Asked by student writers for one piece of advice, I always say “turn off the Internet while you’re writing.” To explain why, I invoke what I call the Puddy Principal.
Those of us who were active television watchers in the Seinfeld era will recall Elaine’s on-again-off-again boyfriend, a saturnine dimwit named David Puddy.
In one of my favorite scenes, Elaine (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, of course) has broken up with Puddy for the zillionth time, and is now sitting in her apartment trying not to call him. The scene is basically a short play that’s Elaine thinking in voice-over. She’s thinking about how glad she is to have broken up with Puddy; and then she thinks “oh, no, I think I left my glove at Puddy’s…I better call him”. And as she reaches for the phone, she goes—with a slight-but-obvious disappointment—“oh, there’s my glove.” Then: “That is so funny, I almost called Puddy about my glove, but then I found it!” Quick beat, then: “You know who loves funny stories?” [reaching for the phone] “David Puddy.”
We’re all like that, now, with the Internet: try as we might to stay away, we take any excuse to return to go back. I’ll start in rough-drafting a scene, and I write a squirrel scampering across a lawn and I’ll think I better make sure squirrels are native to the part of New England where this scene takes place, and click on Safari. It’s insane, of course, the idea that I can’t proceed with my piece of fiction until I’m sure that I’ve got the fauna properly geolocated—it’s just that I’d rather be doing something easy (reading about squirrels on Wikipedia) than something difficult and emotionally draining (pressing on with my writing).
The real problem is that once you’ve given in and called Puddy—i.e. gone onto the web—you don’t just look up the squirrels and then log off. Of course not! You click on the full list of Woodland Creatures Native to Vermont, then you email your brother a fun factoid about beavers, and then you click on a banner ad about Funny T-shirts (because who doesn’t like a funny T-shirt) and then suddenly it’s an hour and a half later, and you’re checking your Facebook status and your novel is where you left it, softly weeping, wishing you would come back and finish the part about the squirrel.
Bottom line: writing is extremely difficult, and because writers are human beings, we would prefer to do something easy to something difficult. The Internet is, for all its benefits, the greatest distraction machine ever built by mankind. And this great and terrible machine is not just in the room with you, it is the thing you write on.
So take Step One, admit you have a problem, because everybody does, and invest the in a netblocking program.
For the record, I use (and feel sort of in love with) a program called Freedom. It costs ten bucks.