On Community, Resolve, Distraction, and the Internet
I was born in 1993 to a loveable Luddite of a father; I was born at a time in which technology was rapidly growing and developing, and to a father who struggled to record the stock ticker on VHS tapes and who believed that the Internet was a phase that would pass. However, even before my mother successfully petitioned for the boxy Windows 95 desktop I still remember, I felt I was a writer, and I began exploring and pursuing my writing process long before I had regular access to the technology that is now such an integral part of my techniques, for better or worse.
As I mentioned in my first post on this blog, one of my earliest ventures into writing was keeping diaries during my elementary and middle school years. These diaries provided comfort and a free, safe space for me to notate what I felt and experienced without fear of discovery or judgment. I also loved (and still, even now, love) the feeling of a smooth pen running along a clean page. However, diaries are, by their nature, solitary, and as time went on, I felt the need to connect with others through my writing and its content; I wanted to receive responses, positive or negative, to my work and thoughts, and I wanted to consider those responses as I continued to write my way along the path I was traveling.
This desire for a connection and an exchange of ideas through writing brings me to one of the greatest benefits I believe technology has brought to the discipline and its processes: easy and consistent access to people, places, works, experiences, and ideas all around the world. In middle school, I shifted my personal writings from pen-and-paper Dollar Store diaries to Xanga (a likely-now-defunct blog service), and I started to receive comments not only on my feelings and experiences, but on the words and forms of expression I was using to communicate those thoughts. Then, early in high school, I shifted from Xanga to Tumblr (a then-brand-new microblogging site), and from personal writings to poetry. The responses to my writing on Xanga had encouraged me to try poetry, and Tumblr boasted a feature that allowed users to tag their posts and to peruse other posts that shared such tags. Was my (rather angsty, not terribly structured, overconfident, high school) poetry good? Absolutely not, and I won’t torment you with a sample of it now. But did I benefit from reading the poetry of other Tumblr users, and from considering their thoughtful responses to my little e-scribblings? Very much so. Even now, as time has passed and as I have developed my skills as a writer beyond those of juvenile poetry, one of my best peer-readers and providers of both feedback and support is a wonderful woman pursuing a degree in literary translation in Argentina. I believe that, with respect to the writing process, technology affords us an amazing chance in letting us create and develop communities of writers online.
All the wonders and benefits of technology allowed, I also know that technology (or my use of it) can hinder my writing and the processes surrounding it. The unending and constant access to countless distractions, from Twitter to YouTube to online shopping sites, garners far more of my attention than I would like to admit, and I am fully aware that this has had and continues to have a powerful impact on my writing process. For instance, if I am “stuck” in the middle of a paper, I will tell myself that I am “letting that idea sit” while I am really puttering around on the Internet, and when, grudgingly, I return to that paper, I am, always and without fail, as stuck as I was before. Personally, I believe that, at a certain point, the writing process and its products simply demand to be pursued; when that charming little spark of inspiration seems to have flickered out, I believe that writers must turn to the engine of willpower in its stead, for as Stephen King smirks in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, “amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” The point to all of this lofty preaching is this: I stand by the resolve and sheer focus that the writing process sometimes demands, but I also know that my affection(?) for the Internet snares my attention time and again, and pulls that resolve and sheer focus along with it.
Ultimately, I do believe that technology (and, in this post particularly, the Internet) is an asset to the writing process. I think the links the Internet offers to communication with others around the world and access to veritable scores of information and experience outweigh the distractions it may cause (or, in my case, definitely does cause). If I’m going to pontificate about the drive and dedication that must be parts of the writing process, then the Internet is just another place for me to test my own mastery of those qualities, and, in the end, that, too, must be a good thing.