“The Writer’s Brain on Data”

There is always another email to answer, another link to share, another picture to upload, another article to read, and always another instant message. We are inundated by data, which is no big revelation. We are inundated, and we all know it and, to a large extent, we invite it. Connectivity is opportunity.

As writers and readers, we are contributing to the data dump in a slower and more contemplative manner. Meanwhile, we are expected (or expect ourselves) to produce work of some substance regularly in order to hold on to “Writer” as a title, yet we are always short on time. So we write and post, we write and respond, we write and share links. We read bits and bytes. We forget quickly in order to make room. This is not focus.

I am often overwhelmed by digital media and have recently found myself rebelling (kind-of). When I say I am rebelling, I mean I am reading books on my Kindle as opposed to checking my Facebook page and updating my status to say that I’m reading books on my Kindle. When I share a link, I only add commentary when I really feel the urge. When someone posts political on my page, I move on (unless I really feel the urge). When I read a book, paperback or digital, I rebel by paying close attention to it.

I rebel by declaring myself computer-free after a hectic day at work. I have even been known to say, “Get that thing away from me,” when someone wants to show me an online article and rests his or her laptop at my side after such a daily oath has been voiced. I tell my friend or husband to kindly get it away from me because I know if I look, I’ll be entering the wormhole. Times like these require the same level of commitment as when I quit smoking, quite a few years ago now, and my unbelieving, still-smoking friends would tempt me, not out of malicious intent but because they missed the company of bad behavior and they themselves were still addicted.

I have to Just Say No to technology sometimes (I’m a child of the 90s). I have to do so because I have cubital tunnel and a perpetual state of being behind and the genuine belief that if I answer all my email now more will fill in the empty space, whereas if I let email pile up—the dreaded fear—the quantity seems to settle into a neat little digital pile. It’s actually easier to comb through and delete the junk en masse. Go figure! I refer to these periods as my blackout periods, and they are divine.

In my blackout periods, I breathe in ideas and breathe out words, I feel my heartbeat and remember I am alive. I realize the world does not have to offer up a headache-inducing glow at all times. If it seems impossible in your life, please know that it seemed that way in mine as well. If you write, however, you have to make it happen. Here’s my advice:

Block out an hour a week at first. Turn your phone, your computer, and the TV off. And live. If someone tries to tempt you to look at something, or you feel that unease that comes with lack of access to email and messaging, deal with it. Take a walk, go to a bookstore (do it while we can!), and write a letter or a story or a poem longhand. Hell, just sit and be for a while. The world will not stop moving (data will not stop transmitting) because you do.

When you can successfully block out an hour (I’m telling you, stick with it—you’ll love it), try to do it more often. Try to block out an hour a day. Or, try to block out a few hours a week. Take a day out of the week even. It is utter bliss, I assure you.

While we’ve been immersed in data, life off the screen has been waiting with all its vivid colors and multi-sensory honesty. When you see it again, smell it and feel it again, I assure you… when you hear it again, blocks will break. Creativity will flood in. Just be sure you’re ready to deal with all that comes because that data has been piling up, waiting for a creative outlet.

Jen Knox

About Jen Knox

Jen Knox is the author of After the Gazebo, a collection of short fiction. Her writing can be found in The Adirondack Review, The Bombay Literary Magazine, Cleaver Magazine, Cosmonauts Avenue, Gargoyle Magazine, Istanbul Review, Narrative Magazine, Room Magazine and The Saturday Evening Post, among others. Jen directs the Writers-in-Communities Program at Gemini Ink and works as a freelance writing coach. For more about Jen, find her here: www.jenknox.com