Skip to content

Blog

This is a newsletter I wrote a few years ago, with a couple of updates because technology changes all the time.  Some friends and I were talking about technology and how much we use it, and a couple of people I know are talking about taking time away from the internet or at least away from social media.  Now seemed like a good time to repost this.

Technically Speaking
by Kim Switzer

How do you feel about technology? Does it make your day? Drive you nuts? Is it a helper or a distraction or some of each? Do you run out to get the latest gadgets, or are you still using a cell phone from 2003?

Don't worry if you and technology aren't best buds. You don't have to ditch it and go live in a cave—you can make it work for you and maybe even learn to enjoy it!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A lot of people have something of a love/hate relationship with technology, especially the internet and social media. I see posts and notes from people fairly regularly saying they are taking a break from technology, going on a technology vacation, etc. The main culprits that seem to send them skittering away from the internet are Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, the things that can suck you in and hold you captive way longer than you intended to stay. So these people disconnect themselves for a while, then they show up again later seemingly rested, rejuvenated, and glad to be back.

I think time away from the internet, the computer, your cell phone, etc. is a great idea. I'm just not sure doing it in big, sometimes dramatic breaks from the internet is the most useful way to do it. I think incorporating times throughout the week where you aren't on the computer (or the iPhone or Android or tablet or any of that) is extremely important for creatives, and doing it regularly is better for your creative balance than doing technology binge-and-purge cycles.

Don't worry that taking regular time away from technology will put you behind or make you miss something. I do very little on the internet or even the computer in the evenings and on weekends. (Unless I'm sick, in which case I spend way too much time on Facebook reading and commenting on any random thing that comes by to distract myself, but that's a special case.) Most of the time on a work night I might check my e-mail and maybe Facebook once in the early evening. This usually takes about half an hour, and then I put down the computer and pick up some knitting or a journal or a book to read. And a kitty. I almost always pick up a kitty. On the weekends, I usually spend an hour or maybe a little more on Sunday evening doing a quick catch-up, but mostly I fill my weekends with AFK (away from keyboard) activities. I get plenty of non-technology time, and it feels really good to pop back in to my e-mail and Facebook and see what people have been up to. Lots more interesting things get a chance to pile up if I don't check
every 15 minutes.

Of course, when I first signed up for Facebook, I was on there all the time. And I still fall into that now and then—hours frittered away mindlessly scrolling and refreshing, looking for who-knows-what. And that's okay. Sometimes we need mindless distraction to let our brains rest. If you find yourself doing it a lot, it doesn't necessarily mean you have to ditch the technology, though. This sort of behavior is actually an excellent road sign. For me, this behavior lets me know that I'm avoiding something that is feeling too hard or overwhelming. And that lets me know I need to examine whatever it is I'm avoiding and find a way to break it down into smaller steps. Technology becomes a mini-coach, helping me realize that something isn't working and I need to give it some attention.

Quick Exercise: If you find yourself procrastinating or numbing your brain with the internet, social media, other technology, or anything else, try a little journaling. Grab your journal and write down this question: “What in my life needs some time and attention from me right now?” Write about it if you like—just let the words come, don't edit or censor yourself. But you don't need to push for an answer. You can just let this question simmer in the back of your mind and be open to what answers may come up later.

How else can you make technology work for you?

Timers: One of my favorite tools to use. I like to set a timer and write as fast as I can for 10 or 15 minutes. I also set a timer when I want to have a little break and poke around on Facebook or elsewhere on the internet but don't want to get sucked in for half a day. Some of my favorite timers:

  • My iPod Touch timer with its variety of cute sounds (currently, it's set to “trill”).
  • Countdown Timer, a free online timer with a variety of options.
  • Cool Timer, a nifty, free timer to download that lets you play MP3s and all sorts of sounds.
  • Insight Timer, a meditation time available for iPhone, iPad, and Android that uses Tibetan singing bowl sounds; I use it for writing and other things, though, rather than meditation.

