Monday, September 22, 2014

Smartphone? For me, not necessarily

I'm wary of technology sometimes. Although it means to "help" (and in many ways, it certainly does), I think it's succeeding in making me dumber, or at the very least, making me remember less. As a writer who wants to remember absolutely everything, down to the last gritty detail, this is highly disconcerting.

Cases in point:

* The other day someone asked me what I was reading. I couldn't remember. I remember I liked it, I could tell you the plot, but I couldn't tell you the title or the author. This is because when I turn on my Kindle, it brings me right back to the page I left off at last time I read. Convenient, yes--for everything BUT remembering what the hell it is I'm reading. Nowhere on the screen is the author's name or the book title; I'd actually have to click away from the book to see those things. I've been longing for real books lately, you know, paperbacks and hardbounds, the kind with dog-eared pages that smell like paper and love.

* I've been listening to an Interpol CD like crazy for the past week. Like, I've heard the whole thing at least ten times. I don't remember the title of the album or the names of any of the songs. Now, I realize I could just tap my iPod and the album and song name will appear, but it's so much easier to just let the whole album play as I work or write. It's not like having a physical CD, where I would scour the CD case and its insert, inspecting song titles, lyrics, artwork, etc. It feels more streamlined and cleaner, but it also feels like something's missing. Something like a dozen or so song titles from my brain, or perhaps something more. (Full disclosure: I still listen to CDs in the car, and you will eventually pry my Muse discs from my cold, dead hands.)

* I have an iPhone. The other day I upgraded to iOS 8. I didn't want to do this, but I knew some apps would cease to work for me if I didn't. The update took forever, gave me several errors, made me update my iTunes in the process, and then, when I finally got back into my phone, whatever iPhone imps were at work had messed with my brightness, my location settings, turned on predictive text, and more (a quick tour through Settings fixed all this, but still, it was annoying). But the worst part was that now, when I minimized and wanted to toggle between apps, it displayed my recent contacts, whom I could call at the touch of a button. I immediately realized that because I am a klutz and tend to fumble around with my phone, if I kept those contacts there, I would eventually end up dialing one of them at 5:30 AM, something I doubt any of them would appreciate. So I removed that functionality. Seriously, there's a list of recent calls (helpful), and a whole big contact list (long, but also helpful); why the bloody hell do I need yet another way to call people? Or accidentally call them at odd hours? Okay, so it might take me an extra five seconds to find the person I want to call in my Recents or my contact list, but seriously...who cares? In five seconds, I can write, oh, maybe 3-4 words. So it's not like it's saving me much meaningful time.

I get it--these are obviously first-world problems. I don't have to use Apple products or a Kindle; I'm choosing to. And overwhelmingly, I like the products. I just don't love how they seem to be conspiring to make me retain less information, making me feel like I'm flitting from thing to thing and not taking as much in as before.

And now I'm going to go listen to the latest Arctic Monkeys album (brilliant stuff), hold a book in my hands, and keep my reclusive writer-self away from the phone.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Lessons from an injured sparrow

I've mentioned in previous posts that I'm mildly obsessed with the birds that visit my balcony every day. Right now there are 5 feeders out there--one suet bell, three homemade feeders, and one window feeder that, I'm happy to report, the sparrows and chickadees have just figured out is for birds just their size. I love walking through the living room and seeing a bird having a snack right there.

But this post is about one particular bird. There's an injured sparrow who shows up pretty much every day. He (or she, I have no idea) generally comes when no or few other birds are around and eats from the suet bell.  Because he has an injured leg, he scoots around on his belly, or half-hops with his good leg. He can fly just fine, but when he's not using his wings, it can get a little dicey. Last week he somehow flipped himself over on his back, dead-bug pose, and I was terrified he wouldn't be able to get back up on his own. But he did.

After he eats, he often hangs out for a while. Unlike other sparrows, who flit and squabble and chirp the whole time, this one is very calm. He doesn't chirp. He just hangs out, very chill. Sometimes on the edge of the balcony, sometimes in a corner he seems to have designated as his favorite, and once on the outside windowsill. I walked by and there he was, just sitting there, just breathing. I could tell he saw me peering out at him, but he stayed calm (and his presence calmed me).

Every day I fear he won't be back, that his injury--or a cat or bird of prey taking advantage of his injury--will get the best of him somehow. And yet every day, there he is, usually coming by for more than one meal and, often, stays for a while afterward.

