Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Reading Day

In the quiet spaces opened up by the sustained, undistracted reading of a book, or by any other act of contemplation, for that matter, we make our own associations, draw our own inferences and analogies, foster our own ideas.  . . .  If we lose those quiet spaces, or fill them up with “content,” we will sacrifice something important not only in our selves but in our culture. —Nicholas Carr, The Atlantic, 2008

In Nicholas Carr’s 2008 essay, Is Google Making Us Stupid? What the Internet is doing to our brains, Carr confessed, “Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory.” In the article, Carr noted that he had lost the ability to read for hours. After reading just a few pages of text, his mind would wander.

I’ve noticed the same problem when I read and write. And, like Carr, I attribute it to the amount of time I spend online, taking in information. I’ve tried to keep strict boundaries between my writing life and the Internet. I don’t go online until I’ve finished my daily writing. I won’t leave open my email or
Twitter and Facebook feeds while I work— even if I am doing a relatively boring task. I don’t use my smart phone to surf or text in the car, when I exercise, or when I am with family or friends.

That said, I spend hours online every day. Whenever I need a piece of information for an article, I do a Web search. I read a good amount of research and creative writing online. I frequently visit social networking sites. In the evening, watching television or reading a magazine, I’ll frequently go back online to get more information on something I’ve read. Thanks to smart tags, many of my magazines now interact with online sites. By the end of the day, I experience what I call cyber-induced monkey mind. Long after I’ve turned off the computer, my brain is flitting between ideas and my long list of tasks. This impacts my writing.

I don’t know about you, but my writing depends on quiet spaces to think up and spin out ideas. For that reason, I am taking a reading day twice a month. On those days, I pretend I am on vacation. I do not check email, update my Facebook status, or check in on Twitter. Instead, I sit in my favorite chair and read. In between pages, I jot down quotes I want to remember. In between chapters, I daydream and nap a bit. At the end of the day, I feel rested and less anxious about what I need to produce.

Writers, give yourself the gift of a reading day. Reading offline will deepen your writing. Time away from your work and the computer will refresh you. New ideas will take root inside of you. When you return to your writing desk, your attention span might even be a smidgen longer! Now that’s something to celebrate!

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