All Out Of Ink

February 28, 2012

iLove (or, Riding the Tide of a Trend)

I’ve always been practical, never trendy. I’ve always carefully researched what I wanted and usually decided on products or ways of doing things that were a little less traditional or a little less popular. But I’ve gotten what I wanted out of my decisions most of the time, so I’ve been fine with that.

This time, no. All this changed over a small electronic device.

The first time I got a good look at an iPad was when my sister got one for her birthday. At the time, I wondered what the point was. It was a… computer? without a keyboard. Or was it an mp3 player that was way too big for my pocket? Or was it a giant phone that you couldn’t get a phone number on? Someone said it was a touch-screen e-reader you could use to get online.  I couldn’t figure what good it was if I had all the other stuff that did what I needed.

Then, the more  I thought about the iPad, the more I discovered I wanted to think about it. It was so… pretty. And the way things moved around at the touch of a finger! I have never owned an iAnything, or perhaps my amazement would have been less pronounced. I learned what apps were, and how many different kinds were out there; for every necessary function, there were several to choose from. I found myself drawn to the iPad advertisements online. I started thinking about how nice it would be to own one. I thought they must make keyboards for them.

One day, as I was preparing to head to the coffee shop for some studying and writing, I realized how heavy my giant laptop was and how much more use I would get out of my study tools if it was small enough to take with me.  The times I took it with me, I had to carry two bags. When I left it at home, I inevitably wanted something that was stored on it. This would all be so much simpler, I realized, if I had an iPad.

Of course, other brands had less expensive answers to the iPad.  Some had compatibility with common components that the iPad didn’t boast. Those were appealing… for about three seconds. What I wanted, I came to realize, was more than an iPad. It was a trendy toy that made me look like everybody else. I visited the Apple website. I clicked and stared and smiled.

Where is the writing lesson here? Well, I’ll tell you.  When you are always true to yourself, always practical, and always careful to be specific about your intentions and actions, you will find yourself consistent and your writing honest. But if every now and then, you fall in love with a trend or a market, or you are tempted to toss your true and practical self aside in favor of following what’s in style… Go for it! You just might end up as happy with your decision as I am right now as I click away on this Bluetooth keyboard and watch the words appear on the screen of my beautiful new best friend. My iPad.

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May 15, 2011

Make a Note of It

Filed under: Inspiration,Writing Tips — Laynie @ 10:37 pm

Even for a diligent writer, sometimes writing takes a backseat to the necessary living of life. With kids, that’s even more true. Big things, small things, and nearly-invisible things gang up on you. Well-meaning (or sometimes know-it-all) folks will tell you to take things one at a time. These people may come from any of the following scenarios: 1. They do not have children, 2. They have forgotten what children are like, or 3. They have been living in a land of makebelieve long enough to think they can create reality by saying things out loud enough times. (The third situation can be caused by re-reading “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” too many times in a row, so be careful; you could be next.)

There are nooks and crannies writing can fit into. This is not to be confused with cracks it might fall between. Those are larger and easier to find. No, nooks and crannies are the minutes in between things. It would be nice if you could collect these in a jar like loose change, then count them out and use them all at once. But you can’t. Instead, stick notebooks where these precious seconds tend to happen. In the glove box of the car for while you’re waiting in the pick-up line at the kids’ school. In the spice cabinet for while you’re cooking. In your lunchbox or locker for breaks if you go to an outside job. This sometimes works better than trying to carry one notebook everywhere.

Instead of collecting moments and using them all at once, collect pages. When you put the page from today with the page from yesterday and the three pages from last week, it starts to resemble something. You can make pages from many things. A plot line. A bit of dialog. A character sketch. A random line or stanza for a possible poem. A striking turn of phrase. Don’t limit yourself to your own thoughts. If you’re in the grocery store and overhear a stranger say something uncommonly wise or particularly stupid, make a note. That could be useful too.

One of my favorites is from a doctor’s office. A man waiting for his appointment was talking to the lady who had brought him. She was associated with an assistance program for his transportation. It made me sad when I realized she wasn’t paying any attention at all to what he was saying. I paid attention.

“I was miserable and I should have gotten out long before I did,” he said. “I had every right to. But there were those good moments and I wouldn’t have missed them for the world.”

At this point, the best way to conclude this entry would be to say writing is like that and draw a nice comparison. I can’t. I don’t think it has anything to do with writing. Writing isn’t something you should ever get out of, in my opinion.

The statement stuck with me because it meant something else. Three years have passed, and I’m still finding new ways to understand the wisdom in it. I know it’s partly about this one vehicle I owned. I think it’s probably about some of the friends I’ve had. So far, it speaks most directly about all the places I’ve lived, especially the ones I hated.

I wrote his words on a fresh page in the notebook I had with me. I wanted to remember them. Someday, I am going to use them at the end of something special. Until then, I will keep making pages in the moments between things. When writing takes a backseat to the living of life, I will refuse to feel guilty about it. Instead, I will enjoy the living. In fact, I will enjoy it twice because it is what I plan to write about.

May 7, 2011

Can You Say “Mama?” (or, The Words You Don’t Have)

Filed under: Writing Tips — Laynie @ 10:08 pm

Em is a little over a year and a half old. (Almost 20 months, for those of you who divide by 12 easily.) She has words she likes to say. She enjoys using the words she knows. I’ve caught her falling asleep at naptime singing “Juice, dog, cookie, moon, juice, Dad, cat, ball…” though it seems her favorite song is “Cookie cookie cookie….” When she wants to know what something is, she asks, “Dat?” When she wants to be picked up, she asks “Up?” And when she wants to be put down, she asks, “Up?”

