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Getting Sucked Into The Time Sink of the Internet...and What I'm Going To Do About It (What About YOU?)


CautionaryComic 011 200w

To the left: my comic for Writer Unboxed this past weekend. You can see a bigger version by clicking on the comic and going to Writer Unboxed (a GREAT site for writers, by the way, if you haven't already visited).

I have found this pattern to be increasingly the norm for me up to now.

There are just so MANY great blogs to read, e-mail messages to catch up on, posts to write, collab blogs to participate in, comics to draw, writer & illustrator communities to check out, author and illustrators pals to help promote, etc.

While all of these activities are fun AND related to my various work projects and career goals, I realize that I still need to find the right balance between online networking/collab and working on my own projects. My "to do" list is always waaaaaaaaaay long, and my own creative work has been coming last.

Talking to author/poet/publisher Lawrence Schimel in NYC last week has really inspired me.

My goals:


I have so many book ideas and also so many only partly-finished or partly-outlined projects: some writing (fiction & nonfiction) and some writing & illustrating (picture books, illustrated middle grade novels). I need to get more of these finished and OUT there.

Yes, I have a brilliant agent (Ginger Knowlton at Curtis Brown) but she needs finished projects or project proposals in hand before she can send them out.


Related to publishing more books: I want to work on improving my craft in both writing and illustrating, and that takes time. I don't want to just publish books. I want to keep getting better at what I do, to always be pushing myself to learn more, try new things, and most of all -- to practice practice PRACTICE.


I started doing an office purge this past weekend, culling my print book collection and setting aside nearly 200 books to give to non-profits. Many were books that I had always meant to read but have to face the fact that I would never read (books that caught my eye at used bookstores, for example). Some were books I read and enjoyed but will likely never read again. I plan to replace my favourites with e-books, which take up less space, making it more feasible for me to buy new print books. :-)

But as I did my purge, I began to realize that I don't read nearly as many books as I did years ago. What gives? The answer: I'm spending much more time online than I did years ago.

Internet addict

What I'm Going To Do About It:

Ideally, I'd like to say I'm going to stay offline in the mornings until I get some creative work done. I have a daily publishing industry news column for Writersmarket.com to research and write each weekday morning, however, and that inevitably gets me on a slippery slope as I come across all kinds of interesting links and info and blogs as I comb the Web for publishing news.

I'm also aware that going cold turkey will likely end in me falling off the wagon, given that I've gotten used to being constantly online and connected for many years.

So here's my plan, posted here in public to help keep me accountable:

- When I work on my Writersmarket.com, I'm going to stay focused on the task and not let myself get tempted into wandering off the path. If I think of something important I need to do online that's not related to my column, I'll keep a list (I'm big on lists).

- I'll let myself check e-mail ONCE mid-morning (I usually get up around 6:30 or 7 a.m., so that would be about 9:30 or 10) to see if there's any URGENT e-mail. I will resist answering other e-mail or checking e-mail again until noon.

A Brilliant Idea

What about YOU?

At this point, some of you out there are rolling your eyes and thinking, "Geez, that doesn't sound like much." And while this may not be for you, it's a big step for me. I'm going to revisit my goals and progress and post here again in a month, to let you all know how I did. And if any of YOU want to post your own related goals in the comments section, feel free! Then you can update us all on your progress in a month when I do.

Some of you may also be thinking, "See? THIS is why I stay off all social media." Let me be clear: I am NOT giving up on social media! In my experience, the benefits of using social media far outweigh the negatives. I just need to be more disciplined in when and how I use it.

Any thoughts? Comments? Anyone else want to post their monthly Internet Anti-Distraction Goals?

Reader Comments (22)

I suffer from this exact same malady. So, I'm trying the "I can eff off until 9am and then it's ass in the chair time" strategy. Turning on Mac Freedom helps too. Or I go to the black hole in my basement rec room where I know I can't get a signal.

So far, my success rate is about 65/35 but I'm shooting for an increase in productivity. Baby steps, I guess.

Thanks for the encouragement and the challenge. Good luck to you!

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPamala Knight

I love your goals!

Mine for this year are to:

Finish my SEA-quel
First draft Book 3
Revise another YA novel and get it ready to submit.

I've actually been using social media to improve my productivity by participating in #wordmongering on twitter (30 mins of dedicated writing on the hour, 30 mins of dedicated goofing off on the half ;-) )

I also host #weekendwordwar and #wednesdaywordwar on Facebook to keep motivated and to motivate others.

So, while social media can be a distraction it has also helped me be more productive in a sense.

Good luck with your goals!!

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHelene Boudreau

I get caught in that too! I start by saying that I'm going to make a post about X. Then I research all about X and want to distribute all of the information about the article that I just read... or I end up saying, 'oh, just one more video game' and letting that one more take the rest of the day. I'm going to follow in your footsteps, staying off the internet in the hour that I'm waking up to write (I write SO much better then) ... thank you for this post! :)

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEJ Hunter

Good luck with your e/internet "diet". I have the same problems and have found keeping a daily/weekly list of Tasks & projects that I need/want to accomplish helpful in keeping me focused. I also am always looking for ways to help balance between creating art and the artbiz part. If I'm not careful the art "biz" part which includes all the online social networking/research etc can takeover my days.

