by Riley Redgate
Recently, I took a break from the internet. For forty-five days, I did not venture into the realms of Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter. Not even Google. The only things I used were sites like Moodle, SaplingLearning, and Gmail, which were necessary for me to not fail classes.
It had an interesting effect on my writing. Initially, I thought that since I'd have so much new free time, time that I used to spend on the internet, I'd spend that much more time on writing. Instead, though, I found myself avoiding the computer altogether. It helped that school started back up and provided a multitude of distractions, of course, but still. Once I was unplugged, I wanted to stay unplugged.
Still, though, unplugging provided some vital help to my writing, even if that wasn't exemplified by my pathetically flagging word count. Here's a list of benefits:
1) I spent that much more time reading. In the month and a half I was gone, I read six excellent books, from Neil Gaiman's slight and fantastical The Ocean at the End of the Lane to Haruki Murakami's fantastical but not-at-all-slight 1Q84. Imagine if, every time you read a post on Facebook, you were reading a novel instead. How many books would that give you?
2) I spent that much more time around humans, as opposed to staring into the depths of my computer. Unplugging from a constant source of interpersonal information means seeing less of the minutiae of my friends' lives; instead, I saw more of a big picture, because I spent more real time with them. I also made more connections. It's so easy to lurk on social media and feel like you're "getting to know someone" just by reading information they post on the internet. But if you're a chronic lurker, like me, they likely have no idea you're there and reading it, which means the connection is one-sided. Writing-wise -- as much as I love internet connections and talking to people online -- sharing experiences in real-time is helpful in a whole different way.
3) I spent that much more time with my own style of writing. The internet is a fascinating place -- it has developed a whole new type of communication. Everything is abbreviated. Everything is designed to be as eye-catching as possible in the shortest amount of time, which includes news pieces and other articles (Buzzfeed, for instance). Some speech patterns of the internet are downright incomprehensible (Tumblr, I'm looking at you). Getting away from the frenetic, everything-at-once, short-attention-span mode of communication that exists online ... it feels like everything slows down. Not to mention that there are these catchphrases you see online over and over, a collective internet slang. As with any slang and verbal shorthand, it infiltrates your writing, affecting it in whatever small way. Disconnecting from it helped me write more purely, write a higher proportion of words that came out of my brain, rather than words that happened to be buzzing around my skull because I saw the phrase a million times online that day.
4) I broke my dependence on the internet. With the prevalence of social media, people sometimes seem to forget that the internet is, at its heart, a tool. It is not the place to have one's entire life. Some days, over the summer, I would spend ten or eleven hours on the internet, jumping from site to site. Totally unhealthy. And sure, some of it was writing research, or getting to know someone, but most of it was not. Unplugging helped me get some perspective on what portion of my internet usage was actually necessary, and what was just a distraction from things that matter more to me.
Have you tried quitting the internet? Taking a break for an extended period of time? If so, what did you discover?
Riley Redgate, enthusiast of all things YA, is a bookstore-and-Starbucks-dweller from North Carolina attending college in Ohio. She is represented by Caryn Wiseman of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Sporadically and with occasional weirdness, she blogs here and speaks with considerably more brevity here.