 Calendars and To-do Lists: Don't just use these for the normal stuff—deadlines and appointments and anniversaries and such. Get creative! Do you practice The Artist's Way? Put your artist dates on your calendar (one of my friends puts the question “what are you going to do this week?” on her calendar to remind herself to plan an artist date—such a great idea!). Put little questions (like the one from the exercise above) on there so they pop up occasionally and remind you that you want to think about them. Mark off time for working on creative projects, use calendars and lists to remind you that you want to spend time researching a new skill. Put some fun, exciting, creative stuff on there and let your calendars and lists help keep creativity at the forefront of your mind. My faves in this category:

  • Google Calendar--it integrates really well across multiple devices, it's really easy to update, and you can get pop-up or e-mail reminders or both.
  • Remember the Milk--a great to-do list with options; it integrates with Google Calendar, lets you make lists for multiple categories in your life (I have categories for MuseCraft, writing, household stuff, body and exercise stuff, and a few others), and lots of other good stuff.
  • Awesome Note--I love this calendar/to-do list combo! My only complaint about it is that there isn't an Android version.

Various and Sundry Other Bits of Goodness:  you can use technology to inspire you.  Sign up for newsletters, poem-a-day e-mails, quote-a-day e-mails, travel photos, cute animal photos--whatever makes you feel happier and more ready to get back to your creativity.  Use your tech to capture things you want to read later, recipes or tutorials you want to try, classes you want to take, things you want to remember.  Use music playlists (on your MP3 player or on a service like Pandora) to set your mood, podcasts to keep up with topics you like, funny websites to cheer you out of a slump.  Use your technology, then set it aside and go outside and play!  Some of my favorite technology bits:

  • Evernote--a great place to capture notes, pictures, whole websites, whatever you want; you can make notebooks, notebook stacks, use tags to make it easy to find your stuff, web clippers that load right in your browser.  And it integrates across all the devices.
  • Pocket--you can put all sorts of things in your pocket to read later, and most of the stuff is available offline!  And you can set it up on multiple devices and browsers, plus it's really easy to use.
  • Bloglovin--If you aren't already using a blog reader, try this one (it's my favorite since the old Google Reader went away).  Or try one in general.  You can filter the blogs you follow into categories, so if you feel like reading things about embroidery right now you can open up your reader, click your "embroidery" category, and not have to sift through things you don't want to look at right now.  I strongly suggest that you make yourself a "daily" category (or weekly if that's better for you) for the blogs you especially want to keep up with.
  • Diigo--An excellent bookmare device, complete with a "diigolet" you can load in your browser to make bookmarking sites ultra-easy.  And, as with many of my favorite things, it lets you use tags, and it integrates across multiple devices, plus it has room for notes on each bookmark you create.

I could go on, but I won't.  My point is that technology doesn't need to be a burden or some form of enslavement that we need to get away from.  Experiment.  Don't be afraid to ditch things someone said you "need" (three Facebook accounts, one for personal, one for your business, one for your creative stuff?  No way!  Not for me.)  Don't follow any rules about using technology or social media that don't feel good for you or don't leave you time and space to just be you.  Do the techy thing your way, have fun with it, and don't forget to go outside and play in the sun sometimes.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

The face of "I want that!"
The face of "I want that!"

I'm reading Danielle LaPorte's The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul with two of my artsy friends.  We meet on Saturday mornings over Spreecast to talk about it.  I sit in my studio in my big, comfy chair with coffee and my journal and chat with my friends and feel very girly and artsy and modern.

We're still reading--I think I'm about half-way through the book--so I don't have a fully formed opinion, but it's been a really interesting and thought-stirring experience, so I wanted to write about now rather than wait until I've finished the book.

I've been a strong believer in Charles Kingsley's idea: “We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about.”  The Desire Map talks about deciding how you want to feel and using that desire to choose your path (wildly inadequate paraphrased description, but I hope you get the idea).

