There was a time when I dreamed of having unlimited time to write. When I wouldn’t have to deal with the distractions of regular deadlines as a reporter, or even before that, when I wouldn’t have to fit my writing around school or my day jobs. I dreamed of finally having the time and space to type up all the ideas bouncing around inside my skull.
I got lucky. Somehow I got to that place. I get to write full-time now. I’ve published six novels and three novellas, sold a screenplay, and written more articles than I can count. I’m currently working on a new novel, an interactive fiction game, and a script. I’ve just gotten my daughters out the door for school. I’ve got six hours, more or less, to do nothing but type.
And so, of course, I check Twitter and Facebook. I get drawn into arguments that have nothing to do with me, carried out by people I’ve never met, who do not care about my opinion and will never change their minds in response to anything I type or say. I feel my pulse rise with the latest outrage or idiocy, or my heart break with the latest bit of inhumanity or tragedy. I get distracted. I get angry.
When I’m done, I usually feel like I’ve just eaten a bunch of fast food — greasy and bloated and a little sick.
Then I remember I’ve still got to write.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. I have a lot of friends who are writers, and they report the same thing. We are all living in The Age of President Trump (which is basically a four-word dystopian short story right there). We are semi-terrified to turn away from Twitter in case he decides to launch a nuclear strike in a fit of rage, and we spend too much time on Facebook making bad jokes in an effort to deal with the daily onslaught of stuff we never thought we’d see happen in real life.
Technology can help: the somewhat Orwellian-sounding app “Freedom” will lock you out of your distractions. You can use parental controls on your phone to do the same thing. Or you can go low-tech, and haul your laptop to a place without wifi. You can even try writing longhand on paper.
When I think of these measures, I’m reminded of a film we saw in health class back in junior high that recommended wrapping a cigarette pack in foil to quit smoking. But making it harder to get the fix doesn’t address the underlying need.
The first step, they say, is admitting you have a problem. And I do. I like the feeling of immediacy that comes from being plugged into my newsfeeds 24-7. I became a writer, in part, because I am an information junkie. I want to know how the world is put together, and what is happening in it. And then I want to find a way to explain it all.
Social media is one way to do that. The other way — the harder way — is to write.
So this is what I try to do now. I take a deep breath. I remind myself that the world will still be there in a few hours. And that writing is the way only way I have ever known of saving it, even if it’s just a few pages at a time.
And then I start typing.
Christopher Farnsworth is the author of HUNT YOU DOWN, available Nov. 2 from Bonnier Zaffre.