posted on November 15, 2013 by Erica Bauermeister


MixingThe first time I wrote a novel, I had two children and a full-time job, and I slipped words onto pages in between carpools and clients.

It took six years to write The School of Essential Ingredients.

By the time I was writing my second novel, my children were in college, my job happily given up.  The house I was living in had no internet connection.  I could pirate a neighbor’s wi-fi by leaning out a window, my laptop suspended mid-air, but it was a questionable endeavor.

Writing that novel was a glorious, intense experience.  Characters showed up without my even asking – seven women who challenged each other to do one thing in the next year that was difficult or scary.  Eighteen months later Joy For Beginners was finished.

And then, my publisher said I had to have an Internet Presence.  A Facebook page. Emails started arriving from readers, for which I was grateful.  I answered every one.  I posted regularly.  I took a stand against Twitter, and yet, every time I opened my computer I could see the icon with its glowing number of unread messages.

My writing slowed.  I discovered social media was a great excuse not to write.  Look!  I am helping my career!  I have an Internet Presence!

What I didn’t have was characters, or room in my imagination.  Actually, I didn’t even have an imagination any more.  What I had was a vast holding tank for arcane bits of information I couldn’t remember well enough to re-tell, let alone make up something new.

I needed blank space.  The luxury of a quiet mind.

school (1)I knew there were software programs that would shut off the internet for me.  I declared my own will power to be sufficient.  I made a deal with myself – I would use the internet only at my desk.  I would only write in my big chair.  Never the twain would meet.

That deal lasted an hour – until, mid-sentence, I needed to know whether a perfume bottle would blow up under intense heat.  It will.  The videos were spectacular and occasionally, stupendously, dangerous.  The sheer stupidity of some of the videographers was post-worthy.  Which led me into Facebook and links about haunted houses and killer whales.  And then it was two o’clock and I hadn’t eaten lunch.  Or written.

It’s amazing how many days can go by like that.  It’s like having a newborn. You’re lucky if you get dressed by noon.  Your spouse arrives home and you try to say what you did that day, only to realize you have no idea.

And so, I decided to cut the cord.  Now, every night before I go to bed, I shut off the wi-fi connection to my laptop.  It is as simple as that.  In the morning, no internet.  Just a blank page – smooth and calm and open for business.

In the silence of my office, I can almost hear the characters giggling, like those children at the park when their parents eventually quit talking on their cell phones.  Because finally, finally, we are all free to play again.

Erica Bauermeister

Erica Bauermeister

Erica Bauermeister is the author of the bestselling novel The School of Essential Ingredients (Putnam, 2009) which follows the lives of eight students and their teacher in a cooking class held in a restaurant kitchen. Her new novel, Joy for Beginners (Putnam, June 2011) explores what happens to seven women who challenge one another to do one thing in the next year that is new or difficult or scary. The twist? — they don’t get to choose their own challenges. Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain, has called Joy for Beginners “moving, touching, wonderfully written; inspiring to read.” Erica Bauermeister is also the co-author of two nonfiction books: 500 Great Books by Women: A Reader’s Guide and Let’s Hear It For the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14. She lives in Seattle and loves to talk with book groups.

2 thoughts on “Unplugging”

  1. Juanita Rice says:

    Thanks for the reminder, Erica. 🙂

  2. Carol says:

    I had believed the Internet was taking me from other tasks, but I challenged the belief with the comfort of being curious and educated. Your article is the Jiminy Cricket on the shoulder.

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