Technology: How writers block fatal distractions

Whether it's Zadie Smith using web-stopping software or Jonathan Franzen gluing up his Ethernet port, authors are going to extremes to avoid the lure of the internet

It's one of the great drawbacks of modern technology: the machines many of us use for work also have the capacity to entertain us. While cash registers don't yet come with a joystick, and miners' helmets can't project episodes of South Park on to the nearest wall, computers – and particularly the internet – conspire to derail the working days of millions.

This week, Zadie Smith has given heartfelt public thanks – via the acknowledgements – to two pieces of software that have helped her to complete her latest novel, NW: the first, Freedom, blocks website access for specific periods of time and can only be reset by rebooting the machine. The second, SelfControl, is a more brutally effective whip-cracker, not even allowing you the reboot option. Many will wonder what happened to good old-fashioned willpower, but procrastination has always been a problem for writers; Victor Hugo, for example, is said to have written naked and had someone hide his clothes so he was unable to leave the building. But the internet is deepening that masochistic streak that compels us to defer important tasks, regardless of the consequences. It's what psychologists call hyperbolic discounting; we're seduced by short-term fun while long-term goals are conveniently forgotten. Would you rather creosote a fence, or go to a party? Watch the original 1972 version of Solaris, or a video of a South Korean popstar pretending to ride a horse? Write a 100,000 word novel, or indulge in inconsequential online chat about apple crumble?

Anyone who answers "inconsequential chat, please" might do well do investigate anti-procrastination software, which comes in many different guises these days. Apps such as Affirmations (iOS) and Stop Procrastination (Android) offer some form of hypnotherapy; others, such as writtenkitten.net, reward you – in this particular case powering you through each 100-word burst of creativity with the promise of a picture of a fluffy kitty. Some punish you; Write Or Die's "Kamikaze Mode" begins deleting words if you're not writing fast enough. Audio signals can be effective; you could set up your computer to emit a "clang" every 15 minutes to remind you that time is passing, but apps like Alarms (blog.mediaatelier.com/alarms) and Pomodorable allow you the flexibility to set up a regime of "productive procrastination". Of course, most of these can be easily overridden if we become frustrated – and that's where tools such as Temptation Blocker come into their own, forcing us to type an unmemorable 32-character password in order to reach the digital treats we desire.

It's unlikely that the predicament of Smith and her fellow authors (such as Jonathan Franzen, who took action in a similar, if less hi-tech, way than Smith to keep himself writing rather than mucking about – as he told Time magazine, "what you have to do," explained Franzen, "is you plug in an Ethernet cable with superglue, and then you saw off the little head of it") will elicit much sympathy. After all, writers might produce 2,000 words a day, but they probably type at 35 words per minute, leaving seven hours of staring, bored, into the middle distance. However, as comedy writer Graham Linehan said in interview recently, "being bored is an essential part of writing, and the internet has made it very hard to be bored." Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some work to postpone.

Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
News
Not quite what they were expecting
news

When teaching the meaning of Christmas backfires

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Ashdown Group: Web Developer/Designer - WordPress, PHP, HTML, CSS, Adobe

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Web Developer/Designer - WordPress, PHP, HTML...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global 3D visualisation compa...

    Ashdown Group: SQL Developer - Derbyshire - £30,000 + £5,000 Car allowance

    £28000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SQL Developer - Derbyshire, commutab...

    Ashdown Group: SQL Developer - 12 Month Fixed Term Contract - Shrewsbury

    £40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SQL Developer - 12 Month Fixed Term ...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum