My first book was written in pencil on yellow legal pads. My only distractions (I say that like they were a minor distraction) were three little kids under five. All my research was done at the library and what I didn’t know, I made up. Luckily for everyone, that book is lurking somewhere that the sun no longer shines. Even I don’t want to look at just how awful it probably was. My next book was penned, so to speak, on a computer, and I did have a dial-up email account, but the research for that was still done either in libraries or books I purchased and devoured at home. That second book was completed in thirty days. All 92,000 words. I lived in that book. I ate, drank, slept and dreamed that book for thirty uninterrupted days. By then I was a widow, the last of my kids was off to college and I’d just been laid off and remained out of work for ten months. There were NO distractions. My only breaks were when I sat down to share with my critique partner.
Compare that with the book I’m writing now. In between that book and this, about ten manuscripts later, I’ve graduated down to a laptop that goes everywhere with me, I have high speed Internet WiFi, and Facebook happened. In many ways all the endless easy access we have today is a good thing. I can research just about anything right from my laptop here at home, in the airport, or on the beach. I can visit libraries I’d never be able to get to physically and find arcane bits of trivia from just about any era. I can learn how a composting toilet works, or how swords were made in the middle ages. A few clicks of the mouse and I have the line-up for the Boston Red Sox game played on September 7th in 1970, all the gory details of the OJ Simpson trial or who became King of England after the Battle of Hastings in 1066. I can even call up satellite maps and photos so I know just what things look like. It’s mind-boggling and amazing. How did I ever write anything without it?
On the other hand, all this connectivity is distracting. When I first started writing on a computer, if I stared at my work-in-progress long enough and nothing happened, I could hop over and play a game of solitaire or ten. There were other distractions like Sammy the Snake (I know, now I’m dating myself) but on the whole that palled relatively quickly and I was back to staring at my half written manuscript waiting for ideas and words to percolate onto the page. My characters and their problems were so much easier to stay involved with. Today is so very different.
Every day I jump out of bed with the idea that I am going to get soooo much written today. I scramble into some clothes and take the dog for a walk, then make my breakfast and carry it to my study. I’ll read my email while I eat. But reading the email is just the beginning. Then I have to check Facebook. And sometimes Goodreads, or Pinterest or God knows there are so many places to check. Friends post links to interesting books I might want to buy, or clips and videos I just have to see. There are blogs to read and interesting articles about just about anything. Next thing I know, my stomach is telling me it’s hungry. How on earth did it get to be 2:30 in the afternoon already??? Where did that whole long pristine day go? I haven’t even opened up my WIP yet. And the dog wants to go for another walk. The tide is out and the beach is calling. Lunch is calling, too. By the time all these things are taken care of, it’s late afternoon and the day is more than half gone.
The saving grace for me is that the hours between four pm and ten pm are my most productive hours anyway. But I still have to discipline myself to disconnect from the internet and pay attention. My laptop has a function that puts all that stuff in the background and even stifles the little dings that normally tell me I have mail, or someone’s posted to my FB page. I just have to turn it on. AND leave my smartphone out of earshot and out of sight. My phone has even more distractions than my laptop.
There’s good and bad in everything and the Internet is no different. For a writer, it can be the biggest boon with enormous potential, helping to expand our platform and learn about our craft. But it can also be the biggest distraction.
The holidays were good to me this year and I have a lot to be thankful for. My flight north on Christmas Eve was only delayed by a couple hours, and I arrived in a land sparkling with new snow. What could be nicer than a white Christmas? Better yet, my son’s new family room had the most gorgeous tree with twinkling lights reflected in all the windows and a lovely fireplace to cozy up to. Stockings had been hung and a snack set out for Santa. All I had to do was settle in and enjoy.
Which I did. Very much. Christmas is always more exciting with children and their innocent pleasure in the magic of the day. Then, on the Saturday after Christmas my granddaughter, Anna Rose, was baptized and the entire family gathered to celebrate with her. All my kids but one and all my grandkids but two. The perfect ending for a year filled with blessings.
My flight home was scheduled for Jan 2nd at 8:04 pm. By New Year’s Eve it was clear that a big snowstorm was on it’s way to New England. I called Jet Blue to see if I could fly out the night before the storm, but alas, that was going to cost me so I declined. Then on New Year’s Day when I logged onto the internet to check in, instead of having my boarding pass pop up, an 800 number appeared advising me to call and change my flight - no fees would be charged. I wanted to say, I told you so..... but I didn’t. I claimed one of three seats left on the first flight out the next morning. Then the evening news reported the snow, which I’d thought wasn’t going to start until mid-day, was going to begin in the wee hours before dawn.
My son got up an hour earlier than planned and drove through dark streets already covered with snow and far more traffic than I would have guessed at that hour of the morning, but he got me to the airport on time. As it turned out the plane I was to fly out on did NOT get to the airport on time. Instead, a flight bound for Tampa that was supposed to be gone a half hour ago still sat at the gate. But it finally left and my plane arrived. An hour later than scheduled, we were all in our seats and ready to push back, but......the door remained open! What now? Apparently the pilot had filed a new flight plan. I’m not sure, but I think it had to do with the gathering storm. FAA rules require that the actual physical paperwork must be delivered to the cockpit before the plane can push back from the terminal. I have no idea where these were generated, but I swear it had to be somewhere in South Boston and there was a bicycle currier involved. Why else should it take an hour for the paperwork to arrive?
When the paperwork was finally delivered to the cockpit, the pilot announced it would be just a few more minutes before we headed out to the de-icing area. What he didn’t tell us (probably fearing a revolt) was that the de-icing line was an hour long. This area, where men sitting in little enclosed cages at the ends of long, hinged booms and armed with high volume nozzles that spray two different chemical mixtures to first rid the plane of built up snow, then keep it clear of ice until it can get into the air, is right at the end of the runway. As we pulled into that line we could still see the buildings on the far side of the runway, but by the time our turn came around, the visibility was closing in fast. The snow was gathering momentum.
Before we boarded the plane there were already quite a few delays and several cancellations showing on both arrival and departure boards. By the time we roared down the runway and into the air at 11:30 (only 3 hours and 10 minutes behind schedule,) I wondered how many more cancellations had been posted. As it turns out, I was fortunate to get out at all. The entire airport was closed down later in the day and well before my originally scheduled flight. It might have been cloudy and spitting rain when I stepped out of the terminal in Jacksonville, but it was great to be back in Florida and even sweeter to shed all the heavy clothes I’d layered on earlier and head home in my shirtsleeves.
Christmas and New Years were good to me, but so were the forces that brought me home. Thanks to my son who not only drove to work so he could drop me at the airport but then had to drive home at the end of his day in the height of the storm (he usually takes public transportation.) It took over two hours to drive what should have taken 30 minutes. Thanks to all the workers at Logan who put up with frustrated travelers and labored to get us off. Thanks to the pilot and his crew. And Thank You God that I live in St Augustine.