No, this is not a review of Jonathan Franzen’s new novel – although I can’t wait to get my hands on it. (The online book community has talked about little else for days, it seems. People don’t know whether to celebrate Franzen as the (quite obviously) brilliant novelist that he is, or to snipe about why he doesn’t have the grace to be more grateful about all the attention he’s getting. So what if he’s on the cover of this magazine or that? All I care about is how good the book is.)
Anyway. Like I said, this isn’t about that.
No. I want to speak of a different kind of freedom here – freedom, specifically, from my own pathetic weak-will. Thanks to the tweet of another author, I have discovered a wonderful little bit of software which will, I hope, help me finish my rewrite more quickly than I had originally hoped. The program was written by a guy called Fred Stutzman, and it’s called “Freedom“. It’s very simple. You tell your computer that you want to be cut off from your online connection for a specific period of time – up to eight hours. And, viola (as Tommy Smothers would say) – no email, no twitter, no nymphomaniac French babysitters covered in chocolate sauce internet. Once you’ve hit the button, there’s no going back. Well, there is – you can always switch off your computer and then turn it back on again. But that would be cheating. It costs ten bucks. I tried it for the first time on Wednesday, when I was home all day writing. And I noticed a dramatic improvement – if not in my writing, then in my focus and efficiency.
My wife scoffs at this, of course. She finds it ludicrous that I don’t have the will-power not to go online at every available opportunity, and perhaps she has a point. But it’s not just about lack of will-power. Knowing that it’s simply not possible to check my email means that I don’t even think about it – and that, for me anyway, is where the freedom comes from. It allows me to focus completely on my writing. On Wednesday I set the program to run for 60 or 70 minutes at a time, and wrote like the devil for those periods. It was oddly thrilling to switch off the outside world for a while. Freedom is well named. You can download a trial version for free – you get five uses to see if it works for you.
Highly recommended for slothful facebook addicts everywhere.