Why I'm Glad the Internet Didn't Exist When I Was a Beginner

 By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, writers wrote without the internet. And no, that's not taken from a page in a science-fiction novel. It's the truth.

I started writing over twenty years ago during the time when we actually had to go the library and use big thick reference books to locate names, addresses, and query instructions for publishers.

Those were the days when writers had to print out their manuscript, rubber-band the pages together, and send it by mail. Then we had to drive to the post office, get our manuscript weighed, and include a self-addressed, stamped, return envelope.

Okay, so maybe I don't miss everything about the good ol' days. In fact, there are many, many benefits to the internet, and I'm the first to admit that I absolutely adore having connections and information just a click away.

But even though I love the modern information age, I am SO glad I didn't have the internet around when I first began my writing journey. For as many benefits as the internet affords for research, industry information, and writing friendships, it can also be a huge roadblock for beginning writers in several ways:

1. The internet is a distraction to quality writing time.

I think this is the number ONE reason I resent the internet. Social media is there right in front of our faces ALL THE TIME. No matter where we go or what we do, the internet is clamoring for our attention. Instead of using our down time for the thinking and dreaming that are essential to a creative life, we fill every quiet space with some form of entertainment, including the internet.

Often we leave very little time to study the craft of writing because we're too busy online (including downloading free e-books about how to write!).

Sometimes our internet activities take large chunks away from our limited writing time. Instead of opening up our story and working on it, we let precious minutes (or hours) slip through our fingers because we're busy blogging or checking twitter.

Not only does it keep us FROM studying the craft or our working on our stories, but it also distracts us WHILE we're writing. During a moment of writer's block or even just a few seconds of ruminating about our stories, it's all too easy to fill that important "thinking" time with the noise of the internet. Since it's only a screen away, we have to battle the temptation to "take breaks" from our writing.

That constant, quick, ever-changing stream of information on the internet has a detrimental effect on our ability to concentrate for the longer periods that we need so that we can move past the periphery of our writing minds and tap the deeper creative zones. It usually takes me an hour or two of steady writing before I reach the back woods of my mind. But if we're constantly interrupting the flow to check the internet, then we miss out on the uncharted, unique areas that provide the gold mines to our stories.

2. All of the well-meaning advice can be confusing.

The second reason I'm glad that I could write in oblivion in the days before the internet, is that I wasn't surrounded by the loads and loads of writing advice. While some of it is very good, solid advice, it can be overwhelming to a beginner. It can lead to undue discouragement, the "will I ever be good enough" syndrome.

And if everyone is following the same advice, it can even lead to a mechanical, one-size-fits-all writing.

3. The open-window on the writing world leads to discontentment and impatience.

Finally, I think if I'd had the internet when I'd been writing my first book or two, I would have begun to feel the pressure to be further along than I really was.

The internet allows us to peek into the lives of anyone we want to follow. We can see every intimate detail of their writing life, listen to their accolades, and chart their progress. And while that can spur us to work harder, it can also make us feel left behind, fostering impatience for where we're at in our writing journeys.

It may even push us into publishing before we're truly ready.

I'm glad for the many years I had to study, grow, and practice my writing skills before I jumped into publication. All of those years of honing my skills set the foundation for where I'm at today. But I'm not so sure I would have taken the time to grow if I'd started in today's current internet writing world with the constant pressure to move fast and keep up with everyone else.

So what about you? In what ways does the internet keep you from being a better writer? Do you ever wish you could write without it?


  1. Having the internet at our fingertips truly calls me to be more disciplined with my time. I can get sucked up into chatting on Facebook and Twitter so often when I should be writing, reading or learning to write.

  2. You are so right! :) My first publication was about 20 years ago, and even though I like the ease and convenience of email and internet now, it was still a thrill to open that acceptance envelope back then. But, I don't really miss the whole packaging/rubber banding/weighing the manuscript business either.
    I love how you referred to the 'back woods of your mind'...and how it takes a while to get way back there. LOL Perfect analogy! I get so distracted by social media, and the internet in general. I find myself pinning on Pinterest when I have a deadline looming for turning in a writing project. Not good!
    Thanks for sharing.
    Have a blessed day,
    Amy O'Quinn

  3. Amen, Jody. I started writing in 1991 (with the intent to see if I could get a novel published, technically I started in 1978). I didn't know a single published writer personally, and only one person in my extended family who'd ever attempted it. It was two years at least before I moved to a new state and met a group of writers and got plugged into the writing world, in a face-to-face way. The internet was still a few years off in coming to my attention. I was able to create good work patterns that I haven't strayed from since, and for that I'm grateful. Because you are not kidding that having so much social media and possibilities to goof off and chat at the tap of a fingertip is a HUGE distraction. :)

    Having access to so much research information at the tap of a fingertip balances the scale, but you gotta show yourself some tough love with all the other stuff.

