, the internet: so seductive.

    This advice is part of the reality I have to deal with. I already don’t have any actual free or free-able time to write… and the internet is a harsh taskmaster when it comes to doing what I need to during the day.

    That’s why I had to cut back a lot on the blogs I read and comment on. It means that I have less traffic to my site, but I just don’t have time to invest in it, now.

    • T.S. Bazelli says:

      Yeah, I’ve not been around much these days. A lot of things are more important – which is not to say that I don’t miss the socializing! Just have to keep those priorities in check.

  22. Great post!

    I know I suffer from this problem. I constantly find myself making excuses for why I might need to go on the internet during a writing session. At this point, I need to either turn of the wireless, or leave the house (and internet signal) altogether.

    The most amazing thing, though, is the feeling of freedom once I’ve been disconnected for a while. It reminds me that not too long ago, we all lived without constant, immediate information.

    Thanks for the suggestions!

  23. […] Ask Why — Dig Deep, Find the Answer to Why Now? by JC Hutchins on Writer UnboxedHow to Stop The Internet From Sabotaging Your Writing Routine by T.S. Bazelli of InkStained, on Courage2Create Saying No by Chris Garrett at Three […]

  24. magenta says:

    This is a great post, I also suffer from constantly wondering about what is going on online… the constant checking of messages and page updates within projects.. Totally unplugging is a great strategy i am going to try it, thanks for the tip.

  25. Daniele says:

    Well, I’m trying to do that for over an year. The problem is having the computer in front of me, if there’s no computer I don’t feel tempted. But I need the computer to write. I just can’t control myself…
    Great post though, I feel like giving unplugging another chance.

    • Ollin says:

      Try to make a private page on your blog that says “write first” and then make it your homepage on every browser you have. This way when you go to click for the internet: “Write First” appears.

      • Daniele says:

        It could work, if I didn’t save all the tabs before closing my browser… I’d better stop doing that… Yeah, I’ll stop doing that! Thanks for the advice, I’ll try making this work.

  26. I hate to tell you this, but even some parks (especially the national ones) aren’t wireless-free these days. As with TV sets in restaurants and waiting rooms (one of my pet hates), the powers that be are going out of their way to give the addicted majority what they demand.

    Ironically, your post was one of a long list of e-mail-related items that have had me in a quiet rage for the last two hours because I’m being kept up late getting to the end. (Seems to happen practically every day now.) At least you convinced me not to go back and check for new messages one last time before logging off!

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