The Computer Stays Home!

“Does Madonna walk around the house in cone bras and come-bleep-me bustiers?”  -Steven Pressfield

Madonna's_Blond_Ambition_Corset.jpg Image by Brandon Carson

-photo credit: Brandon Carson

Not only does Pressfield have the art of the hook down, he’s got a point in The War of Art.  (Note, “bleep” is in editorial insertion….) This line is from the short, short chapter titled “A Professional Distances herself from Her Instrument.”

As I was looking for a topic to write about, Pressfield’s chapters on professionalism caught my eye. Recently I’d been opting to leave my computer home during recent excursions in favor of carrying a small notebook. This summer in Europe, I managed a few pages of notes in the simple 5×8 inch style notebooks I’ve carried since I was old enough to decide I wanted to be a writer. Why 5×8?  Slightly bigger than a paperback and smaller than most text books, it doesn’t get lost and is easy to take along.

Likewise, how many times have I lugged a computer along on a family trip and to have it be a boat anchor? Dead weight. We were having too much fun reeling in the memories for me to write about them on the fly.

But what does this have to do with Madonna’s bra? (Besides the boat anchor analogy?) The idea that while you’re traveling and chugging through experience, you shouldn’t be writing it.  The computer comes later. Take some notes. Spill that wine, smear the ashes on the page.  Let the organic experience happen before you document it. According to Pressfield: “The pro stands at one remove from he instrument– meaning her body, her voice, her talent…”

He also goes on after the lovely bustier image to say Madonna’s “…too busy planning D-Day. Madonna does not identify with “Madonna.”  Madonna employs ‘Madonna.'”

For me as a writer, this means the computer usually stays home. It’s an instrument of the writer. It does not a writer make. So, when I travel–unless it’s specifically for writing: a conference, a writing get-away, working on an article– I leave the bustier, the computer at home.  If I feel like I can’t document something quick enough in my notebook, I open up my voice memo app on my ipad and take some voice memos. With hours of voice memo space, I can quickly take voice memos to use later.  Likewise, I opt to carry enough SD cards for the camera in hopes that I won’t need to stop and buy more. The idea is to avoid carrying the boat anchor computer.

On the whole, while traveling with family, I find it much easier to be in the moment rather than carting along a computer to document those moments.

What do you leave behind or take with you to facilitate writing or your profession? How do you distance yourself from your profession in way that allow you to be better at it?

24 thoughts on “The Computer Stays Home!

  1. Renee, as always your wisdom brings truth. I agree with you. I went on a 10 day trip to California last year with friends. I brought a small journal and wrote from the back seat. I wrote and wrote so much that my arm hurt by the time I got back home. It was worth it. Pages full of sand, coffee stains, wine rings, gathered leafs, and so on. It still smells like the California coast. Thank you for sharing. Every writer should take this to heart!


  2. During my 4-H meetings, all phones are put away by the members (of course, calls from a family member may be answered). Not one person complains about not being connected, on the contrary, they canon-ball into whatever activity I give them. They interact with each other, laugh, get goofy, find their creative side; all because they ditched the phone. Want to take a picture? They use my camera, knowing pictures will be shared later. When we disconnect from technology, a whole new void is filled. Their annual record books are filled in handwriting, not completed on a computer until it’s time to finalize at the end of the year, because I believe in seeing what you cannot delete. We cross out, write in margins, add, smudge, spill all sorts of stuff on those records books. Those stains and smudges are a testament to their hard work and the fun they had during the meetings.
    Personally, for me, I like the feel of a smooth pen gliding over paper. You cannot get that feel from a computer, no matter how lightly you type.


    • LIsa,

      I swear there’s a writer in you! You do all the things great writers do! (You are a closet writer… I know it. You write under a pen name somewhere… I just know…) I love your stains and smudges testament! And yes, the real life is in the margins! You remind me of a passage I wrote yesterday about getting bck a check in the Eskimo village. One of my own that I’d written months before. Since there are no banks checks get passed around for weeks and months as currency until they may eventually get cashed… but until they do they pick up lots of interesting stories along the way! The are no longer smooth, clean paper and they’ve paid for so many other things than their original intent! I love your personal tech ban in meetings. How did you frame that up from the start so people have minded it consistently?


