Pull The Plug
Technology has been my bane this week. My mp3 player died after a long decline. My DSL modem is following close in its wake—in fact, I had doubts whether it would last long enough for me to post this safely. The mp3 player I can survive without, although I’ve discovered just how accustomed I am to listening to my own music in the car rather than coping with the hit-or-miss rubbish on most radio stations. The modem I could get along without… for a few days… maybe. The trouble is, I do so many different sorts of transactions online that my ability to function in daily life would be hindered severely without that access. Most of my friends live a long way away from me; family too. Oftentimes my only contact with them comes through my computer. (Oh, and that is being fussy this week too, and not only because of the modem issues.)
I’m no Luddite. I appreciate technology’s benefits. It occupies a prominent place in my life, especially in my writing life. Last month’s novel-writing sprint, for instance, would not have been possible without my laptop and my access to the NaNoWriMo.org website. More than that, I am bombarded on every side by the mantra that, if one wishes to be a successful writer these days, one must keep up with all the latest technological innovations in social networking, e-book publication, advertising (or, as they now call it, “building a platform”), creating and maintaining an interesting / ground-breaking web presence—be it blog or website or online store, so on and so forth ad nauseum. That settled it: I had to replace the modem, like it or not. (I got a text message ten minutes ago, telling me that the replacement just shipped.)
I was a little depressed when NaNoWriMo ended a week ago. The excitement of the sprint got into my blood more than I had realized. Then I found myself with a piece of graph paper, passing the time by sketching the floor layout of the house where the main part of my project is set. Passing the time? I should say so. I spent the better part of four hours working on that diagram. In so doing, I reminded myself of what called to my inner writer more even than just the writing: the process. There’s more to the process of writing than the mere act. I draw blueprints for every significant building in every novel I write. Doing so helps me, because in many ways milieu determines the course of a story. Sometimes its effect is purely behind-the-scenes, but sometimes the setting turns out to be integral to the plot—the ramshackle house with the weak floorboards, through which a character might fall into who knows what; the inner-city alley where a character’s whole life might be destroyed or reborn in a matter of instants. These actions and these epiphanous events sometimes don’t bear an obvious connection to each other, but by exploring the scenery I often discover a scene already hidden in it.
And I don’t discover this except by drawing the diagrams by hand, with no more complex or cutting-edge technology than a mechanical pencil. Needless to say, I’m no longer depressed about finishing the sprint. I have returned to the process I have loved so long, and thereby I am returning to a more complete view of writing. Technology serves its purpose (when it works). Sometimes, however, I just need to pull the plug and remind myself exactly where the purposes of technology end. To be frank, I think we could all do with a sturdy reassertion of the human soul over the gadgets that baby us through the day. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have ten acres in which to design a neglected Victorian garden. Does anybody know what chokecherries grow on?