Monday, March 20, 2017

Writing Unplugged: Why it matters, and how to do it well

A junior in high school at seventeen, Grace spends a disproportionate amount of time writing. She has penned two novels, various poems, songs, and short stories, and several freelance articles. When she’s not in front of her laptop screen or talking with characters, Grace can usually be found with her flute, piccolo, ukulele, or piano, playing and composing music. She also enjoys reading, biking, swimming, learning Spanish, and eating Jolly Ranchers.

I’ll tell you a secret: while I love the idea of writing on a cool fall evening, pouring my heart out into the depths of a worn notebook, it’s not very realistic.

What would actually happen is I’d sit down with my laptop, begin fleshing out a story idea when OH! I need to research That Thing That Will Probably Only Make Up One Sentence In My Book right now!

So I’ll open a new tab, type in a Google search and be flooded with pages upon pages of information. While I’m wading through the dregs of the Internet, my phone will ding. I’ll pick it up and answer the text… and I might as well check Pinterest since I’m already on my phone.

An hour later (And still on Pinterest), Mom will call me to ask if I’ve loaded the dishwasher yet. I’ll get up and do it, grumpily, because Can’t she understand she interrupted my writing?

After that it will be time to eat dinner; I’ll look back on another afternoon wasted on technology when I could have been writing.

Now, don’t get me wrongtechnology is great. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have passed AP Physics without videos from the Internet. However, just like almost everything, there is a time and a place for technology. As writers, it’s easy to feel like we are doing productive research when we are actually wasting time doing basically nothing.

But I’m not naive. While I would love to endorse pouring your heart out into the depths of a worn notebook, I know that for the majority of us it’s just not possible. Maybe some of you actually use a notebook to write, and if so, more power to you! However, I have over three hundred pages from novels and short stories in various states of completion, all on that wonderful application called Google Drive.

So for me, switching to writing solely in a notebook probably would be more trouble than it’s worth. Right now you’re wondering, “Then why is she blogging about writing unplugged?”

I’m not suggesting we all unplug completely from technology while we are writing. I just think that it would benefit a lot of us to find a healthy balance between technology and traditional pen-and-paper writing. And so y’all don’t have to figure it out on your own, this is how I have gone about doing that:

When it’s time to write, write.

I often find myself looking for distractions if I’m having trouble getting into the scene I’m writing.

I’m always tempted to find a new song to listen to every five minutes, which is a real time killer. Lately, I’ve started to either set up my own playlist of pre-chosen songs or find one song I really like and find a ten hour loop of it on YouTube (I would like to point out that I do not actually write for ten hours at a time - but with the ten hour loop I know I won’t have to go back and choose another song because I won’t be writing for ten hours, if that makes sense).

I also set my phone to “Do Not Disturb” so the tempting sound of a text alert doesn’t draw me into the internet like a siren song.

Save research for a designated time.

I don’t let myself research when I’m trying to write. The thing about research is that it is deceptively easy to feel productive and not actually get anything done.

To combat this, I sort of took the Go Teen Writers story workbook and ran with it; now I have a ‘to do’ list for things I have to research organized by topic, page number in my book, and specific questions I need answered. It is a godsend, and I really recommend it (I would also like to point out that I was not paid to endorse this blog but I’m going to anyway because it really is amazing).

If you don’t have a workbook set up, keep a notebook by your desk and write down things you are tempted to look up.

Write by hand

Next is where the "writing unplugged" part comes in. I think it’s really important for anyone who writes to use a pen and paper at least once a day (and no, your math homework doesn’t count). There have been a bunch of studies done about how writing by hand stimulates the brain and actually increases your creativity, which I’ll take when I can get.

Since I don't write my novel by hand, I:

Write a journal

It’s actually a fantastic way to improve your skills while getting away from technology. My little sister hated journalling until she started doing it in verse, so maybe that’s something y’all could try.

Keeping a journal is the best of both worlds when it comes to writing: you get the sensory experience of writing with a pen, but you are still free to do writing and research on your computer.

So, that’s my take on writing unplugged. Thanks so much to Shannon, Jill and Stephanie for letting me post so late! See y’all on the shelves someday!

Do you struggle with technology distracting you while you write? What tips do you have for writing unplugged?


  1. This post is awesome. I will comment that writing by hand doesn't eliminate the possibility of getting bogged down by technology (I still use YouTube on my phone for music, and I sometimes do the "I have to research this thing right now!" that you mentioned). But it does help a lot. And it has the advantage on the research side of things that you get comfortable and you're like "I could go research . . . but I'm comfy and I don't want to move. Eh, I'll just make it up."

    Thanks for the great post!

  2. I use Pinterest for writing - it's an important tool - I use it to visualise my characters and... fine, it's procrastination. Also I just started a blog this month, and it's taking more of my time. I do need to work on finding a healthy balance! (Knowing my family has limited internet data helps me [mostly] stay off YouTube, though!)

    That's quite interesting, that writing by hand can improve creativity. I believe I'm mostly alone in this, but I find that I cannot - CANNOT - write effectively on a computer. I have to write everything by hand. Maybe because I tend to indulge in my inner editor and backspace a lot instead of writing??

    This was an excellent - and very relevant - article. Thank you, Grace!

