Monday, May 25, 2015

Writers Need Technology Breaks

The title of this post doesn't mean you should skip reading this post.

Being constantly connected through technology to info feeds and group posts and Facebook friends/family frustrates me. Not too long ago, six years or so, I wasn't frequently checking my smartphone to see if I had new email or a Facebook like or a retweet. Now, I do it at least once or twice an hour without thinking. Maybe more because I haven't quantified my use. Maybe much more. I wonder, as I've read lately, if this prompting by our computers and phones to stay on top of EVERYTHING is fragmenting our ability to concentrate and work in long stretches on ANYTHING. I think it is, in my case.

I've wanted to break this habit of being so available to people and to input. But I haven't had much will or motivation yet. Maybe I'd miss something. Someone might try to reach me or I'd miss an emergency text from my daughter. This feeling plagues me when I accidentally leave my phone at home by mistake. At a minimum, it irks me for a good five to ten minutes. Then I relax and realize the world is still in motion without my device telling me so by its whistles and pings.

I want my NYT.
On occasion, I just give up stalking the world or building my digital platform. Going dark lasts for a few hours, a half day. It's usually enough time to realize, hey, my life is just as good without all that distraction, because at its core, that's what it is to me. If I really want to talk to someone, I call. If I really want to know what is happening in the world, I turn on NPR or read any section of my Sunday NYT. Do I like having access to the world on my phone? The ability to Google questions like: How do you calculate the mean absolute deviation (which I did an hour ago for one child's homework)? Oh sure. My life is easier. But I'd prefer to feel like I wasn't doing research on the fly, and my phone encourages me to fly.

Writer friends of mine fall on a wide spectrum of technology addiction. Some of my friends use way less instant technology than I do, and lo, they write more. Other friends use just one app but use it so well (or obsessively), they don't need to do anything else. Or at least it seems that way.

I dream about going off-grid from technology like a generation of writers used to dream about retreating to a cabin in the woods to write. Does that work? Would I be a better writer if I let go of my BFF Samsung Galaxy Android? Would readers know the difference or are they too glued to their screens to care?

I want a little head space. But I'm the one who's going to have to make it. What works? Suggestions solicited.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Not Your Ordinary Writing Prompts

One of the beauties of blogging is the chance to write unfiltered. Here, I simply let myself write, almost always without the benefit of my interior or an external editor. Take that for what you will, because so much of the advice for writers, especially new ones who may be thinking of self-publishing, proclaims you must, without fail, throw resources at good editing. How many times do I see in my Twitter feed each day a link to a post that urges and extols the beating of a manuscript to within inches of its spine by proofers and Beta readers before publication? Far too many.

I absolutely agree with the essential idea behind this well-meaning advice. Don't put out work that hasn't had good, professional editing. There's too much poorly written, poorly edited tripe on the Amazon marketplace. It makes it excessively difficult for unknown writers (particularly self-published writers who are craft, not quantity, focused) to earn a purchase. The major assumption is that books aren't good without a publisher and its systemic filters. You haven't found a publisher? Then forget reading you.

However, I think this belief that publisher=good is an insider's argument. It bounces around mainly in the echo chamber of writers' circles. I don't know too many readers on the street who decide to buy or read a book based on who publishes it. Of course, there are always exceptions. But readers find words and books any number of ways, and once they find a writer they like, they read more of that writer's work. It makes little difference who publishes it.

Full circle. Why is writing without a filter important then? And in public? On a blog, in my case? Because a writer must have some freedom to experiment. I believe blogging is a good place to start. I get a kick out of blogs where writers run their books by friendly readers as they draft them. See Kenton Lewis or WattPad (a psuedo-blog place), for instance.

This idea of unfiltered writing may run counter to the idea that a blog must also be a "platform" for the writer to build audience. Yes, I agree for the most part, but the act of writing should be a source of joy, and sometimes when a project mostly hinges on consumer-potential (commercial viability of your manuscript, screenplay, self-help tome), the sheer joy of writing to write may turn into purely writing to sell. That's a shame.

I write here to discover my opinion, to wonder, to find ways to express myself, to imagine something I haven't imagined before. To soapbox and be silly. To write without an editor waiting to slice up my work. If I find a few readers in the process, all the better. I want people to buy my books. LOTS OF THEM! But here is where I take a break from the [do it like this] mentality. May I suffer for it? Only if I think about it too much.

