I haven’t been able to read for a while.
I keep picking up books, but my mind drifts away and before I know it, I’ve flipped through two pages, and I have no idea what I’ve read. At first I thought that maybe I just hadn’t found a good book in a while, but that’s definitely not the case. I have a plethora of wonderful books just waiting to be loved. But I haven’t been able to get through more than a few pages of each before becoming disinterested. I thought that maybe I just needed a break from reading, that I was more interested in other aspects of my life. This is rare, but it has happened before.
Then I noticed that the same thing was happening when I was sitting down to write. I would eventually get something out, but it was like I had to mine the words out of my brain with a pickax. I thought, maybe I just don’t want to be a writer anymore, but the voice in my head screamed at me for considering such a betrayal. So no, that wasn’t it. Writing makes me happy. Why couldn’t I get the words to come out? I realized that they didn’t want to come out because I couldn’t focus. So I thought about how I’ve been spending my days lately, and I did some research.
As The Guardian says, “we live in an always on world.” Everything is a click, a tap, or a swipe away. I like this because it’s so true. We are always connected to a phone, or a tablet, or a laptop. It’s actually expected that everyone bring their own device to all of our classes, even though we don’t have a tech class or devices listed as a requirement. If you don’t bring any tech, there’s a laptop cart available. There’s no excuse. Everyone must be plugged in.
And I mean, utilizing technology to teach is fine, but I feel like in this program, we’ve reached the point where nothing is taught without it anymore. Which is too bad. Some of the best classes I had at Mount Royal University were just a professor sitting on a desk chatting with us.
In a wonderfully titled article, “Social Media and the Death of the Attention Span,” David Burnham writes,
“Twitter allows only 140 characters, making the user cut down anything they’re saying. Vines only allow six seconds of video content. Snapchat only allows 0-10 seconds of temporary imagery. With a double tap on Instagram, everyone will know who liked whose photos online. These applications have made for easily-accessible online platforms, but it has also encouraged a detrimental change — a terrible attention span.”
So not only are we always plugged in, but our attention spans are being conditioned to last for the length of a Snap or Vine.
There is currently a global rise in ADHD. Psych Central says “a child with ADHD is four times as likely to have had a relative who was also diagnosed with attention deficit disorder.” This means that ADHD is partly genetic. But if we look at the way our world works–everyone being plugged in and paying attention to one thing for the length of a finger tap–it’s no wonder the diagnoses is on the rise in first world countries. We are being trained to unfocus.
I’m not an expert on this topic, and I personally do not have ADHD, but I feel like (especially lately) I have trouble focusing for longer than a few minutes–this is not something I struggled with when I was younger. I used to sit in my room and read or work on my novels for hours before I had a cellphone, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat accounts. I used to close my eyes and just listen to music, doing nothing else. Now I’m interrupted every few minutes by the vibration of a device or the need to see if anyone liked my latest post. I feel like I have been trained away from my natural propensity to sit down and work on something for a long amount of time. And that’s how novels get read and written.
But why am I feeling like this now? I’ve been plugged in since I was a teenager.
I feel like I’ve gotten out of the habit of unplugging. This program in school isn’t challenging for me; I very rarely have to pay full attention or apply myself. So instead, I spend all day looking at my tablet, or switching to my phone to check Snapchat, Facebook, or to play a Candy Crush ripoff called Gummy Drop.Then I go home and do homework on my computer or watch Netflix. I’m staring at screens all fucking day.
And I’ve really noticed my need for instant gratification when I run out of lives in Gummy Drop. Rather than putting my phone down and doing something else for an hour for my lives to refill, I spend the fake money I’ve earned in the game which always ends up screwing me over. All I had to do is wait. I could go for a walk, or actually pay attention to class. But I can’t stop myself. I always spend the coins.
I think that this need for instant gratification has trickled over and harmed my ability to write and read for long periods of time. Novels are long. It often takes a long time to reach the point of catharsis when reading a book, and even longer if you’re trying to write one. I can’t spend any fake coins to get to the good part faster.
So I’m going to try and rewire my brain.
I’m not going to post anything on Facebook or Instagram (therefore I will not feel the need to check for notifications) and I’m not going to allow myself to play Gummy Drop after 8 pm.
I’m going to read, write, and try to create new habits in the free time I’ll create by doing this. This might be hard with the way my classes work, but I’m going to try my best. And hopefully, I’ll notice a change.
That’s my advice to any aspiring writers as well.
Unplug to unblock. That sounds like pooping advice.
Sit down at you desk/on your bed/in a nook/wherever you feel comfortable writing with a pen, a notebook, and your music playing device with some headphones. Write the date at the top of the page and the song you’re going to write to.
Put your headphones in, ready your pen and notebook, and press play.
Write until the song is over. Write whatever you like, or whatever comes to mind, just don’t stop. Your pen must keep moving until it’s over. If you write faster than you can think (which does tend to happen), rewrite the same word over and over again until your thoughts catch up and you can carry on. The important thing is to never let your pen stop moving until the song is over.
When the song is over, unless you’ve stumbled on to a genius idea that needs to come to fruition right in that moment, stop writing. Take a step back. Stretch. Breathe. Choose the same or a new song with a different length. Repeat.
This exercise is wonderful because it forces you to get out of your head, to stop doubting yourself, and do that one all important thing: WRITE. It’s so easy to get tangled up in thoughts of doubt and self depreciation; it can cripple your writing. When you’re forced keep going even if what you’re writing is absolute shit, you have no choice but to to get passed it. There is no other option because in this exercise, your pen must continue. This exercise one of the best ways to get over writer’s block; I managed to get a brand new short story out yesterday by doing it!
It doesn’t have to be done exactly the way I instructed it either.
When I first encountered this writing exercise, it was done a little differently. It was simply a timed exercise, and there was no music involved. I used to do it with a little hour glass on my desk, but I soon realized that I could use the length of a song as the timer. One of my favourite songs to write to is Always Attract by You Me at Six because it’s a length I prefer (about six minutes) and it’s pretty in a kind of sad way. I also like using music as a timer because if I have no friggen clue what to write about that day, I can write about the music. But if you’re not a musically inclined person, feel free to use a stop watch app on your phone or to listen to whale sounds or whatever it is that helps you write. Just make sure that for the amount of time you set, you don’t let your pen stop. That’s the most important part.