Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ernest Hemingway versus Lindsay Lohan

Ernest Hemingway once said that you must do four things to be a man:

  • Plant a tree
  • Fight a bull
  • Write a novel
  • Father a son

I've got some work to do. I've only done one of these things, and I'm not sure if planting a tree when I was eight really counts as a step toward manhood. At least I'm working on a novel. Once the novel gets published, I'm sure everything else will fall into place. Fathering sons and fighting bulls just comes with the territory.

If Hemingway were alive today, I hope he'd add a fifth requirement: secure a high-speed Internet connection. The more I write and research, the more I find myself wondering: how the hell did anyone write a book in the days before the Internet? In those rare moments when I don't have Internet access, I feel like I’m writing in a vacuum -- or working with part of my brain missing. Now, I realize that some research, particularly the in-depth legitimate research of many nonfiction works, still requires libraries and textbooks and personal interviews and such. But I'm talking about the little things that pop up when writing fiction, those quick facts you can find with a few clicks on Google and get right back to your writing.

Let's say, for example, I come up with what I think is a great name for one of my characters. What if I want to know what the name means? How do I know it's not already the name of some other significant literary character? Or it might have negative connotations I haven’t considered, like it's the name of a notorious child molester in Britain; or it means "soggy corn" in Latin. So I Google it. Ten seconds. Problem solved.

Recently, I was trying to write a scene where my characters walk through a forest at the height of fall, the brilliant foliage all around them. I try to conjure up this picture in my head, but I can't. I need some inspiration. In five seconds, I pull up thousands of pictures of fall foliage, and -- boom -- my muse is back. What would've I done in the olden days? Waited until October and traveled to Vermont?

Next, I wanted to see what Sydney, Australia looks like from the sky at night. Three seconds.

Then, I was writing about San Diego and I want to know how big the population is this instant and what the race makeup is, and how the business climate has changed in the past few years and...

How would I have gotten this information in the past? Dust off my ten-year old Encyclopedia Britannica? Write to the local chamber of commerce? I'm not exactly sure what a chamber of commerce is… so I just Googled it. Two seconds. See?

Of course, there's a colossal downside to having unlimited info at your fingertips, and it can throw you off track faster than you can Google the word "downside." More often than not, something like this happens: I go to lookup something, and my iGoogle homepage has a link asking if Lindsay Lohan is really gay, and suddenly this seems like something I should know the answer to, so I click on the link and read the story, and a few clicks later I'm viewing topless photos of Lindsay which may or may not be fakes, and then there's a related video -- there's always a video -- and so I cue up the video but it takes so much time to load that I start worrying my computer is too slow, and how I could solve the problem if I just had one of those new MacBook Pro laptops, and next I'm perusing the Apple website, wondering if it's prudent for a guy who doesn't have any real income to buy a top of the line computer; then all this thinking about money leads me to check my stocks for the fourth time this morning, and I see that one of them has tumbled and I need to know why immediately, so I read four articles about the company. Next thing I know, 45 minutes have passed and I've forgotten what I was looking up in the first place.
At least Hemingway didn't have to deal with that.


  1. good point about the internet. our lives are so much easier because of Al Gore.

  2. This blog is useless with links to Lindsay Lohan videos.