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Monday, August 27, 2012

A Writer’s Brain on Catnip: Guest Hijacker C. Lee McKenzie on her Book Tour

         Author C. Lee McKenzie is on tour with her new book Alligators Overhead.   You can often find Lee in your own comment section, but always at her blog The Write Game.  She's included some great links in her post here so if you have some time be sure to check these out.  

A Writer’s Brain on Catnip

            I started writing fiction in earnest in 2005. I completed my first book by 2006, sold it in 2008, and had my first ever book signing in 2009. That’s when I patted myself on the back, and naively started a second book, thinking I’d finished my first project.

            If I had a sound track, I’d insert laughter here, but you’re probably already laughing.

            I soon discovered what most writers already knew: my work had just begun, that while writing a book is a labor of love, which takes a lot of time, the bulk of labor for most writers comes during promotion.

            Today promotion is synonymous with technology that connects us instantly around the world. And how great is that? We are able to tell the world about our stories with a click of a mouse or a key.

         I’m slow, but not hopeless, so soon I was blogging, and tweeting and facebooking and goodreading; then I did giveaways and contests and blog hops. 

            It didn’t take long before I was sandwiching my writing between my online promoting. I’d hop online and off, check my email every time a message arrived. I read blog posts while I stood in the checkout line at Cosco. I’d become a Media Maniac, and I loved it.

            There was only one problem; it was affecting me and not in a positive way. I was easily distracted. I couldn’t focus on a single task and finish it unless I forced myself to—and that was becoming harder to do. I had to write down almost everything I wanted to remember. My stress level was 10 on a scale of 1-9. I couldn’t stay in a Yoga pose and not think about all those missed cell phone calls. I was getting up at 4AM, my brain already buzzing with what I needed to accomplish that day. But why? I’d already done what I set out to do.

            And now promote.

            Then I found a New York Times article, Attached to Technology and Paying a Price, and that started me on a hunt for some more data to find out what was wrong with this writer brain of mine.
            The answer was Catnip.

         The more technical term is Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD). I was exhibiting all the effects of an addiction, whether it was to alcohol, cocaine or nicotine.

            “That’s not possible. I don’t do drugs,” I said.

            “Sorry, writer person,” the data replied, “but, yes, you do.”

            To prove their point the data presented me with a list of all the symptoms I’d been experiencing and all the habits I’d developed as I became more attached to technology. See if you recognize any of these habits in yourself or others.

            People with IAD are ones that tend to hop onto their email within 6 seconds of that little bell, announcing “You’ve Got Mail.”

            *Writer raises hand.

They tend to search out new information, rather than use older information that might be more valuable because of being tested over time.

            *Writer raises hand.

They’re more sensitive to incoming information than those who are not affected by IAD.    
            *Writer raises hand

            When I found tests Stanford University had devised to measure effects of IAD, I took a couple to see how I did. The first one was to determined how good I was at  FILTERING OUT DISTRACTIONS. People with IAD are not good because they have a hard time holding information in short term memory, and their brains have difficulty setting priorities. Researchers say these people are on “task overload,” and according to studies on the  EFFECTS OF USING EMAIL in the workplace, part of that overloading stems from how people use this communication tool. One bit of datum I found interesting is that it takes 64 seconds for people to return to what they were doing before they opened their inbox. I wonder if it’s longer for writers? I’ve heard that it is, but I could find no specific studies to support that.

            Your ability to switch between tasks is also affected if you have this Catnip addiction. Take the test,   JUGGLING TASKS, and see how you do.

            And my score on those tests? Let me say that I’m right up there with the severe cases of IAD. My filtering and juggling scores are pathetic, and I used to be able to juggle several tasks quickly, without lists, without anxiety.

            So what could this writer do? I couldn’t stop promoting my books, but I didn’t want to be so twitchy, either.

            I decided to devise a way to stay in touch with media and yet keep that twitchiness under control. I’ll share my own TEN STEP program in case anyone out there would like to turn down the tech connection and ease back on the Catnip.

