Friday, November 27, 2015

The Secrets of a Regular Writing Schedule

When I decided to stop working a Monday-Friday job and work for myself, it was a big change for me, and the biggest change was my schedule.

As a teacher, I knew in advance every work day and off day a year in advance. Furthermore, I knew my Monday-Friday schedule to the hour and had bells (and students) to remind me should I forget. I was on the clock and free time or self-time was obvious.

After retiring from that schedule of 34 years into a schedule much more open, rather than finding more time to write, I found less. This might sound counter-intuitive, but the more fluid schedule was soon filled up with things I had never gotten to, or filled with "finally having a chance to do it right" activities now that I wasn't away from home in a classroom or office every day. I had to adjust to that, to come to terms with a sudden lack of tardy bells in my life.

Here are my "secrets":
  1. Writing priorities begins with other priorities: rest, food, exercise, time with family. If I ignore these priorities, they whisper to me all the time, distracting me.
  2. What worked earlier still works. I found writing in the early morning (time between 5 and 6 AM) effective when I taught, and that time still works well for me now. I'm an early-morning person and find the wee hours a time of creativity and clarity.
  3. Building momentum is important. This is something that worked well for me before I retired from working as a teacher. I write every morning, the story builds momentum, and then more time is easy to find. My writing time later in the day will vary from morning to afternoon, depending on exercise, grandkids, and the time of year.
  4. Creation is not work. I need to remember this and to allow the joy of creation to be in my life. Now, finishing a publication is work. A good work, but still a task. However, I find joy in creating a story, and I have to allow myself the option of wandering, starting over, getting lost, or just camping out for a while at some place along the path that is especially beautiful. I guess Joseph Campbell would say that it's not enough to follow the path if there is no bliss.
  5. Honesty. I need to separate the above four points with just plain laziness. At some point, non-writing can become a habit, non-writing can be a part of a daily routine that is filled with other activities, all of them perhaps good and meaningful, but not writing. The most fundamental definition of "writer" is one who writes. I need to remember that and not lie to myself.
I stepped out of a regular work schedule at the end of last May, so I suppose six months isn't to long to lollygag and flounder. I've been writing early mornings this last week, though, and am enjoying the progress I'm making on my short story. I've allowed myself the freedom to begin the story several times, and just this morning while waking up I found the ending unfolding with details I hadn't envisioned before.

Dragonfire and consciousness. Flames and cognition. A new beginning all over again. What joy!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Starting a Story, the Process

I'm not sure how others start a story, whether it's a short story, a novel, or a saga. Different
Dragon's Head, Bjorn Baklien, Flickr
ways, I suppose.

I know from my experience that I tend to start writing, whether with some outline or notes or not, and then I rewrite the beginning over and over until it feels right.

I've got this sense of the story, this feeling, and somehow I have to manage the words so that they flow in accord with that feeling. That sounds kind of mysterious, and maybe it is, I don't know. I do know that there's a point when I feel (that word, again!) that the tone created by word choice is what I want. Then I just blaze away, getting the piece written one time through.

Then comes the fun part--and I mean that. I get to rewrite. That's like cleaning the window. The first part, the beginning, is like busting a hole in the wall and installing the window. OK, the window's in, but all that dust and fingerprints and sales stickers . . . clean that off, make it disappear!

What remains is the view, and a wonderful one, I hope.

Right now I'm working on a short story, a fantasy set in the same reality as my novel The Stone Dragon. The story takes place on Half Street, an area on a hill above Oldtown, the hill spined with rocks called Dragon's Head. I've rewritten the beginning three or four times. I think now maybe the tone of the beginning is what I want, what I need.

