Writer’s consequences: web surfing rewards

Surf’s up – the big wave

I’ve had the experience one too many times now: I finally stopped and paid attention.

I’m futzing about, surfing the web a bit, looking at my daily round of writing blogs and publishing blogs (I usually have the self-discipline not to head for Facebook in the early morning; usually…)

And I come across the big payoff: someone says something – this morning it was DM – that seems exactly right for where I am in writing the current scene, and I get both excited at my find AND guilty at the surfing.

Guilty, Your Honor!

The guilt part comes because I didn’t just block off the web and get to work this morning. In my usual defense, the brain wasn’t on yet, and I like reading almost as much as writing, and the writing part is going to be slow…

The most powerful reward possible: long-term intermittent postitive

And I often find these nuggets, like truffles, after I’ve rooted around for a while in the blogosphere (often way too long). So, the most intense kind of behavioral reward—the long-term intermittent jackpot reinforcer (remember the rat/pigeon experiments? the ones where the animals will keep pressing the reward lever until they literally die of hunger? because they know that there is SOMETIMES a reward?).

This is the reason it is so hard NOT to surf the web: because sometimes, just often enough, you find exactly what you’re looking for. The brain goes Yes! The mind focuses, you go off to USE the reward nugget – and your bad behavior – wasting time poking around an infinite source of garbage – is mightily reinforced.

I’m going after that reward when I’m stuck – and I will go on looking for it until I die (the brain turns off and I need to go to sleep) – or, on the lucky days, I FIND IT!

Why is this a problem?

There IS a problem, I can’t write until I solve it, and I have the intuition to find a solution.

Why is it useful to understand my own seemingly counterproductive behavior?

Because I can learn to identify the FEELING that leads to the surfing (in this case, I have a knotty problem – naughty problem (thank you, Dr. Freud) – and that makes me anxious), and see if I can’t find a better, shorter, more effective, and more reliable way to solve the problem I’ve identified.

Identifying problem leads to possible solutions

To stop being long-winded about it: my backbrain knows there’s a problem (usually I haven’t dug deeply enough, don’t have enough conflict in the scene), and I don’t seem to be addressing it, so it refuses to let me write the scene – using my lack of willpower to make me do what it wants, go out there, figure out the problem the hard way, and THEN it lets me write (the scene flows out like water the last times this happened – I hope it will happen again today).

When I find the solution to today’s problem, I KNOW. Backbrain gets all excited, I block the web, mysteriously get to work, and out comes the story making me feel a little foolish because it must have been there all along if it came out that easily, right?

WRONG. It might have been there in some fragmentary way from the plotting I do, but I haven’t even really identified why it’s there, and do not have it locked down, even in a minor way. It’s incomplete, whatever I have in there. It’s NOT ready to be written. I don’t know yet why I’m going to write it.

All the backbrain knows is LACK OF SATISFACTION.

A great servant, a lousy master. And then it takes credit.

The Muse

I am a slave to some structure buried deep in my subconscious, the one that created the details in this story, that locked down how it had to go to come out right. And apparently I’m not going to be able to just toss it off.

It is going to be work. Maybe I can focus better, use the feeling to keep asking the necessary questions, look for solutions consciously, in what I already know, in the books I have at hand to trigger ideas. Keep asking myself if I’m unsatisfied, if I’ve put the conflict in the scene is begging for because it’s right under the surface in the very conception of showing this scene in the story. I thought I’d already done that. I skimped. The previous two scenes – from the povs of the other two characters – were hell to write. Maybe I wanted an easier one, thought I deserved an easier one. Well, guess what: you never deserve anything. You have to want it and earn it and create it from scratch.

Is it harder for me, with the CFS brain fog lurking? I don’t know – I think all writers have at least some of this going on if they’re paying attention.

In retrospect, though, I must admit to feeling as ecstatic as the pigeons when the nugget falls. Them nuggets is DELICIOUS.

Do you look into your own inexplicable behavior for tasty bits?


13 thoughts on “Writer’s consequences: web surfing rewards

    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      That works for writing problems, too? Must be nice.

      I have never solved a writing problem that didn’t take days of first figuring out what I wanted to say, and then figuring out HOW to say it. But it pleases me when I’m done, and the whole process is an adventure, so I don’t complain much. If I have to answer quickly or simply, it is never enough.

      For me, writing a short story like Too Late is an act of exquisite terror. And I am so proud of that one. Cost me more time per word than the novel-in-progress.


      1. ericjbaker

        Re: Your very last comment about your short story… you just made a subconscious belief conscious for me. That’s so true. Short stories do take more time, pound for pound. My short stories don’t usually work, for some reason, so they’re pretty much just practice for me.


