Thursday, September 30, 2010

Simplicity and the Art of Writing

No, this isn’t a diatribe on how to craft the perfect sentence or anything like that. This is going to be a short discussion on how to simplify the how of your writing, rather than the mechanics of crafting fiction.

I don’t know about you, but I used to spend an inordinate amount of time setting up things before diving into a task. My wife used to say I’d procrastinate but it was something more distinct than that. I wasn’t procrastinating because I didn’t want to do my work. Hell, writing was supposed to be a fun task, right?

But whenever it came to free time, I should have found myself sitting down, writing fiction. Inevitably, however, I'd find myself messing around with my laptop, my mp3 player or some other piece of hardware or software. In essence, hours would go by and I’d pop my head up and it would be time for bed, all my free time frittered away.

Lately, I’ve simplified a lot of what I do. I’ve pared down my hobbies (I used to have a fair number), I’ve focused my free time on three things: 1) chores and tasks around the house [garbage, pool maintenance, lawn]; 2) my wife and kids [picking them up from school, etc] and 3) writing fiction. In order to focus on these 3 things, I’ve simplified how I do them so that I can keep on track.

For the chores and tasks around the house and the kids’ schedules, I’ve taken my Blackberry, synced my calendar up with Google Calendar and add EVERY scheduled nuance into it. So, if I need to leave work early to pick up my kids from school, it’s in my calendar and a reminder pops up 15 minutes beforehand.

I live and die by this calendar. Everything that makes up my life is in it. It syncs seamlessly between the Google Calendar and the Blackberry. I never used to focus so hard on things like this. I used to think they were for control freaks. Now, I realize I have to stop generalizing and realize that these tools are there to help me. I even schedule my writing time in there to be reminded. I love that this little process helped streamline a lot of my life and help me identify free time.

For keeping up with the writing, I’ve decided to pare down the distractions that used to keep me away from accomplishing it. For instance, I’ve gotten myself an old laptop with a wireless card I can remove. This way, I pop it out and I can’t get online. If I can’t get online, I can’t get distracted with Twitter or my blog or what Lindsey Lohan’s doing or what new books came out this week or what Seth Green had for breakfast. Don’t get me wrong, all those are interesting things (I'm writing this blog, right?). But they’re complete and utter distractions from getting work done.

I simplified my writing environment to include this gnarly old laptop, running Ubuntu 10.04 (a Linux operating system that’s FREE) and OpenOffice for word processing. I don’t bother with a ton of writing tools. I don’t have a big support system of software. I listen to tunes with Exaile and I occasionally IM with people using Pidgin. And through a marvelous tool called pidgin-musictracker, I can combine the two to show people what I’m listening to. My point is this: I’ve pared down the entire writing experience to a crusty laptop that’s still portable (and light), and a word processor.

Welcome to 1987. I’ve basically thrown myself back to the days when I wrote my stories on an old IBM Selectric III my grandfather brought home from RCA when it was going to be replaced. Except I can tote this particular word processor around a bit more easily.

Yes, it weighs more than it looks like it does!

My friend Mike Oliveri’s got it right. He says here that you have to write whenever you get a moment to do it. EVEN IN A HOSPITAL WAITING ROOM. He’s right. You take every free minute you can and devote it to what you care about. For me, I recently realized that what I care about are the 3 things listed above: the home, the wife and kids and writing. Everything else is secondary. (OK, hockey might be nudged in there with writing, but it doesn’t take away from the writing, so we’re still ok there!)

I keep that beat up laptop with me everywhere I go. Anytime might be a good time to write and having a quick-loading laptop with minimal software (for ease of use) is a good thing. And when it’s inappropriate to have an old Compaq N620c under your arm, I have my Blackberry and Evernote to dump ideas into. Just last night, I went out to pick up some food at Friday’s. I had an idea gnawing at me for a few hours so I sat down under one of their incredibly bright, weird star-shaped lights and punched that idea into Evernote. That got it out of my mind and into a place I can see it again later.

I wanted to share these ideas with you because, if you're like me, there's never a good time to write. I'm currently putting this little blog post together on that laptop while watching my kids. You've gotta make the time, if you're going to have output.

Write when you can, where you can, HOWEVER you can. Write because that’s who you are and writing is what’s important to you.

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