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDiana Delosh

I am so guilty of getting sucked into internet pits of doom. I have a Mac with Freedom installed for looming deadlines. You might want to check it out. It turns off your internet connection for a user-specified number of minutes, so there's no way to get sucked into blogs, emails, or anything else. It works for both Mac and Windows. Here's the link. http://macfreedom.com/

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterT.S. Welti

Now...can you stand at my desk with a ruler and WHACK my fingers when they stray? I am so WEAK! But you have inspired me. I desperately need to, um, stop writing this comment and, um, get back to my WIP. Bye now. And um, if I comment on your comment, you have my permission to let that ruler fly!

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBailey Bristol

Debbie, your cartoons gave me such a good laugh. They are so spot on! It's so tough, though, because being online is important for an author in terms of promotion. For now, my solution to finding more hours in a day is to quit TV and only rent movies on the weekends. It's hard! I've already fallen off the wagon once, but I've also gotten a lot more reading done lately.

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLena Coakley

Great goals! I've found myself in the same situation, and my strategy has been to be disciplined about only responding to urgent emails right away and flagging the others for later (like when I'm watching TV), limiting my tweets to 4 or 5 in a day, writing blog posts during TV time, and writing/revising/researching for at least an hour in the mornings before my son gets home from school. In other words, limits and scheduling.

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIshta Mercurio

Thanks for this, Debbie!

Yes, this is exactly what I am struggling with right now. Twitter has been absolutely great for me - I have made contact with editors and radio producers who I would never have met otherwise, I have learned so much about the publishing industry and the ins and outs of publishing independently, and I have increased my general knowledge about current events, world politics, and cutting edge scientific research. I don't "waste" time watching TV or silly Youtube movies. But still... all of that Twitter (and link-following) time steals from my writing time.

Your post is inspiring. I don't think the schedule you have outlined for yourself will work for me... but it motivates me to think of what schedule would work for me. I need to find a way to find myself the time to block off the internet, discipline myself, in spite of this fear that I will "miss something" (I guess that's the addiction, eh?)

OK... so now to do some writing! Thanks for the kick in the butt!

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJacqueline Windh

I have the same problem -- so many distractions online! I've taken to unplugging my modem when I start work. It really helps! Good luck with your (very challenging) quest. ;)

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSherry Jones

I identify so much with that cartoon! My solution is to install the Leechblock plugin on Firefox and ban all the really interesting time-sucking websites during writing hours. It's not infallible (hell, if I'm desperate, I just load up Safari) but as most of the time my internet wanderings are thoughtless reflex rather than deliberate time-wasting, it helps a lot.

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPewari

Great blog post about distractions in the workplace. With the internet and text messages and email surrounding us wherever we go, it is difficult to create an environment that eliminates these distractions. Being easily distracted is a bad habit that can limit our career progress. There are a ton of great tools that help us with these types of bad habits. Change Anything, a website devoted to lasting behavior change, is holding a webinar on the topic of overcoming career limiting habits. Check out the free webinar at www.changeanything.com/webinar.

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterc. sullivan

I am completely on board with your post. In struggling to stay afloat in all my arenas, I've discovered that social networking is my biggest problem. My latest strategy is to cut my blog schedule in half - both for new posts and for reading blogs. I haven't figured out how to keep Facebook and other network sites at arm's length and still maintain a presence, but I intend to try. Thank you for inspiring me.

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFaith Pray

I have these same issues (and LOVED your cartoon on Writer Unboxed & RTed it during one of my too-many-times on Twitter). I think you are spot on to pick small ways to start. One of the things I'm doing is moving my fiction writing to the kitchen table, away from my usual desk environment, in hopes that it will spark me to behave differently and stay away from the Internet distractions (especially works well if I disconnect the wireless! :)

May 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJulia

Best of luck in establishing your new disciplined routine.
I know how hard it can be to change old habits into new and better ones, but I am sure you can make it work.

My main goal for the forseeable future is to relearn how to single task. All the neuro experts say it is much better for us.

May 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLoisP

Nice article, thanks for the information.

May 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterrental mobil elf

I'm working in pretty much the same way. I'm setting up a schedule, and rewarding myself by completing certain tasks with a break, and them back to work.

Part of the problem is some of the writing groups I work with use oneline tools (Facebook, Skype) to communicate, so that I have to concentrate when I am talking to them on just talking to them. But hey, discipline is important.


May 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWayne Borean

My goal is to finish my manuscript after or during the process of getting my MFA.

May 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJarvis

I make Excel spreadsheets that have my goals on them. I give myself deadlines and make them absolutes. I find when I have an approaching deadline, it is easier for me to set email aside (and everything else that goes with it) and concentrate on the project. The trick is, I set the deadlines way before they are actually due. I love it when I do get on a roll and finish the deadlined project, then dive into the next one without a break, so I can get ahead. My summer writing goals are coming along nicely, and I think I'll have things well in hand by the time my college classes re-start in August.

A M Jenner

May 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterA M Jenner

I've had to restrict myself to reading the many, many blogs I love and learn from in batches, usually 3 times per week. I use my lunch breaks at work for this often - my brain is usually too work-fried to get any concrete writing done then, but reading my favorite blogs gives me a much-needed break and helps me feel connected to where I really want to be - the writing world.

May 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPam

Of course I don't spend way too much time procrastinating online reading blogs.


*Looks round*


June 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJessica Meats

Here's one tip I can give you---get two email addresses. One personal, one professional. The professional one should be checked first thing everyday. The personal one should be looked at later. In the world of social networking it may be difficult to decide which e-mail address is given to which contact. But there's an easy (and cut-throat) way to decide...if it doesn't involve being paid, it's personal.

July 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Rex

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