      • Renee, thank you for encouraging me to write! Perhaps one of these days…

        Honestly, the kids totally get the “no phone during meeting” rule. Perhaps it’s because they have the same rule in school. For new members, I don’t mention my policy until their phone rings or they start texting, then I politely let them know unless it’s a parent, we don’t use the phone. Peer pressure, too. They see that others aren’t using the phone during meetings. And honestly, when they get into the project, they totally immerse themselves in the activity and forget about technology.

        I can only imagine what those checks must look like by the time they are cashed! I like the fact that it is passed around as payment, quite different from it’s original purpose.


      • Ya, I am amazed at how my students, usually with the consistent exception of one each semester, really respect the no phone rule. I do a lot of modeling by letting them know when I’m expecting an emergency call and asking their permission to take that call when it comes in. Some look at me like I’m a little nuts, but in the end it pays off since the etiquette does permeate the class and sets up that expectation.

        On the uncashed checks, I thought about it a long time and hit that writing groove when I paralleled htat concept with the idea of women’s potential in a chap I worked on yesterday. I didn’t make the analogy for readers, but I placed the check passing next to scenes of women passing along skills like sewing, story telling and a scene where my mother has to take charge when my dad gets depressed. The uncashed check passed from palm to palm, the way the story ends, becomes more than just about the check. It becomes both a reference and a reflection on the power of the currency of not fully realized potential — in women, perhaps in marginalized cultures. I’ve been working hard at placing things together so readers have their own ah-ha moments, rather than me “explaining” things. Did you get the sense of that happening in reading the book so far?


  3. I take an iPad along on trips, but it never leaves the place I am staying. A small sketch pad is useful for a quick sketch like your small notebook. I am rarely without a camera though. One instrument an artist must have if capturing memories to digital memory. The scene will never be the same.


    • Great point! I would be lost years later without access to the “photo knowledge” gathered at the time! I’m about to finish a book, the outline of which was prepared largely from my photo record of those years in Alaska… even things I would have cut out are now important such as shipping containers or trash in the background. It all has meaning and it important to the record in ways my memory could not have served me… or would have erased at the time for feeling “inaccurate.” Excellent points!


    • Linda! So glad your back! Your photos have been tremendous. I feel so much home in them. So much a sense of place. Your comment is insightful since I know you work in mediums that require technology and those that don’t! Thanks, R


  4. Good for you for taking in the moment when it’s there. That’s the sort of thing I sort of meant haha in my post on Monday about “attention.” It’s easy to get too caught in the writing and not have any “me” left for the experience.


  5. I must admit, I would never take a trip without my computer. I prefer to research restaurants, check the weather, tide charts, etc.
    But I do not write while I’m on vacation, or for that matter, while I’m engaged in other activities.
    I recently attended a wedding reception where I found two adolescent girls seated on the floor behind the cake table, so their phones could be plugged in. I walked up to them, “You know this is why people make fun of your generation, right? You’ve got to put the phones down and go LIVE, so that you’ll have things to text and tweet about later.” They smiled at me, but they didn’t move.


    • Joey, what a great way to face down the plugged in, tuned out generation! Bravo! I tend to take alomg my ipad for the purposes you describe. My husband has taken to carrying a very small computer. At times when the writing bug hits, i must say that the ipad is cumbersome… Even with a keyboard.


  6. We were in Europe recently for five weeks and yes, I did take the netbook with me. But I got around the writing and posting issue while being on the move by writing and scheduling all my posts before we left. That way we just used the computer to check up on emails and follow what our children were doing on Facebook. I do like to keep in touch.


  7. I just read in Poets and Writers Magazine, which arrived today, that Elizabeth Gilbert did not take a computer with her on her sojourn through the “I” countries. She took notes in notebooks.


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