How John Scalzi Meets His Deadlines
“For me, the major problem is not writer’s block or plot issues or anything structural involving the novel; I generally don’t have problems with those once I start, and with this new novel, thankfully, I didn’t have any real issues starting.
“No, the problem is that the Internet is an attractive nuisance. And not just in the sense of that it distracts me when I need to be writing. No, as I get older, I find that actually plugging into it before I do any novel writing scrambles my brain enough to make it hard to get any appreciable progress made for the day. I think this is a combination of me getting older and the Internet just plain doing a better job of angrying up the blood or otherwise distracting me. I also think it also has to do with a certain amount of habituation, i.e., if I’m checking email, by brain just goes “Oh, we’re on the Internet now,” and just fires up those parts of my brain that work on the Internet. These do not, by and large, correspond to the novel writing parts of my brain.
“How to deal with this? Well, I’ve made a new rule, which really isn’t a new rule, but kind of an update rule. And the rule is: before 2,000 words or noon, whichever comes first, no Internet at all.”
When the prolific notice an obstacle to their productivity, they fix it.
Perfectionists, in contrast, try to fix themselves. A perfectionist’s “plan” for meeting his deadline would typically involve berating himself for being lazy / uncommitted / undisciplined / etc., and then resolving / hoping / praying to somehow do better tomorrow.
Only, he probably won’t–because berating isn’t problem solving. In fact, it actually impedes problem-solving. Which is a shame, because the solutions are often as simple as, “turn off the damned Internet.”
Scalzi is not the only writer who turns off the Internet, by the way. One of Zadie Smith’s rules for writers is, “Work on a computer that is disconnected from the Internet.” And Jonathan Franzen once said, “It’s doubtful that anyone with an Internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.”
I myself can do short, easy pieces (like this post) on an Internet-enabled computer, but I do my books and other complex work on a “vanilla” computer from which the Internet, games, and other distractions have been stripped.
Scalzi adds: “Now, this is similar to the rule I had before, which was no Internet while I was writing. The change is that previously when I woke up, I’d check email and Twitter and what have you, or before I started writing on the novel I might put up a blog post or a Big Idea piece. And I’ve found I can’t really do that anymore — off my brain will go, into a non-novel-writing mode. So: No Internet. At all.”
It’s hard not to get sucked in, so if you can go straight from breakfast (or whatever other event precedes your designated writing time) to your writing computer you can get a nice productivity boost.
1) Keep your Internet computer in a relatively inaccessible location (e.g., basement, guest bedroom, closet) so you don’t encounter it as often.
2) Time your breaks. The Datexx Miracle Cube timers, available individually or in a package of four, are my new favorite thing. I keep one near my Internet computer just to make sure I don’t get sucked in.