Trapped by the (inter)net

Before the post, I have a question: Are there words, other than curse words, that make you cringe? I read that the word moist is the most disliked word in English, but I don’t mind it. I do intensely dislike two other perfectly good words: scurry and smirk. I’m trying to get past my aversion because I’d like to be able to use them. Do any of you have words that get unpleasantly under your skin, that you shrink from using, that cause a shudder when you read them?

On June 12, 2016, Christie V Powell wrote, How do you focus on your writing instead of getting distracted by the internet? My computer broke down so I have to borrow my husband’s, which means that I have to have internet access to get to my files. It doesn’t help either that my main WIP is being reviewed by beta-readers at the moment so I need to start something new in order to keep up the writing habit. Anyway, what tips do you have for staying focused and actually writing?

I got mixed up when I copied the responses over to my list, so what follows may not be in the order in which it came in:

Song4myKing: I do have one trick that helps me – location (I use a laptop). Upstairs, at my desk, where internet is sometimes a little flaky anyway, I’ve instituted a personal “no internet except email” ultimatum. Even if the email sounds like something interesting on Facebook or Pinterest and includes a handy link. When I want to do something on internet, yes, including reading a blog about writing, I do it downstairs on the family computer, or bring my laptop down. Bringing my laptop down sometimes has the unfortunate effect of the laptop staying downstairs for a few days. But I think over all, writing-only time has improved, and internet time-wasting has decreased since I started.

Kitty: What type of computer is it? Do you use Google Docs or Word? If you use Word (or whatever the Mac/Linux equivalent is), there shouldn’t be a problem working offline. If you’re using Google Docs and a Chromebook, there’s a “work offline” feature in the built-in Google Drive app. If you’re using Google Docs on a PC, then there’s a Google Drive app you can download, but I’m not sure if it has the same features as the Chromebook one.

These are super helpful!

I confess I haven’t been very focused in the last week or so, and I haven’t often met my day’s writing goal. Tomorrow looks pretty good, however, for low distractions. It’s interesting that future time generally looks less cluttered than present or near-present.

Here are some of the ways I keep distraction down. I’m on Facebook and LinkedIn, but I hardly ever go near them. I’m not on Instagram or Twitter or Snapchat (do I have that one right?) or anything else.

It’s not at all that I sneer at these programs. I fear them! I think I’d love them and get sucked in, so I just keep them out of my life.

I have been struggling with a computer-related addiction, however, which I mentioned once before here. It’s a form of solitaire called Free Cell, and I play it too much. It presents a little puzzle that takes anywhere from three minutes to fifteen to solve. After you play a while, you almost always win, but some of the games are hard. I can feel my brain buzz when I even think about playing. I do manage to keep it down. I never play more than one game at a time and I usually interrupt myself on the long ones, but it’s hard, and I have dire imaginings of myself in a small cell, gibbering, and playing Free Cell again and again on my phone. When my rehab counselors take the phone away, I play in the air with imagined cards. The way back is a long, uphill slog.

I’m also incapable of ignoring emails and text messages–or, while the weather is still fine–the real-life implorings of Reggie to come outside and play with him.

My main method of getting in enough writing to keep me from a severe guilt attack, is to keep track of my writing time. Say I start at 8:03, I type that in to my Time document. And say that at 8:07 an email comes in, and it’s one that interests me. I type 8:07, read the email, go back to my Time page and type 8:10 and continue writing. By the end of a writing day, I may have twenty start-and-stop listings, and I know exactly how much time I actually put in. My minimum is two-and-a-quarter hours, but I try for more. If I make the minimum, however, I can feel okay about the day.

And if I don’t make it, which I sometimes don’t, I forgive myself–essential for being able to get started again the next day.

Oh, and there is a kind of computer activity that I count as writing. If I Google something I need to know for my story, I don’t call a time-out. For example, in my WIP, Ogre Enchanted, my MC is a healer, and I’m often looking up herbal remedies. I don’t think I should be penalized for that! But I try not to be sucked in to expanding my search or lingering more than I should.

