In many ways, the internet can be pretty terrible.
Everywhere you turn, there are new videos to watch. Interesting articles to read. Social media sites are literally created to distract you and keep you distracted. Staying connected has many benefits, and I’m in no way here to say all internet things are evil and writers can’t enjoy any of them.
But you might be putting a little too much blame on virtual webs for your inability to get your writing done. Because here’s a secret: Not everyone is distracted by the internet.
It’s a generalization — “the internet is keeping you from becoming a writer because you can’t stop looking at Facebook.” Do people younger than 25 even still use Facebook?
There are many potential distractions when faced with the task of writing things. When struggling to remain productive, you must consider all your potential options, not just one of them.
Some days, for me, “the internet” is not what is distracting me or preventing me from getting my work done. It’s not that I’m in danger of choosing to watch a random YouTube video over finishing an article, or deciding to read an article completely unrelated to my research topic instead of finding the references I need to finish the project I’m currently working on.
Is this an issue some days? Sure. But more often I find myself unable to complete the tasks in front of me because of factors seemingly completely out of my control. The dog has lost her sanity (if she ever had any to begin with) and needs a second walk. My friend is asking for advice and I would feel rude not texting her back right away.
Or, as so often happens, my reading goal is hanging over my head, because I am almost always behind, and I actively choose to pick up a book instead of writing one.
Banning myself from the internet would not solve any of these creative barriers. And that’s not because the internet does not have the potential to be distracting. Turning off your Wi-Fi when your Wi-Fi isn’t the problem is kind of like going to the dentist when your knee hurts. Going to the dentist can fix many potential problems, but it’s not going to fix the problem that needs immediate attention.
You see, as distracting as the internet can be for many people, this doesn’t mean it’s the creative roadblock that’s causing you to suffer the most. If turning off your Wi-Fi “didn’t work” even though it was “supposed to,” maybe there’s something else going on besides the fact that YouTube videos and BuzzFeed articles are readily available to you at all hours of the day.
There are too many reasons people give for not writing to be able to list every possible problem here. That’s the issue with blogs, isn’t it? I can’t give you personalized advice. It’s just not practical.
But what I CAN do is guess the origins of your struggles. People struggled with “the inability to write despite having the desire to do so” long before YouTube and all the other internet things were around. If it’s not the internet’s fault, then — let’s be honest with ourselves here — it’s yours.
Creative blocks can be just about anything. They can be uncontrollable external factors like friends or tending to a dog’s needs (there are always needs). They can be more abstract issues like fear and self-doubt — you’re so worried about writing something that will impress your friends or a prospective client that you freeze up and can’t write anything or, as more often happens, you do anything and everything EXCEPT sit down and attempt to write something.
You need to ask yourself what’s really going on here. Because internet or none, there’s a reason you aren’t getting your writing done, and you’re likely the only one who knows, deep down, what it is.
If you’re struggling and you want to try writing in a no-Wi-Fi zone, go for it. And if that solves your dilemma and you realize getting your writing done IS possible, even better! Great news.
But if you remove internet connectivity from the equation and you’re still staring at a blank page or unable to focus on the words in front of you for more than 15 seconds at a time, forget about getting rid of the internet. It’s not going to help you.
Instead of treating this as a defeat, however, put in the effort to come up with another solution — or, first and foremost, identifying what your real “problem” is.
In my case, I’ve learned that the dog needs to be walked before I sit down to write. If I try writing before she’s had her walk, I’m going to be distracted/interrupted and it’s going to annoy and inconvenience me even though it happens every single time. If a friend is asking for advice, nine times out of 10 it’s not urgent and I can tell her I will text her when I’m done working in a few hours. And I can either put off reading or try to do it earlier in the day — just, sigh, not during my writing time.
My distractions change from day to day, but they’re still predictable. I’ve come to learn the associations between my moods and my productivity and the patterns that point to when I’m going to struggle to get my work done the most. If you want to be productive in any capacity, you have to pay attention. You have to focus — gasp! — on what you’re thinking and feeling and what’s going on around you and decide if and how you can write despite these numerous distractions.
Don’t waste your time applying solutions that weren’t developed to fix your problems. The internet is not always the root cause of your struggle. I think we hate on it and other technologies far too much because we refuse to blame ourselves or take responsibility for our behaviors.
Will putting your phone down or disconnecting from your Wi-Fi network help, in some cases, make getting the words written a little easier? Maybe. But not always. If it helps, great. If it doesn’t, move on to a different solution. You CAN write. You just need to figure out what’s really stopping you and stop it instead.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.