Saturday, July 07, 2007

How access to the internet interferes with writing

I have often wondered how much more productive I would be if I didn't have such easy, regular access to the internet. When I say "productive", I mean in terms of proper, published books and articles and not just extensive web-published materials. I know that we all now spend inordinate amounts of time ploughing through the daily batch of emails, and being away for over two weeks, three including Bellingham and Seattle too, and not having regular access to the net, or time to spend there, impresses me about just how much time I must spend every day working on correspondence, and correspondence related activities, as well as reading blogs, blogging myself and so on. I love the internet; I enjoy corresponding; I love blogging; I love reading materials made available on the internet, yet there is always going to be that part of me that wonders just how much more research and writing I would have done and would be doing were it not for the net.

For the first few days of our recent return to the UK, we had a delightful stay in a secluded cottage in the middle of the country near Llandeilo in South Wales. There was no internet availability, no mobile phone signal, even the radio and TV signals were weak. It was bliss. One night, perhaps because of the jet lag, I couldn't sleep, which is very, very rare for me. I decided to spend the time rethinking the book I am writing on the Gospel of Thomas at the moment. Once satisfied, I was able to sleep. The next day, I found a spare couple of hours to begin writing chapter 5 of the book, which is about parable and allegory in the Synoptics and Thomas, and I don't recall ever having written so quickly, or to have found writing so enjoyable. What intrigued me was that the absence of the availability of the net meant that I could not just keep checking up those little references, following up those little niggles or thoughts that arise all the time. I was able to understand more clearly than before why it is that some scholars are able to bang out such enormous volumes of material.

The moral of the story? It's difficult to find it. I am tempted to say that I should allow myself regular abstinence from the internet, that I should be more selfish with my time, that I should introduce a far more rigorous discipline into the way that I work. Given the joys of regular internet access, I know that that is going to be very difficult to do, but I am inclined to give it a serious try.


Tom Reynolds said...

I look forward to your three volume work on Thomas! :-)

Danny Zacharias said...

productivity is definitely something close to my heart, and I find I have to continually work at it. I have disciplined myself to go to google reader at most only once a day. I also set my mail client to only retrieve email every hour. It is funny that we feel the need to be interuppted every 5 minutes for email!

I'm also an adherent of GTD (Getting Things Done) for personal productivity. It has really helped with focusing on what needs to be done.

James F. McGrath said...

That sounds about right. On the one hand, I think that regularly blogging can be a good way of 'keeping in shape' as a writer. And since I have heard that great composers discard more than they publish, I suspect that those of us who write should write much more than actually makes it into books and articles.

Your point about not looking up every last reference is also a good one. A nice trick I learned from my doctoral supervisor Jimmy Dunn is to put a sign $$$ in those places where one needs to go back and add a reference or further information. Since that sign has no other use, you just go back later and search for $$$ and track down the missing references then. It is a good way of keeping the writing flowing, even when one could theoretically stop and look for the needed citation.