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Letter from San Rafael, California: All work and no play …

When I took myself off to The MacDowell Colony last November (is there no end to how many posts I can work that into?), the goal was to devote myself exclusively to writing as I had not been able to in years, and to complete as much of the memoir as possible. And for once in my life, I did what I intended to do. This was made infinitely easier by the beauty of the place, the spectacular food, and the overall atmosphere of artistic support. They expect you to do good work, and so you do.

The experience spoiled me forever. So when I was recently offered a chance to stay at a friend’s studio in San Rafael and write while she traveled in Nepal, I jumped. I’ve been here now for nearly four weeks.

This DIY writer’s retreat has been different. For one thing, I’ve had to feed myself. For another, I’ve had to work, as in edit. (For MacDowell, I took a leave of absence from the paper.) Because I’ve been editing, the internet is an inescapable part of my day. The Black Hole: as it is, as it was, and as it ever shall be. Within a few days, I realized that the real key to productivity in New Hampshire was not autumn leaves and crème caramel, but NO F***ING WIFI in the workspace.

For many reasons — panic at time passing, a desire not to squander an opportunity, a need to balance the selfishness of leaving my husband alone again against something to show for it when I get home — I’ve tried hard to manage my internet time. I log on once in the morning to check email, once in the afternoon, again for email, and to do any research that’s come up during the day, either for the paper or the book.

I also allow myself 15 minutes of Facebook and Twitter, and another small chunk to check the few websites I can’t live without. Here is a list. It’s personal (well, of course), and incomplete in terms of what I’d look at if I had all the time in the world, but this exact combination has allowed me to work with pleasure and focus.

Betsy Lerner  Betsy is an agent and former editor — her classic writing guide The Forest for the Trees has been updated and re-released — but I read her because she’s a writer. She gives great voice: intelligent, a little insane (frankly), sharp (or as my younger daughter used to say, “shark”), bitter, sometimes, but compassionate and always, always hilarious.

Think Progress  Theoretically, I’m not allowed to follow news while I’m here, because it makes me froth at the mouth and we all know what spills do to a keyboard. But sometimes I can’t help myself. Think Progress catalogs the offenses of what from my point of view we’ll call “the opposition,” which is satisfying (apologies to the Tea Party), while also being an excellent way to increase circulation after a day at the machine.

Ezra Klein  Klein blogs for the Washington Post and is an eminently reasonable (if still somewhat left-leaning) antidote to the hysteria at Think Progress. He was lucid on the health care debate; these days, he is lucid on the budget battle.

Dear Sugar at The Rumpus  I don’t like advice columns, but Dear Sugar is that rare thing, an earned exception. The Rumpus is the brain child of author Stephen Elliott (Happy Baby, The Adderall Diaries), one of my writing heroes. I don’t know where he found Sugar, but I’ve never seen anything like her. She is so full of heart, and her columns are like little novels. She often offers excellent advice to writers. See especially #48, “Write Like a Motherfucker,” #69, “We Are All Savages Inside,” and #39, “The Baby Bird.”

Koreanish Alexander Chee is the author of a gorgeous novel, Edinburgh, and the forthcoming Queen of the Night. He has a witty and complex mind, and is a genuinely good guy as well, generous with writerly advice. Again, see especially “One Hundred Things About a Novel.”

That’s it. For four weeks, this all I’ve allowed myself. If you’re up for it, tell us what five sites you’d choose if you were forced to.

Yes, this one of those desert-island questions, which for the record I hate, but there you are.

p.s. See you in Grand Lake. You are going to Grand Lake, right? Right?

3 comments on “Letter from San Rafael, California: All work and no play …

  1. Emily Sinclair
    April 17, 2011

    Those are some of my favorite sites, too, and I’m far less disciplined. Also, ever since Sugar’s been hinting at her identity, I’ve been wondering if YOU are Sugar. I don’t expect an answer–just know that I am hunkered over the keyboard on Thursday, going, “Hmmmm…..” 🙂 It’s good to know that less Internet actually DOES make a person more productive. Hate that.

  2. andreadupree
    April 18, 2011

    I love Dear Sugar, too. And Betsy was a great guest of Lighthouse a couple of Lit Fests ago.

    And yes, I’ll see you in Grand Lake, where I’ll have to continue my advice column in the wi-fi enabled lodge. (Ooops! I hope I didn’t give anything away. Har har har.)

  3. Pingback: When you know even less than you think you know « The Lighthouse Writers Top-Secret Blog

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This entry was posted on April 17, 2011 by in Uncategorized.

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