  4. Great post, Jody! I couldn't agree more! The Internet is quite a distraction for me when I should be concentrating on writing. I have even thought about disconnecting myself from the Internet when I'm trying to write but it's hard because while I'm writing I'm always using an online dictionary/thesaurus. I know, I could use a handheld one but just typing in a word is so convenient :)

    I also agree that having all the information at our fingertips pressures us into believing we are ready for publishing when we really aren't. I try really hard to be patient and enjoy the journey. I once read that it took Catherine Marshall 9 years to write "Christy" (quite possibly my all time favorite book!) If it took her that long to write such a classic what makes me think I should do it any faster?

    Thanks for another great post!

  5. ME. TOO. I say this all the time. The comparison game would have paralyzed me. The information would have overwhelmed me. The "requirements" for the new writer would have done me in.

    Those early and middle years were lonely sometimes, but I had the space to find my way and my voice.

  6. I can't imagine a life without internet. But I completely agree--it's such a huge distraction. For example, I'm looking at blogs right now rather than working on my WIP. I also take writing breaks every now and then to get on the internet. Especially when I have writer's block. But I have no idea how authors did it back then, especially having to go to the library for research rather than using Google.

  7. All of what you say is really true, Jody. Then again, I love that I don't feel alone in this writing journey because of the amazing writing community I've found online. And there are tools to battle the constant desire to look online when we're supposed to be writing (software that blocks certain sites for a certain alloted amount of time when you sit down to write, etc.). I haven't tried it but really want to, to make those writing times more efficient.

  8. Oh Jody, you are so speaking the truth. When I started writing for publication, I didn't have the Internet in my home, just email. I remember those days fondly. In fact, my husband and I frequently talk of going back except now with business and homeschooling it looks almost impossible.

  9. Great post, Jody.

    Distraction is one of the reasons I don't do social media beyond a twice-weekly blog post on each of two blogs. Of course, it's also why I don't answer the telephone unless it's an emergency while I'm working. It's all about deciding to spend the time doing something worthwhile (writing), then deciding to be dedicated to that time.

    One thing we lack in this modern culture is apprenticeship. Connecting with a person whose work inspires and motivates us and who is willing to come alongside us and partner in our development. I've long believed the worst thing to happen to artists was getting away from ateliers and apprenticeship opportunities with masters.

    I wonder, sometimes, if writers don't suffer the same lack of opportunity.

  10. LOVE your blog, Jody. But for this one, I'm going to have to disagree. Love the internet, distractions and all. For me, it's like saying, "Why I'm Glad Typewriters Didn't Exist When I Was a Beginner." Trust me. I've been around long enough to write longhand, to hurry to the library before it closes. I would take keyboards and the internet any day of the week, and twice on writing days. :)

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    2. I'm with you, Dina. I can totally understand the "time suck" aspect Jody points out, and I have fallen into that trap sometimes, but for me the pros FAR outweigh the cons. I don't drive, and when I want to visit a library (Or a physical bookstore, and anywhere else, quite frankly) I have to rely on the kindness of a relative to taxi me there, and she's getting older and gets tired so easily I can't be as mobile as I frankly WANT to be. Never mind "Need to be."

      Without being able to get some of my books and resources online, I'd be so far behind the curb it's not even funny. It's frankly the ONLY way I'd get the critique and limited networking opportunities I have to my name, Jody.

      I do unplug from the web when I have to. It's part of why I had to take a sabbatical from my blog, but for someone who just isn't always able to explore outside the home as much as I or others in a similar housebound situation myself REALLY WANT TO, using the best of the internet (In spite of vices) is a WAY better option than "Quitting the dream." At least that's what I think.

      Like Dina, love the blog, too, but this is one area I differ from Jody's valid POV on this issue.