  3. A lot of good thoughts. My biggest weakness if Facebook. If I am writing on my computer it is almost always an issue. I have always loved writing in a notebook. At first it was because I didn't have my own computer, and time on my family's computer was scarce, to say the least. Even after I got my own computer, I found I could take a notebook places it wasn't practical to take a computer. It was also a lot faster to take out a notebook and start writing than it was to take out a computer, set it up, log in, and write. Using a notebook, I could squish my writing into tiny spaces, like in the five minute intervals between classes, or on the bus, or waiting for a ride. Those don't seem like much, but they add up. I would dare say most of my first novel was written in intervals like that. However, in order to do that, staying away from distraction is very important. I know what apps are likely to distract me the most, and I have avoided putting them on my phone on purpose. Now, if I could only figure out how to put the people I live with in "do not disturb" mode... :)

  4. Once I open a tab on the internet, I'm doomed. Pinterest, blogs, name it. The worst part is, even if I catch myself procrastinating, my mind becomes too unfocused too write more than a few jumbled sentences.

    I find it easiest to avoid technology temptation if I keep all other tabs closed when I'm typing; but I use a word document, not Google, so I know that won't work for everyone. Keeping track of my daily word count also helps, but I'm terrible at it unless NaNoWriMo does it for me.

    I love writing by hand, and I wish I could do it all the time! Unfortunately I tend to always forget words or even entire sentences, and it's hard to fit those back in when you're writing by hand. Usually I jot down ideas in a notebook, the beginnings of short stories, and my rough outlines.

  5. I don't usually write unplugged... I probably should more often. However, one thing that I've found that helps me is to turn off my internet. You can still write (unless you're using google docs), but when you try to go onto the internet, it doesn't work! That way, you can think twice about researching things. Or looking at pictures of cloaks that your character is wearing and going off, off, off, into the pit of doom.

    1. Ah, cloaks. Such fascinating little temptations they are. Turning off the internet is a good suggestion, Lexi! I'll definitely have to stash that one in my writing toolbox.

  6. This is a very good topic to address, since I have a tendency to ease myself back into bad habits over time. I will most definitely try some of the things you mentioned! One tool that I use to stay focused is a set amount of time for undisturbed writing. Usually by the time fifteen minutes has passed, I'm so excited about my scene that I don't want to stop. Thank you for sharing, Grace!

  7. I know what you mean. When I write on the computer it's like "Oh lets go see what is on the Go Teen Writers blog today." and then... down on bunny trails I go. Thanks for the post.
    - Book Dragon

  8. This was great and a much needed topic for me (I am, admittedly, the queen of procrastination). I have written in notebooks then copy onto the computer and just typed others. My first novel I wrote in notebooks, due to lack of computer time on my family's computer, then copied it onto the computer. The second one I typed on my computer only, except for a few scenes. Glad to see I'm not the only one who has this problem, and thanks for the post!

    1. "Queen of Procrastination"? I'm not entirely sure on that one.... My first draft of my book took me 2 1/2 years. And it's only 27,000 words. :( Can you beat that? :D

  9. This: "So I’ll open a new tab, type in a Google search and be flooded with pages upon pages of information" is SO true! I procrastinate TOO much. ugh
    I get so pumped up because I have a really good sentence to write, and then after I write that...I go blank. Blank.
    I get so frustrated that I can't think of anything to write. Do you have any tips on being able to write sentences that are full of description? Descriptive words?
    I don't really have the problem of getting texts in the middle of writing. It's just mainly going blank. :)
    Thanks for the post!

    1. Some advice I would give on descriptive writing is to steer clear of relying on adverbs and adjectives and look for strong verbs and nouns instead. Also, metaphors and similes are good tools. If trying to be descriptive slows the writing phase, though, then editing is probably a better phase in which to focus on that. I've always had a tendency to write fleshed-out, descriptive drafts, but that becomes a waste of work when I come back later and start cutting scenes. Keep trudging, LHE! I've had my share of fighting writer's block. The struggle is real.

    2. Strong verbs and nouns. Strong verbs and nouns. *being engrained in my head*
      Yes, I use lots of metaphors and similes in my writing. I know, you do all that description and then later on you cut that scene out.
      The struggle IS real. Thanks for helping me! I really appreciate it. :)

    3. I agree with Olivia, I tend to get more descriptive in editing then in the rough draft though not always, depends on how the story is flowing that day. And I think as you write more you're going to find you write differently with each story. Like in my first book I wrote more description in the rough draft as apposed to the second book where I barely could put down what I wanted to happen in order without changing it halfway through (which didn't really work out so well . . .). Just my thoughts, and no kidding on the real struggle of writer's block. How about we strangle it and get this torture over with? ;)

    4. Thanks for your advice, Sarah! Yeah, it seems that when I write books with different subjects, I have more to write and to talk about in one than the other. I guess it just depends on what you have more to say about.
      YESSSS, strangling it would be the answer.
      A tip I should start telling myself is: Don't let your writing start digging your grave.

  10. Thanks for this article and all those who have commented about turning off the internet. That's the only way I can be productive - because yes, Pinterest and research will just suck you in. I used to write everything out longhand first because my brain would just freeze up at a computer and I could do nothing. Then some years ago, I was writing a Lord of the Rings fanfic with Frodo and Sam writing to each other, saving everything in journals, to show each other once Sam reaches the Undying Lands, and I did it directly on the computer and it just flowed out! Maybe because they were the ones talking and I was just writing done what they said. :) I do all my fiction WIP's directly on the computer now, my nonfic research I still write out longhand, but just the research.

    God bless, Anne Marie :)

  11. This is cool advice. And I'm there with you on the ten hour song loop! I think Pinterest is secretly out to take us all down. Maybe we should stage some kind of revolt. Anyway, see you on the shelf, friend! (I'm gonna say that from now on:P)