Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Rules for the Leap

Don't know how many South Park fans are reading this, but if you're out there, do you remember the Underpants Gnomes? Of course you do. For the uninitiated, they were these little magical critters that stole underpants. Later Stan and Kyle et al discovered the gnomes' secret underwear stash, along with their plan to leverage this life of crime into untold riches. The plan was this:

1. Collect underpants
2. ?
3. Profit

They were a little fuzzy on the details of that second step.

I bring this up because my own second step could use a little work. It's very, very easy to talk about writing, about ideas for characters, about how much I plan to get done tomorrow. But it's also remarkably easy to talk about all this without actually getting any writing done. Do a Google search for writing advice, and sooner or later you'll run across the acronym BICFOK. It stands for 'Butt in chair, fingers on keys'. It is shocking how difficult it can be to put yourself in that physical position, but it's pretty damn crucial to make a habit of it. You know, to actually write.

But isn't writing a glorious labour of love? Isn't it a passion? Isn't it fun? Well, yes and no. For me, it's actually pretty agonising. Just agonising in a good way. I know some fantastic writers who seem to overflow onto the page, who can barely hold back the stories pouring out of them, and for whom editing is a matter of pruning it all back to manageable form. I'm not one of those writers. Mine tends to work more like knitting, stitch after careful stitch. It takes a touch of obsessive-compulsiveness, a sort of zoning in and focusing on tiny details like a hippie on acid. And I get very, very easily distracted.

My biggest problem is a very 21st-century one. My husband and I call it 'internet hypnosis', and we're both highly susceptible. All I have to do is type the first letter or two of a favourite blog into the address bar and suddenly I'm swept down the rabbit hole. Especially if there are links. I'll suddenly find myself desperate to read, say, a list of the top 20 robot henchmen in geekdom. Or a slideshow of the world's most luxurious rooftop swimming pools. Or (ahem) a Sesame Street version of True Blood. But my biggest addiction is feminist blogs -- Shakesville, Tiger Beatdown -- where I can get utterly lost in the details of, say, the Stupak amendment or (irresistibly combining loves) a feminist take on Doctor Who.

There's just too much noise in my head.

So I'm going to lay down some ground rules, right here, publicly and in black and white (or the blog-design version of that). I need to slow down my internal rhythm, and that's going to take some drastic steps. So:

1. No web surfing. That includes following links, watching ANY YouTube video (even Cat Yodeling or Sesame Street), or so much as opening a browser without a clear idea of what website I plan to visit.
2. If I have spare time that cannot be filled by writing, I will read books instead of blogs.
3. I will only respond to notifications I get via e-mail, rather than seeking them out. My e-mail is very nice. It tells me if somebody's commented on my blog or left me a message on Facebook. It even lets me read the messages and comments, right there in the e-mail. I will only go to those sites if I intend to write a post or a reply, not just to browse.
4. Feminist blogs are a treat for when I've put in a good solid writing session. But the above rules still apply -- no following links.
5. No geek sites, including Topless Robot, Cracked, or Den of Geek. Unless my husband is reading them out loud to me.
6. If I find myself resorting to anything else to feed the distraction monkey, I'll add it to the list.
7. All of these rules still apply when breaking them would not involve writerly procrastination. This isn't just about the actual time involved; it's about curing myself of this self-induced, artificial, web-based ADHD. It's about giving myself the brain of a writer, instead of the brain of an over-caffeinated 12-year-old.
8. I'm still allowed to blog. But not if it starts to qualify for Number 6.

Yeah, think that about covers it. So from now on, if you see me posting YouTube links on Facebook, please don't encourage me. Give me a stern virtual look and point me to this post. Or just ignore me altogether.

And if your underwear goes missing, just know that it's going to a good cause.

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