The Shallows, Part III: Making Hay While the Sun Shines

I’m still a farm girl at heart. The county where I grew up has a population density of six people per square mile, and I was one of three student in my class through eighth grade. Most of my summers were spent either reading or daydreaming or driving a tractor round and round a field, raking hay. My dad’s tractors had no radios, and I didn’t have a Walkman, so my only view was the horizon and my only soundtrack the roar of the motor. Round and round, hour after hour.

South View of Farm

View to the South of My Family’s Farm

The strange thing is that I don’t remember ever feeling bored. I often sang at the top of my lungs (an experience even better than singing in the shower), wove stories in my head that later may or may not be written down, and generally kept company with myself. There was very little to distract me, which was, in hindsight, a very good thing, as I’ve found that I’m very easily distracted.

Nicholas Carr writes in The Shallows of how, when he began writing the book, he “wrote in disconnected spurts,” similar to blogging, and that, in order to finish the book, he needed to disconnect almost completely:

“There was no cell phone service at our new home, and the Internet arrived through a relatively poky DSL connection. I canceled my Twitter account, put my Facebook membership on hiatus, and mothballed my blog. I shut down my RSS reader and curtailed my skyping and instant messaging. Most important, I throttled back my e-mail application. It had long been set to check for new messages every minute. I reset it to check only once an hour, and when that created too much of a distraction, I began keeping the program closed much of the day.” (p. 198-99)

I have to say that such a plan is sorely tempting and reminds me of the slow, contemplative days of my childhood (well, with the addition of email). Most of us might not be ready or able or even willing to live on a farm, but I’m convinced that we can each think of what aspects of our own daily lives we can change to give ourselves more time, more mental space free from distractions. It might be cutting back on a social media outlet (if Twitter just “doesn’t do it for you,” then don’t do it) or checking email fewer times per day (see the video below, which I’ve posted here before and can’t recommend highly enough, by Julie Morgenstern, author of Never Check E-mail in the Morning) or finding a coffee shop that doesn’t provide WiFi for temptation-free writing. This past week, WordPress.com announced changes to their blogging platform designed to eliminate distractions (Now More Than Ever: Just Write), just one example of how prevalent is the need for focused writing.

Interestingly, Carr found that, after he finished the book, he quickly returned to his old email and multi-tasking habits, showing just how difficult it is to focus on making hay (and nothing else) while the sun shines.

In the end, the choice is ours, and only we know what will work for us and what won’t. Just as in parenting, we can’t rely on someone else’s checklist of how to be successful, as much as we might want to.

What allows you to make hay (and words) while the sun shines?


Other posts in The Shallows book review series: