How to Stop Digital Fiddling and Start Writing

digital-fiddling

By Mary Jaksch

Are you prone to digital fiddling? I am.
In fact, I’ve increased my skills of digital fiddling so much that I hardly notice that I’m putting off writing.

What is digital fiddling?

  • Reading emails
    How often do you check emails? When I’m stuck in procrastination, I happily check my emails every twenty minutes or so. After all, there could be an email that’s really important. I usually manage to find a few that I absolutely have to reply to at once. (After all, anything is better than having to tackle writing the piece I’m trying to avoid).
  • Checking stats
    Once I’ve finished with my email, I check my blog’s stats. If I’m desperate to avoid starting to write, I not only take a note of the visitor numbers, I also look at who’s linked to my blog and what people searched for on google. That can take a long time (very gratifying for a procrastinator!) And it’s so important (or so I tell myself…)
  • Tuning one’s blog
    A great way of digital fiddling is tuning my blog. I can spend a lot of time upgrading my plugins, finding new ones, or changing what’s in the sidebar. If I’m really desperate about avoiding to write a new piece, I’ll even look in the spam folder!
  • Surfing the Net
    Surfing the Net is a great way to stave off writing! I always justify why I’m doing it. I start reading posts on blogging, or procrastination, or writing. In my mind I call it ‘research’.
  • Networking
    Networking is important, right? (Anyhow, that’s what I tell myself). Writing Tweets, putting something up on Facebook, responding to google groups – this is sure to take up endless time. And push out the dreaded moment when I have to start writing a difficult post.
  • Using productivity programs
    Using a productivity program is the ultimate way to procrastinate. After all, all programs needs fine-tuning. Maybe you want it to sync with your calendar? Or you want to add some more important tasks? I’ve learned to use up a lot of time using productivity programs.

Finally, a moment comes when I run out of digital fiddling.  And the piece I need to write is pressing against it’s deadline.
Now what?

How to stop digital fiddling

There are three actions you need to take:

1. Disconnect your computer from the Net.
It can feel strange for a moment. As if we’ve left the world behind. But it really means re-connecting with ourselves.

2. Turn off all programs on your computer, except for the one you’re going to write with.

3. Write the first sentence.

As writing coach Marla Beck says:

In order to finish writing a piece, you must write, even if your end-product is a hole-filled Swiss-cheese draft.

The great thing about writing is that words breed words. Once you get going, writing gets easier. In order to avoid feeling overwhelmed, I give myself clear goals. For example, I’ll say, ‘I’m going to write at least 500 words, then I’ll stop.’
[This post is now 513 words long.]

What is your experience with digital fiddling?
How do you overcome procrastination?

Mary Jaksch is Chief Editor of Write to Done. You can read more articles by Mary on Goodlife ZEN. Get her free Ebook “Overcome Anything” here or grab a feed.

Photo by colorblindPICASO

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58 Responses to “How to Stop Digital Fiddling and Start Writing”

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  1. Mary, you are right on the part about productivity programs. :)

    I used to have Remember The Milk as my to-do list, only to find myself trying to “make it better for me” by syncing with Gmail, which took me down the rabbit trail as I went on to find more plugins to make Gmail my productivity hub.

    Few months down the road later… I’m back to simplicity. Using what matters to me most.

    Anyways, I can afford to comment now as I’ve finally finished writing a post. *goes off for a a well deserved digital fiddling* :)

  2. Mary Jaksch says:

    Hi Daniel – I’m glad I’m not the only one to fiddle with productivity tools :-)

  3. Mrs Green says:

    Ok Mary, you can step outside my head now LOL!

    Tweetdeck was the best / worst thing that ever happened to me. It means I can streamline my tweeting experience, but with that easy to use programme, I just spend more time on there and allow the constant updates to distract me.

