BoingBoing blogger and sci-fi author Cory Doctorow admits the internet can be an “attention black hole”, but the prolific scribe learned how to actually write while staying open to the wealth of the web.
Image via Joi Ito.
Note: We’re republishing this tip on writing with the always-available internet during our Writing Week, to help those poor souls who fall all too easily into the quicksand of Wikipedia, Google and other “just looking something up” troubles.
Along with tips in realms we’ve journeyed through before — limiting real-time email/IM/RSS interruptions, working in shorter bursts instead of long slogs — Doctorow suggests staking a hard boundary between the work of writing and the quest of research. He separates them with an old-time reporter’s trick:
Researching isn’t writing and vice-versa. When you come to a factual matter that you could google in a matter of seconds, don’t. Don’t give in and look up the length of the Brooklyn Bridge, the population of Rhode Island, or the distance to the Sun. That way lies distraction – an endless click-trance that will turn your 20 minutes of composing into a half-day’s idyll through the web. Instead, do what journalists do: type “TK” where your fact should go, as in “The Brooklyn bridge, all TK feet of it, sailed into the air like a kite.” “TK” appears in very few English words (the one I get tripped up on is “Atkins”) so a quick search through your document for “TK” will tell you whether you have any fact-checking to do afterwards. And your editor and copyeditor will recognise it if you miss it and bring it to your attention.
Whether you’re a fan of Doctorow’s, or BoingBoing’s, quirky style or not, it’s hard to deny that anyone who writes about, to use recent examples, 19th century postal tube systems, Princess Bride ambigrams, and one-man a capella renditions of the Legend of Zelda theme, must have developed a pretty good filter against internet time sinks by now to keep a steady publishing schedule.
What’s your own method of shielding against the endless temptation of available-right-now net searches? Share your strategies in the comments.