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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Poor Google, Stuck with Our Random Searches

Image found here
Yesterday I tried to Google something while writing a scene in my YA dystopian novel. But Google can't help you if you can't find the words. All I could type was, "What are those..." and pause at my loss of brain function. I was searching for a description of those motorized thingies people ride upright, on sidewalks, looking like a scooter but not really? How the heck do you type that into Google?

Google tried very hard to help. Immediately it offered these top 10 searches, called up when all I wrote was, "What are those..."
  1. What are those pictures with the funny sayings
  2. What are those square barcodes
  3. What are those cameras called that print
  4. What are those little boxes on Twitter
  5. What are those barcode things
  6. What are those Russian hats called
  7. What are those funny pictures called
  8. What are those pictures that move called
  9. What are those scan things
  10. What are those white lines in the sky
Ah, how humanity hankers after knowledge. Though some of us seem particularly obsessed with barcodes and funny moving pictures, some get philosophical (or high) seeing Lucy doing lines in the sky. Perhaps I give the 10th searcher more credit than is due, because if you don't know what the heck jet trails/contrails/cirrus aviaticus are, then, I'm not sure what to do with you.

I don't know who these people are, but apparently I'm now a member of their ranks since I couldn't find words to describe those strange perambulating motorized thingies. Once again, can somebody tell me what the heck they are?

This is why we blog, and this is why we friend people on Facebook. Somebody else has got to know what's on the tip of our tongues. Because when we put me and a machine together, sometimes no matter how helpful the AI, it just can't always make associative leaps humans do. I need flesh and blood, neuron and sinew, heart and soul and spark, on the other end of my connection. 

My other thought is, Poor Google. We Americans are a seeking people, yet unsure of our language, keeping only 3,000 words at our disposal. (Unlike Shakespeare who apparently rocked his plays with 54,000.) We wonder, Are we're getting smarter or dumber, whether our inability to remember phone numbers since caller ID and electronic memory banks like contact lists? Are all these advances dumbing us down, or, are we able to offload more unimportant data and focus on the data that really matters?

Or do these top 10 searches only show our obsession with the trivial and techie? Bar codes, cameras, Twitter, and scans seem to dominate. Thank goodness for someone's concern over Russian hats.

I could meander so many directions with this subject, web out like the Internet into rabbit holes of trivia, but I do know one thing: curiosity is not dead. People are still asking questions, and their eyes sometimes do leave our screens to contemplate the sky.

Writing Prompts:

  • Do a random Google search with cryptic, vague language. Copy down the top 10 searches. Start a story or poem with one of the 10 lines.
  • Start a story, poem, or essay with a question and make a vow to answer it 5 different ways during the course of your rough draft. Go down various rabbit holes and see where they lead. 
  • Are you getting smarter or dumber? Write smart about it, either way. 
  • What rabbit holes of trivia and seemingly-meaningless data have led you to great new writing ideas? 
  • What questions is your latest writing work trying to answer? How is your writing an act of curiosity?
  • When was the last time you looked at the sky? What did you see? Go look at the sky now and write about what you do see, don't see, and what you wish you'd see. Ask a question about the sky. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

What Do You Give Up for Writing?

I know what I gave up for teaching.

Image found here
When I graduated college and chose a teacher education program, it was pretty clear I wasn't headed for prestige. I hadn't chosen management consulting, engineering, medicine, or Microsoft like my classmates. (Not that I wanted those careers or could do them, but kids asked me years later why I went to such a good school and became a teacher. I looked at them and said, "You're not worth it?")

For 14 years I gave up countless Sundays to grade papers and dignity to don wacky costumes or hang from a zip line. And money. It's not just the small salary but the money I paid over the years for classroom supplies, books, pizza, props, and sets. My kids needed stuff and they sure as heck were gonna have it.

I don't need to tell you what I got back. If you know a teacher who loves her job, you know the joy, inspiration, and meaning she gets from her students and her work.

Now I write every day and I make different kinds of sacrifices that don't always make sense to others. Do you make the same kinds of choices?
  • I give up time with friends and family. Are you screening? Yes. Actually, it's more like, Are you listening for the phone? Not at all. I can't look at the caller ID and not talk to people I love. So I have to go into The Cave, as author Anita Agers-Brooks calls it. People you love come to respect The Cave.
  • I give up exercise. The derriere spreads and the midsection sprawls. But the word count grows. 
  • I give up fun. Writing takes energy and time that could be spent at the theater, the movies, the art museum, the swing dance--all the things I used to do in spades. I need to find a way to bring these interests back into my life, but if you have two jobs like I do, it is what it is. And I don't think Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and L.M. Montgomery (my writing heroes since childhood) bemoaned the fact they couldn't catch the latest feature film and said, "Woe is me, I gotta write." I do love it, and thank God for Netflix and Showtime in the meantime!
  • I give up worrying about the day job. Teachers do not have this luxury; I didn't when the kids' troubles traveled home with me. Now that I don't teach a class every day, I can focus more on writing, which takes a tremendous amount of concentration. But for all the worries I relinquish, I give up incredible moments with amazing kids. Which is why someday, I am going back. 
  • I give up sleep and inner peace to write. Writing before 7 AM isn't easy. Facing demons isn't fun, and there are stories where the demons must out.  I hang in there while realizing that this kind of toughing it out is relative
Anything we love deeply takes sacrifice. With age and experience, I've gained clarity about what matters. Lately I've embraced some wisdom from a friend. He says we live within and between two circles:
  • our Circle of Influence
  • our Circle of Concern
The Circle of Influence is a tiny "location"--a spiritual, emotional, and physical place where you can get things done. You're effective, you're accomplished, you're significant. If I am centered and true to myself, then that influence is pure and meaningful. Those of us in care-taking professions, who sometimes care too deeply, need to get real and get humble: the world can march on without us.