    Like you, the only option is to go off line. At other times a more radical stance (say a deadline is looming) is to work at night time when the net isn’t so active in my part of the world). I use a timer and write in 15 minute chunks as I can focus really well and be very productive for that amount of time. Then I take 5 minutes (setting the timer again) either to fritter around the internet (I call that my treat – I can browse ebay, check emails, tweet – whatever I want to do) to my hearts content, or go off and move, stretch, get some water etc.

    But then it’s back to it for another 15 minutes of work. ;) Don’t forget that bit LOL!

    Another tiny trick is to turn off my speakers; then I don’t hear the latest tweet chirping at me and I close my inbox so I can’t see the emails popping in in real time.

    If all else fails, I grab that lovely old fashioned tool the paper and pen and I take myself right away from the digital world.

    great article; thought provoking, yet entertaining and I know there are thousands of people out there nodding along recognising themselves in your words!

  4. Oke says:

    Mary,

    Whenever I write I don’t connect to the internet. I guess, in my position, I am lucky to have a usb modem connection. When I’m at work however I can get more done by not doing all the things you mentioned in your post. I did without the internet for 2 weeks and had so much clarity and focus I got more work and writing done.

    What also helps me is this saying my mom told me so many times when I was growing up. I used to watch tons of television and she would say that those people have made their money, you just wasting your time, go do something else.

    After hearing that, I knew I had more things to do for myself to be establish. So now it is easy for me to turn off the distractions and get what I need to get done, so I can make a name for myself or simply become the writer I want to. When we think about social media this, email that, we have to realize that it is distracting us from the goals we set for ourselves.

    Besides, writing an hour or so a couple of times in a week isn’t going to kill us, especially if we are truly passionate about what we do…

  5. Darren says:

    Hi Mary,

    Great article. There’s a great Firefox Add-on called “Leechblock” which allows you to block out websites that you waste your time on, or allocate them particular times of the day – https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/4476

  6. Simon says:

    If you’re on a Mac, I can recommend using the small app called Self Control (http://visitsteve.com/work/selfcontrol/).

    It’s a really hard-core internet shutdown program, that simply blocks your internet access for as long as you choose (eg. 30 min.). The good thing about the program is that even if you shut down the program the block is still active. There is NO way to override it, the one thing to do is just to wait and start working/writing.

  7. Tai McQueen says:

    Ouch! Cringe! So true – especially the productivity tools part. Truth is, the last time I was really productive writing on a computer was when I had a 286 running Wordperfect 5.1 (for those younger readers, an unimaginably primitive setup) and hadn’t even heard of the internet. Now if I really need to get something written I start with pen and paper and only switch to the screen when I’ve got a draft.

  8. John says:

    Truer words haven’t been spoken. I tend to fiddle around quite a lot before writing posts. I have to just write the first sentence and hope it flows from there.

    However, I seem to work best when I write with the internet on. It makes me feel connected.

    Great advice and thanks for posting!

  9. So true..so true. I spend too much time reading other blogs, checking email, adding to my sidebars, and countless other time wasters when I really should be writing.

  10. Solo500 says:

    Guilty, Guilty, Guilty.

  11. I give myself one day that I can fiddle around on the Internet–reading blogs, reading other writing websites, listening to writing podcasts, etc. I keep the fiddling to things that can help with my writing, but that are not actual writing (not getting any words on the page). So while it’s fiddling, it is semi-helpful, and I can get my browsing/surfing fix in at that same time. The writing time of four other days of the week is just for writing.

  12. slovenlyartist says:

    Wow, this sounds remarkably like a post I read at Livewires in March about “digital fidgeting.”

    http://www.livewriters.com/livewires/?p=140#

  13. Sean says:

    Digital Fiddling…I have a new phrase! I used to just call it Productive Procrastination.
    I will close my laptop completely to not even let it tempt me. Then I will grab my notebook, my grandfather’s fountain pen, and just write for a while to get the ideas flowing.
    When doing this for my blog I write the main points, or outline of an upcoming post to type on the computer. I will not write out an entire post longhand, I may be a little crazy but I am not a masochist! But to do this by hand is important. It forces me to think more slowly and thoroughly about my chosen topic. In some cases I will not have a topic and discover it during this process.
    Just try it and see what your mind will surprise you with!

  14. iGoMogul says:

    I should really be writing new blog posts now but your article is so apt, and I really *must* comment to say thanks for the reminder to switch off, and I just have so much to say… ooh, Tweetdeck notification! Ok, as I was saying, Dang! New email.
    Alright already Mary!
    No more digital fidgeting for me.

    Seriously, thanks for the reminder. :)

    Sara @ iGoMogul

  15. Coach Marla says:

    Mary, I love your mention of blog tweaking — so true for this writer. :)

    Eric, I think you make a terrific point about “constructive” fiddling, and I love your 1:4 ratio.

    Julia Cameron calls taking time to revitalize one’s creativity “stocking the well”. By making time to connect to your writing craft & community (but being mindful to not substitute “filling the well” for actual writing), you’re keeping yourself creatively “fit” and nourished–and I’ll bet that translates into more creative energy on the page/screen! Appreciated hearing about your experience today.

    @marlabeck

  16. Cathy says:

    Oh my gosh, this is EXACTLY what I’ve been doing! That was so weird to read that – it’s absolutely spot-on not only with regard to what I’m doing, but why. I’m not sure whether to laugh or kick myself – probably a bit of both. Thanks for this post – it’s perfect.

    p.s. I just read the post again and I’m cracking up – it’s just too, TOO true… :)

  17. Gray Hunter says:

    Yes. Lovely. I digitally fiddled and found this.

    As soon as I get around to figuring out how to stop fiddling, I’ll let you know. I think I’ll work on it tomorrow.

  18. My! My!… and here I thought I was INVESTING time in research and networking where they RIGHTLY count in procrastination :D
    …I can seem to live without oxygen but not the dsl cable cut off :(…will try to follow this tippie of yours.

    Regards,
    Amy Dyslex

  19. Have you been looking over my shoulder? I’m guilty of all of these..and fully guilty, not just a little bit.

    Best Regards, Galen
    GalenKindley.com

  20. Hey Mary

    For me, I use a timer (countdown app on my Android) while writing. I force myself to just write without trying to multitask which is a bad habit at times, picked up that one in college.

    Tell yourself, only single tasking for 15 to 25 minutes (or whatever) and then I’ll reward myself for 5 to 10 minutes on Twitter/blog tweaking/ surfing. I like your approach, instead of counting time, focus on specific results. For example, like you mentioned, 500 words and then I’ll break. I like it, thanks for sharing.

    Catchy title, haha.

    -Mig

  21. Patricia says:

    Hasn’t anybody told you it’s bad to spy on someone? You’ve been spying me….Thanks for making me feel guilty.I must confess…

  22. --Deb says:

    Okay, okay, enough nagging already! But, you know, if I HADN’T been procrastinating, I wouldn’t have been reading my feed reader and wouldn’t have seen this post that I HAD to come over and read. So, really, it’s your fault I’m not writing right now. (Well, okay, I’m writing a comment, but that’s not the same thing!) (grin)

  23. Laurie says:

    ack! ack! i’ve been outed! *sigh*
    in addition to the magnificent fiddling tools you mention, i also spend a lot of quality fiddling time on my writing workshop sites: scribophile, reviewfuse, writing.com, and a new one i just picked up that specializes in sf/horror genres. i’m a little overextended, i admit.
    i need to pare down, to simplify, and i’ll give your hardcore, no-mercy suggestions a go. tomorrow. :D

  24. Really good post, I totally agree with Marla, short goals get the jobs done. If you expect to sit and write all day then you will end up looking through your e-mails or doing everything other than writing.

    However, if you break it down into bitesize pieces you will find that it flows much easier and you don’t want to stop!

  25. janice says:

    Great piece, Mary – right on the nail. I have kids which means I have to prioritise what’s important or nothing gets done.

