Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How Technology Rescues Us from Itself

So it has been a week since my last post, which is obviously pretty slack. I can give you a bunch of shit about how busy/stressful/whatever my week was (and it was) but it's not relevant.

I have been regularly using Write or Die and it has been working miracles. I can bang out about 500 words in twenty minutes. Granted, they are repetitive words formed into messy, grammatically incorrect and often uninteresting sentences. BUT they are still words. And you gotta have SOMETHING to work with. No point trying to put a puzzle together with no pieces. Am I right?

So, I have taken one small chunk of rubble and had a go at carving it into something. Wendy has just stumbled across a praying mantis in an azalea bush...

"At first it stayed perfectly still. Then slowly it began to make its way across the leafy branch. It moved steadily. Its steps were soft yet deliberate, as if it thought it might wake someone. Wendy was taken aback by how green it was. Neon, lime, chartreuse. It was large too, larger than she was strictly comfortable with. Coming face to face with it while it was in its shrub was ok, but she imagined meeting it in her bedroom in the dark. Or what if when she switched the bathroom light on in the middle of the night, instead of the usual curled up spider in the corner, this unfeasible creature was crouched waiting for her? She would be terribly shaken. Things belonged where they belonged. Every thing is made to fit within the place it is meant to exist in, and if some thing is encountered outside of its place, it can seem monstrous. This twig-like thing, painted in all its chlorophyllic beauty, belonged in this shrub.
She surveyed the space around her, the school yard, the upstairs windows of her apartment, the steeple on the Presbyterian church, and wondered if she was in the right place. Or if she was a monster."

I'm sure this bit will change and change again. Maybe it will even get deleted from the narrative altogether, as that is the nature of constructing a story. You have to not only know what to leave in but what to leave out as well. But for now, I like it.

Anyway, my latest hurdle to true writerly focus is the ever present Facebook. It's like a scab that you just can't help but pick. I can be writing along all fine and dandy and then all of sudden, I'll just HAVE to check facebook. It's obsessively habitual, unnecessary and incredibly unproductive. Like smoking. So, I did a little research and decided to give this a try. It shuts off all access to your internet connection for however long you program it for. If you absolutely NEED to get online during this time you have to reboot your computer, which is such a hassle that it's meant to keep you from cheating. The first time I used it I had urges, cravings even, to refresh Facebook and Gmail. But I couldn't. Which was weirdly unnerving. But eventually I let it go and just wrote through to the end of the time period I had set.

There are two downsides to this at the moment. One, I only have the free trial which means I can only use it 4 more times. I think I am going to have to shell out a tenner and get the proper one and really retrain myself to have an attention span. But, number two is, I can't use the free web app of Write or Die while I have Freedom set. So this meant I actually didn't write straight through the time frame. I kept stopping, pondering specific words, going back and re-reading what I had just written. All the things that I am trying NOT to do. So, I suppose I will have to shell out a second tenner for the desktop version of Write or Die so I can use it while offline. And then, SURELY, I will be unstoppable.

Luckily they are only American tenners.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Year's Resolution? ...Do less.

...and write more.

So, it's offically 2012. I've never been much on New Year's resolutions. Usually I go with something like, eat more, drink more and smoke more, as my 'oh so clever' anti-resolution. This year my 'oh so clever' anti-resolution is do less...(but write more).

One of the pieces to my SNS has been the wonderful distractive qualities of extra-curricular activities. I've always been the kind of person who embraces a new idea or activity with frightening gusto, usually to abandon it wholly within six months so that I can pick up another one. These include but are not limited to...painting, the banjo, horseback riding, pilates, making and selling handbags and purses and baking. Oh and at least three novels, started then abandoned. Of these, the ones that I took up in my adult life have proven a great distraction from writing, which is the one thing that has remained a constant 'extra-curricular' since I was twelve. So much so that I strive to make it my main 'curricular' activity. So, these things distract me from writing and therefore I do them even more and get even more wrapped up in them as an excuse to not write. A few months ago I wrote a little piece as an excercise in writing Salinger-esque prose and dialogue entitled 'Nobody Talks Like That Anymore' which opens with a (semi-autobiographical) list...

"First, as often seems to be the case, there was the piano.

Followed by the ubiquitous trifecta of ballet, tap and jazz. Then, horseback riding (English and Western). A brief stint with the flute. A concerted effort at singing and acting, which very nearly led to a period of theatrical study at the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts. Oil painting classes on Saturdays and watercolours at home. A summer craft camp where she attended full day week long classes in sculpture, block printing and macramĂ©. Poetry, of the melancholic teenage kind. The Optimist’s Club Oratorical Contest, at which, aged seventeen, she earned 2nd place at the state level. Self-taught Tarot readings in the campus cafĂ© for a gaggle of giggling undergraduates. An exuberant year skating for her local amateur roller derby team. Which, in itself, led to an intense, yet focussed fitness regime of running, cycling and Pilates. In her third year, she bought herself a 5 string bluegrass banjo and taught herself up to page sixteen of the ‘Complete 5 String Bluegrass Banjo Handbook’ so she could accompany herself on June Carter Cash songs at parties.

Upon moving out on her own she took up baking, sewing, carpentry and gardening (vegetables, not flowers) and, along with some artistic types she met whilst living in SoWash, wrote, directed, shot and edited a 5 minute short film adaptation of a story she’d written some years before entitled ‘Sorenson’s Camel’s-hair Coat’ which took place almost entirely on a train station platform.

In her short but productive twenty six years she had begun six novels (completing two of them, along with a book of verse) and dated approximately nineteen men and two women. Although, ‘dated’ may not be a useful term in this case as many of said relationships lasted no longer than from the instant of first meeting until the following morning.

And even if she’d never managed to really stick to something in the way that parents and professors expected her to in order to embark on a successful and fulfilling career choice, no one could say that she wasn’t accomplished. Granted, for most of her youth, her parents had been positively over the moon that she’d been so keen to try so many things, and proven herself, if not entirely naturally talented in all of them, a deft and quick learner who excelled in almost everything she attempted."

So, this year, my resolution is to do less. Do less of all the extra stuff. Settle down and focus on myself as a writer and not anything else. That isn't to say I won't be doing other things with my time, but just that I will only devote as much time as is necessary to them, and will not take on excess responsibility/projects and use them as excuses to not be writing.

The second part of that resolution though, is to write more. And I have now used this twice. The first time, I wrote 500 words in twenty minutes...the second time, 704 in 21.

Now, I will not attempt to argue that they are good words, because they aren't (at least not all of them) but that is the beauty of Write or Die. It's actually quite a good tool for removing the self editing impulse while writing. It allows you to just get words on the page to be shaped and sculpted later. It helps to conquer the fear of the blank page. I highly recommend it. And for anyone trying to write a novel or dissertation or longer piece like that, I strongly suggest using it in conjunction with a simple outline. What I've been doing is setting myself a word goal and time limit and then going in with one bullet point/scene on my outline in mind as a starting point. Then just see where it goes. This way I'll have loads of little pieces of the book to start stringing together and filling out. Seems to be working so far.

So happy New Year to anyone who has been kind enough to stop by and read this far.