As writers, we need to get into our heads and do lots of thinking and lots of soul searching. Living in a society where advertisers, our friends and families, and the entire Internet are competing for our attention, that kind of quiet thought might be hard to come by.
When I was in Paris, I had limited Internet access, no phone access, and nothing more on my agenda than to learn.
While I was there, I'd spend my mornings writing on a new novel. I got almost 20k words done while I was there, over three weeks, that averages out to about 1,000 words a day. After we'd head out for the day, I'd keep my moleskin with me and write as often as a thought struck me (you know, instead of tweeting or facebooking). In that notebook, I wrote two short stories, and I put about 20k words down full of observations and ideas.
It was refreshing and it was refueling.
I wasn't so concerned about the rest of the world, I could spend my time thinking about capturing photographs of things that spoke to me, wondering about the world I was in, and imagining what scenarios and situations the characters in my head could get into in these new locales I was learning about.
I was inspired.
And as soon as I got home, I felt once again crushed by that overload of information that is the Internet, the oppressive onslaught of advertisers, publicity people, friends, family, etc. etc. etc.
After seeing a different sort of balance, I'm instituting a few rules for myself to help me tap back into the quiet of my mind so I can ponder things in order to be a better creative person and a better storyteller.
Rule #1: I don't answer my phone (unless you're one of two or three very select people) anytime outside of regular business hours. People who aren't my most beloved loved ones or important collaborators don't get me anytime outside of 9-5, Monday through Friday. My weekends are mine, my mornings and evenings are mine. Just because you know I have a phone, doesn't mean I'm going to use it. I'll respond when it's appropriate for me.
Rule #2: The same goes for email. Unless it's a very special case, I won't respond to your email unless it's during business hours, and never immediately. The minimum amount of time before receiving an email and me sending a response is fifteen minutes. It could take a few days. I'm pulling myself out of the world of instant communication.
Rule #3: Social media notifications have been turned off. Twitter and Facebook no longer send me text messages, push notifications, emails, nothing. If I happen to be on the service and see an interaction, great. If not, I've missed nothing.
Rule #4: Since it takes time for me to respond to you, I'll have patience and expect that it will take you time to respond as well. I won't hound you, send you repeated follow-up emails day after day, spam call your phone, or hit you relentlessly. I'm trying to change a culture here for myself, and it applies to how I treat you.
Rule #5: I hereby give myself permission to refuel my brain. To read more books, visit more museums, view more art.
Rule #6: I hereby refuse to waste time trolling the same four sites on the Internet forty times a day, waiting for an update as though I need to be instantly in the know. The most important thing for me to be doing is picking away at my writing, even if it's just a single line.
I've started with those and I'm working on it. It's hard, especially after learning to react in this fashion over the last ten years, and I may slip now and again, but it's a good start.
If I feel like I need to take further drastic actions to disconnect and enable me to focus on things that are more important, like reading, writing, time spent with my kids, relaxation, and learning.
Feel free to let me know what strategies you use to disconnect.