A little more than a week or so ago I broke. The vitriol surrounding the election became too much, and Donald Trump’s careless and insensitive comments were simply too triggering for me. It came time to shut down the majority of my use of Facebook and Twitter.
I reduced my Facebook use to the bare minimum and restricted my Twitter use to a minimum, and only in the wee hours of the morning after I woke. The Brits are much more pleasant lately (and the Brexit talk doesn’t affect me as harshly). On my post of a black square picture on Instagram announcing my sabbatical, a friend suggested, in the interim, I should read Cal Newport‘s book Deep Work.
Here’s the cover:
I’m reading it. I’m on page 190. This is hard to believe, coming from me, but I’m buying into the reduced-to-no-FB/Twitter -use argument. All evidence is pointing me in that direction. I started this journey years ago after reading Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s book Distraction Addiction, and followed with many other neuroscience-based books. In the interim I’ve also picked up a yoga and meditation practice. Deep Work is the last in a long line of alternate-universe information, and along with this election, I’ve finally been broken.
A Brief and Unwonderous History of Mixed Messages
I’ve always been a writer. I was never interested in it as a career, though. It was simply a pastime. Occasionally I’d write for the public. For the past several years, I’ve been blogging personally and professionally. Now I’m attempting to make a 100% dive into fiction writing. As Mr. Newport mentions in Deep Work, I’m attempting to grok writing. “Grok” is not simply to know a field but to live, breathe and eat the subject.
Here’s the problem: while public exposure may follow basically universal rules, how writers exist is a highly individualized thing. Many different messages are hurled at the novice: you must have a social media “platform;” you must be a lightning-fast, high-output creator; you have to do all your own marketing and you must market – hard – daily.
There is no way of knowing if any of these “rules” will apply to me, so it is paralyzing to make bold moves like allowing my Twitter account to languish so I may dive deeper into my work. Modern (or is it post-modern?) lore tells me of course I’ll let my Twitter account languish. After all, it is great writing that sells books, not marketing tricks. After being around marketing types for a long while and reading countless excellent books that hardly saw the light of day, a competing lore arises: even great writing needs marketing.
Other lore in the writing community is that of the necessity of the MFA. My lack of enrollment in an MFA program apparently is a bad thing in the fiction world. MFAs are the only ways to get “real” NYC editorial contacts, the only way to find any “real” success as a writer, the only way to sell books. More lore: starting to write in your 40s is useless, writing is a talent and can’t be learned, your novel will never be published by any Big 5 publishers, and you’ll never find an agent. These are common adages or myths in the writing world, and as a n00b, it’s impossible to know the difference.
The lack of Facebook and Twitter has brought back a familiar feeling I haven’t had since before DSL availability: the crushing hours. “The crushing hours” were parts of days I would spend alone and bored. Crushing hours are vortexes of existence in an emotionally and mentally drained state. Compounding the utter boredom was being trapped. I had little to no control over my own life. The crushing hours were born when I was a child. We had very little stimulation as kids, and the summers smushed me flat. I watched a lot of TV, but we only had 4 channels and a little black-and-white box. The library was the only source for books and since it was miles and miles away, we visited there only occasionally. I had no magazine subscriptions. I was in a rural town with not many kids my age or any friends. Then there was the unmentionable parts that I’d rather not speak of (and why Donald Trump is such a triggering a-hole). Those summer days absolutely tortured me. I hated my school by the time I was halfway through my schooling, but I preferred it to the devastatingly blank summer and any length of time spent with my family.
Elements needed for the crushing hours:
Long stretches of time of no contact with another human being (or very bad contact with family members)
Lots of quiet
Sunny days (not sure why)
Various forms of exhaustion and malaise
Everything Old Is New Again
This FB and Twitter 90%-blackout reminds me those crushing hours. Yes, I have much, much more stimulation in and control over my life now. I have plenty to keep me occupied. But when I look over the sun-streaked expanse of my living room where I’ll be spending my day writing, it’s as if the wonderful oodles quiet work time morph into the crushing hours. Something about the lack of social internet interaction feels exactly the same.
I’m not surprised, though. For many years I’ve struggled with my brain and its almost-frenetic need of interesting information. It will fill my time with anything, anything to avoid the crushing hours. You cannot imagine the amount I’ve read, seen, participated in online. It is only recently I’ve withdrawn from most social interactions offline, too. Anything to keep learning, keep thinking, keep moving. Anything, anything but the crush.
I knew the day was coming where I must overcome this fear, this trauma born of a torturous youth, of feeling alone, trapped and worst of all, bored. The (horrific) association I have with long stretches of quiet time at home is something I must fix. I haven’t felt the full impact of the crushing hours until now, though. I had to ban myself from the social apps to feel it truly. The mere feeling is exhausting and prevents me from writing fiction (non-fiction is like schoolwork and not a problem – quite enjoyable, actually).
But Sense Prevails
After September 11, 2001, I swore off all mainstream (and other) news. No more local or national news shows, newspapers, radio, etc. The media had lost my trust and 9/11 broke all decorum on sensationalism standards. Instead, I received important news via friends and online networks. That was sufficient, until now. All integrity and with it all usefulness of Facebook and Twitter in delivering me respectful news via my network of friends and cool people, has dropped out of the internet. “Perhaps,” I thought, “this election is the cause, and efficacy will recover afterward.” I went on a 90% sabbatical. But now I realize, if I want to live and breathe writing, if I want to grok fiction, I can never go back to 100% participation online. I’m not sure what the percentage of my previous level will be, but I’m going to have to face the looming crushing hours. It’s the only way. And it’s time.
I Kinda Hate All of This
I’m writing all of this, still only half-believing I’m about to transform who I am. I’m connected! I am a techie! I’m on top of (mostly) all memes and trends!
But that is who I was. And now I’m just a cliché: ultra connected social media junkie goes dark. (sigh)
It wasn’t all about avoiding the crushing. I love the everflow. It is candy for my brain. Learning new stuff, I thought, was an honorable pastime. As I’m discovering, I learned only surface things. Nothing too deep, nothing worthy of my prolonged concentration. The only thing I’ve truly dedicated (sporadic, unfortunately) time to is the art of fiction writing. For the past decade, there is no other subject I’ve spent more time and money on. I *want* this.
This book, DEEP WORK, is reminding me of life in graduate school, of being in the flow of systems administration, of doing anything at the expert level. It’s time to buckle down and study. It’s time to not only face the crushing hours but accept them. I want to see long hours of quiet time alone at home as a potential jump in writing experience (and hopefully, an uptick in expertise). It’s time to grok this thing.
Get in touch with me
I wish I could stay the old me, online and gregarious, funny and followed, and forever seeking to help, WHILE writing novels and short stories. But I have to try this thing. Do stay in touch, please. Sign up for blog updates. You can still use FB and Twitter to find me but I may not respond so quickly. Even email is relegated to once or twice a day (trying to work that down to once or .5/day on average). Instagram seems to be where I spend the most time out of all of these sites. Follow me there as @purplecar_cc. I hope you stay with me.