            1. I turned off my email bell alert.
            2. I set my email program to check for mail two times a day, instead of every 5 minutes.
            3. I didn’t always respond by sending an email back. Instead I picked up the phone or hand wrote a note. This shocked a lot of my friends and family . . . in a good way.
            4. I stopped visiting all the blogs I follow so frequently, but when I did visit I took more time to read the posts and to leave thoughtful comments.
            5. When I was on a task, I focused on it and gave it more time. (This took a lot of getting used to. It is still taking a lot of getting used to.)
            6. I started getting up from my desk once an hour, stretching, walking outside, doing anything to move.
            7. I pulled out an old Mini-Relaxation Practice called STOP and posted it above my desk to remind me to Stop. Take a breath. Observe. Proceed.
            8. I start work early, so that hasn’t changed, but now I take time out for breakfast with my family. We talk. We do not bring phones or laptops to the table.
            9. I plan one special thing for Wednesday. Nothing big, but something that has nothing to do with technology.
            10. Friday is now the end of my work week. Saturday and Sunday is catching up on all things non-book related.
            Here’s another author’s TEN STEP program. Watch  John Freeman on YouTube. He has some great ideas, some similar to the ones I chose to include in mine.

            Did any of you recognize some traces of IAD in yourselves? Do you already have a system to manage the Catnip syndrome? Can you share some good pointers with the rest of us?

 C. Lee McKenzie is a native Californian who grew up in a lot of different places; then landed in the Santa Cruz Mountains where she lives with her family and miscellaneous pets. She writes most of the time, gardens and hikes and does yoga a lot, and then travels whenever she can. 

She takes on modern issues that today's teens face in their daily lives. Her first young adult novel, Sliding on the Edge, which dealt with cutting and suicide was published in 2009. Her second, titled The Princess of Las Pulgas, dealing with a family who loses everything and must rebuild their lives came out in 2010. Her short stories appear in Stories for Children, The First Time and the soon to be published, Two and Twenty Dark Tales. She will publish her first Middle Grade novel, Alligators Overhead, this year.

And about that novel:

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  1. I'm definitely going to have to follow these tips because it seems like I've got Internet Addiction Disorder too. I had no idea that so much promotion had to go in after just one novel although it's great that it took off so well, best of luck with your future Mrs McKenzie and thanks so much for dropping in to write this informative and interesting blog post for us all.

  2. I'm still addicted to visiting blogs, but I can ignore my email without any problem. (Probably shouldn't admit that...) Ignoring distractions? Yeah, sure my wife would say I excel at that one.
    Good stuff, Lee!!!

  3. I totally suffer from this. I'm working on it, though. Hubby has started taking my laptop away from me. :)

  4. Yup! Tips I think us writers can use.

  5. It's so easy to get caught up in all the stuff after the book is done. I put myself into burnout after my last book.

  6. Yup. Gotta stay balanced.

    Hugs and chocolate,

  7. That was very useful, thanks!

  8. LOL!
    Thankfully my IAD has passed when I took a one week computer/ blog sabbatical to break the spell. Since then I am not so obsessive about it all.

  9. @Yeamie Good luck with managing your IAD. Gotta go answer some mail!

    @Alex I'm not emailing you anymore. :-)

    @Ciara You have the perfect husband.

    @EM Hope these tips help.

    @Diane I think I'm on the same track as you are. Here's to recovery.

    @Shelly Thanks for the chocolate. I should have put that down as another step to recovery. Chocolate helps everything.

    @jnana Glad you stopped in to read. Thanks.

  10. That was me a couple of years ago--with the computer cell phone stuff. It took getting seriously sick to make me look at stress triggers. I had forgotten how much I need balance in my life to be healthy.

    I don't have a bell or ding for the email, I've backed off--big time--on time spent on social networks. I actually have NO internet days. I used read 80 blogs a day. EIGHTY. My god, no wonder I was stressed.

    Now, I check in with the blogs I follow once or twice a week. And it's not all done in a long block of time in the morning--I read some at night too. Cell and landlines have voicemail--I don't HAVE to answer it on the first ring, or at all. I can get back to them later.

    I have a real life. I go outside and deal with my animals breathe in fresh air and feel the sunshine. I actually have conversations face to face. I have time to read books. I'm back to making weekly phone calls to my family. I no longer wonder how it's possible for the sun to be going down--didn't I just sit down?

    My internet times are done in small blocks of time throughout the day--usually a couple of hours max but mostly in one hour increments.

    Now, I'm going back to work--although it's done from my home office and it's all computer and phone work. But working at home allows me to get up and move around. But I will have to make adjustments again to all the extra computer things.

    Great info and links,Lee.

    Sia McKye's Thoughts...OVER COFFEE

  11. This is hilarious and sad and soooo true! Unplugging can be very difficult, and you don't always know when you've got a problem.

    Hermit writers with no eMail FTW! :-)

  12. Good grief, Lee! I can so identify w/this one. And I think I'm borderline IAD! :D I'm still able to use old info and focus, but I sure check that email at the drop of a hat. Getting a smart phone did NOT help!

    When it's time to write, though, your tips are invaluable. Turn the email bell OFF! :D <3

  13. I have a time schedule for things. I tend to unplug on weekends, too. However, I do check my email a lot and I'll hop on Twitter a few times a day. I don't spend a lot of time there, though.

  14. It is quite a trap isn't it?! Thanks for sharing those ten tips ;)

  15. @Sia You should have written this post! You're a success story. I'm still working on Step 2! :-)

    @Come at me Glad you enjoyed it.

    @LTM There. There. Once that bell is gone, the mind unwinds. All will be well.

    @MPax You're so organized. Must be the scientific training. Good for you.

  16. It can be fun to hang out in the blog world or facebook, tellining yourself you're doing promotion. I can waste a lot of time doing that.

  17. This is a wonderful post. I've definitely been showing signs of IAD. I believe that regularly getting up and taking a walk is one of the more important steps a writer can take.

  18. Lee, I'm not a complete success, lol! But it is something I had to take a very serious look at. Turning off the internet isn't ALWAYS easy. But no internet days also allow you writing time AND a life. :-)

  19. I'm impressed that you were able to turn things around so quickly. Thanks for coming up with a Twelve Step, I mean Ten Step prevention program. Thanks to both Lee's!

  20. I love your ten step program. I need to work on following it.


  21. Hello I have IAD, just kidding. Maybe somewhat in this world of technology, not to the point that it consumes me. Great posting! Def glad I stopped by.

  22. I'd say I'm borderline but a could definitely use a few of those ten steps.

  23. @Susan It's a hard call, isn't it? Is working online wasting time or getting things done that help your writing and your book. Great to meet you,

    @Lynda Walks save me and my back, not to mention my writer's butt. OY!

    @Sia At least you're taking the right steps. Turning off that screen and focusing on your ms is huge. Love that you checked back for my response!

    @city You bet.

    @Empty Nest I'm still working on it. I have some slippage. :-)

    @Theresa Let me know how it goes.

    @Gossip Girl I think we all have touches of IAD. I was just in over my head. Thanks for your comment.

    @LD Tell us which ones help! Glad you stopped in to visit.

  24. i so agree---when i was doing my "fishworld" on facebook, and taking care of all 31 tanks, i was so addicted--and not to mention that many of the games clicking and other actions, were reminiscent of the awful pleasures of smoking, which is more addictive than opium!

  25. Oh! I'm glad I stopped in Arlee. I'm about to publish my first novel and the endless Internet opportnities for networking and marketing are incredible. There does come a point, however, to push the shut down button.

  26. Great guest post. Thanks for the tips. I don't have a bell that signals when emails come in, but I do check it quite often some days.

  27. @Lynn I don't even think about the fb games. There's no way I could keep up with any of that!

    @Peggy Here's to managing those buttons!

    @Susanne It's hard to imagine that news took weeks to arrive, isn't it? Glad you don't have a bell.

  28. C.Lee McKenzie-- A big thank you to you for this post. You stirred up some discussion with this topic that weighs on many of our minds. Wishing you well with the new book.

    Thank you visitors for taking time to comment on this post.



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