Writers on the internet spend a lot of time complaining about how much time they waste on the internet, and while the symmetrical irony of this affords me no end of amusement, that's not why I'm bringing it up right now.
Often the internet is seen as a time suck, an evil force
that takes us away from our real writing. Discussions of this often end
with, "Unplug it and write."
Which is excellent advice if one has
a story burning to be told, waiting there in the brain for the
opportunity to pour out onto the screen. If that is the case, by all
means, have at it. Write that story and don't let email or blogs or
Twitter or Facebook get in the way.
But I've noticed that time I
spend online (or in offline non-writing activities) includes an element
of essential play. Yes, I use the internet for story-related research,
but that is not the only legitimate writerly use for it. There's a value
in the socializing I do online, just as there's a value to the
face-to-face socializing I do. It's not a value that can be measured in
word count. There's a value in my following strange links to bizarre
stories I never would have heard of otherwise. The writer part of me
picks up on stories everywhere--including the internet. There's not an
immediate reward in measurable output; I'm not a computer program. I may
see a phrase or item somewhere that doesn't spark a specific story
until two years later. But the point is that in roaming through the
world, whether IRL or virtual, I'm picking up bits and pieces of future
Something happens in the brain during playtime. Play is
messy and unstructured and creative. It cultivates the unexpected. It
simultaneously feeds and stimulates our curiosity.
Staring at the
empty screen of a word-processing file isn't always the best way for me
to unlock a story. Sometimes the best way is through doing anything
other than chasing the muse. The muse often acts like the characters in
Lewis Carroll's looking-glass, where the way to approach them is to walk
in the opposite direction. Part of writing is listening and waiting,
giving our neurons time to make connections, getting to know characters,
fooling with different plots, trying on voices.
Play doesn't always have to be seen as procrastination. Especially for a creative person, a certain amount of it is necessary.