The lengths writers go to avoid distraction

For some reason I enjoy reading about how writers write – their desks, their superstitions, their routines – even more than I enjoy shopping for books, which in turn I enjoy even more than actually reading.

Without really thinking about it, I paraded my ‘niche interest’ for all to see (all seven readers of this blog, that is – my Mum’s recently swelled the ranks, or at least says she has) when I made my very first post on this humble web-log back in February: I wrote an hilarious and entirely shameless repackaging of a Grauniad ‘top tips for writing’ feature.

One of the contributors of his own ‘top tips’ list was Jonathan Franzen, most famously the author of The Corrections, a novel routinely described as ‘one of the most important books of the last decade’. I’ve read it and enjoyed it very much, although for long, long sections the effect of nestling so closely in the bosom of a monstrously fucked-up family full of unpleasant people behaving unpleasantly is faintly nauseating. All the Tolstoy comparisons have at least this going for them: you feel better about The Corrections once you’ve finished it.

At number eight in Franzen’s ‘ten top tips’ list (which you can read for yourself here) was:

It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.

Which, like a child, I turned into a joke about writers being tempted to look at porn; as I said: hilarious! Anyway, I was interested to read about the extreme lengths that Franzen is willing to go in order to stick to this rule of thumb, in the latest edition of TIME magazine (he’s the first author to be the TIME cover star since 2000; the full interview isn’t online but is covered by The Guardian here):

Franzen works in a rented office that he has stripped of all distractions. He uses a heavy, obsolete Dell laptop from which he has scoured any trace of hearts and solitaire, down to the level of the operating system. Because Franzen believes you can’t write serious fiction on a computer that’s connected to the Internet, he not only removed the Dell’s wireless card but also permanently blocked its Ethernet port. “What you have to do,” he explains, “is you plug in an Ethernet cable with superglue, and then you saw off the little head of it.”

All of which makes me wonder whether Rich might be using his two week break from blogging and tweeting to pen his own magnum opus? I think we should be told…


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Man of letters & numbers; also occasionally of action. Husband to NTW. Dad of three. Friendly geek.

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