He's the sweetest little thing, and every day I blow him kisses and silently tell him, as if he could hear me or understand, that I'm glad he's there and doing as well as he can. Even when I see him struggling to move around, or when the bitchy woodpecker chases him and he has to scramble and fly off quickly, I'm glad. This little guy has tenacity, and I admire that. Drags his lame leg around behind him, but still has the moxie to fly eight stories up to eat.

I also feel sorry for him, having gotten a raw deal. All the other sparrows eat and chirp together; he does not. I can identify with what it's like to be a quiet loner. It's not always fun. I like to think when the sparrow sees me, he knows he's not alone, and it makes him feel a bit better. (He seems less skittish than the others and won't fly away if he sees me move, although this may just be because it's harder for him to get up and fly away, and he really picks his moments wisely.)

The sweet little thing reminds me of me--and of Emerson. Against all odds, he keeps coming back to do what he's supposed to do. Even when people expect him to fail, he doesn't. He does it with grace, and charms people along the way. He does it alone, without complaint, and somehow he makes it. Every day he comes back to eat or hang out, he makes me smile.

I'm rooting for the little guy. And I'm learning from him, too.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Note to self.

Dear self,

You have a book you're trying to finish within the month. You've been working on the last 10-15% of said book for agonizingly long, at a much worse pace than usual. It hasn't been easy. Perhaps you need a little pep talk.

It's okay to go to work without applying mascara. But it's not okay to go to work without having written 500+ words beforehand.

Every morning, ass in seat, fingers on keyboard. Write the chapter, even if it sucks. That's what revision is for. And I know you're scared to death with the thought of revision, because you're attempting to revise not one but two books in a row, but it's entirely necessary for getting published. Trust in your ability to revise well (look at the great work you do every day at your day job). Know that it will be slow, but you will make it good. And then don't stop until it's just right (and only you will know exactly when that is).

Write the chapter even if it seems out of place. You're going to shuffle shit around in revision, and it will fit somewhere.

Write even when you're tired. Perhaps especially when you're tired. Fewer "shoulds" get in the way then.

You know who Emerson is. Write her the way you want. Give the character and the story that edge that only you can do, even if you're afraid of putting it out there. Your story--and you--will be better for it.

It's okay to do things that make you happy, even if they're not writing-related. It's really important, in fact, to read books and watch TV shows. Even if you're not reading/watching them explicitly for writing-related purposes, chances are, you'll learn something.

It's okay to spend time in the evenings working on fun crafts. This helps keep the creativity flowing.

It's okay to watch the birds. That's a fun, relaxing activity. Just try not to pay attention to them in the morning before you've hit 500 words.

It's okay to spend time with friends and family. If you write each morning, then your nights and weekends are freed up more for this. It's also fine to not spend time with friends and family. Sometimes you're just not up for it--maybe one of your maladies is flaring up, or you're just mentally exhausted.

It's okay to spend time doing chores. They're not taking away from writing time--in fact, they may be enhancing it. Think about how many brainstorms you've had while doing dishes or cleaning the shower.

It's okay to check out new music to see what inspires you and your characters. Arctic Monkeys and the Pretty Reckless have been immensely helpful in this regard. But stay away from music that gets you down--sorry Lana Del Rey, bit sadcore's a bad choice for this writer. And don't forget to indulge in your daily dose (or several) of Muse.

It's okay to get out and do fun things. Funny how experiencing life outside of reading and writing helps to enrich writing.

It's okay to write slowly. It's just not okay to not write at all. If you skip a morning of writing, there'd better be a damn good reason. Something had better be on fire. (On that note, you should also remember to back your book up every single week.)

You will have time after you're done this draft to read all those articles you've saved on revising, crafting your elevator pitch, etc. You will also have time then to read a few of those books on writing that have been on your to-do list for a while. There's a time for those things, and that time isn't now (but it's soon).

When you finish this draft, it's okay for it to be imperfect. Like, really imperfect. It's okay for it to suck. Nearly everyone's first draft sucks. You're in very good company. So just remember to calm down about it, focus, and revise.

But first, you write.

Just get it written. Finish the story. Kill the character, and make a few other characters miserable in the process.

And enjoy the bumpy, frenetic, and altogether thrilling ride.