Who knows, though? I guess I should know, but I'm going to have to let some time pass before I'm sure. I can keep pecking away at the story, though, in the meantime.
To be alone on Half Street was not easy, even for a boy of ten familiar with its nooks and crannies. Too many guildspeople hurried the pathways, shouldering tools or cloth samples or even newly tooled shoes, as Cobb's father would. Too many wagons or barrows stirred dust or mud or dirty snow, depending on the season, for someone always needed a chimney cleaned, a door squared, a cracked tile replaced. Someone always needed a son to deliver a pair of evenngi slippers to an impatient lady, or a boy to feed the fire beneath the dye pot.
 That's the current beginning of the short story that's had the following titles: "A Dragon's Scale," "Dragon Dreams," and "Magic Comes to Half Street."

Now I feel I can write Cobb's story. I've managed to break through the best wall for the right view.

As for Cobb? Right now he's at Dragon's Head:
An odd place it was, a knob of stone still shaped by wild, what the builders and masons should have considered a challenge or an affront" . . . but the stones have not been cleared, "apparently never occurred to some greedy guildsman or ambitious matron of the crafts. Leave Dragon's Head alone, and it will leave you alone, Cobb thought, and he didn't even consider the oddity of the thought. How and why would a tangle of rock at the crest of a hill leave you alone?
What fun!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Amtrak and Colorado River Rafting

It seems to be a tradition for Colorado River rafters to amuse Amtrak travelers. While on the train traveling east, I saw many folks floating down the Colorado--and one woman chose to pull up her top for the travelers, and one man chose to moon us.

This, of course, was from some distance, so it wasn't a case of too much information.

I did videotape the rafters and made a short visual chronicle of the observation car's perspective. In the car, a couple of musicians did some pickin', which added to the relaxed and celebratory atmosphere. I was also provided the opportunity to rip the sound from the video and to just lay down the sound for the project.

Here is the video. It even includes the exhibitionist woman--tiny rafts beached and tinier humans.

I have more YouTube videos on my channel.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Writing with a Touchphone Keyboard

When I wrote poetry regularly, I always wrote in a notebook using a pencil. There was something so tactile about the experience, the lead sliding across the paper. First draft and later drafts were copied into the notebook. Eventually I would move to the typewriter, type the draft, mark it up with pencil, retype, and grab the pencil again.

I had a similar experience while working on a short story, using my iPhone 6+.

Even with the 6+'s larger screen, composition was still slower with the smaller touchscreen keyboard, more deliberate. The flow of ideas was more contemplative--more a process of thinking the sentence and then tapping it out, rather than having the thought and transcription more simultaneous.

Is the slower and more deliberate experience better or worse?

I'd say better or worse is the wrong evaluation rubric. The experience of writing was definitely different than traditional keyboarding, though. I am reminded of when Milton was blind, he would dictate verses of Paradise Lost to his daughter.

I believe it is possible to compose using a touchscreen keyboard. A more deliberate pace of composition is not bad; it might even result in the need for lesser revision. My experience was almost metacognitive--composing and being aware of the process of composing while in the experience.

I've written this contemplative piece about writing while using my laptop's keyboard, though. That frictionless flow of ideas from mind to fingertips to screen is awfully nice.

I wonder how it will be in the future when writers just speak to the computer. In the "old days," there were a few writers who dictated their work and then handed the recordings over to a typist to transcribe. And today, of course, we have the dictation software that is becoming more common. And those who have grown up with smartphones and touchscreens--prodigies who can touch-type with the phone in the pocket--I find that quite remarkable.

Has or does anyone else using the smartphone as a creative writing device? What has been your experience?

Friday, October 9, 2015

An Amtrak Zephyr Video for My Grandson

After making an Amtrak video of the Rockies Mountains with fall colors, my wife told me that my grandson had really liked the video. The next morning, I decided to make another, more tailored for a child three years old.

How did I do that? Why, I put in images and clips of as many trucks, trains, and earth movers as possible. Not a case of less is more but of more is more!

I also selected a more rambunctious sound track for the video. I've also tried to make all my videos around a minute, for sure no more than two minutes. I'd rather leave a viewer wishing for more than having to plod through till the end.

I have more videos at my YouTube site. I shot, edited, and shared this with my wife with my iPhone 6+.