Wednesday, June 20, 2012

How should I write?

Via Sullivan, I read about apps designed to motivate people to write. There's one program that would increment time giving me periodic breaks, presumably so I'm less tempted to go browse reddit in the middle of a paragraph; and another that rewards me for progress by showing you cute animal pictures. The most interesting one, Write or Die, would force me to write by punishing me for not doing so. There are several possible settings: it can give me a reminder in a popup window if I go too long without writing, or play an annoying tone, or start deleting what I've already written. That mode, quite appropriately, is called "kamikaze." Wow.

As intimidating as that is, I'm tempted to use it. Over the past year or so I've tried to get serious about writing for myself for the first time ever*, and it hasn't gone well so far. There's a set of short stories I wrote for college that I think has the potential for novels, and I reorganized and edited the old stuff, but I've actually written literally only one new sentence. I've daydreamed about it beyond that recently, but not actually typed a word. There's also a certain new topic I want to write about, but that's going little better. I've written five pages - double-spaced, FWIW, but still - of a beginning, and eight more pages of abortive attempts or paragraphs that might fit into a narrative eventually but for now I just have them sorted like puzzle pieces in piles based on their dominant colors. That's it.

The biggest problem is setting aside time for it. There have been times now and then I could have spent an hour or more on fiction, but really not all that many over the past month. Life is busy these days, and when it isn't, I want to crash, not focus on a different kind of challenge.

On thinking about it as I'm writing this, though, I really need to just do it. I haven't even bothered trying in the first place when I've had just an hour free at a time, but I should. I think my ideal writing system would be to spend at least half a day at a time on a project, really focusing on what I want in my characters and plot and writing it sentence by sentence, but I'm sure I could do something with a spare hour on a weekend morning or between getting home from work and making dinner, and something is better than nothing.

I have next Monday off and only one thing scheduled for it (so far...), and in August my girlfriend will be away for a week, and if I can't write, say, an average of one page per hour of leisure time** over those periods, then I need to either get Write or Die or some other productivity-enhancing method, or rethink why I want to write in the first place.

* I've written a ton before now, of course. In college I majored in English with a Concentration in Creative Writing and also wrote for the college newspaper. For two and a half years after college I was a reporter. All along I've kept this blog, and I started a second one a while back focused on a certain topic. Well over a million words not even counting false starts and notes never intended for publication, several novels if it had all been one work. But assignments, whether for a professor or employer, aren't the same as writing for myself, and a blog, or at least blogging the way I've been doing it, isn't serious.

** And I need to think hard about that. In one sense, every minute I'm at home and not sleeping, cooking, cleaning, or paying my bills is "leisure time," right? But no one can write constantly like that, definitely not without working up to it. So for now let's predict six hours of "leisure" on Monday - like I said, I have something scheduled for it, and I'll have to work up to my goal - and an average of two hours of leisure per free workday. But I'm prepared to rethink that.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

My recent posts might seem a bit overwrought. Just a week without my own computer and I'm showing symptoms of withdrawal? Seriously? Well, no, not seriously, it's exagerrated. And even though I didn't finish and post it until Wednesday, I deliberately wrote it in the mood of right after I got back on my computer, just for effect.

But even so, it's odd. I've had week-long periods of limited computer access before. Since 2010 I've been to Paris, on a cruise, and to California for a week or longer in each case, and several shorter visits to my parents' house. In every case, my phone's Internet access was spotty, and the only computers I had access to weren't my own, and my access to them was subject to other people and an unusual schedule. And I was fine with that. I mean, sure, sometimes it was a little annoying, but change is almost always a little annoying.

So why was this past week worse than those? Several reasons, I think.
  • It was unexpected. I couldn't set aside some engrossing books I had been meaning to read for a while, or hold off on TV because I knew I'd get my fill of it soon, I just had to deal with what I had handy. Or not.
  • Otherwise, it was a normal week. (With some exceptions. See below.) When I'm in Vermont or California or France, I'm expecting things to be different and difficult in some ways, but I'm also on vacation so I'm trying to relax. This past week was my routine - breakfast, go to work, come home, have dinner with my girlfriend, play games or watch TV at night, maybe go out with friends on the weekend - except that I couldn't blow off steam in the usual way.
  • I'm busy these days. This both makes it feel worse, because when I'm stressed picayune hinderances can feel like deliberate insults, and makes it actually harder to deal with things if I need to ask to borrow my girlfriend's computer to look up financial information and try to remember passwords that are saved on my computer and stuff.
So put it all together and, yeah, of course last week was even worse than the usual week without a computer.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The power supply arrived Saturday afternoon. Before then, I made one brief trip to the store and otherwise spent the day reading and watching TV. I finished one of the books I bought Wednesday. It took me probably more than half an hour to install completely, doing everything the cautious way, but there were no problems.

