The Minimal Writing Laptop

The Minimal Writing Laptop

My poor laptop has seen better days. By virtue of being a piece of technology in the modern age, being 7 years old means it is painfully out of date. Progress has marched on, but it has not, and its welded 2GB RAM are not enough to handle more than two or three internet tabs.

I’m fortunate that I was able to afford my shiny desktop, and work provides a laptop, so my personal laptop falling behind the times isn’t a big deal. But where it has been able to shine is in its steady and only half-planned transformation into a minimal writing laptop.

With the laptop not able to handle much anyway, I slowly uninstalled most of the programs. Goodbye Broken Age, lovingly reinstalled on the desktop to finally finish one day; Picasa too, since all my photo drive storage and upload management is done on the more powerful desktop now. VLC, Simple Comic, and all my other “fun time” apps are gone. What does that leave me with?

  1. Some miscellaneous tools for work: TextWrangler, KeyNote, The Unarchiver. Sometimes if you gotta do work at home it’s more tolerable doing it lying down in front of a laptop.
  2. Evernote, Dropbox, Jumpcut and Quicksilver. Always required.
  3. Skype, because I call my family early in the morning and sometimes I can’t quite get out of bed.
  4. And Scrivener, my go-to for all my writing projects and management.

Plus all those annoying system apps that I know, from painful experience, cannot be uninstalled without dire consequences.

Of the above list, the only two real requirements for my minimal writing laptop are Scrivener, to do the actual writing, and Dropbox, to backup and sync the writing between computers. But minimalism comes in stages I suppose, and I haven’t quite escaped using my laptop for things besides writing. Still, it’s getting there, and maybe its dedication to a single task will encourage some more dedication in me too.

Revisiting Old Friends, or, Finally Finishing that Damn Book

You may or may not recall that I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. I didn’t make any this year, either, but there was something about the New Year that gave me the kick I needed to pull my book out of the proverbial drawer and make a go at finishing it.

So, it’s happening. After some time away I got to surprise myself again with the fact that the thing, two years in the making, is 70,000 words. 70,000 unproofed, unedited words, but 70,000 more words than I had two years ago, and in better shape than they were a year ago, and closer to being a finished thing that I start sending to agents than it’s ever been before.

There’s still some work to do and some scenes to finish, but I can see that little glow of the sunrise on the horizon, that hint of the end. Not the end of the process, but the end of this part of the process, which, with all my books and all my writing, I’ve never actually reached before.

Here it goes. I’ll keep you posted.

Walls and Metrics

As my self-imposed deadline for when I will be done with book edits is pushed eternally back (it was, once upon a time, December 2014) I begin to see that the patterns and habits I had that let me write the book aren’t the same ones that will help me edit, refine, and finish it.

Writing a page a day was a great habit to develop for writing a book from beginning to end. I never would have written more than 80,000 words without sitting down to write that at-least-one-page each day.

But, as has taken me an embarrassingly long time to either notice or admit, sitting down with the mindset of “I’m going to write one page today” isn’t helpful when looking at a fully written work and trying to make it better. Yes, at the beginning of the process I did go through the book and said this arc has to change, or that bit has to be cut, or this plot is going to play out differently, so there were parts I had to write from scratch. But the hodgepodge filling in of gaps, of grabbing bits and pieces from later chapters and sewing them onto earlier, of deleting huge swaths of the story and replacing them with others, doesn’t look very pretty if I just fill and cut and sew. There’s some skill, and maybe it’s a skill I don’t have yet, of smoothing all those disparate pieces out so you don’t see the Frankensteined version of old and new drafts but instead a completed work that, for all anybody but me knows, came into the world perfect and formed exactly as it is.

That’s why it was a nice kick in the pants to see the “Pursue Metrics that Matter” post over at Study Hacks, where Cal Newport kindly chose the example of a would-be writer to illustrate the point. Reading the post, I saw I’d hit a wall because I measured my success by the wrong metric: I was writing a page a day, but the page a day scheme wasn’t what I needed any more to move toward my end goal.

Now of course comes the question of what concrete, day-to-day process I do need. We’ll see how that goes.