I’ve also been sending fifty page chunks of manuscript to my editor, because I want to know if I’m going off-course. I don’t have a deadline for that, but it is a goad. I want to get her the pages. I want to power through another fifty pages, which will get me closer to “The End.” I want to impress her with my productivity. If I let myself get lost online or with Free Cell, none of this will happen.

You may not have an editor who’s willing to look at your work as you’re writing it, but you may be able to exchange work with another writer in chunks like this. Or with a family member, a teacher, a librarian.

For poetry, I’m in a little critique group that meets every two weeks, which means that I have to come up with a poem, and that focuses my mind. Let me just add–off-topic–that needing to produce a poem wakes me up to the world. I never know where my next poem will come from, so I pay attention.

I have other assists that you all may not have. The book I’m working has a deadline (January 1, 2018), and that is a powerful motivator. When I get it done, my editor will, I hope, want another book. There will be another contract and another advance, because I earn my living this way.

Even if you don’t yet get paid for your writing, you can regard it as a job, or as prep for your future, and you can use that notion to keep yourself moving. But don’t use it as a stick to beat yourself with if you don’t meet your goals. Forgive yourself and climb back in the saddle.

A lot of you participate in NaNoWriMo and NaNoWriMo camp. This is a great way to keep yourself out of the online rabbit hole.

I love this blog, as you all know. I love the questions you ask and the help you give each other, but please don’t let it be part of the problem. There’s kind of a pull, when someone asks for aid. But giving it shouldn’t come at a cost to your own work.

And none of the advice above should fuel self-criticism. Everybody writes at his or her own pace.

Here are four prompts:

∙ This comes from Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. It’s very old–eighty years, maybe, and old-fashioned–written for adults, but nothing in it will hurt anyone, I don’t think, and it’s useful. She offers this exercise, which I’ve modified: Wake up twenty minutes early every day until the next post and write for the twenty minutes. Pee, if you must, but don’t dress, drink coffee, turn on the TV, or look at anything online. If possible, don’t talk to anyone. Work on your WIP or journal or write notes or a rant, whatever. Report how it went after the next post.

∙ If you have a meal by yourself or can make yourself alone, write while you eat. I do this at lunch and sometimes breakfast. After I eat, I often get sleepy, but chewing keeps me awake. Don’t look online. Just eat and write. Do this until the next post and report back.

∙ Try my practice of recording your writing times. Set a daily goal and keep track. If you don’t make it for one day, forgive yourself and go back to it. Report on how this went.

∙ Keep a Bridget Jones (high school and up) type diary of your writing life. Or write about a character who’s a tormented writer and write her story for her.

Have fun, and save what you write!

  1. “Oh, and there is a kind of computer activity that I count as writing. If I Google something I need to know for my story, I don’t call a time-out. .. But I try not to be sucked in to expanding my search or lingering more than I should.”

    This is further proof that you’re a professional. I’ll start by looking up herbal remedies, and three hours later I’m deep into an essay on Samoan etiquette, and I’ve only come up for air because it’s gotten too dark to see the keyboard. 😉

  2. Certainly the internet can be a huge time waster, but I am grateful that it has allowed me to connect to so many writers and illustrators through Facebook. I love reading their posts and feeling part of a strong, supportive community. That said, I may implement some of the above mentioned tricks to help reduce its disruptive nature.

    I have a question I’ve been wanting to ask you. I know when you first started out, you were an artist and wanted to illustrated children’s books as well. How did you decide to focus on writing only? What was your thought process that lead you to this decision and was it difficult for you?

    Thank you for creating this forum to ask questions and help our fellow writers!

    Best wishes!


    • Gail Carson Levine says:

      I took an adult ed class in writing and illustrating for children and discovered there how much more I took to the writing and how actually onerous the illustrating was for me. I was also hypercritical of my visual art. The decision was so easy it was hardly a decision at all.

