Advice from an easily-distracted creative on embracing and overcoming a tendency to lose focus
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Meet Hanneke Hendrix
Hanneke Hendrix is an author, journalist, podcast producer, and last person without a smartphone in The Netherlands. The author of three novels, columnist for two National publications, and producer of numerous podcasts, Hanneke also teaches at Artez School of the Arts, where she is helping to inspire the next generation of writers. A working mother who is honest and unapologetic about the hours she dedicates to her craft, Hanneke knows that keeping distractions at bay during those hours is essential to getting the work done. It means she can enjoy quality time away from work to invest in her loved ones and other passions!
As recently initiated podcasters ourselves, we were particularly excited to sit down with Hanneke and learn from her expertise and find out how she survives (or thrives!) without a smartphone.
How did you know that you wanted to be a writer and what were your first steps in making this your career?
I wrote a play together with two friends at university. The writing went so well that I decided to enter a writing competition, with another script. And I won. Then I decided to study to become a playwright at the HKU School of Theatre in Utrecht.
Around that time I started blogging excessively. Thank God Twitter or Instagram didn’t exist then! I don’t know if I would have started writing on a daily basis if my internet addiction had been built on pictures or 140 character tweets! Because of the fiction that I wrote on my blog, a publisher contacted me.
Never won a competition since then, by the way.
What was it that attracted you to podcasting and how did you get into it?
I was raised in a household where the radio was always playing. One of my brothers, who is ten years older than I am, showed me how I could tape my own shows with two cassette decks. I spent hours making my own applause and laughing-crowd tapes. I always used the very long intro of ABBA’s Me & I as the tune of most of the programs on my imaginary radio station.
I’ve always liked the DIY and low-budget spirit of making podcasts: no broadcasters or producers involved, and just me in my study tinkering with audio. It’s just the best medium. I listen to everything: fiction, nonfiction, high budget, low budget.
The lifestyle magazine you write a column for describes you as the last Dutch person without a smartphone! Is it true –and if so– was it a conscious choice?
The same reason I use Freedom! I am heavily addicted to all things internet. (Well, except gaming.) And Netflix and other streaming services made it even worse! I got rid of my smartphone in 2014, when I found myself in front of my front door, bike between my legs and my key between my teeth, just standing there, busy on Whatsapp, when all of a sudden I thought: “I am not able to even open my front door? anymore.”
That was it. I went back to my good old dumbphone, and it’s the best decision I ever made. Now, I only have access to the internet when I open my laptop. When I’m in the car or standing in line, I just have time to think again. I do have an emulator on my laptop so I can use WhatsApp for work, and I use an old smartphone (with a different number) as a podcast device: after years of physically downloading episodes one by one, and renaming them, I just couldn’t take it anymore. But as no one has that number, nothing distracting happens on that phone.
Without a smartphone, what do you use Freedom for? What are your biggest distractors when writing and how do you conquer them?
Everything is distracting to me when I use my laptop: news sites, Netflix, YouTube, email. So I use Freedom on my laptop to block them all! It is great.
What has blocking distractions on your computer allowed you to do?
I wouldn’t get a novel done without it. And also more on a micro-level: just to finish thoughts, without getting distracted by the fact that maybe something might be happening on that damn phone!
Does your work routine vary a lot depending on if you are working on a book, podcast, or magazine column?
Yes! Most of the time I am able to write a column or edit a podcast without having to switch the internet off. But when I have to write things that need a long attention span, like a short story, a part of my novel, or a long article, I have to use Freedom. But every day is deliberately different for me: I use that as a work routine.
I teach Creative Writing at the Art School in Arnhem, and I believe that most artists have some form of ADD, especially in these internet times. I think you have to use that to your advantage by breaking up each task into small pieces and switching a lot. And when it is not possible to break it down, it is important to adjust your surroundings in a way that tricks yourself into a flow. I often leave the house for a few days, with an old laptop that has nothing on it except the work file of my novel – I even sabotaged the wifi-antenna! In a hotel room all by myself, there is nothing else to do than write… and drink tea!
What advice would you offer less experienced writers – especially in regard to staying productive, motivated, and focused?
Accept that you are prone to distraction, and work your way around it – be creative!
Use the pressure of the deadline. I lean heavily on extra deadlines that I set for myself, but I also agree with others to hold me to them. In The Netherlands, we call it putting the stick behind the door.
Also, accept that it is okay to write right before the deadlines, just make sure you set enough deadlines to get the whole piece done.
If you hit a wall, don’t waste energy by stressing out and stíll not doing anything! Use that downtime to watch Netflix, hahaha. Or better – take a walk and think. Walking, cooking, or taking a shower are the best activities to do when you feel blocked.
What do you do outside of your work routine that helps you stay productive?
Walking, cooking, cycling, taking a shower, reading books on writing, going out (without an internet device) to have a coffee somewhere.
As a parent, how do you ensure that your daughter is developing a healthy relationship around tech use?
I am terrible when it comes to screen time! Well, especially films and series. As I said: I Iove watching tv, and so my daughter does too. Often we just lie on the couch watching films like Frozen, Up, and Wreck-it Ralph. I just love Wreck-it Ralph! It’s so brilliantly written and the Dutch dubbed voices are really good actors.
But she is not allowed to use Youtube or other apps. Only VOD’s, and for half of that time she has to watch a long film or quality series.
How do you prioritize the things that matter most to you?
I don’t know if I really prioritize but I focus on work during the week and get the bulk of my work done. I like to keep my weekend and evenings for family and friends, I hardly work then.
What projects are you currently working on that you are most excited about?
I am working on my fourth novel, and although I have to fight distractions every day (I even started baking bread this week! Why?!), I love seeing it coming together. I just started a new column in the newspaper De Gelderlander, which is great.
Also Revenge, a fiction podcast I made with Karin van der Meer and Frans de Rond, is nominated for a Prix Europe, and I am really looking forward to going to Berlin for a week for the festival. We are working on another great radio drama, but there are some issues with the funding (as always!): so I hope we can sort that out and start recording it – I am really looking forward to it!
To learn more about Hanneke and her many projects, visit her website