Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Summer's End

In one week, on August 17, school begins again. Besides teaching three courses, I’ll resume my role as chair of the Xavier University IRB. And, even though I have some time left before I actually return to campus, I’ve already begun working on syllabi and the myriad other things that have to be completed before I step in front of my new classes the first time. This means that summer writing is essentially over for me. I’m saddened by that, but happy to call the summer of 2011 one of my most productive ever. I finished a 31,500 word novella, “Under the Ember Star,” finished putting together a collection of my horror fiction at over 70,000 words called “In the Language of Scorpions,” which called for me to write several new stories, and wrote or started several promising stories outside of that collection.

An important element in my production was my Xavier laptop, which I brought home with me at the start of summer. In the last few years, because of a motorcycle wreck and just the sheer impact of aging, I’ve found it harder and harder to sit for long hours in my home office chair in front of my desktop computer. My legs begin to burn and tingle and cramp. My back starts to twinge. But this summer, I stacked up a backrest on my bed, slid my laptop on the ‘lap desk” that Lana bought me, and worked much of the time outside my home office. Ninety percent of “Ember Star” was written that way, and I actually wrote faster than ever before.

On Monday I hauled my work computer back to work. I hate packing and unpacking it every day so I left it there. Even if I tried bringing it home every night, I would inevitably forget it at some crucial moment. So, yesterday I got myself a new laptop for home. I wrote this blog post on it, leaning against the backrest on my bed. I bought one with a 15+ inch screen, and also got a better designed mouse. The bigger screen allows me to blow the font size up to make writing easier on my aging eyes, and the new mouse eases my clicking burden.

What does this all have to do with writing? My point is that our writing worlds change as we get older. They have to. I can’t put in the marathon sessions in front of a desktop computer that I used to. I need bigger fonts for my eyes and anything that eases the burden on my wrists and hands and the rest of my body. I’ve found that being flexible in where I write and in the tools I use has allowed me to maintain, or even increase, my productivity while still protecting my physical wellbeing. Since writing is a huge part of my life, that’s incredibly important to me.

I’ve never been a particularly picky writer, in the sense of having to have everything just so in order to get words onto the page. But I used to have a narrower range of locations that I could write well in. I’ve found now that, by using a laptop, I can arrange just about anywhere to suit my writing needs. I’ve also found, though, that my tools have had to get more flexible too. All I used to need was a blank screen. Now I need my tools to ease the burden on my body so that it doesn’t protest while my mind is creating. Fortunately, we live in a wonderful world where writing tools are concerned. The right computer, right keyboard, right mouse, right software is out there. You just have to find them, and it may require a bit of experimentation before you do. But you need to have your tools work for you rather than against you.

How about you? How have you changed the way you write over the years? Have you gotten more flexible? Less flexible? What could you do tomorrow to make your writing easier? Maybe it’s time to do it.


David J. West said...

When I first started writing it was generally late (that part is still true) but it would be in some favoriye haunts-coffee shops etc, where I would sit for 3-4 hours at a time, perhaps 5 days a week getting rough drafts down in a spiral bound notebook. Then doing the next draft on the PC.

But these days I begin my roughs on the PC in my office.

I honestly don't know what I could do to make my writing any easier, except perhaps truly shut the door on distractions.

G said...

Early on, I used to do all of my writing on the computer. But just like you, the anomaly that is my body necessitated that I change my writing habits.

I moved over to writing a lot of stuff with pen and paper, then transcribing my scribble to the computer.

Lately though, I have found that writing by hand has an added bonus. Usually whenever I got done adding whatever I had written to my story, nothing else would crop up and I would call it a day.

Now, after I've added in what I wrote (anywhere from 2 to 6 pages), I wind up getting inspired to push myself a little further and write more.

In any event, I'll probably always have that mix of computer/pen and paper to use for my writing, simply because it's the best combination I can come up with for what ails me.

the walking man said...

Pen & paper, computer, lap top, house, coffee shop. *shrug* The only thing that matters to me and has changed over the years beyond the tools is there has to be a cup of coffee right at hand or within a few feet. It doesn't matter sit , stand or lay down with 9 fused vertebrae there is never a perfectly comfortable position and the place is immaterial to me because if I am engrossed in what I'm doing...I don't notice it.

Ron Scheer said...

Good post with some good ergonomic issues. I have to work at a table or desk and must keep my shoulders back and feet flat on the floor or pay a physical toll. Getting up and moving around is important, so more coffee means a trip to the kitchen. Reference books are on a shelf across the room. Then some stretching every day to keep from developing hip pain. Also PT work for the shoulder. We sure weren't engineered for sitting at computers.

Charles Gramlich said...

David J., I've never been able to write at a coffeehouse. It sounds cool to me but the noise and distraction is too much.

G., I wish I could do more handwriting. I do when I am trapped in meetings and things at times, but I have such bad handwriting I have a hard time reading my own scribbles.

Mark, the place becomes irrelevant to me too, although in public I just can't move forward very well. Too many people. People distract me.

