Well, that’s what the tech people want you to believe.
This week Jane Friedman’s excellent blog posted a list of 10 new apps created, supposedly, to help writers stay focused on writing. The first thing I noticed was that the apps are recommended by a social media strategist and manager for writers. How come so many people can’t make the connection between “here’s some free advice” and “this is how I make my living?” It’s called vested interest, and it negates any claim of impartiality.
But for fun, let’s scan the list:
- Anti-Social says turn it on, schedule it for your writing time, and you’ll be blocked from distracting social media websites.
- Coffitivity says that according to research, it can be more difficult to be productive in a quiet space. This app will create a background of coffee shop sounds to “soothe you into your sweet spot of writing.” Are they kidding? Ever really try to write something serious in a coffee shop while sitting next to obnoxious cell phone guy?
- Here’s the most interesting one: Write or Die. In Kamikaze Mode you will need to “keep writing or your work will unwrite itself.” Yeah, I can just see the quality writing flowing from that app.
Let’s face it, as writers, we have to always remember that non-writers are clueless about what we do and how we do it. It probably makes sense to someone who writes code all day that more code is the answer to every problem. But writing ain’t code. It’s intense concentration while disconnected from the rest of the world. As Jonathan Franzen says, a distracted writer is a sloppy writer, and rarely worth reading.
More than that, writing is a discipline. Discipline is about the ability to control one’s mind and/or body. Would you trust a surgeon who just has to check her email in the middle of an operation? Would you even trust the mechanic working on your brakes if he had to hop on Facebook in the middle of the job? Why should I be interested in what you’ve written if you don’t have the self-control to focus on it? If a writer needs one of these apps, my guess is s/he spends more time thinking about when the timer runs out than about the prose or poetry.
When I write, I simply turn off my email. I don’t turn it back on until my session is done. Anyone emails me during that time, they have to wait for a response. I do not, contrary to Franzen’s advice, quit my browser. Often I come to a passage that requires some technical or historical accuracy, and I’m one of those writers who needs to answer those questions before I can move on—the answer might make a difference later in the story. But I don’t digress and click on the browser for a quick game or surf session. A browser is a tool, not a distraction.
How the hell do I do it? Umm, did I mention that writing is a discipline?
But wait, as they say in ginsu knives commercials, there’s more! Readers are no longer safe from the tech stampede. Can’t read fast enough? Here’s an app that says it will “allow you to read novels in under 90 minutes.” I tried it and, wow, read War and Peace in an hour! (I think it’s about Russia.)
Is this our future—writers writing novels without being able to concentrate for more than a couple of minutes at a time. Readers who don’t care because they can rip through any book in no time. Welcome to ADD-Land!
Call me old-fashioned, but I still believe great writing—make that great anything—comes from discipline and focus. It’s a shame the rest of our culture seems bent on breaking us of those qualities.
 If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. A Murphy’s Law corollary, I believe.