Does your tech basically control your whole life? If your answer is no, I don’t believe you. You will, nine times out of 10, stop writing in the middle of a paragraph to respond to a text message. You will gladly open up a new Google search without finishing your thought, because you “need to look something up for your story.” And all those desktop notifications for your apps … they’re great! Until they aren’t.
Technology is awesome! But too much of a good thing can hurt your productivity as a writer. Is it possible that the more we focus on the tools and apps we use to write, the less we focus on our actual writing?
Isn’t it great to be able to track your writing progress?
Of course it is! You can track your word count, your page count, how much progress you’ve made in the last week/month/year – that’s very motivational to many writers. Quantity may not be the most important thing a writer tracks in terms of progress, but in many cases, it helps us measure whether or not we’re doing a good job. Self-accountability. You all know I love self-accountability.
But at what point do these numbers take our eyes off the bigger picture? I still catch myself stopping in the middle of what i’m writing to glance at my word count. It’s a bad habit that I’ve had for, oh, probably about a decade now (*feels old*). It’s a habit anyone can break, but when those numbers are always right there in front of you, it’s not necessarily easy.
Will spending money on an app or program give you more of an incentive to write?
You might think so, but I’m going to have to say no to this one. A few months ago I invested in a new computer, because my laptop was dying and so would my career if I didn’t get better tech to be able to work. Before that, I used a six-year-old Macbook Pro (yeah) to do all my writing and other projects. Once I started freelancing, I saved up for six months before getting the tech I needed. You might not always need a new piece of tech, whether it be a computer, a tablet, a writing program or what have you, but even though I did, I used my writing as an incentive for getting the tech, not the other way around.
You’re much better off starting with what you have, getting into a solid writing routine that works, getting more comfortable with your writing style and establishing a decent online presence (and in some cases, a decent client base if you’re freelancing) before investing in tech you don’t necessarily need. Treat it like a reward. Don’t treat yourself to the reward before you actually accomplish the task.
Does tech eliminate distractions, or create more of them?
A fancy new writing program doesn’t make you immune to distractions, particularly of the internet and mobile variety. Some apps and online tools are so flashy and capable that they actually end up taking away from your writing experience. In Microsoft Word alone, I have dozens of fonts to choose from and can format my pages any way I want. I could spend 10 minutes making my chapter titles look as professional as they ever will under my control. That’s still 10 minutes I could have spent writing, but didn’t actually get any writing done at all.
There are tools you can use to help you avoid distractions, such as programs that only let you write in one window without fancy functions or formatting buttons. But we can do the exact same thing with a pen and paper, which gives your eyes a break from staring at a screen and your wrists a break from typing (if you have atrocious posture like me, this benefit in particular is huge). My advice? Choose something simple. And log out of Facebook for the afternoon. And stop Googling every little thing. Yes, I know you’re guilty of that, as am I. Write. Research is much less important, in your first draft, than you think.
How to set limits
I’m not here to criticize writing apps or shun you for using technology to boost your writing productivity. We just need to be careful with how much we depend on our tech to help us complete our tasks. Tech may be smart, but it can’t do your work for you. Here are a few ways you can – yes, I’m going there – use technology in moderation to get your work done.
- Have a good reason for getting a new piece of tech. Ask yourself: what problem am I currently having, related to writing productivity, that this new app or tool will solve? I didn’t start using Google Docs for the majority of my writing until about a year ago. Before that, I found myself going into every writing session feeling stressed. Not because of the writing itself … but because of how disorganized all my files were. I would see that every time I went to open my documents. Google Docs became the quickest and most convenient solution for me. Don’t just download a new app because you think it looks cool. Seriously. Don’t.
- Set specific cutoff times before and after which you do not use any tech for writing. One of the first things I do when I wake up in the morning is write a few pages in my journal. Yes – writing, by hand, on paper. I am the kind of person who needs to organize thoughts and plan things out before I get my day started. I need to do a little free writing – but not by staring at a screen. It makes your brain tired, after awhile. Give it a rest. Really.
- Separate out your time between the time it takes you to get organized and the time you actually spend writing. When I open up the document my novel lives in every morning, it honestly takes me longer than it probably should to locate which part of the book I want to start working on. Sometimes I have to read a few preceding pages before I can get started. Sometimes I want to turn a specific feature on or off, or I want to set a timer. Don’t let messing with your tech take away from your actual writing time. When your tech time is up, start writing. When your writing time is up, close out, shut down and read a book. Or something.
Technology makes it possible for writers to communicate with one another, work with teams across the world, prioritize tasks – pretty much anything you can imagine, excluding all the sci-fi stuff you secretly love making up in your spare time (or is that just me?), can be done with tech. It’s a great thing to have. But we can’t forget the most important thing about our writing process: the actual words on those virtual pages. The stories. The characters. Getting lost in those fictional moments, and doing so because you are not a piece of tech. You are a person. A storyteller. Make that a priority above all else, always.
What do you think? Do we rely too much on technology to enhance our writing experience? Which apps and tools do you use? How do you set limits for yourself and still make writing a priority?
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.
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