|Darling, I Do Know Why I Go To Extremes
||[Feb. 18th, 2014|07:51 pm]
Multitasking has been coming under a lot of fire lately.
Mother Jones, for instance, recently posted an article about how you can improve your brain by not multitasking. Uberfacts had a line of tidbits last week declaring how much better you perform without it, including something along the lines of how your brain gets three times more dampened by multitasking than smoking marijuana. Numerous studies have demonstrated that prodigies and those we call geniuses tend to be focused hard on their discipline without interruption for X amount of time a day (though saving the rest for Everything Else, including and especially recreation).
And I have to admit that when it comes to making my writing space at home, I go to extremes. "Stop being an internet junkie" says Maria Konnikova in the Mother Jones article. I don't have an Internet connection at home specifically because it's too easy for me to play with a multitude of flickering distractions. Nor do I have cable, satellite, or digital TV; my TV watching is usually limited to DVD and VHS. I only answer the phone if it's someone who knows only to call me when I'm writing if it's important, or someone I asked to call me back as soon as possible.
But you know what? If you're a writer - and I suspect this is true for any creative pursuit - you're multitasking anyway, whether you want to or not, whether you mean to or not.
Because your brain is always firing away. Plotting, planning, and otherwise chasing after what you're writing or want to write. This is often regardless of what you may personally choose for yourself at any given moment. For example, I almost never get bored, because the back of my brain is always plotting out a story arc, or trying out dialogue, or writing a descriptive passage, or figuring out a believable escalation of conflict. This can be inconvenient when I'm trying to do other things, especially those requiring a lot of mental attention, sure. But I wouldn't have it any other way, because by the time I sit down at the keyboard for the day's writing work, I usually know what I'm going to write.
I haven't read a book strictly for pleasure since I was twelve years old. Everything I read I study. I do the same thing when watching a movie or TV show, and in those cases I also try to figure out the visual setting, what the director's doing, and so on.
When I was writing Lest Camelot Fall my library boss, Cy Dillon, gave me the go-ahead to learn and practice our research databases by researching the novel. (He got a shout-out in the acknowledgements for that.)
When people ask me where I get my story ideas and I tell them Everywhere, I really mean that. As oblivious as I can be in other ways, I always try to keep my eyes and ears open to sponge in anything I might stumble across. An overheard sentence fragment from a nearby conversation during an academic meeting once sparked a poem. Another came from a NASA news article I ran across. An oddly-framed photograph became a piece of a short story, while a famous commercial sparked the opening of another. My first professionally-published poem was inspired by the top of a mountain next to campus catching on fire.
All of that absorbing? When you get right down to it, it's nothing more than multitasking.
My point is, I'm not sure how you can be a writer if you don't multitask at least to some extent - just not in the way it's traditionally defined. (When I was in 2nd grade it was called "daydreaming". The only difference now is that I've learned to put it to more productive use.) And I consider it absolutely necessary.
I'll go one step farther. I've heard a lot of people ask "How do I know if I'm meant to be a writer?" I'll put this forward as a test: If you study the books you read instead of just reading them...if you can't help but mentally turn a snatch of conversation or a quirky news article into a story or poem idea...if you're always turning ideas over in your head and can't let them go (or they won't let you go)...
...Then yeah, I'd say that's a pretty strong indicator. So turn off the TV, switch off the network connection, set aside your phone, and ask yourself "What am I waiting for?"
I appreciate this challenging word.
By the way, I slipped Traveling on Grace Street onto my Comfort Books shelf!
My brain works like yours.
If we ever meet up in person the local area might explode... :)