There's a village in my computer -- friends, fans, readers, and colleagues. It's a populous, sometimes chaotic little burg always bustling with news, gossip, opinions and potential excitement. It's very attractive to the writer, the quiet, semi-recluse who is often alone in her own head. When the words dry up and the blank page seems a mile long, this other world is a click away. In a heartbeat, I might be swept from solitude into the virtual current that is our modern world.
Of course, this is the last the thing I need. The business of writing a novel is a long, meandering road into the self, into the imagination. And it's a road the writer travels alone. In the quiet spaces, the empty moments of my life, the path often becomes the most clear. If my attention is too focused outward, rather than inward, I may lose the trail. I'll have to redouble my efforts to find the way back.
As with all things, it's a matter of balance. But the line I walk between the quiet and solitude I need to create, and the gregariousness necessary to promote my work can be particularly tricky. It's very easy to get lured from the quiet into the hubbub. But it's difficult to get back to where I need to be to write well. It requires effort to close the door and focus the mind again. A shift from Word to Mail or Safari, where suddenly I'm posting on Facebook or answering email can represent an hour-long distraction. One thing leads to another. Insidiously, these activities masquerade as work. I am productive, I can tell myself. I am writing! And maybe, in some sense, that's true. I'm just not writing my novel.
And now the distractions are portable. Even exercising, my best personal blank space, where all narrative problems are solved, where inspiration often lives and breathes, I can check my email or log on to Facebook. If I am not mindful, I could fill every blank spot with something less significant than creative thought.
I love the village in my computer. There's little validation in the day-to-day life of a writer; sometimes we ache for a connection. These days, the world is at our fingertips. The same instruments we use to create, allow us to connect in unprecedented ways. But as much as we sometimes want to join in village life, it's the writer's responsibility, most of the time, to remain in margins. Writers don't belong in the town center; we're not a part of the main stream. We have to stand apart to observe well, and we have to observe well to write well.
In one of my favorite books about the craft, On Writing, Stephen King says that writers have to write with "the door closed." When the book first published, Mr. King probably didn't even know how hard it would become for writers to do that. Sometimes it feels like a Herculean, though virtual, effort -- as though I'm pressing my body against a thumping door, the world outside clamoring to get in. Or maybe it's me, clamoring to get out of my own head. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.
When I sit down to write these days, I find it's best if I turn off my access to the Internet. Because of the mommy factor, my time to write is limited and precious. I've removed certain applications from my phone to protect the blank spaces in my life. There's no phone in my office. In the moments that are pregnant with thought, ideas, creative day dreaming, the real work is done; the actual placement of words on the page sometimes feels like the last 5% of the process. Of course, like all organic processes, there is an ebb and a flow to writing. One does not exist without the other. The writer needs to be vigilant in protecting both, confident in the knowledge that the village will be there when we choose, finally, to open the door.