‘The Digital Headache’ – or ‘Why Everyone Needs A Shed!’
I think I can state with conviction that I am not a Luddite. I had one of the very first word processors (remember the Amstrad?) and was an early acquirer of Internet access (in the days when it took for ever for the dial-up modem to connect and then there was time to go and make a cup of tea before your screen arrived at the requested page). The Internet is perhaps now the most powerful tool in the writer’s armoury. To quote but one personal example, my most recent novel is set in 1935 and I was writing a scene in The Embassy Club in Bond Street , London. As I came to describe the resident band , I wondered if it might be possible to discover who was actually playing in that particular club eighty years ago. To my genuine amazement, it took only four clicks of the mouse to find not only a listing of all the bands playing in London venues in that year but a description of their instrumental line-up. God bless the cotton socks of the particular dance band nerd who compiled that one! In the pre-Internet age, it would have taken weeks of diligent searching in various library archives to glean such information – and it was at my disposal in a few seconds. So the digital age of interconnectivity is of inestimable value to a writer – it’s beyond question. But there’s a ‘but’. And the ‘but’ is the price we pay for creating and producing the written word in the age of Twitter/Facebook/Snapchat/What’sApp/Blogosphere/Kindle/Kobo/Nook…… etc. etc.
The new God is ‘interconnectivity’ – and we are all pressed into worshipping at the digital altar where due homage is paid. Writing a book is apparently now the ‘easy’ bit. The real work is in how we get it out there into the virtual world. Publishers, agents, marketing strategists and media promoters all stress that it is ‘vital’ to have a strong online presence – and I know that it is! – but am I alone in thinking that a very high percentage of the digital traffic bouncing around the world consists of people trying to maintain a strong online presence by interconnecting with other people who are trying to maintain a strong online presence by connecting with other people who are… you get the picture.
To quote an example – I know of one writer who, under advice from the people marketing his book, set out to ‘follow’ the world and his mother on Twitter. They told him that people would follow him back – and lo, verily the prophets were correct. He now follows hundreds of people on Twitter and he himself has hundreds following him. The trouble is, he now receives so many tweets every hour of the day, that he cannot possibly read them all – so almost all of them go unread. If, as I strongly suspect, the people following him are experiencing the same level of traffic, then they are likewise not reading his tweets. So, in effect, everybody is interconnected – but nobody is reading anything anyone says! A little ironic, isn’t it?
So by the time you’ve completed all the blogs, updates, profiles, biographies, announcements and resumés to complete your online presence, and joined every possible society, group and organisation relevant to being a writer, your head is likely to be spinning and you’ll suddenly realise you’ve spent the day in the virtual word and haven’t written a single word of your current opus. This is where you need the one essential element to your life that the modern-day, digital word cannot provide – a garden shed! Okay, the garden shed for most of us is metaphorical – but it symbolises the peace and quiet that is necessary in which to write. We all need that personal space, that little haven, where we can be left alone to think, create and write. It has, by definition, nothing to do with the outside world (whether actual or virtual). It is the one place where you, the writer, can function at your own pace and produce the written word that is the real business of being an author.
This is by no means a complaint about the digital age of connectivity. It is merely an observation that ‘spreading the word’ –which we all agree is so vital – can only take place after the word has been written. I, for one, can only create when I am not constantly thinking about my online presence and undertaking its daily management. So, to all those with whom I am interconnected – which is something I genuinely value! – please try to understand if I do not instantly respond to communication or quickly react to messages. Please be sympathetic if I am behind with updating my various profiles. It isn’t that I am being anti-social. It’s just that I’m in my shed!