I recently took a three-week break from my laptop while traveling in Burma, a country with less than reliable internet connections. I did bring my laptop on the trip and I was going to use it to write, even if I wasn’t able to go online, but a few days into the journey the charger broke. So I had to go offline AND forget about using Word for three weeks.
I still had my diary and lots of pens –I can’t imagine not writing at all for three weeks or even three days – but I used a computer just a few times. I checked my email once a week in an internet café if I could find one. It is fascinating, eye-opening and very healthy to spend time in a world that does not have 24-hour electricity, where wi-fi is a rare luxury, and where logging in to hotmail can take half an hour.
I ended up sitting for hours in a coffee shop or tea stall, scribbling down my notes. Scribbling them down like old times, with just a pen and some paper. There were no distractions: no Twitter, no Facebook, no checking what other writers and bloggers are up to, no reading my emails every few minutes. I was just thinking, observing and writing. Hey, maybe there was a time when this was all a writer ever did.
Why Taking a Break from the Computer is Healthy
Spending hours every day in front of your laptop cannot be healthy. Not all freelance writers write online full-time, of course, but even if you only write only ten minutes at a time throughout the day (between changing nappies and taking the kids to school) you probably still stare at the computer on most days. Not even thinking of repetitive strain injury, stiff neck or headaches from looking at the screen for hours, working online week after week and month after month can turn my brain into jelly. Suddenly I don’t feel like switching the laptop on anymore. I don’t even feel like writing. Since I am an obsessive writer, to not feel like writing is a sign of a serious problem.
Not everyone needs to take a three-week break from writing: a few days every now and then can be enough. For many of us it is not even possible to go offline for long periods of time. I’m sure I would not have done it if I had not been forced to. But I did, and I came back feeling healthier, energized and full of ideas I couldn’t wait to start to work on.
Photo: Matthew Bowden