        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          Too Late is on the short story tab here – if you have a few minutes. I like finding out from guys if I’m hitting it on the nail. I don’t think I could write short stories on a regular basis – it is so hard to choose what to leave out.


  1. chrismcmullen

    I’m learning certain things I can do to get into the best mood for various kinds of writing, and recognizing certain times when it would be best not to write at all. I think it’s an important step to more productive, efficient writing. 🙂


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      You’re in a much more mature self-publishing place than I am: you know how to do practically everything – and have a lot of books out. Now you have to worry about balancing all the competing demands on your time.

      I have the luxury of the first timer: until the first book is actually publishable, even if I start learning all the other details, finishing the book is priority #1 – the one thing I can’t farm out (and don’t want to).

      I hope to be where you are – preferably sooner rather than later – but I can’t decide not to write now. Life decides for me enough of the time already – and I did take a nice vacation for a week and not think OR write. Time to keep the sword to the grindstone and get the edge honed.

      Thanks for stopping by, Chris.


        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          You had me worried there!

          What I do remember is that when I was shopping my first novel around (back in the Pleistocene), and getting an occasional nice rejection (show us your next one), I had a very hard time writing. What was the point?

          There WAS a point – practice makes better, if not perfect – but the psychological bottom of the barrel is not a good place for writers. Now even my moods are DIY – at least as far as writing is concerned. There are few days in which I don’t write lots of words, but I only count finished fiction words, and there are fewer of them. Because fiction is my goal. I’m very glad to get all the other words out – my brain hard drive is external. Even on vacation and not thinking there were a fair number of the uncounted ones, and I made sure to post the scenes on their regular days.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Almost everything I’ve learned about self-publishing has come from the web – including the leads to books written by savvy and self-educated bloggers and writers.

      That said, the ratio of usable, wonderful new stuff to dreck is getting very, very low – at the same time my energy is really needed for writing (except that I have so much to blag/blog about).

      I do find myself reading through material MUCH faster now, skimming in moments what I used to read every word of, so it’s not TOO bad. I highly recommend new writers, and writers new to self-publishing spend that couple of years reading the blogs – and the archives of the blogs for at least the past year or so – to educate themselves. And stay in contact to keep up on new advantages/threats on the horizon.

      Unfortunately, now it’s getting like real gold mining – a lot of rock moved per gram of gold. For ME. Because I’ve already learned a lot of it – and now need to APPLY it, and get MY book finished, out there, and the next rewritten.


      1. J.M. Ney-Grimm

        Unfortunately, now it’s getting like real gold mining – a lot of rock moved per gram of gold. For ME. Because I’ve already learned a lot of it – and now need to APPLY it…

        So true. I tend to tell myself these days that the ratio is so poor, that I shouldn’t bother. It’s true that I do less surfing than I used to. Some days I have no interest at all. But then I’ll find that one nugget of WOW and figure I’d better look around from time to time. I continue to monitor The Passive Voice to stay informed about news in my industry.

        And then there are the days – like this weekend – when I am so sick with a nasty cold that I can’t do much besides drink hot tea, take acetaminophen, and read/surf.


        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          I think we need a jeweler to extract JUST the gold nuggets and forward them – but you have to PAY jewelers. TPV is lovely and necessary and basic – but I feel more and more that it’s a quick skim. I’m amazed Joe Konrath keeps doing as much as he does – those posts are LONG.

          I am so grateful they exist – and send new people to them all the time.

          Sorry you’ve been sick – I surf then, too, but with very little return. For various reasons, exhaustion is setting in, and that bodes ill for the writing, just at a time when I’m trying very hard to wrap up Book 1. It’s a bad time to also be thinking about making MORE contacts for when you need to market, because I don’t think anyone should presume. I like having a relationship with give and take before I ask for favors.

          So I tell myself the advantage of NOT having deadlines is that I CAN meet them (just keep moving the goalposts).


        2. J.M. Ney-Grimm

          TPV is lovely and necessary and basic – but I feel more and more that it’s a quick skim.

          I agree. I adore TPV, but I’m not as thorough as I used to be. Some days I skip it entirely, which shocks me. But…it is what it is. I’ve been getting a lot of writing done. And I need to get a lot of writing done in order to make my next release the way I want it to be.

          So I tell myself the advantage of NOT having deadlines is that I CAN meet them (just keep moving the goalposts).

          Yep. I don’t like it when I fall behind on my self-imposed deadlines. I do my best not to. But the fact is that life doesn’t always cooperate with my ideas of what I will do on any given day. The important thing for me is to pick myself back up as soon as I can and get back to it.


Comments welcome and valued. Thanks!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s