Perfect Conditions

This entry came from NEHW member and author Bracken MacLeod’s website.

Perfect Conditions

by Bracken MacLeod

Recently Jonathan Franzen created quite a dust-up when he said that “the ‘impermanence’ of e-books is incompatible with enduring principles” (or something to that effect). I’ve already weighed in with my opinion of the Tastes Great/Less Filling debate when it comes to e-readers versus dead tree books and really am not interested in saying any more. However, Franzen did have something else to say which intrigued me enough to make further comment.

The acclaimed author … has said in the past that “it’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction”. He seals the ethernet port on his own computer to prevent him connecting to the internet while he writes, also removing the card so he is unable to play computer games and wearing noise-cancelling headphones to prevent distraction. [emphasis added] source

I admire the luxury of being able to drop out entirely and simply be in the work. In the past I had a similar attitude toward distraction. I used to only be able to create when conditions were just right (that’s what I told myself anyway). You get the idea–fussing about with ideal setting as a means of procrastination. Distractions outside (or inside) could derail me for minutes or hours. Not any more, however. I’m done with all that. And since I’ve gotten rid of the perfect setting nonsense I’ve been much more prolific.

I wish I could say that my rejection of the Goldilocks conditions (not too noisy, not too hot,1 just right) for creativity was borne of discipline and a desire to just sit down and do the work, no matter what. But if I am to be honest, it was my son’s doing. Since adding a baby (nearly a toddler) to my life, all I need to be creative is enough time to open Scrivener and start clacking keys (or outlining, or editing, or whatever). And that’s the last remaining luxury of the full-time parent/writer. Fuck feng shui! All I need is time.

At this moment, time seems ample compared to when I was lawyering, for instance. The kid sleeps a few hours a day (I know that’ll change, don’t bother commenting about it) and I work. The sounds of the city buses and the gas station outside don’t bother me (most of the time), I don’t need to find the perfect mood music–although it does help me with “flow”–and most of all, if I only get to write for ten or fifteen minutes at a time instead of several uninterrupted hours I still feel like that was a success. It’s unclear to me whether being a stay-at-home parent has fragmented my ability to focus or solidified it. All I know is that my first book took four years to write and my new one only took two and a half months.2

The change came easier than I expected mainly because I was forced into it. Now, the only precursor to work that I absolutely require is coffee. I still can’t write in a cafe, however. I’m too busy eavesdropping, listening for dialogue.

1 I like the cold. It feels like being alive, where sweltering heat just reminds me of being ill.

2 I attribute the improved quality of my work to taking classes at Grub Street in Boston as well as the fantastic help of my writing circle. The speed is all the boy, however.

2 comments on “Perfect Conditions

  1. Great post, Bracken, and good points all around. Writing amid distraction has been a hot topic lately, and the reality is there are more distractions now than ever before so that if you’re waiting for a time to be “just right” the writing doesn’t get done. I never had a problem with this issue, and I attribute it to two things: I started writing seriously when I was a teen in a house full of chaos and upset; my first job when I was 16 was writing in a noisy newsroom. I’ve written in chaos all my life, and now it’s to the point where I can’t write without it–currently, I write fiction in a place where I’m interrupted non-stop all day long. My advice to other writers struggling with too much chaos preventing their writing is this: go out to the noisiest place you can find and just force yourself to write. Eventually, you’ll get used to it.

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