Prerequisites of Creativity

For me they are:

1. A thing to write on/with

2. Water

3. Reasonable level of cleanliness and organization around me/in front of my face

4. Completion of urgent basic life chores (groceries, laundry, dog walking)

5. Overall general feeling of health and wellness (accomplished with eating decent, getting up and moving around sometimes, and otherwise taking care of myself)

6. Enough time to finish a thought

That’s it. There is no magical time, no ritual I perform to call down a muse from the heavens. Muses are silly. Inspiration is silly. Basic personal upkeep and happiness works better and makes more sense to me. If I manage that much, then I can write.

On Walking

Advice to Writers is a nice little blog of quotes that I usually skim over in my feed. I remembered this quote from last December, though, after I got Fumu and he and I settled into a routine:

Writing is about talent and creativity, but it’s also about discipline – about the ability to sit yourself down in that seat, day after day, often after eight hours of work, and make yourself do it, day after day, even if you’re not getting published yet, even if you’re not getting paid, even if ABC is hosting an all-star reunion of your favorite cast members from The Bachelor and The Amazing Race. It’s a form of training that’s as much physical as mental in nature – you sit down, you do the writing, no matter what distractions are out there, no matter that you’re tired or bored or uninspired.

Being a dog owner requires a similar form of discipline. You wake up every morning. You walk the dog. You do this whether you’re tired, depressed, broke, hung over, or have been recently dumped. You do it. And while you’re walking, you’re thinking about plot, or characters, or that tricky bit of dialogue that’s had you stumped for days. You’re out in the fresh air. Your legs are moving. Your dog is sniffing the butts of other dogs. It gives you a routine, a physical rhythm, a loyal companion, and a way to meet new people when you’re in a new place. It gets your body used to doing the same thing at the same time – and if you’re walking the dog for half an hour at the same time of every day, it’s an easy step to go sit in front of the computer and create for half an hour at the same time every day.

JENNIFER WEINER

Going for a walk with Fumu is a different sort of experience than running. When I run I have my music on, I’m paying attention to my stride and my heart rate. I have a focus, and though I’m aware of my surroundings I’m not really taking them in. When we go for a walk, usually when the little monster wakes me up at 5:30, I am minus music, minus phone, and at that hour, minus many human-made distractions. It’s just me and a dog on an empty street, in the cool and quiet morning hours.

I’ve started noticing flowers blooming that I’m not sure I saw before. The trash from last night bunched up where the wind’s blown it into buildings. The buildings themselves, which were always sort of a vague mishmash of color and faint familiarity but now I look at in detail while Fumu dives into some bush to pee. I hear all the time–mostly on the long list of crime and legal procedurals I pop in and out of–how unreliable eyewitness testimony is. And I totally get it. We don’t see half of what we see. Our brain just filters it for us, paring it down to the most immediate and necessary detail, so we don’t smash our noses into anything or walk into traffic.

I can see why walking meditation is a thing. For someone who spends the above-mentioned hours after an 8 hour day of work trying to write what the world looks like, what people see, and how they interact with physical space, I don’t actually spend a lot of time observing what’s around me. Four years in the same neighborhood and I couldn’t tell you what building was one block down, or what the logo colors are on the convenience store on the corner, or which side of the street you have to be on to get up to the tram platform.

I don’t necessarily need to teach myself these things, but by paying attention to them, I’ll get better at describing a made up building down the block, or convenience store logo, or tram platform, or whatever else I need.

On Walking

Advice to Writers is a nice little blog of quotes that I usually skim over in my feed. I remembered this quote from last December, though, after I got Fumu and he and I settled into a routine:

Writing is about talent and creativity, but it’s also about discipline – about the ability to sit yourself down in that seat, day after day, often after eight hours of work, and make yourself do it, day after day, even if you’re not getting published yet, even if you’re not getting paid, even if ABC is hosting an all-star reunion of your favorite cast members from The Bachelor and The Amazing Race. It’s a form of training that’s as much physical as mental in nature – you sit down, you do the writing, no matter what distractions are out there, no matter that you’re tired or bored or uninspired.

Being a dog owner requires a similar form of discipline. You wake up every morning. You walk the dog. You do this whether you’re tired, depressed, broke, hung over, or have been recently dumped. You do it. And while you’re walking, you’re thinking about plot, or characters, or that tricky bit of dialogue that’s had you stumped for days. You’re out in the fresh air. Your legs are moving. Your dog is sniffing the butts of other dogs. It gives you a routine, a physical rhythm, a loyal companion, and a way to meet new people when you’re in a new place. It gets your body used to doing the same thing at the same time – and if you’re walking the dog for half an hour at the same time of every day, it’s an easy step to go sit in front of the computer and create for half an hour at the same time every day.

