NYR iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Melanie Benjamin

Melanie Benjamin

GET UPDATES FROM Melanie Benjamin

The Writer, Unplugged

Posted: 02/ 4/11 02:43 PM ET

I'm feeling a familiar itch, as of late.

It's a nagging, anxious, running-to-keep up feeling; a sense that I'll never get to where I'm going. I can't relax, can't settle down to any real work. I hit "refresh" on my computer hour after hour after hour. Sometimes minute after minute after minute.

I remember this feeling, I understand this itch. And I know that it's time to unplug myself from the world.

I've learned that in order to create, I need to disconnect. I need quiet, solitude; I require long hours of thinking of nothing but the characters, the story I want to tell.

But one of the keys to being a successful author these days is being constantly plugged in -- to Facebook, Twitter, blogs, social media, etc. You have to communicate with readers, be available 24/7. There's good in that, much reward for both the reader and the author.

Yet ultimately my most important communication to my readers is my next book. And right now I have that unmistakable urge -- rather like a bear getting ready to hibernate -- to hide myself away and just write. I've reached that point in my newest novel, and I've been doing this long enough to understand that this urge must not be ignored. If it is, I risk a major stall in the forward progress of this work, and may not ever be able to jump start it.

But I can't unplug myself completely, can I? That's simply not acceptable these days.

The danger of Twitter, Facebook, blogging, et al, is the panic -- real or imagined -- that if you step away for even a minute, you'll be left behind. The world will race on without you; readers and "friends" will forget about you and move on to the newest flavor of the month. And so you worry -- or at least, I worry -- that when you're ready to plug into this world again, you will have to start from scratch. And that's an overwhelming proposition, in this continually plugged in world. Nobody wants to have to start all over again.

This is the crazy dilemma of the artist today. We must engage -- and many of us enjoy engaging -- but we also have to retreat, on occasion. But to do so feels luxurious, indulgent, even foolhardy -- when, really, it shouldn't. Why should we have to apologize to the world for taking the time to do what we are expected to do - write, draw, paint, create?

Yet that's exactly what I am doing. I'm apologizing for stepping back. I've seen other authors do it, too -- they make an announcement on Facebook and Twitter, something along the lines of, "Sorry but I need to work; have a deadline, you know how it is! Don't talk about me while I'm gone!"

Come to think about it, I've seen this from other people on Twitter, as well. "Sorry to step away, have a meeting (eye roll)." Or -- "Taking a break from Twitter; work intrudes -- gah!" Just when did we start feeling as if we have to apologize for allowing our real life - our work, sometimes even our families -- intrude upon our cyber life?

(I think that's another question for another day, actually. Or, more likely, another Tweet.)

See, I can't completely disengage, either. I will apologize for stepping back a bit, but you can be sure I'll still keep my toe in the cyber waters. The truth is, I don't want to lose any ground; I don't want people to forget about me. And I enjoy the connection, truly.

Still, I have to write. It's what I do -- it's what all those wonderful people I've met online expect me to do. So in the end, I have to trust that they'll all understand. And that they won't forget about me if I do, indeed, take a step or two back.

But here's an idea for all you entrepreneurs: You know those professional seat fillers at the Academy Awards? The well-dressed young people who slip in to the empty seats while the occupants -- the real stars -- earn their money and appear on stage?

That's what I need. A cyber seat filler. Someone to keep my seat warm while I'm off creating.

Somebody get right on that, OK?

 

Follow Melanie Benjamin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MelanieBen