I do the stretching too but can't do stretches that "twist" my back. That makes things worse. but when I'm at school I do a lot of walkign and that helps a lot.

laughingwolf said...

couple things you may want to look at, charles:

an 'aeron' chair, made by herman-miller [?], your body adjusts it as you move... tad pricey, around $1000... comes in three sizes... but what is your physical health worth?

i don't have one... yet!

seems a lot of progress has been made on the voice-operated word processing front... available for both mac and win, by various mfrs

may take some getting used to, since you no longer type

would be nice if you could see it onscreen, as you dictate, dunno if you can

i usually begin pen-to-paper then transpose to computer... probs i have with that: i edit as i [re]write, and it's time... consuming...

Jewel Amethyst said...

I've always written in my bed on my laptop. The time that I tried writing in my home office my productivity reduced so much that I had to revert back to the bed writing.

Right now, I am in the backyard posting this comment while my kids play in the inflatable pool and sandbox. I've finally found a way to meet my writing obligations and parenting duties simultaneously.

And it is fun....

Angie said...

I wrote by hand only out of necessity, a very long time ago. I got an electric typewriter for my 15th birthday and the pencils (never liked pens for whatever reason) got tossed and I haven't looked back since. I haven't been able to imagine writing more than a grocery list or a phone message by hand for decades.

When I was... 22 I think, I got my first PC. PC XT, 4.7 MHz, with a turbo option that took it to a blazing 10 MHz, zoom! LOL! It seemed fast at the time, though. I ditched the typewriter and moved to computer and haven't looked back from there, either.

I wrote on various desktop computers for twenty-some years, and have only recently started using my laptop at home, when previously it was a travel-only option. I developed a severe edema in my feet and lower legs, and I have to spend a lot of hours every day with my feet up. I'm getting used to the laptop, although I'd prefer to be able to stick with the desktop.

Re: distractions, it depends how a story is going. If something's chugging along, I can pull out the laptop even in a crowded airport gate and bang out a page or three until our flight is called. If not, then not. Never tried the coffee shop option.


Paul R. McNamee said...

I didn't change computers or setup, but I did buy Scrivener and it's been great. You can have a one-stop place for all notes, attachments, outlines, prose - whatever you want and keep it all together.

It used to be Mac only but there is a Windows version now.

BernardL said...

Yep, like you the laptop option makes writing much more comfortable. Keeping a work laptop is a must for me as well. Steps to raise the comfort level as the years go by is vital. :)

Ty Johnston said...

Oh, gosh, I've changed my writing habits so many times over the years, I've almost lost count.

I started in the mid '80s with a portable manual typewriter, turned to an electric Smith Corona in the late 80s, then wrote by pencil in notebooks for a long while. In the mid '90s I started writing regularly on a computer and have done so since.

My most recent computer purchase was a little HP 10-inch netbook. I have a larger HP laptop, a 20 or 21 inch or something or other, but got tired of carrying that beast around since I write frequently at book stores and libraries.

Scott Parker said...

Early on, I did my best not to be chained to a 'writing habit,' that is I have to have everything the same in order to write. I just write on whatever I have. This summer, I've been maintaining the 'school-year' wake-up time and writing in the morning for an hour or so. Usually, I write on my patio, laptop on the table, coffee next to me. It's nice.

Also, I have PlainText on my iPod touch so if I feel the need to write something, I can and sync it up later.

Another alternative you can try--that I do everyday in my stay-at-home tech writing job--is a standing desk. Don't bother buying one. Just fix one up with boxes and stuff and see how your body reacts.

Charles Gramlich said...

laughingwolf, I am so much in the typing mode I don’t know if I can even think without typing these days. I’d have to give it a try. I need to look into one of those chairs, though.

Jewel Amethyst, I have become quickly used to the bed writing thing and liking it. I will be doing more in the future.

Angie, I wrote my first book, unpublished, on an electric typewriter. I’m the same way. Since then I hardly write much at all by hand. The great thing about the computer was the ease of revision. It was hard to correct on an old typewriter and man I like the rewriting stuff. I’m liking my laptop more and more. Last time we got new computers at school they asked us if we wanted a desktop or laptop. I chose a laptop and it’s become more and more important to me.

Paul R. McNamee, never tried Scrivener. Hum, may have to look into it.

BernardL, I never quite realized how much my body would start to betray me as I aged. It no longer does anything I tell it to do. But with adjustments in tools I am so far able to keep going.

Ty Johnston, By 84 I was using a computer for all my writing. Had one available to me in grad school. Never have done much writing in public places. But I’m not much of a public person. I did a lot of handwriting early. Wrote a lot of Swords of Talera in pencil in a notebook. I still have that notebook.

Scott Parker, I’ve strongly considered the standing desk. I have a bar that is about the right height but not exactly what I need. I may go that way at least part of the time. The last couple of years I’ve been writing on my back deck quite a lot.

KeVin K. said...