The Circle of Concern is a much larger ring, where we remain concerned for our fellow man whom we can't affect. But we can still empathize, sympathize, pray, hope, wish. We may try to lift a finger for those in the Circle of Concern, but we often can't get things done. The way gets blocked because the Universe is saying, "Um, not your job. Back off." 

It's been a lifelong journey to this point where I can say that writing and a small group of folks belong to my Circle of Influence. No, I'm not a very good friend to acquaintances many days. I'm not always the greatest coworker or citizen. I won't win any awards for activism or sainthood. But I hope I send good vibes, as much as possible, to those people in the Circle of Concern.

My friend says there's another circle, a ring beyond of deep, outer space. As he told me, "Circle of Influence, Circle of Concern. Outside of that we'll call, Who Gives a S#@*."

Today, what must you give up so you can give a s#@* about your writing? Isn't that your Circle of Influence? 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Focus, People; Focus!

"If Mark Twain had Twitter, he would have been amazing at it. But he probably wouldn't have gotten around to writing Huckleberry Finn."

-- Andy Borowitz

Image found here
Despite the best intentions with my writing, I've become this wandering, forgetting, unproductive woman. This woman with adult-onset ADD. Check out this charming, silly British video and see if you recognize yourself. For anyone older than 35, ask yourself if you used to be different. You know, able to concentrate for longer than 10 minutes? Ah, the good ol' days.

The kitchen timer is working for 30 minutes at a time; no worries there. Bits of writing are getting done. But facing my unfocused behavior and my relationship with Facebook and other modern distractions means I've had to try other strategies.

These tactics worked this week to keep my focus:

  • clearing my desk (not my office) of clutter. This means grabbing everything in sight and tossing it on the floor. This is key because if you start cleaning, two hours later you'll have a clean office. But you won't have writing. Writing is more important. And when I can see nothing but my keyboard and the screen, the way is clear and the words will flow.
  • locking out the cat. I felt better when I learned from my writing partner I'm not the only one with an obsessive cat. Sonny (blog mascot, sure, but 100% feline diva) knows just how to emit babylike cries to break concentration and paw me with such plaintive looks I'm convinced I'm the worst cat mom, ever. So I turn up the music, lock the boy out, and let Sonny do whatever he wants outside my domain.
  • making a checklist. My problem is, I'm rushed with so many ideas, I'm afraid I'll lose them. So I jot them down fast as I can on random pieces of paper (thus the desk clutter) and I also make a big list of All I Want to Do. Then I get back to writing. 
  • starring priorities on the checklist. Much as I want to do it all, I have to choose. As mystery author and freelance writing business expert, Hope Clark, writes, "Pick one project that will represent you well in 2012. Then center your world around it." Hard as this is for me, I remember when I'm avalanched with ideas to pick the priority. YA fiction. HOW WENDY REDBIRD DANCING SURVIVED THE DARK AGES OF NOUGHT. So when Sarah gets back to me on my most recent draft, you can bet I'll drop my short stories and next education book idea. And though I've been picking at some short stories these last few weeks, I know I need to get back to my YA dystopian novel project ASAP. (Am very excited about that one, by the way.) But you get the idea; I have dreams of being a Renaissance woman but I'm more of a Mistress of Mishmash, a Hit or Miss Gal Trying to Do Too Much. And the only way Wendy's story got written was by getting up daily for six months and doing nothing else first save make the coffee. Nothing got in my way, not even Sonny. 
Do what Hope Clark says. She just released her mystery, Lowcountry Bribe, a labor of love for many years while she built a business teaching writers how to get funds, find publishing venues, and keep focus. If you don't already subscribe to her Funds for Writers newsletters, check them out. It's been yet another ongoing strategy I've employed--the encouragement of a fellow writer who doesn't give up and doesn't make excuses.

How's your focus? If it's a little fragmented, take a breath, skim some survival strategies, and get Hope in your inbox.  

Writing Prompts:

  • Which social networking site has you in its grip? And not in a good way? Write about the high it gives you and estimate how much time you spend on it per day. Ask yourself these questions: 10 years ago, what were you doing with the time you now spend "networking"? What are you doing on these sites that matters, meaning, are you connecting and comprehending, or are you bragging, gossiping, ranting, or snooping? How can you use the best of social networking to achieve your writing goals? How can you limit your time on these sites? When you think about your life, how do you want to spend your time? 
  • What is your number-one distractor when you've sequestered yourself for writing? Name its causes and its remedies. Make your list and implement them at your next writing session. Inform the irritants (your cat) that you won't be bested or disrespected next time around. 
  • What is your number-one priority for your writing this year? (This question is from Hope Clark. Check out her newsletter for an exploration of how to get your mind on one relentless goal.)