    “Digital fiddling” is such a good phrase for what millions of us could end up spending large chunks of our lives doing. (I once got my son to calculate the length of two TV shows he’d watch every day if I let him. We calculated and multiplied the time daily, weekly then monthly. Turns out he’d be spending five entire waking WEEKS a year – that’s the equivalent of his entire summer break! – watching those two shows alone.

    If you want to stop fiddling, jot down an accurate, brutally honest account of every 15 minute block of time in your day for a week. Add it up and figure out how much time is spent actually writing. I horrified myself when I did this but it was a good wake up call. So was the day when one woman, who doesn’t like me much, sneered and asked “So what do you actually do all day?”

    What also helps me get focused on writing is to stop using the terms ‘blogging’ and ‘writing’ interchangeably. It always helps to ask myself, every day, what I want to write and why.

    Another thing that helps is that I have clear goals for every area of my life. I can’t stress how crucial that is; it means I can check in with myself and ask “Is what you’re doing now really helping get you closer to your dream or taking you further away?”

    Getting out of the house helps, too. (I don’t use a Blackberry or iPhone and I haven’t set up my mobile phone for email.) I take a notebook, quotebook, book and choice of pens with me every time I go shopping. Some of my best writing gets done in cafés. Like you, I’ve been ill recently and an enforced spell in bed, logged off, really helped me take stock of my priorities.

    I enjoyed this, Mary; it really got me thinking.

  26. Mary Jaksch says:

    Hi guys! I’m so glad I’m not the only digital fiddler :-)

    I especially embrace Miguel’s suggestions to download a timer program in order to stop fiddling. I’m sure this bit of software needs HEAPS of time in order to set it up properly :-D

    Maybe I could sync it with my iPod? (I wonder where I put the manual…) Or maybe I could combine it with a new google plugin?

  27. Cheryl K says:

    I feel better just knowing the name of this “disease” – heh!

  28. Gina says:

    Yep. Those are pretty much all the things I do. Thanks for calling me on them! :)

    The productivity programs one, made me laugh out loud. Yep. That’s me.

  29. Well, I am performing digital fiddling now, though it isn’t writing I’m trying to avoid. I would like to be writing but I have too much other work to do and I am trying to delay the inevitable. Currently I am reading and commenting on blogs, thinking about writing something for my blog, and busy twittering, catching up on all the comments that came while I was away for the day.

    The easiest way for me to get over digital fiddling, when it is stopping me from writing, is to simply set targets and rewards. Write 1000 words, then you can tweet. Write a chapter and then you can go read that blog. Write that character outline and you can go eat something covered in chocolate. Whatever works. Usually, once I hit the target, I just keep writing. Eventually I’ll remember the promised reward and go in hunt of it, but usually by then I’m cramped from writing too long.

    Thanks for the great post. I think it managed to reflect the experiences of most writers connected to the internet.

  30. mohitparikh says:

    Great Article.
    Came across it while I was procrastinating my writing.
    This is all I shld say, I must get back to my notepad. :)

  31. Great stuff, as always!!! I’m surprised you didn’t mention Twitter, which by your definition is the ultimate in digital fiddling….

  32. Basho says:

    Gahhhh! You just defined my day!

  33. I’m only guilty of checking emails however wasted time is wasted time. Period. I love the quote, if that isn’t the truth what is?

  34. Lorna says:

    Gosh, can really empathise with that.

    And surprise, surprise, I should be writing an article at the mo, but was just on tweetdeck and was led to your twitter account, and then checked out your blog!! so, no more procrastinating, switching off internet right now :-)

    Lorna

    PS so glad to know it’s not just me

  35. Larry Brooks says:

    Pretty much all writing tips are good — whatever gets you to the keyboard. But sometimes the collective conventional wisdom of it all seems to suggest that you can learn the craft of writing by simply doing it, and that the more you do it the better you’ll get.