To me, I want to feel enthusiastic.  I want to be interested in the things around me and the things I'm doing, so this work on desire keeps bringing this quote to mind. I hope I find my enthusiasms. I hope I figure out how to live this enthusiastic life.

What are you enthusiastic about?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Entry Door

I've been thrown off my writing game in the past six weeks.  I'm off track, rusty and stiff.  I've been renovating a house, packing up the house we lived in for twelve years, and moving to the new place.  Writing didn't just take a back seat--it wasn't even in the car with me for a while there.

Now, although I'm still living mostly out of boxes, I'm feeling my writing calling to me again.  Blogging, newsletters, journals, stories.  I need to restart.  It's feeling like a bit much right now, though.  I'm still trying to sort things out after the move, so I hit overwhelm very easily.

So I did what I usually do when I'm overwhelmed.  I made a list.  Here, for anyone else needing to re-enter their writing life, is my list of small steps to help you get going again.

  • Write for two minutes.  Alternately, write two sentences.
  • Read through your current project. Don't make notes, do revisions, anything except read.
  • Make a list of the things you want to work on; pick one to start with then work on it for five minutes.
  • Write a backstory scene for your MC--a dream scene, daydream scene, the MC having dinner alone or with family or friends, anything that is interesting and lets you know your character better.
  • Get all of your stuff together. All of your notes and files and notebooks. All of your files and documents on your computer.  Sort and arrange them and get reacquainted.
  • Start something new.  Sometimes a fresh project with no time invested, no weight behind it yet, can help rev your writing engines.
  • Try an online writing site. My faves: One Minute Writer, Daily Page, 750words.com, Oneword.
  • Meet with a writer friend or friends.  Talk about books and movies. Talk about your writing and what you want to do with it.  Be writers together and inspire each other.

Anything to add to the list?  What do you like to do when your writing needs a reboot?  I'd love to hear your ideas.  Let's add to the list!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

NaNo2015

Are you participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this November?

It's a fun time full of writerly companionship, and if you're on the fence I hope I can convince you to jump on in.  I thought I'd share part of a post (with a link to the rest) I wrote for Willamette Writers this summer to help persuade you.

Have you tried NaNoWriMo? You should—it’s a great way to get your words flowing and get your stories out on the page.

Admittedly I’m biased in favor of NaNo. I’ve been signing up for it since 2003 and actively participating since 2006 (turns out you actually have to write something to get to 50K). I’ve taken part as a writer (and a winner seven times). I’ve been the Portland, OR municipal liaison. I’ve attended and hosted local write-ins and events and participated in the online forums. But most importantly, I have written. I have written in November even in years when writing was a struggle. NaNo did that for me.

(Read the rest of the post here.)

I really do love NaNo.  I'm hoping to participate this year even in the middle of a house renovation and move (which may be completely crazy, but I'm still thinking about it).  I hope you'll give it a try and give your writing a jolt of NaNo energy.

Drop me a line, let me know if you're jumping in, let me know how it's going.  I'll cheer you on and see you at the finish!

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Ladder

That subject line is a lie.  There *is* no hierarchy.  No genre is better than any other.  Literary fiction isn't better than genre fiction.

I am so fed up with writers feeling like they're second class citizens because they write genre fiction. I'm even MORE fed up with literary fiction writers, along with critics and so many people in the publishing industry, treating genre writes as if they actually are lesser than in some way.  As if writing genre is some sort of flaw. It's not!

Even Stephen King said that he spent years and years feeling ashamed about what he wrote, as if it wasn't quite good enough. Stephen King, for Pete's sake!

Recently I was listening to a writing podcast I normally enjoy.  The host used the phrase "just writing genre fiction." I was angry and appalled, and honestly I lost respect for her.  If she is brushing off large bodies of work because they aren't literary or mainstream fiction I find her less trustworthy.

