Writer’s block, Part II
So, it had been decided that I wasn’t too old to write another book. So what could be the problem? If there is an external reason why this book wasn’t getting written, I can either change something and write, or at least get the message and move on.
Writing a book requires more than a functioning body and brain. It requires habits, tools, and (as I have advised many a would-be writer) motivation.
My almost forgotten morning habits
For about a decade I was a full time writer. Imagine that, what luxury! During those blessed years, early morning was dedicated to the current creative project. Wake, think, write. That’s how it went, day after day, year after year. Wake, think, write. I suppose I ate breakfast, probably in bed.
One by one came changes that destroyed the simple beauty of my mornings.
When I started a business in my 60s that familiar rhythm went right down the tubes. My early morning routine became more cluttered: wake, meditate, feed the cat, tai chi, breakfast in bed —so far so good, it’s still only 6.30—but oh la la then came the smartphone and social media. To add to the confusion, I now host occasional AirBnB guests, adding more flurry to mornings. And thanks to my boot camp for the bonus years, I then developed a beautiful exercise routine that took place, naturally, in the early mornings.
Goodness knows how I managed to spit out the occasional book. My last novel took a very long time to write, which only makes it harder. My writing behavior was chaotic. I’d create plans that changed from week to week — I would vow to spend Thursdays at the National Library, or write after lunch (daft), or write on Saturdays, or stay in the country for a few days. None of these habits ever stuck. Mornings are better. Mornings happen every day.
Arresting the smart phone saboteur
My smart phone perpetrated the deadliest, most pervasive sabotage. It didn’t just disrupt my mornings: it was disrupting my brain. You know exactly what I mean, don’t you? I’ll confess to my own folly, confident that I’m not alone in this. For you it may be a tablet that lures your attention, but same reason: the internet and all who sail in her.
I had been squandering that precious early morning time by diving into the iPhone at breakfast or even earlier. Sometimes even before meditating. Now that is weird, like getting a fix before rehab. What would I check in the morning? Some, no, many of the following: messages, The New York Times, The Guardian, BBC news, Stuff, news apps of Japan and Korea, The Daily podcast, Facebook, comments on my blog, other blogs, the weather, earthquakes, meet-ups, and yesterday’s step count. (Over 24 hours I might use 30 applications, including books, podcasts, email, videos, browsers, notes, maps, and games.)
Social media snuck up on me
Social media is a prime culprit, and it contributes to an endless jabber and jumble of news, flinging handfuls of trivial, deep, true, fake, wanted, unwanted, personal and global information in our face. I had been paddling in the shallows, just the way Nicholas Carr predicted.
Worse for the mind is the fact that all this activity was merely consuming content, not doing original work, not producing. Those very words—consume, content, produce—have gained new meanings with the rise of the internet. They used to puzzle me, but now I get it: content means stuff, any old stuff that you put into a container such as a blog or app or website or magazine. Quality is irrelevant. Some people produce stuff and stick it in containers. Other people suck it up, they consume it. Some stuff is good stuff, but we don’t need it more than once a day.
Whenever I picked up my iPhone, I stopped thinking and started sucking. This had been obvious for years, had I cared to see it. Now, finally, I looked at my iPhone and saw the physical manifestation of writer’s block, and I’ve changed the way I’ve been using it.
I’ve kept my Facebook page, Rachel McAlpine Books: that still matters, but I’ve disabled my personal Facebook timeline. Sorry, my Friends, I won’t see your posts any more.
WordPress matters to me: my blog and the blogs of others. But blogging, though “creative”, is fragmented and unsatisfying compared with a bigger work. So that drops back in the queue for my attention.
News finds you: no need to graze
I’ve unsubscribed from news sites. I got addicted to the New York Times when Trump was elected, that’s a fact. But you don’t need to actively hunt for news. You get news by default, you can’t avoid it. If something big happens, people will tell you. Now I get news on the kitchen radio, and I read the New Scientist and local newspapers in cafes. Later in the day I sometimes sample a more reflective article instead of the thrill of endless updates.
My job is not sucking: it’s writing. For the last three weeks I have changed my habits, writing for two hours every morning. When it’s reading time, I read a book. (The iPhone’s handy for that.) Wish me luck with the new regime.
 Nicholas Carr The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains
Photo by Rachel McAlpine CC BY 2.0