“The Computer Ate Me!”

My long-suffering husband has heard this plaintive cry from me more times than he wants to count. It is usually accompanied by words to the effect that I meant to put supper in the oven an hour ago. Or that I intended to run into town to the post office or the grocery store and how can it be dark outside already. Or that we were supposed to have left for our niece’s birthday party a half hour ago. It’s always the same basic story. I have good intentions but then I sit down in front of the computer intending to do just one more quick thing beforehand . . . and four hours later I come up for air, suddenly aware that time has gotten away from me again.

Now, this isn’t so bad when the “thing” I’m doing on the computer is working on a novel under contract. Getting caught up in the writing is then a good thing. A very good thing. Writers welcome those sessions “in the zone” when words flow freely and the hours pass like minutes. That kind of concentration may be a tad obsessive, but it’s understandable, excusable, and even admirable.

Unfortunately, most writers also tend to fall prey to another sort of obsession when they plunk themselves down in front of the computer (or on their laptops or iPads). Non-writers can be caught up in the same trap, but writers are particularly vulnerable. I’m not talking about the many varieties of online games here, from high-stakes gambling to Spider Solitaire. Oh, no. There’s a far more insidious lure waiting for the unwary writer . . . the search engine!

It starts innocently enough. You go to look up some detail you need to verify for the novel you’re working on. The next thing you know you’re following links to something entirely different. Why? Because it sounds so interesting that you can’t resist finding out more about it. Let’s say you want to know what human remains buried in a field seven years ago would look like now. While you’re looking for that, links turn up to the recent discovery and identification of bones beneath a car park as King Richard III of England. There are news stories, a video of scholars announcing the find and the later results of DNA testing. There’s even a full-length documentary on the subject that ran on British television but is now available on YouTube. Do you ever find the answer to your original question? Maybe. Maybe you just just spend an entire afternoon fascinated by the aftermath of the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1495.

As I’ve mentioned here before, since I’ve written many novels set in Tudor England (as both Kathy Lynn Emerson and Kate Emerson) I’ve been compiling information on sixteenth-century women for decades. My online A Who’s Who of Tudor Women continues to grow (over 1700 entries now) and, I swear, every time I go online to check for information on some interesting potential addition, the computer eats me again. What should take ten minutes, ends up turning into an obsession with finding some detail, some confirmation, some link, that will make the entry I’m writing more interesting. One, two, or three hours later, perhaps successful and perhaps not, I’ll realize supper is going to be late again. On the other hand, there’s a good chance I’ve turned up a few tidbits on the person I was looking for and an even better one that I’ll have encountered an entirely different sixteenth century woman whose life was significant enough to warrant an entry of her own.

Okay, that obsession is bad enough. Now add another. I recovered from this one once. I haven’t done much of anything with family history (except to steal from it for plot ideas) for nearly ten years. And then a second cousin of mine on my mother’s side got back in touch for the first time in some thirty-odd years. Next thing you know, I’ve signed up at Ancestry.com and am spending all my spare time typing in names from the fairly complete genealogies I worked on a decade ago. Lo and behold, there’s still more to be found. I tell myself I’m only going to spend an hour on this. Just to see if there’s any new information on great-great-grandpa Coburg.

And four hours later . . .


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2 Responses to “The Computer Ate Me!”

  1. Deanna says:

    It happens to all of us. I used to get lost in the dictionary, or the encyclopedia, now it’s the computer. Dee

  2. MCWriTers says:

    I understand. I live in terror that I’ll get sucked into the computer. I type in Hawala and suddenly I have hundreds of pages of justice department investigations, articles about prosecutions and money transfers to fund terrorism, and off I got. Hours later, I am that much farther behind on my book.

    On the plus side, I decide the ring seen in a security video is a Maine Maritime Academy ring, and then need to see the yearbooks, and learn that the book is called Trick’s End, which leads to the Masefield poem, and a discussion of maritime lore and how Trick’s End is a metaphor for the end of life. And wowie…I have a new jewel for the book.

    Keep on getting lost.

    Oh, and I avoid Ancestry.com or I’ll never write another book.


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