Saturday, April 18, 2009

When A Good Thing Goes Bad

I can remember using a typewriter on one of my many unpublished novels back in the mid ‘80s. Soon afterward, two friends pulled me kicking and screaming into the computer generation. I finally welcomed the scary process because of spell checker.

Today, of course, spell checker is only a little of what writers get from writing programs. There is auto correct, a favorite of mine, since my mind often works far ahead of my fingers, and I am always transposing letters. I have many words, like because, in auto correct. For whatever reason, when I am going along at a good pace, I spell because “becuase.” No rhyme or reason, it usually comes out that way, but with auto correct, the computer fixes it. That’s a major saver when I click on spell check.

Good things in life have a tendency to turn bad and it’s usually because of the involvement of humans. Take nuclear power. If that were all it was, our power bills would be low, our skies would be clean, and maybe global warming would never have happened. However, some genius figured a way to make a world-destroying weapon using nuclear waste . . .

I am not sure which came first, the weapon idea or the power idea, but you get my point. Now, you want to know how this connects to computers, right?

Following the computer came the Internet. Wow! Research at your fingertips. I was a reporter in Boston and when you needed information, if it wasn’t in the paper’s morgue, you went to the library or the source. Image that, walking the streets of Boston in rain or cold or summer humidity to work on a story.

Not today, all any reporter has to do is Google and all that research is there for them, in the air-conditioned comfort of the city room.

That’s a bad thing. It has taken the human contact I had as a reporter out of the process and in journalism, the human contact is very important. In addition, it makes journalists lazy.

Nevertheless, I do admit, for research as a mystery writer, Google is a benefit. I am fortunate to have friends and contacts in military intelligence, and the local police force, as well as the national weather service. These personal contacts have been of more concrete help in my writing than if I only had Google.

Now we enter the millennium and humans are still at work screwing up good things.

To a writer, time is everything. Time to write, edit, think, read. I would guess that most writers would argue in favor of a 30-hour day, not a 24-hour day. And, of course, 30-hours wouldn’t be enough.

Writing can be lonely. You open the day by staring at blank computer screen and you have to get what’s in your head onto it. Sounds easy, but ask anyone that has tried it. Writers, and I am generalizing here, are great procrastinators. We don’t need to be offered more ways to put off writing. We need more incentives to sit down and write.

A little more than a year ago, a writer friend knew I was promoting my book, Chasin’ the Wind, and suggested I get on FaceBook. I did and it was great for my procrastination process. Then another writer friend sent me another site and soon I had a list of sites and blogs I HAD TO READ.

Here is where a good thing has gone bad.

My usually schedule was to get up at 6 a.m., make my café con leche and write until 9 a.m., or, on a good day, until noon. Then I would have lunch and read into the early afternoon and somewhere, if possible, I would watch the taped edition Morning Joe.

Now, I have never sat from six to nine or noon without getting up. I get another café con leche, I listen to CNN while pondering some dialogue I want to get right, or try to figure out how to get my character out of a situation, realistically, that I have put him or her in. Sometime I face the blank page and panic because I fear writer’s block.

But, eventually, I get my time in. My word count (I note it each day) maybe only a couple of hundred words, or a thousand. I also edit as I write. So, if stuck on something, I will often go back and reread and edit.

What I found myself doing, after my friend turned me onto FaceBook, was checking my emails at 6 a.m., answering my FaceBook friends and then going to the blogs I HAD TO READ. It is amazing how fast three-hours can fly by when you are on the Internet. Also, I find those three-hours are mentally exhausting and that hurts my writing.

I cannot change the Internet, but I can control that section on my computer. I do check my emails at 6 a.m. because I have family around the country and it is how we communicate (though I would rather use the phone). However, I do not answer emails from FaceBook until late afternoon or early evening, and I have cut many of the blogs out that I HAD TO READ. I must admit to enjoying Crime Always Pays and Criminal Brief daily. I also check other writers’ blogs, but no longer daily.

You cannot afford to waste time and the clutter on the Internet steals your time, especially if you are a writer. The computer is a great thing and the Internet is amazing, just don’t let it takeover your life.

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