Grow Your Writing Business by Stepping Away From Your Computer

From Jane Friedman:

There are two desks in my office. The one closest to the door is L-shaped and contains a laptop and external monitor. Next to my screens are a microphone, a pair of Bose headphones, and a notebook to-do list. This desk is where I run the administrative side of my freelance writing business. I take calls, respond to emails, track income and expenses, and deliver work to clients.

Against the far wall is the second desk. This one is smaller than the first but vastly more important. On it, you’ll usually find a large open notebook, one or two pens, and a few dozen books. This is my device-free workspace. No computer. No phone. The only electricity flowing here is to an antique lamp that illuminates my work from the right-hand side. This is where each day, pen in hand, I write.

Computers and access to the web are vital to the success of any modern freelance writing business. But I also believe that spending too much time at a computer holds writers back from reaching better clients and producing their best work. Here are six arguments for why freelance writers should spend less time at their computers.

1. Write without distraction

I don’t think I need to build a case for why the internet is distracting. To stay focused at any task online requires uncommon willpower, special software, or a rare hit of motivation. I mean, just look at how many tabs you have open while reading this article. Working from a computer, most of us have several things constantly going on at once.

I’ve tried many hacks and software over the years to reduce my internet consumption while working. Here’s what I’ve concluded: Nothing works better to ward off distractions than simply shutting down your computer and opening the blank page of a notebook.

2. Slow your writing process

Faster production is a good goal for an assembly line. It’s a short-sighted one for writers. I have no doubt that you can type much faster than you can write by hand. That’s exactly why you should write by hand.

Slowing down your writing process gives you time to think. Great writing is difficult to produce because it requires depth and craft. When you write using pen and paper, you are more likely to pause and think through an idea before putting it on the page. This slowed process during the first draft, in my experience, greatly improves the quality of my final work.

Author Robert Caro learned this same lesson during a creative writing course at Princeton. Caro writes:

We had to write a short story every two weeks, and I was always doing mine at the very last minute; I seem to recall more than one all-nighter to get my assignment in on time. Yet Professor Blackmur was, as I recall, complimentary about my work, and I thought I was fooling him about the amount of preparation and effort I had put into it. At that final meeting, however, after first saying something generous about my writing, he added: ‘But you’re never going to achieve what you want, Mr. Caro, if you don’t stop thinking with your fingers…’ That was why I resolved to write my first drafts in longhand.

3. Consume higher-quality media

Great writers read.

Foundational to maturing as a writer is reading the works of great authors. Steven Pinker describes reading as a foundational part of mastering the craft of writing. He writes, “Good writers are avid readers. They have absorbed a vast inventory of words, idioms, constructions, tropes, and rhetorical tricks, and with them a sensitivity to how they mesh and how they clash. This is the elusive ‘ear’ of a skilled writer.”

My third argument for spending less time at your computer is to raise the quality of media you consume. Sure, there is outstanding writing to be discovered on the internet. The challenge is sifting through the abundance of mediocre or bad writing—especially found on social media—to uncover the hidden gems. Rather than wading through a noisy newsfeed, start your search for great writing away from the computer screen.

Author Haruki Murakami was once asked why he doesn’t use social media. He said, “Generally speaking, the quality of writing isn’t very good. Reading good writing and listening to good music are incredibly important things in life. So, to phrase it from the other way around, there’s nothing better than not listening to bad music and not reading bad writing.”

The fastest way to find high-caliber writing is to pick up a book, newspaper, or magazine. You at least know these works have gone through the revision and vetting process of an editor.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

2 thoughts on “Grow Your Writing Business by Stepping Away From Your Computer”

  1. Sigh… My way or the highway articles. I think you can learn a lot from dreck, such as how to avoid it (my blog has a category called “Irritated Reviews”), but it is true that distraction-while-writing is a problem we doubtless all deal with.

    Personally, I spend too much time being irritated at not being able to revise as I write using a keyboard, so handwriting is not for me, except for emergency not-near-a-computer notes.

    On the other hand, I do prefer a second desk with a computer whose only non-writing open browser screens are to temporarily research a writing question. That computer is going to be connected for Dropbox backup anyway. Or, alternatively, no connections, and a [bracket] around every question, new nameless character, etc., to be looked at later in revision/cleanup mode.

    You do you, I’ll do me.

  2. The author of this is a self-proclaimed professional ghostwriter. I thought tight deadlines and quick turnarounds were mandatory to have any kind of success doing this? Yet he advises slowing down your writing process when I presume he’s been hired as a contractor to meet a very hard deadline. Confusing. Or, perhaps I’m wrong about that, and professional ghostwriters get as much time as they need?

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