  11. All very valid reasons indeed. The internet is definitely a mix of blessing and curse.

  12. I started writing at age 4, in 1984. My family had a computer (I think it was the 512K Mac, not the 128L, since we got in late in '84, not at the start), but I did most of my writing with pens, markers, and paper in the early days. I'm glad I didn't have Internet or aohell distractions for so much of my formative writing years, so I could have complete focus. I've had to severely cut down on the amount of Facebook gaming I do in order to have more time to just write. Although I'm glad growing up in the pre-Internet era taught me how to use a library for research. I'm actually seriously planning to buy back my family's first two computers, the '84 and '93 Macs, for the simpler word processing programs I miss so much, and there obviously will only be a very limited Internet capacity on those machines.

  13. I sold my first book in 1982, back when dinosaurs roamed the planet and we chiseled them onto stones. Okay. That's a lie. But I did sell nine books written on a pretty blue IBM Selectric before buying a 128k IBM pc in 1983 or '84. It had no hard drive, two floppy disks, worked on DOS and there wasn't an internet. Once my husband and son left the house, I was able to lose myself entirely into my stories, not coming out for hours. For research, I'd save quarters in a pretty black velvet bag, then every few weeks I'd go to the big downtown library and use them on the microfiche and copy machines. It was lovely getting out and I'd treat myself to lunch. I'd keep research books for weeks. Occasionally months, if they weren't ones I thought anyone else would want. I considered the $25-$30 fine when I finished the book and turned the overdue books back in part of the writing business.

    The Internet is wonderful for many things. Creative writing isn't one of them. One year, to pay off my kid's massive college debt, I wrote 10 books in twelve months. Two 125,000 word single titles, seven category romances, and one novella. That was back when I could really, really focus, despite working on three books at a time. Another problem is that even editors, who want the best books possible, are strongly encouraging writers to dilute their creative focus with blogs, Tweets, and FB pages to promote those books. So, it's definitely a dual edged sword.

  14. I agree! Internet has its perks and downfalls. I love the internet though, it's just a click away and then, there's social media - that's way too distracting in the first place.

    Great post, Jody! :)

  15. Hi Everyone!! I'm enjoying all of your comments today! I should clarify that I LOVE the internet! It's so important to me in research and saves an incredible amount of time. It's also an excellent (and easier) way to connect with readers. And of course, there's the whole marketing aspect, a whole new world available in social media.

    So yes, there are too many benefits to count. But . . . it's INCREDIBLY distracting to the MAIN thing which is writing stories. I admit! I have trouble keeping it from distracting me, and I'm a fairly self-disciplined person. So if I have trouble, I know plenty of other writers are struggling with the distraction too!

  16. Oooh yeah....the internet is definitely a distraction a lot of times :P Today I had to tell myself to write at least 1000 words before going on and checking stuff...but it does have it's if your writing a historical or something of the sort and you want some information can just type it in google and not have to look in the library...but sometimes it's nice to get out a book and search for yourself :D

  17. I think you're the first person I've heard mention that mental "back woods". I wrote my poetry long hand for decades and felt I could reach deeper into my creativity that way. I still believe it now that I'm writing fiction, although my arthritic fingers would hate it if I gave up my computer.

    The distraction factor is a big problem, but I think it affects different people in different degrees. As in everything, the amount of self-discipline we have will determine how we handle cyber distractions.

  18. It really can be hard dealing with the distraction factor. I started out with dial-up when I was 15, which was at least some incentive to leave it off unless I needed something specific, because in Ireland we pay for local calls, so leaving the internet running the way we do now was a costly prospect!

  19. I can attest to all of this, what with the writing community on the Internet blossoming shortly after I began to pursue writing seriously. And I fell victim to all of it. Today I encourage writers seeking advice to limit their Internet access and focus on the writing.

  20. The internet is a formidable opponent of mine. Most days I have to completely disconnect from the internet in order to get my writing done for the day.

  21. Great post, I couldn't agree more! The Internet is very useful for me when I should be concentrating on writing. I have even thought about disconnecting myself from the Internet when I'm trying to write but it's hard because while I'm writing I'm always using an online dictionary/thesaurus. Thanks for sharing this information....corporate event planning

  22. While I agree, and must hang my head in shame -- because I found this post after at least an hour of internet faffing -- does anyone else find it ironic that we are reading and posting about this issue.... on an online blog? ;)


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