Let me just state up front that literary fiction is not better than genre fiction or mainstream fiction.  And it has a much higher chance of getting dry and pretentious because the first aim of literary fiction is to do art and make some sort of deliberate statement about society, politics, etc.  When you let yourself wander away from good storytelling, your book will probably suffer.

Does this mean you shouldn't try to write literary fiction? Of course not!  But if you are pulled to write literary fiction, don't do it at the expense of your story. Fiction writers are storytellers first. And that means the story is more important than any moral message you want to get across.

And if you find yourself thinking genre fiction is lower class than mainstream or literary, think again. It's about the storytelling. Every category of fiction has good stories and bad stories.  That's not about the genre, that's about the writing.  Focus on the writing, on the story, on building a world and drawing your readers into it.  Don't get hung up on labels.

There are no categories of writing that are superior simply because of their subject matter.  It's about the story.  Dismissing entire genres as less-than is lazy thinking.  It keeps you from having to judge each story on its own merit.  Don't get hung up in that trap. And most importantly don't put yourself down if you love to read and write genre fiction.  You are just as good as any other writer, and don't let the snobbery convince you otherwise.
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

ListenHere's a great The Journeyman Writer podcast from  StoryWonk about what to write when you don't have an idea. It also touches on what to do when you feel your story idea has been done before (hint: write it anyhow!). It's a perfect subject right before NaNoWriMo.

I think we get hung up sometimes on wanting to write something that's never been done before (that will happen because you have never told this story before, so stop worrying about it!)  And we get hung up sometimes on thinking we should do something different.  "I love ghost stories, but my last three stories were about ghosts so I should do something different." Write your story. Write what you want.  Get a little inspiration from this podcast then go get some words down.

The Journeyman Writer: The First Step

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Stories to tell 3

I'm not a writer because I love to write.  I don't always love writing. I avoid it sometimes.  I even wash the dishes sometimes instead of writing.  Some days it not only doesn't come easy, it doesn't come at all, and I have to write "I don't know what to write" over and over in my notebook just to get a few hundred words to finally trickle out.

Some days the writing does come easy.  The words fly onto the page, and I look back and really like what I wrote.  I love the feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment I get from a good writing session. That's still not why I'm a writer.

I am a writer because I have stories to tell.  There are stories inside me all the time, some half-formed, some less clear than that.  But it's constant.  I am flooded with story ideas and fragments and whole stories, all the time.  I need to tell them.

I think this is why most writers write, but I think it can be hard to let this be our reason. There's a lot of talk out there about your passion--living your passion, finding joy in your work (I'm sure there are hundreds of other phrases like this, but you get the idea).  We think we have to be constantly on fire about our writing, in love with it, living for it.

I bought into all these ideas about finding my passion, and when I didn't love writing I thought I was wrong about being a writer.  I thought I had to love writing or else I wasn't really a writer and was doing the wrong thing.

That is not true.  I am a writer.  You are a writer.  We might love writing, we might not; that might change every day.  We are not writers because we love writing. We are writers because we have stories to tell.
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Reading

If you've been doing regular writing practice for a while (see Top 6 Reasons To Do Writing Practice) you will probably start wanting to spend time working on specific craft skills like descriptions, dialogue, action scenes, etc.  Good idea! Improving those skills makes your stories better.

So where do you start? There are lots of ways to work on your writing skills.  Do a search for "writing exercises about XYZ" and you will find tons of ideas to get and keep you going.  I thought I would share one of my favorite ways to decide what skill to focus on. Bonus--it involves reading!

First, pick out a favorite book or short story to re-read. If you choose a novel, you might want to go with a shorter one since it will be easier to analyze.

Next, write a few notes about what you remember about the book. Especially make notes about the parts you really loved (and the parts you weren't so thrilled with if there are any).  If you have thoughts about why you loved or hated different parts, note that too.

Now sit down to read, but keep your notebook and pen handy. When you come across something that is really wonderful write it down.  (If it's long, paraphrase if you like). Make a note of what category of writing it is (description, line of dialogue, etc.) and why you like it. Don't forget to write down the page number so you can go back to it later.