  3. I have a question about NaNoWriMo… Is it okay for me to be writing on another WiP during the month (as kind of a side thing/distraction) or should I put away all other writing to only focus on my novel? Thanks 🙂

    • Jenalyn Barton says:

      There’s nothing wrong with being a rebel! Lots of people work on more than one project during NaNoWriMo. In fact, there’s a whole forum for NaNo Rebels, people who don’t work on one, 50K, brand new project.

  4. Jenalyn Barton says:

    There are also websites and programs designed to help you write without distractions. I haven’t used them myself, but I have heard a lot about them. The two that come to mind are Written Kitten and Write or Die. Written Kitten shows you a picture of a kitten every set amount of words. Whereas Write or Die has a punishment of sorts if you don’t keep writing (I don’t remember what). I hear a lot of good things about them, so they might be worth checking out.

  5. Words that make me cringe? Apparently I fall under the “hates-moist” group, who knew? “Slither” is another, but it’s such an effective word I might use it anyway. “Mucous” is another not so favorite. And “Lick” for some reason makes me cringe.

    How to avoid the siren song of the Internet? I dangle (does that word make you cringe?) the internet like a treat, first I have to write then I get a cookie (internet reference for computer geeks) with ‘X’ minutes of internet surfing. Gail, I agree with you that research doesn’t count as internet time as long as you stay on point. If I allow myself my internet treat first, then I rarely get any writing accomplished. But by reversing the order I’ll often get lost in my writing and forget all about that siren song of the digital world.

    My other internet avoidance technique is having a critique partner. I love deadlines and having someone prod me for work creates a deadline. The extra bonus of reading someone else’s work is that it inspires me to keep going. It’s a positive feedback loop.

    But then again Christie, if you have work out there being read, maybe you just need a little break from writing to refresh yourself. You could pick up a book on writing and stay away from the computer altogether 🙂

  6. Thanks. Part of the problem is that social media is so important for promotion and marketing (something I’m not that good at yet). I need to find a good balance between the two. I tend to work in chunks: the whole morning on promotion, or writing, or reading, or crafting Christmas presents. Right now I’m focusing on promotion and presents, so that I’ll have November to focus more on NaNo. That’s the thought anyway…

  7. My cringe words are poignant and angst. Something about those g and n sounds in the middle makes them sound slobbery. Poignant is one of those words reviewers like. Whenever I read, “This book is a poignant and heartfelt coming of age story”, I have to fight a gag reflex and convince myself that I still want to read this book. I think I developed my angst phobia from reading too many negative YA reviews. “This could have been a poignant and heartfelt coming of age story, but the main character has so much teen angst.”
    In high school, I wasn’t allowed to have Internet on my personal laptop, so I never had the option to be distracted. Sometimes I’d be able to access Internet on my phone and I’d use that for google research and background music. Having Internet and writing on separate devices kept me focused. Then in my senior year of high school I had to web enable my laptop for an internship. Freedom! Liberty! I could open the Internet anytime I felt like it! My writing productivity suffered. If I need to focus, I switch off the Internet or go somewhere I won’t have access. Sometimes a change in location is all I need to switch from leisure mode into office mode.
    I’d heard about Write or Die in the past but didn’t want to use it because I feel like anti-distraction tools undermine discipline. Until last week, when I had a huge college essay due. Even then, I wasn’t as productive as I hoped. I’d type “blah blah blah there are words on this page” just to keep the screen from turning red.
    Another technical trick I use is to set the screensaver time to one minute. If I go a full sixty seconds without typing, swirly colors come out and I know I’m slacking.

      • Personally the only word I can think of that I don’t like is “Stick,” oddly enough. Don’t ask me why. I don’t mind “Sticky” so much, but stick I really can’t stand. I don’t mind moist! And I actually use “smirk” often when writing a particular character…

      • I’ve been reading menus (it’s Local Restaurant Week) and realizing that the phrase “to perfection” rubs me the wrong way, for some reason.
        I guess it’s like how my ex-husband couldn’t stand the word “silky” used in reference to food.

