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.