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: