Raymond Chandler wrote that a writer shouldn’t read letters until lunchtime. The energy that ought to go into his novel would be diverted to correspondence.
If email had been invented 50 years earlier, we might never have had “The Long Goodbye.”
Email has an itching urgency that letters don’t have. And a letter leads only to the end of the page – the internet clicks you on into endless pages and seemingly into other worlds. So I’m with Chandler. If you’re a writer, don’t even open your email until you’ve finished writing for the day. Given that most writers have enough creative energy for a three or four hour day tops, you’ll only have to wait until lunchtime, after all.
I’ve interviewed dozens of writers for my blog and I always ask about their writing routine. Many of them say that they dabble on the web until they “feel guilty about wasting time,” then they start writing. Trouble is, by then I think they’ve blown their concentration for the day.
The web is about information, it’s about the many connections that can take you from one site to another and eventually drop you at a place you’d never have imagined. Start clicking on International Crime Authors Reality Check and soon enough you’ll find yourself at the homepage for the Bronx Zoo with stops along the way in the realms of Lady Gaga and marinara sauce. They all connect. That’s what’s great about the web.
But a novelist needs to make all those connections in his or her head. Emotional connections between his characters. Plot connections between the body in the library and the detective’s solution in the final chapter. So the writer’s head needs to be clear, or the connections will never quite hook up.
A writer needs emotional focus above all else. In a chapter about a long-awaited reunion between a son and a mother, you’d better be able to imagine the feelings they’ll experience. If you’re thinking about an infuriating work email you read that morning or a bitchy note from an acquaintance, your mind will drift. And your writing will grind to a halt.
A better way to start the day is to close your eyes and think about absolutely nothing for five breaths. Then imagine the person or object that illuminates your “inner light” (as Eckhardt Tolle calls it). When you open your eyes, start writing.
Leave your surfing and your blogging until you’ve already done your creative writing for the day. That way you won’t have to feel guilty about it, either.