  8. I just realized that for I don’t know how long I’ve been posting as Emma. Not sure when that started…

    Right now I am working on revising my first book again. I wrote it seven years ago. It’s amazing how much more clearly I can see the plot and what needs changing now! I’ve finally got an idea of what needs fixing, who needs further development, what plot changes to make – I’m so excited! But at the same time, it is absolutely daunting. I love writing. I hate revising. I am so overwhelmed – so much needs changing! The first fifty pages need to be completely rearranged into a different time-frame, and some major events need to be swapped. I’m having a hard time finding all of the chunks I need to rearrange – I get distracted and start nit-picking and next thing I know I’ve forgotten what I was doing! I have a list of things that need to be changed – certain character traits that need to be brought out better, more sensory details that need to be added in some spots, events that need to be added or taken out, lots of extra thought process narratives that I need to get rid of (I included a lot of things in the first draft strictly for the sake of me, the writer!). I’m overwhelmed – but, I’m also determined! If anyone has any advice on not being overwhelmed, or revising in a more organized way, I’d love to hear it!

    The headache of revising aside, it’s so much fun to look back and have a glimpse of the way I thought back then – and all the ideas I got from Gail and you bloggers at the time! It’s like a time capsule!

  9. My cringe words are “nugget”, “quivering”, “bulbous”, and “slosh”. I can’t quite explain why these words make me cringe, but they do. I’m also one of those people who fall into the I-Hate-Moist category.

    This post is super helpful and so true. I have the rule that it’s ok to research something if I need to know the facts about it for what I’m writing, even though I usually end up tiptoeing over to a list of interesting mythical creatures, or pictures of a certain style of dress my MC might wear. Even though the stuff I waste my writing time on is usually helpful for my story, I have to quickly remind myself to come back to it later and get back to writing. I purposefully make time for research and fun internet surfing, so long as it’s for my WIP, so that way I can remind myself that I will get back to it *after* writing time is over, or during a break.

    I have a question that I’m sure you guys can help me with. I’m thinking about participating in NaNoWriMo this year, but I’ve never participated before! Crazy, I know. I’ve heard a lot about it, and I basically know what it is, but I was wondering how you’re supposed to prepare for it, and what’s the best way to go about getting ready for it? Do you guys have any tips or tricks? Also, if I wanted my NaNo project to be the second draft of my WIP, is that allowed, or do you have to start from scratch? Any helpful advice, things you’ve learned from participating before, and good prep tips would be greatly appreciated!

    • For me, preparing for NaNoWriMo means having a bit of an outline and getting household things done like crafting Christmas presents and getting ready for baby (yeah, I might be insane, but I’m expecting a baby AND a novel this November).
      Technically, you don’t have to do anything except write 50,000 words. You’re “supposed” to begin with your very first draft and have words #49,999 and 50,000 be “the end”. Last year (my first), I took a half-written story and finished it for NaNo. The hardest part was going back and adding after I wrote “the end” and had 10k words still to go. On the other hand, editing and drafting are completely different animals, and it seems like it would be a lot harder to count the number of words if you were editing something unless you buried your first draft in a drawer and started your second draft from scratch, and later compare the two. Natalie Goldberg suggests that method in “Writing Down the Bones”, though she’s more a poet than novelist.

  10. I started using RescueTime to keep track of what I’m doing on the computer. It’s a program you download (there’s a free version) and it sends you a weekly e-mail summarizing your activity. You can label certain activities as productive or unproductive, and you can set goals (like 2 hours a day of “productive” work) and will show you how close you were to achieving the goal or not.

    It doesn’t stop me from making poor choices (it’s not a blocker), but it makes me have to come to terms with how much time I’m really spending on social media, etc. It’s always more than I would have guessed!

    I first heard about RescueTime from a NaNoWriMo promotional e-mail, so I figured they were trustworthy. I’ve been using it for a few years now, and I definitely appreciate the accountability.