JENNIFER WEINER

Going for a walk with Fumu is a different sort of experience than running. When I run I have my music on, I’m paying attention to my stride and my heart rate. I have a focus, and though I’m aware of my surroundings I’m not really taking them in. When we go for a walk, usually when the little monster wakes me up at 5:30, I am minus music, minus phone, and at that hour, minus many human-made distractions. It’s just me and a dog on an empty street, in the cool and quiet morning hours.

I’ve started noticing flowers blooming that I’m not sure I saw before. The trash from last night bunched up where the wind’s blown it into buildings. The buildings themselves, which were always sort of a vague mishmash of color and faint familiarity but now I look at in detail while Fumu dives into some bush to pee. I hear all the time–mostly on the long list of crime and legal procedurals I pop in and out of–how unreliable eyewitness testimony is. And I totally get it. We don’t see half of what we see. Our brain just filters it for us, paring it down to the most immediate and necessary detail, so we don’t smash our noses into anything or walk into traffic.

I can see why walking meditation is a thing. For someone who spends the above-mentioned hours after an 8 hour day of work trying to write what the world looks like, what people see, and how they interact with physical space, I don’t actually spend a lot of time observing what’s around me. Four years in the same neighborhood and I couldn’t tell you what building was one block down, or what the logo colors are on the convenience store on the corner, or which side of the street you have to be on to get up to the tram platform.

I don’t necessarily need to teach myself these things, but by paying attention to them, I’ll get better at describing a made up building down the block, or convenience store logo, or tram platform, or whatever else I need.

Places I Steal Time From

This week, I have:

  1. Written 984 words during a lull at work.
  2. Written for 20 minutes, though to be fair nodding off now and then, curled up under the covers at 6am after taking the dog out for a walk.
  3. Decided to write instead of watching another episode of Steven Universe. (After writing 825 words, I then watched another episode of Steven Universe.)
  4. Sat down to write, browsed Tumblr for 45 minutes, berated myself for browsing Tumblr for 45 minutes, browsed for another 5 minutes, and finally mentally kicked myself until I wrote 756 words.
  5. Kept saying “I’ll have all day to write tomorrow” and then used very little of tomorrow to write, but, ultimately, managed to use some of it.
  6. Sat down when I said I was going to sit down and written when I said I was going to write. Twice!

At no point did I not have enough time to write. Twenty sleepy minutes is enough. Hell, ten minutes is enough. And the truth is I could steal more time because there is time to steal. I like many humans am not really “so busy.” I am busy because I have pockets of time that don’t neatly align into large chunks of it, minutes here and half hours there that add up but not all side by side. I am busy because when I get up in the morning I say “later” and lounge around; I am busy because I get home and say I’ll relax for “just a minute” and it is never just. There are places to steal time from, places that time doesn’t need to be, like sleeping in, like falling down the internet rabbit hole, like all the TV I don’t even like that much but watch because human brains are silly.

If you want to write a book, you have time. Go do that instead of reading this.

On Delaying Dreams

I was supposed to be done with edits for my novel in December.

They aren’t done.

It’s March.

I can tell myself “I’ll do that later,” but not only do I not know if I will, I have no control in the grand scheme of the universe whether or not I can.

What I do have some control over, sitting in front of a computer, typing letters, is doing it now.

What I Learned from my Undergrad Creative Writing Major (and What I Learned After)

From my creative writing major:

1. Praise feels really nice.

2. Writing only for assignments and only the night before the assignment is due does not produce good writing.

3. Everyone is a terrible writer. You are terrible. Your other creative writing major classmate are terrible. The premed and engineering kids boosting their GPAs are terrible. Most of your professors are terrible. (Except that one professor who could never get tenure. She was great.) You might still learn something though.

4. Wow, that was a lot of money. Double major in something, and study abroad, and learn a foreign language. All your good ideas come from things outside the classroom anyway.

From after:

1. How to plot a story.

2. How to create believable characters.

3. How to write consistently.

4. Most people have bad taste, but so do you, so find those rare friends who have good taste and can be honest with you and show them your stuff if you want to make that stuff better.