    I don’t disagree completely, but I don’t think this is enough wisdom to go on. Because writing long fiction especially — novels and screenplays — is a very technical, structure-dependent undertaking, and suggesting that one just “sit down and start writing” is like telling someone to build a house by trial and error of attempt heart surgery by the seat of one’s pants. Not that this is what’s been suggested here, but someone needs to come out and say it: learn the craft. Master story structure, character development, thematic resonance and scene construction as the architecture and criteria dependent elements that they are. You may discover the criteria during your writing explorations, but its much more efficient to simply learn and master them as you go.

    So write your heart out, absolutely. But devote equal attention to learning the craft from the inside out, rather than the outside in of simply imitating what you’ve read. The road will be much shorter and more rewarding if you do.

  36. Mary Jaksch says:

    Ah, Larry – you are a man after my own heart!

    “Sit down and start writing” is a great way to unblock and to get the juices flowing. But as you say, there is also the other side of writing: craft.

    Personally, I like laying out a frame to hang my words on.

    I love what you say:

    “So write your heart out, absolutely. But devote equal attention to learning the craft from the inside out, rather than the outside in of simply imitating what you’ve read. The road will be much shorter and more rewarding if you do.”

  37. Natural says:

    fantastic post. i am so guilty. especially of number one. sometimes i have to close my browser, but it’s better to just disconnect my router and go into another room or i will start to fiddle with other stuff.

  38. Bud Hennekes says:

    You check your spam to? I thought I was the only one :)

    The whole article could be summed up into your one sentence ” write the first sentence” :)

    Loved the realness of the read.

  39. Glad to hear I’m not the only writer who sometimes doesn’t want to write! I’ve found that if I put ten minutes into putting something on the page, it’s easier for me to set (and stick to!) a time limit for procrastinating. It’s so much easier to come back to something (even if it’s yucky) than to a blank page.

  40. tom says:

    i have to love you guys…… i have a job job… i go some where for 8hrs a day and do what a boss tells me and then i get paid for it… any fiddling, digital or other wise,is finally crafted to avoid the gaze of the overseer….( we call it “mincing” where i work btw… as in “great day so far, been mincing about all morning” anyway, the point is, finding time to fiddle is an acheivement in my job, not something to be avoided….

  41. Ashish says:

    Nice article. I didn’t know the thing I was doing to procratinate my work is called Digital fiddling. Nice tips.

  42. Dayle says:

    Fiddling to avoid writing was precisely what I was doing when I stumbled upon this timely post. I guess I’ve been caught.

  43. designamigo says:

    this is so far the best post i read abt writing..
    gr8 work..

    i do all the things tat u mentioned..
    the only way for me to write is with pen and paper, if i sit with the word open then i ‘ll start playing with the various tools in the top,

    best tool to write. pencil, even better than pen on paper

  44. Ray says:

    Nice ripoff from LifeHacker.com

  45. Ellyn says:

    I read this at the most opportune time. That is, I have just spent half an hour digitally fiddling. Your idea of cutting off the internet is a fantastic one. As soon as I have posted this comment (and maybe checked a couple more brilliant posts) I’ll do just that.
    This is the problem with using a computer to write, a suppose.

  46. Darni says:

    I like digital fiddling,haha.I do digital fiddling from time to time. Checking stats and reading emails are the two my most favourite digital fiddling. I also like writing.But I’m a quite lazy people.So I spend most of my time reading others’ articles and I write one article a day in average.

  47. Err, well I must admit that am guilty of not reading this whole post. Actually, I just read the title. But what do I do? It reminded me that I have been reading stuff “for research on writing” or “constantly learning more about the nuances” etc etc online for almost a 2 hours now and that I HAVE to get back to writing which the clients are waiting for!

    Great post, sorry, great title! I will get back to the post.

    Thanks!

  48. Dee Todd says:

    Okay. I get it. Going offline, now.
    Dee

  49. I used to have a problem with procrastination, but then I put it off….

  50. very nice post, I think firefox addon can help us to save our time, thanks

  51. Actually, all of this is writing…. What you call fiddling is what I call, testing the audience :)