Even with the shopping, and going out with friends that night and having a leisurely morning the following day, I've probably been on my computer more than usual since I got it working again, and "more than usual" is really saying something. Frankly, though, I don't feel too bad about that. I bought Diablo III just a week or so before my computer broke and it's still new to me, and I did a little writing like I mentioned before. And I was obviously getting bored. I'm not sure exactly how my TV viewing during the computer-free week compares to normal, but it was definitely more. Same for reading.

Another thing is, I was bugged by not being connected to the rest of the world. That might sound absurd - I had my work computer, my girlfriend's computer at home, and a smartphone - but none of those are good for graphics-intensive gaming, none of those are good for text documents I keep stored on my hard drive, and none are good for utterly trivial shit like videos of cats playing or arguments about comic book history. In other words, the trivial stuff I actually spend my free time thinking about.

A science fiction trope for years now has been neural connections to computers. People are generally wary of it from a philosophical perspective - what does it mean, and that's really mean, to alter your brain, your self, that way, what would it do to your very identity, the meaning of being a person - and I can appreciate that, but after a week of relying on the sufferance of others for my computing, I'd happily get a YouTube implant in my cortex, thanks, and ignore the philosophy. Streaming video is a lot more fun than philosophy.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

This day was the earliest my power supply could have arrived, so all day long I was hoping it might be waiting on the doorstep when I got home, but no luck. On the way home I had an interesting thought I wanted to look into, but it would be too much trouble on my phone or my girlfriend's computer. (I don't even remember what it was, just the frustration.) I went to a concert with T. after work, so that was a nice diversion. Watched three episodes of Archer and read some before bed.

Friday, June 08, 2012

My computer died on Saturday. Fortunately, I was around friends even more computer-savvy than me at the time, so we identified the problem relatively easily: the power supply died. I've ordered a new one from Amazon and am now waiting for it to arrive. I haven't been completely computer-deprived, of course - I can sometimes use my work computer for personal stuff, and my girlfriend lets me use hers - but even so, computer access this week has been much less convenient, private, and fun than usual. It's been hard, and a learning experience.

The absence was downright helpful, actually. I had several things to do, and I might have done them even if my computer had been working, but at least this way there was less temptation. I used my girlfriend's computer for productive stuff like paying my credit card bill. It was a rough day for other reasons, but I felt good about the lack of a computer and how I handled it.

During the day I did some basic research on what kind of power supply I needed. On the way home I swung by Best Buy, and of their two choices of power supply on the shelf I bought the one that looked more like what I needed, but when I got it home, it wasn't. So that was annoying. I never took it out of its packaging, so at least it should be easy to return. Also, my girlfriend's Wii wasn't working, so we couldn't watch anything on Netflix. That was annoying too. We didn't feel like doing anything as active as playing board games, so we put on an old episode of Fringe. My girlfriend recommends the show, and I've been slowly catching up. Overall, an OK day.

Did research and talked to those computer-savvy friends for advice. Made a new recipe for dinner, which was a bit complicated and messy, but came out OK. We learned stuff to do differently if/when we make that recipe again. In the evening we watched another episode of Fringe, maybe also The Daily Show, I don't remember. Getting restless, and the problems with dinner were only part of it. Also, I normally raid with my guild in World of Warcraft on Tuesday nights and I missed that tonight, so I felt a bit guilty and lonely for not showing up. Especially because I didn't let them know about it. (It would have been hard but not impossible.)

Ordered the part from Amazon in the morning. I was annoyed at myself that I waited this long to order it and worried how long it would take to arrive. I didn't spring for the fastest shipping, though, because I'm trying to be frugal (due to the house, among other things) and I should be able to handle two or three more days without a computer, right? My girlfriend had plans after work, so I was faced with a particularly boring evening. I bought two trade paperbacks at the comic book store on the way home, and when I got home I downloaded two e-books I had been thinking about reading for a while. The thing is, I already have at least two books on my reader that it'll take me at least a month to finish at my current rate. I bought these four books out of restless boredom so, hey, why not? Except for frugality. So much for that. About $60 on things I really don't need, especially not now. In fairness, it wasn't just because of restless boredom. I had cleaned recently and found a gift card I wanted to use up rather than leave lying around. Restless boredom definitely played a part, though. I watched yet another episode of Fringe that night.

At work I had quite a burst of creativity about a story I've been meaning to write. Let's hope I haven't forgotten it by the time my computer is fixed. After I got home I fixed the Wii. It was simpler than it looked. Dinner went well. I joked with T. about itching like an addict going through withdrawal. After dinner, T. worked on some paperwork, and I helped a bit with that. When she didn't need me I went off and read in the office, but only with half my mind, because she asked for advice more than once. After that we watched two episodes of Archer through the Wii. It's a funnier and shorter show than Fringe, so it was a nice change of pace. Missed a raid again this night, though.