Writing about Writing

On Concentration

One of the biggest challenges I’ve found with writing is keeping focused.  There are always other things happening:  The Verge is posting new articles.  People are tweeting cool pictures of mountains or about upcoming beer releases.  The games on my phone are ready for me to play my next turn.  League of Legends just released their latest patch notes.  The list goes on and on…

I spend a lot of time on the computer.  Even before I started writing.  I love to consume knowledge, no matter how strange and useless.  Having the world’s knowledge at my fingertips is a lure that I simply cannot resist.  For example, I know that Hajime Isayama based the character design of Dot Pixis in his Attack on Titan manga on a Japanese general, who died over 80 years ago, named Akiyama Yoshifuru.  Do I really need to know that?  No, I don’t.

The internet is like a hallway filled with doors.  And every time you open one door, you find yourself in a hallway filled with a dozen others.  This is how I can go from looking up the street view of a location I’m scouting for a scene, to reading about the Battle of Hampton Roads, where the Ironclads CSS Virginia and USS Monitor faced off during the American Civil War.  How did I even get from one point to the other?  I don’t know.  I just know it happened.

Nicholas Carr wrote an excellent book called The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains that I found particularly illuminating (I highly recommend checking it out).  He writes a lot about neuroplasticity, and while I won’t go into detail here, the idea is that our brains can develop habits.  The internet is filled with distractions, and reading an article on the internet is a different experience from reading a book or a newspaper.  An internet article is filled with flashing ads, hyperlinks above, below, beside and even embedded into the content.  You know what I mean, we’ve all read articles with hyperlinked sentences that take us to yet another website.  Consuming content in this manner is changing our brains, making it harder for us to focus on a single thing because we’ve become so used to reading short bits at a time and constantly processing decisions on whether to click a link or not (Every time the brain needs to make one of these decisions, it loses focus on what it was doing).

I’ve become one of these people.   Even though I read books as often as I can, when I’m sitting at the computer and see a block of text I just skim through it, picking out keywords to get a general idea of the message.  I also click links constantly.  I see something and think, oh, this might be interesting, I’ll keep that for later.  Even now, I have 10 tabs open in my browser.  And that’s only because I just closed 4.

But I have improved (When I’m writing, anyway), and intend to keep on improving.  I’m able to write more per week now than I ever have.  My brain is slowly but surely building new, more productive, habits.  And even though I still spend an inordinate amount of time ‘surfing the web’, as it were, I’m surfing just a little bit less, and that is helping my productivity a lot.

P.S. I opened and closed about 15 different tabs in the course of writing this blog post.


3 responses

  1. I fear that I too am becoming one of those people. I’m finding that the more time I spend on the Internet, sucking down bite-sized information and skipping past the noise in front of my eyes, my concentration tends to lapse in other areas too. I find myself more easily distracted in ordinary situations, which is a bit scary. Kudos to you for trying to reverse it. If you find your way back, make sure you tell me how to get there too 🙂

    November 22, 2013 at 4:55 pm

  2. There is an excellent quote that I found recently and I find it quite apt for the era we’re coming into:

    “What a folly to dread the thought of throwing away life at once, and yet have no regard to throwing it away by parcels and piecemeal.” ~John Howe

    Whereas you like to think of the Internet like a hallway filled with doors, I often use the analogy of a hallway filled with crack dealers with a library at the end of it which you have to walk down every day. Some days I stop and have a little crack before making it to the library, some days I surprise myself and have no crack and others, I’m just high on crack all day.

    I’ve never had crack, just sayin, but the internet can be addictive. It’s a lot more real to imagine it as killing parts or our lives rather than wasting our time. With Google and Facebook learning from us and displaying a highly addictive version of the internet depending on your interests it is only going to get worse.

    December 22, 2013 at 5:04 pm

    • You’re absolutely right! The internet really is a highly addictive drug that is continually evolving into an even more addictive and easily consumed substance. It can be dangerous in so many ways, both physically and mentally.

      I struggle because I depend on it (probably too much) for research while I’m writing my book. It’s hard to not constantly be distracted by it – It’s always right there, calling out to me, offering more information that I really don’t need.

      And you’re right, the power of that distraction is only getting worse. We’re on the verge of an explosion in wearable, internet-connected devices right now. That just means more and more ways for us to throw away parts of our lives.

      December 22, 2013 at 11:15 pm

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