  11. One of my cringe-words is Youth, like “a youth event.” For some reason, it annoys me to see it on paper…and especially when people say it.
    And when I was little, I HATED it when people said “Heart”, “Stomach”, or “Chest.” I avoided saying those words at all cost, although now I use them in my writing.
    For a reason that has nothing to do with mathematics, I also don’t like numbers that end in “seven”, like twenty seven, thirty seven, etc…
    By the way, Mrs Levine, thanks for this post! I’m not the only one to get distracted by “research”!
    And I love hearing all the other cringe words. : )

    P.S. Congratulations on the baby Christie V Powell! : )

  12. The only cringe word I can think of at the moment is “enveloped.” A book used it too much. “Sorrow enveloped her.” That kind of thing. Ick! It might be an okay word in a proper setting and a proper amount, but its connotation is tainted for me.

    Poppy, about the words you used to hate – my co-teacher told me about her second grade science class. They just about grossed out at the word “intestine” and two little girls put their hands up close to their ears just in case they didn’t want to hear more!

      • I’m loving it! Parts of it are kind of intense but I’m learning a lot. The wilderness trip was amazing- the leaders and other girls were great! It inspired some new poems 🙂

  13. Jenalyn Barton says:

    It’s interesting hearing all the different words that make people cringe. I probably have a few, but I can’t think of very many at the moment. I do cringe when people use cuss words in everyday speech, like using the S word in place of stuff and the F word to intensify everything (like the whole “crazy af” fad). I’m like, if you really stopped to think about what those words actually mean, what you’re saying makes no sense whatsoever. And improper usage makes me cringe, like using ‘s when it’s a plural, or using “literally” as an intensifier when you’re speaking figuratively. But I can’t think of any everyday words that bother me.

    • I’m with you, Jenalyn, I can’t stand when people misuse the word “literally.” I, too, am not a huge fan of the word “moist,” and for some reason I really dislike the word “simple.” Love reading all these hated words!

    • Gratuitous swearing hardly ever makes sense. The top ten swear words I can think of are all nouns or verbs and using them gratuitously usually involves turning them into an adjective.

  14. In fiction, one of my cringe words is “emotion.” Not because of the way it sounds, but because it seems so cheap. “His face was full of emotion.” Okay, well, which emotion? I also hate when a smile “plays about” someone’s face, because it’s so overused.

    On another note, I have a question about chapter lengths. I know that a chapter is as long as it needs to be. I know the events in a chapter can make it feel faster even if it’s longer in word count, and vice versa. I know a book’s chapters don’t all have to be the same length. I’ve experienced this mostly in children’s novels, where an occasional chapter is one or two pages, for a punchy effect.

    But what about a chapter that’s longer than the rest? In my current WIP, my chapters are mostly around 3000-4500 words. A few are in the 5000s, and several at the beginning are in the low 2000s, which I’m okay with since I don’t want to add more and risk slowing the beginning. But a couple around the 2/3 mark are around 7000, and neither have a very good place to split them. Would a reader be annoyed to sit down for a chapter before bed, and find that it’s twice the length they expected? More directly-plot-related stuff happens, but it’s not really “action scenes,” so would it feel long and slow?

  15. The Florid Sword says:

    I was wondering:
    I have a character in my WIP who I’m worried is a Mary Sue. She’s drop-dead gorgeous. All my characters have a “power” that manifests itself in various ways for each of them, and hers is probably one of the strongest in the world. She is a villain who eventually turns to the good side, although perhaps not entirely.
    However, she is very annoyed and frequently annoying, and disliked by most people for valid reasons. She has anger issues that will come back to haunt her, but she doesn’t feel a lot of remorse over killing people. She does it all to protect her little brother, who’s young enough that even her best he just treats with indifference, meaning she is pouring into someone who really couldn’t care less. Is this acceptable? Any feedback would be appreciated!

    • When I think of a Mary Sue/Gary Stu, I think of a character that makes no changes and is essentially “perfect”, including saying things beyond their maturity, or acting as the voice of the author trying to show off their wisdom. If she changes, if she annoys the reader, if she’s clearly not perfect, I’d say she isn’t a Mary Sue. As far as her power, being more powerful than anyone else is fine as long as you make sure she still has limitations: her powers should cause her problems, not just solve them.

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