I began writing on the computer we had to buy the kids for school at the kitchen table from 3AM to 6AM -- when I had to get those kids up for school and myself ready for work. During the day I'd carry a steno notebook and write when I had a few moments. Like at red lights. If I had time, I'd do some transcribing sometime between supper and bed. Did that for years, running on 4-5 hours sleep.
Buying a laptop led to my coffee shop phase. Wrote most of three novels (two released as paperbacks and one as a serial online) and half a hundred short stories and articles at the Shipyard Port City Java. Headphones on, baseball cap pulled low so all I could see was the computer, and reference materials stacked around me. Wrote until I couldn't feel my legs; got so I couldn't write anywhere else.
In the last three or four years I've become more flexible and less ritualistic in my writing. Accepting the fact that there is no connection between where I'm sitting and the quality of the words I produce has been a difficult step for me. Now I can write most anywhere.
(But don't tell the tax folks. I'm claiming our son's former room as my home office and swearing I do all my work in there. In here.)

Cloudia said...

A wireless mouse is wonderful!

Aloha from Waikiki;

Comfort Spiral
> < } } ( ° >


Charles Gramlich said...

Kevin, in the 90s I had a pretty standard time for writing and also a standard place, my home office at the time. Eventually, life sort of forced me out of that comfort zone and I've since found myself to be much more flexible. I plan to take my laptop off as part of my taxes. Should make a serious bite out of any profit I make this year.

Cloudia, Definitely so. I've had one before and liked it a lot.

eric1313 said...

I just got a laptop too! I nice Dell. It belonged to a friend of mine with whom I have been working on a long term project. It's actually payment for a story I need to start serious production on, though I have been caught up and loving doing research for it.

Talking about these projects and having the laptop really don't get the job done! lol... it requires, as they say in the music recording biz, "ass time" (the recording of Dark Side of the Moon and anything by Boston or Nine Inch Nails or Ministry are all fine examples of concentrated ass time). I need Lots of it. Need to sit and turn on the dreaded blank document1 thingy... yeah word program. That thing, since I have done most of my work online over the past year or so... or longer.

Charles Gramlich said...

Eric1313, music feeds my head very well, although I don't listen to it while I write. But in between writing I get a lot of mood stuff and feeling from it.

Carole said...

Excellent post. I found that in preparing for my son's wedding, I might as well not even have a computer but I am writing lists of things to get accomplished if that counts. :)

Erik Donald France said...

Right on the money. All makes perfect sense. I tend to go station to station as well, also no longer always lugging a laptop around unless, sometimes, when on the road.

Comfort + setup, probably always important, but certainly feels more important than ever as the years roll by . . .

Vesper said...

I write on my laptop and on any bit of paper available if an idea hits me when the laptop is not around. I used to fill whole notebooks but not anymore. I like how easy it is to make changes in your text, to move words around, to add stuff.

G said...

Charles, my cursive (for lack of a better word) is pretty much shot. A doctor has more legible cursive than I do.

I print everything when I write by hand.

Tedious for sure, but its the only way I can read my writing.

Lynn Emery said...

I used to only write in daytime, before the sun went down. Thought I'd never be able to write at night. Then sold and suddenly had a deadline. A writing routine at night (after day job), kept me ahead of those deadlines.

Once I got my first computer writing any other way went out. Bad handwriting for one thing. Also I write faster, and nothing beats cut, paste, block and copy. Love. Then I develop the instant research habit by hopping on the Internet if needed while writing. Joy!

eric1313 said...

Music is another facet of art. When I do well in one, subconsciously I grow in my other arts.

What they have in common is that to make the best possible music you need to sit through the rigors of the creation and [attempted] perfection process. That's the ass time I was referring to. But a well made recording always promotes yet more ass time by the well tuned listener.

Charles Gramlich said...

Carole, any progress will take you there eventually. Most of the time it’s the only way to work, I’d say.

Erik Donald France, the physical side of writing has definitely gotten more and more important to me over the past few years.

Vesper, that’s the thing. It takes away the slogging in writing and makes the art of it, the rewriting, so much more enjoyable, and easy.

G, I’ve started doing the printing too but sometimes I forget when I get in a hurry. And then I’m sunk.

Lynn Emery, the research aspect is really helpful, although at times when I’m doing rough draft I turn off all internet and email so I won’t be tempted to do anything but get the story down.

eric1313, I agree with the musical aspect. To me, really good prose reads like poetry with a rhythm and music of its own. I think that’s why I don’t listen to music “while” writing. The outside music interferes at that point with the internal music I’m hearing from the prose.

Liane Spicer said...

My tools and work stations have also evolved over the years, but I haven't thought much about the preservation of the aging body part of it.

There are signs that I will have to start soon, though. I recently realized I have to increase the font size on most web pages I visit.

Lana Gramlich said...

I am sorry about the end of Summer, despite how much you accomplished. Here's to next year! :)

Charles Gramlich said...

Liane, and so the inevitable begins. :)

Lana, indeed so. I'm looking forward already