“Fight and you may die. Run and you'll live -- at least a while. And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom!” – William Wallace as played by Mel Gibson (who is a little racist; but, hey, aren’t we all sometimes?)
This is a blog post about Freedom. Not the kind of freedom William Wallace fought for, or the kind of freedom guaranteed in the Constitution, but, rather, Freedom.
With a capital F.
Freedom from E-mail. Freedom from Facebook. Freedom from Twitter. Freedom from that Huffington Post story that leads to a blog that leads to a YouTube video that leads to another YouTube video that leads to this utterly hysterical spoof called DiscountKoalaMeat.com and OMFG that is so funny I’ve got to go off and Tweet it and, I’m sorry, I just got an e-mail that might be from my editor but, nuts, it’s just another DorothyL digest and, I’m sorry, what was I writing about again?
Oh, right, Internet Freedom.
In case you haven’t heard about it, it’s a software program that blocks your Internet access for a set amount of time. You can download here and if you are remotely like me – an easily distractible natural procrastinator who craves the small, instant gratification that receiving an e-mail can provide – I will suggest it is perhaps the greatest writing tool since the ballpoint pen.
And, yeah, I know that when Josh Corin agreed to have me on the blog today, his biggest fear was probably that I’d end up making this post one long shill for my latest book, EYES OF THE INNOCENT. Instead, I’m turning it into a shill for this brilliant and utterly necessary bit of software – and, trust me, you’ll thank me later.
It’s marvelously simple. It costs $10 (no, I don’t get a cut). It downloads and installs itself in a matter of minutes. When you fire it up and it asks you one easy question: “How many minutes of freedom would you like?”
You type in the number and, voila, you are saved from yourself. For the next XXX minutes (I suggest easing in with a nice 120), you cannot succumb to the sordid temptation of the quick e-mail peak that leads checking the weather for the weekend that leads to a fascinating story about a tropical storm brewing in the Azores that leads to the one simple weight loss secret all celebrities know and, wait, there’s another e-mail and it might be from my agent but, dadgummit, it’s just another MWA listserv so maybe I should just check my Amazon ranking and, I’m sorry, where was I?
Oh, yeah, Freedom. And how it helps your writing. Because instead of thinking about the 14 things the Internet throws at you every bleeping minute, you’re only concentrating on one thing. The thing you ought to have been focusing on all along. Your story.
The science behind this is utterly clear. People who allow themselves to be interrupted during the creative process have far poorer outcomes than those who work continuously. The mechanism behind this is suspected to be a structure deep inside the frontal cortex, a part of the brain that has been highly implicated in the complex act that is fiction writing. In brain scans, researchers have found this structure glows brighter the longer it is allowed to concentrate on one task but immediately dims when it is interrupted by another task – like, for example, that quick run over to Facebook.
In one famous longitudinal study, Stanford psychologist N. Iroch Soj recruited 40 students who identified themselves as aspiring authors and split them into two groups. One was given free access to the Internet while they wrote. The other was provided laptops without wireless cards and signed a pledged to only write on those machines.
After five years, an astonishing 12 members of the non-Internet group had signed multi-book deals with Big Six publishing companies; another four, while not yet published, were agented and out on submission. In the Internet group? There were no deals and only three shoddily written query letters between them. But damn did they answer their e-mails fast!
Okay, okay. I made that up. All of it. (Those of you who are really on the ball may have noticed that N. Iroch Soj is actually Josh Corin spelled backwards). But I’m sure a study like that exists. And I’m also sure, if I had Internet access right now, I could have easily wasted three hours poring over Psychology Today until I found it.
Instead, I’m writing this while using Internet Freedom, so I spent about two minutes inventing that yarn; three minutes figuring out how, exactly, you spell “Josh Corin” backwards; maybe ten minutes actually writing it; and then two more minutes wondering if it was clever enough to fool Becky Cantrell (probably not, she’s pretty smart). But that’s the beauty of writing fiction. It doesn’t have to be real, just real enough to fool Josh. (And it probably did, because he’s not as smart as Becky).
Now, maybe you’re the kind of person with the massive amount of willpower necessary to resist that little “You’ve Got Mail” button that flashes on your screen while you’re writing. I’m not. I’m a person with a very tiny amount of willpower.
But that’s the best part of Freedom. It only takes one small act of discipline – opening a computer program and typing in a number – to take care of you until you’ve had enough time to reach your daily writing goal.
Try it. And send me an e-mail at brad at bradparksbooks.com when you’re done to let me if it works for you. Just be warned: It’ll be at least another 143 minutes before I have a chance to answer.
Brad Parks' debut, FACES OF THE GONE, became the first book ever to win both the Nero Award and Shamus Award, two of crime fiction’s most prestigious prizes. His second book, EYES OF THE INNOCENT, just released from St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books. Library Journal gave it a starred review, calling it “as good if not better (than) his acclaimed debut."
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