Now, here's what I really wanted to put out today but haven't yet. I started writing notes to myself several years ago on stray paper (I've graduated to index cards) of thought prompts. I've blogged a few of these before, and it's fun to go through my stack on occasion and give them an airing. Here are a few from the past months or so. Feel free to use as a prompt or to ponder.

Do terrorist suffer bad karma?

Be maniacally vigilant of your ...

To write a good line of fiction, you must think like a poet.

When do I deserve peace? When do I earn it?

The irony of countering the work of another writer it that mine must also include salacious details.

Death is an ordinary grief. (which evolved into a blogpost)

A peaceful heart

If you write long enough, you are eventually going to get somewhere.

Everything comes into question when a life revolts.

Beds are not for making,
They're for snuggling, they're for praying
Playing footsy with your lover
Finding warmth beneath the covers

Book idea: a writer of pulp crime who decides to commit his own heist (probably already been written)

People don't like people who tell extreme truths.

You never get rid of the face.

The consolation amid the mess is liberty.

Anguished good-byes

Croutons, kale salad, cantaloupe
Crunchy carrots, add the crackers


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

One Person's Crazy is Another Person's Courage

"To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become; that is courage." ~ Charles Dubois

"Crazy is as crazy does." ~ Forrest Gump

A year ago this week, I chose to leave my life in Portland, Ore. After three difficult years, my decision had the tone of reactionary. I tried not to view it as rash. It felt necessary for survival. I wanted out of Hell. I don't use this word lightly and do not direct it at the city of Portland itself. Portland is world class. Progressive, eclectic, sexy, infused with food and fanatics. I fit into Portland, personality-wise. We just had poor timing.

I anguished over whether to leave. The allure of the place had definitely hooked into my ego. Portland caters to writers. If you're a writer, go there. If you're already a writer in Portland, stay there. It carries great potential along with cachet. Even if you're a bad writer, the line "Portland writer" on your resume puts you in a different section of the train car -- one reserved for notables.

The writing scene there is vibrant, supportive, irritatingly creative. I had stars in my eyes, literally. Cheryl Strayed, Chuck Palahniuk. Powell's City of Books paraded all the literary roadshows through its cavernous rooms. No name in publishing would pass up a chance to read at the distinguished standard-bearer for independent book stores.

Powell's was a scene unto itself. A tourist destination, of course. But an overdose of nook-and-crammed; book lovers left drunk on lit. I suffered Powell's Paralysis. I'd browse and end up empty-handed because of the overwhelming choices. When everything is at your fingertips, the best choice is elusive. (Blame it on being a Virgo.)

I left it all behind. I left a good job. And two writers' groups and professional support networks and my growing group of writer friends and parenting cohorts. Phhtt. Gone.

I fled because I thought it would make me feel better.

I fled because my extended family lived 2000 miles on the other side of the country.

I fled because when life gets too hard, you cut your losses and hope a change of address will bring you peace.

I fled because I felt insane.

An ironic, but important, aside: The comment I heard frequently about my decision to relocate, solo-new-widow-mom, across the country was -- you are so courageous. 

For a month on the road, I felt pretty good. Maybe a tad heroic. It's easy to feel good when you don't have a house to keep up, an electric bill to pay, a clock ticking in the night beside your bed, calling you to wake up and make some money.

Friends commented before, during and after my escape about my incredible journey. Someone, she knows who, called me Oh Wandering One. It was sarcastic, meant to goad me back to the ticking clock.

My clock ticks now. As I write this. Maybe a digital would be better.  A year later, my plan to leave the strain behind has disappointed me some. Would it surprise you that there are days I pine for Portland? Of course not, you say. It could be a longing for the normalcy of my old neurosis. The bad that I knew. Not the bad that is new.

Did I make a courageous choice to leave? That's debatable. I wear my stiff upper lip headlong into single parenthood, into discovering myself again, into holding my breath, into dating (oh, what a blogpost that could be -- my working title is Sex, Grief, and the Young-ish Widow; or maybe, Girl, Don't Date w/o Meds).

All is not bad. I arrive at a place with possibilities. More specifically, this is a time full of potential and not a physical place in the road. Change often evolves when great adversity strikes. I have been struck and struck again. It isn't time for another change of scenery, but a change of psyche.