So we’re still working on a few things.

I think she gets aggravated sometimes with the number of words she doesn’t know. Sometimes, she’ll pick up something she knows the word for, such as her stuffed cat, frown at it, and tentatively try a word that isn’t right. “No,” I can see her face say, “That’s not it.” And she’ll try again. And again. I can see her confusion, her frustration, as she realizes she can’t remember. That’s a frustration I wouldn’t will on anyone.

It’s also a frustration I know all too well as a writer. “There’s a word for that,” I frequently say. “There’s a better way to say this.”

I try a word, a phrase, a paragraph, a few pages… only to come back to my original problem. I just know there’s a way to say this, and it is illuding me.

The first bit of advice I have is not to get hung up on that one thing. Give it some thought, frown over it a little. And then, move on. Like they used to tell you in school, if you don’t know the answer, skip that one and come back to it later. There’s no reason to let go of everything past this snag. Make a note in the margin, leave yourself a parenthetical message in the text, draw a blank line where that bit should go, and move along. After it sits in your mind a while, the right words might come to you. If not, you can struggle over it later when the next section of your piece is not at stake.

The next suggestion I have is to try saying it the wrong way. If you know there’s a right way but you can’t remember how, then put down the wrong thing and tell yourself you’ll come back to it later. When you look at it again, you might realize the “wrong” way is closer to your original intent than you thought.

Another (rather novel) idea: Look it up. For those times when it is a single word, I have a couple of best friends. Dictionary and Thesaurus. When it’s not convenient to lug extra books (even small ones) or I’m too lazy to walk across the room for them, I pull up dictionary.com for all my spelling, definition, and thesaurical needs. (No, thesaurical is not a word. I’m taking my own advice and saying it the wrong way because I’m not sure there is a word for that.) I like that site in particular because it is easy to remember, and it has dictionary entries from several sources for each word. Plus, you can click the Thesaurus tab at the top to switch instead of having to pull up another page. I’m all for simplicity. It saves time. And as we know, when the baby wipes are being gleefully yanked out of the package one by one, every second counts.

The bottom line here is that writers have moments like Em does, where we know there’s a way to express ourselves, but it’s just out of reach. There are words we don’t have, but that doesn’t mean we will never have them. Even if we keep stumbling over the same snag over and over, we’ll eventually get it. Just like one day, Em will point to me and say “Mama,” instead of “Dat?” She knows what I am. She just doesn’t have that word yet.

May 5, 2011

The Wall

Filed under: Writer's Block,Writing Tips — Laynie @ 9:17 pm

There are many entries in the Great Phone Book of Life for The Wall.

The Wall, Hang a Picture On
The Wall, Arrange the Furniture Along
The Wall, What Color Shall We Paint
The Wall, Another Brick In

Each of those has its own listing. My number, however, has multiple entries.

The Wall, Clean the Crayon off of
The Wall, Beat My Head Against
The Wall, I Said Do Not Lick (I only wish I was kidding)
and the one that hurts the most:
The Wall, I Was Writing and I Hit

Throughout my writing life, I have hit many walls, some of them repeatedly. Usually, I experienced a period of great frustration, re-discovered my direction, and pressed forward with renewed determination (which is never as simple as that sentence makes it sound).

One day, as I was making rip-roaring progress on a book project, I ran into a very little wall. This wall was 19.75 inches tall, um, I mean 19.75 inches long. She arrived by scheduled c-section one Friday morning. When I saw her, I said, “Hello. Are you confused?” I knew how confused I felt much of the time, and I’d had 29 years to adjust to the variations of life. For her, the world was suddenly much bigger than she’d realized, and it wasn’t very comfy. Poor little thing.

I didn’t wait for her to answer. I passed out.

When I regained consciousness about a year later, I was unpacking in a new house. Boxes of notebooks, journals, legal pads, file folders, presentation portfolios, and plain old stacks of paper filled with my writing. I prepared to put them in attic storage, but my husband, Chris, stopped me. “You’re not putting that stuff in the attic.”

“I never use it. Besides, if I want it, I know where to find it.”

“But it’s your writing. You wouldn’t let me put my writing in the attic.”

“No,” I admitted. “But you actually write.”

“Why don’t you?” he asked.

Right about that time, a little blond giggle came around the corner, bumped into my leg, landed on her bum, looked up at me, and smiled. I didn’t have to say anything else.

Chris had a point, though. I couldn’t put it all away. I’d lost a lot of bits and pieces of individuality since Em was born, but I couldn’t sacrifice being a writer. It had never been just something I did. It had always been something I was whether I was actively writing or not.

It’s the same for every writer who suddenly finds herself (or himself) in charge of a small person (or persons) and filling more bottles than journals. You haven’t stopped being a writer. You’re a writer who’s doing something else right now.

Do you remember how easy it was before? How effortless it was to sit down and say what you meant, how simple it was to make the time? If you think you can remember that, you need to forget it. Creating something was never that easy, and it never will be. It is difficult. And if you think it’s harder than it used to be, remember you’re a different kind of strong than you once were. You can handle it.

You’ve experienced a period of great transition; now it’s time to reorient yourself and push forward again. I know it’s not as simple as that sentence sounds. That’s why I made this blog: for ideas that work, ideas that don’t work, frustrations, solutions, successes, non-successes, and everything in between. It’s the new entry in the Great Phone Book of Life:

The Wall, What to Do When You Hit

My book is coming along, by the way. But if I’m going to finish it this summer, I better get back to it.

More soon…

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