The Art of Writing With the Internet
I really enjoy reading my favorite authors’ blogs. Typically, I’m a bad blogger in the sense that I’m usually behind with reading the blogs I love, but when I do get the chance to sit down with a mug of chai tea, I enjoy getting to read the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of the people I admire most. Laini Taylor’s blog is one I keep coming back to. She’s the author of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, one of my favorite books. I just started reading Night of Cake and Puppets, savoring every bit of Zuzana’s adventure. I went on Laini’s blog this morning and read her post about how her most recent writing retreat went. She gave some advice as well about how best to be productive during a writing retreat, and it got me thinking.
A writing retreat is exactly how it sounds: you pack your bags, check into a hotel room for x number of days, and write. The hotel functions as a (comfy) desert island where you will fill up your empty word document because the sand is getting hot and the seagulls are not great conversationalists.
If you’re to go on a writing retreat, Laini suggests that you avoid the internet:
“No internet accesss. This is very important. Go to a hotel without free wi fi and do not buy a connection, and do not ask for a password. Just don't ever go down that path. NO. INTERNET.”
I get it. Checking your facebook account and tweeting photos of your hotel room’s carpeting is not what a writing retreat is all about.
The internet in the enemy. Turn off your wi-fi and go it alone.
Except that I don’t think I could do it. In fact, if I didn’t have the internet, I’d probably trudge home from a retreat with only a big fat bill to show for it.
On the bottom shelf next to my bed, I have as series of binders from pre-college, where I’ve stored drawings, stories, and copies from source material before personal computers were a real thing. Sometimes I open up a binder and look at the stories I wrote, torn out of notebooks and hole-punched together, wondering how I ever managed.
Nowadays, I handwrite notes and outlines for my stories–along with snippets of dialogue or description–but the bulk of my writing happens on a computer. And somewhere along the line, I started using search engines to seek the answers to my questions rather than bugging my mom to drive me to the library.
Yes, the days of interrupting my parents to have them rebuild the Roman aqueducts for me and catch criminals in Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego? is over.
|Is it bad that I never got past the Ancient Rome case? I much preferred the other Carmen Sandiego game where I wasted plane fuel jumping country to country interviewing suspects|
Of course, nothing beats physical source material. When I was writing my thesis, I ordered a 1927 reproduction of a Sears catalogue since the novel takes place in a 20s-inspired world. I spent a whole afternoon flipping through the pages, lost in a world long past (and actually, I considered the idea of dumping my wardrobe and replacing it with all 20s outfits, if only I could pick straight from this catalogue).
Research time usually happens before I even start writing. I gather books from the library or order them if I think I may use the information for future projects, and hunker down with some hot vanilla blueberry tea. I type my notes to make sure I can read them later, haha.
When I’m writing, I don’t usually have sessions where I write straight through. More often, I’ll keep writing until I need to know something. What kind of nuts do airlines serve? How does a jet pack work? If you were in a hot air balloon and the pilot fell out of the basket, how would you figure out how to fly it?
Not all questions can be answered through raiding the library alone (especially because my library severely lacks a decent selection. Hello, inter-library loans!). Google is wonderful for this, and usually I can find a picture or website that helps answer the question so I can move forward with my story. Other times, I might have to email or call an expert in the area… which is something I’ve tried to do multiple times with hilarious results. If you meet me in person, ask me to tell you what happened when I contacted a doll-repair business.
I cannot turn off the internet. If I did, I’d probably be stranded in my draft. I’m not the kind of writer who can simply skip over the issue and continue. I don’t leave “BLANKS” throughout my drafts as markers for places in the story to return to and fill. And I can’t say, “I’ll keep going because it’s a first draft. I’ll just let my imagination free!” Honestly, I wish I could, but it’s just not my process.
So I minimize my document, search the internet, and eventually return with an answer. Rinse and repeat.
Laini is always full of great advice; when I read her blog posts, I’m usually nodding my head vigorously and taking mental notes. Her advice about not using the internet is still good. On bad days, it’s the very thing that prevents you from making progress in anything–not just writing. Even though I can’t bring myself to shut off my internet, thinking about what she said made me aware of how I work and how writing makes it from my head to the paper.
Understanding your process as a writer is pretty important–it’s a surefire way of beating writer’s block, at any rate. Perhaps the internet is more helper than hinderer for you too.