Once you've gone through the story making notes about your favorite bits, write up your overall impressions of the book. Give extra attention to what you liked the most about it and why.  Then go through your notes to see if there's one writing area that shows up most frequently.  Maybe you love the dialogue in this story, or maybe the descriptions thrill you to your toes.  

Whatever area really stood out for you in this book, pick that as your craft skill to work on.  Find some exercises that appeal to you, and make a plan to work on them for a few weeks until you're feeling happy with your skills in that area.  Don't try to emulate the author in your writing, but do think about how that author might write the exercise and what parts of that you would like to incorporate.  

You can also do this by picking an area to work on first and then examining a favorite story for great examples of that skill.  For example, if you know you want to hone your dialogue skills, seek out a book that you remember having great dialogue and read through it to find your favorite examples.  Analyze what makes you like them, then go to your writing exercises and work on putting those qualities into your own writing.

Of course you can pick an area to work on and do exercises without doing the analysis beforehand, but I find that doing this helps me focus on things I especially want to try to bring into my own writing.  I hope it helps your writing, too.

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Listen

This is a fantastic episode of Writing Excuses with Peter Beagle about ditching the "aspiring" when talking about being a writer and getting into the mindset of a professional writer.  So much good advice and charming anecdotes--I love this episode.

This is important for all of us, especially if we're in the early stages of our writing careers and aren't published yet.  How you look at your writing, how you think about it, has a great effect on your success and your feelings about your writing life.

Writing Excuses 9.44: Getting in the Writer’s Mindset with Peter Beagle

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Clockwriter

I don't think I've talked to one writer who hasn't said some form of "I don't have enough time for my writing." It's our favorite lament!  It's also the thing we let trip us up and keep us trapped more than anything else.

Why does this happen?  Some of it is a real shortage of time.  You're busy, right? Probably very busy.  Right now in our world "busy" is the new default mode. People used to ask, "How are you?" and the answer would be something like "fine" or "good" or something of that sort.  Now at least half the time I ask the question the answer I get is "busy."

Okay.  Everyone's busy.  Does that mean you can't get your writing done?  Maybe. (Ooh, you thought I was going to say "no" didn't you?)

There are times in life when there really isn't enough time to get everything done. There are times--moving, planning your wedding, having a baby, changing jobs, etc.--when you have to give more attention to one thing while letting other things take a back seat.

If you're in one of those phases then you might not have time for writing just now. And that's okay.  There will be more time for it later. For now, do things to stay connected to your writing life so your well doesn't run dry (I'll write more about that another time) and get back to writing when the balance shifts again.

If you're not in one of these times of life?  You have time to write.  You just think you don't, possibly because you don't know where to look for it or what it looks like.

Mostly what keeps us thinking we don't have enough time to write is a combination of these things:

  • Thinking we have to write for hours a day all in one chunk
  • Thinking we have to write every day
  • Thinking we have to write at the same time every day
  • Thinking writing is hard and time consuming so we couldn't possibly have time for it if we don't rearrange our whole lives for it

None of these is true.  You have time.  You don't need to have big chunks of time, either.  You would be amazed at how much you can write in 15 minutes (go to 750words.com and see how fast you can actually write). And the more you practice writing in smaller chunks and writing fast, the more words you'll be able to get down in a short time.

One other thing that can really make time into a stumbling block--not being ready with something to write.

Do not sit down to write with no idea what you want to write!  The one exception to this is if you're doing a free form writing practice session.  Then it's okay to sit down and just pour out whatever is in your head.  Other than that, have a plan for what your'e going to write.  Then sit down and do it.

Most importantly, just sit down and do it.  For five minutes.  Can you give me five minutes?  Try it.  And then let yourself be proud. Because five minutes of writing is writing.  It counts.  And it adds up.  It makes you a writer.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail