Archive for the ‘Writer's Tools’ category

Tools of the trade: Ambience

October 31, 2009

When I write, i prefer my sense of hearing to be emersed in sound.  For me, specific sounds are needed – not just ambience (like the random discussions going on around me on the Pittsburgh T).  For me, its music.  Perhaps it has to do with music being another of my hobbies and another of my loves.

The type of music I listen to while writing is classified as “Berlin School Electronic” – that may be a tough taxonomy to grasp.  Basically (at least what I stock my digital album rack with) it is instrumental in nature, largely composed of spacey, synthesized timbres.  For me, lack of lyrics is a requirement as voices pull my attention, where this type of music sits comfortably in the background and appeals to the creative parts of my mind.

Similarly, much Berlin School includes a technique called analog sequencing, using computerized repetitive and slowly evolving patterns of notes to paint a driving landscape upon which the melody of the songs exist.   Perhaps it is its “soundtrack” nature of the music (the band Tangerine Dream, a capstone to the genre, has done soundtrack work on several major motion pictures).

This technique creates a very interesting audio palate that is both ambient as well as provides a sense of urgency to me.  This helps me focus and push myself during my short writing times.

I once had a friend at college who told me that studying to Yes was his ticket.  I never quite got that one, but to each their own I suppose.

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Tools of the trade: Someone to read me a bedtime story

October 20, 2009

One thing I’ve found that really helps me is to hear anything I write read back to me.  We think audibly, and when we read, our brains translate those words into our subconscious voice to varying degrees.  

Now, my wife, as patient and dedicated as she is, wouldn’t read 95,500 words into a tape recorder or my ear, and I can’t blame her.  I bought a copy of TextAloud, and after some seeking a “better” voice module, can honestly say this was instrumental in my cuts and rewrites from first draft to second.  It’s amazing how, while listening to something I put onto paper, I’d stop and say “ugh, that doesn’t work.”

The built-in voice is pretty bad, but there are a wide variety of options out there – all manner of accent and gender. I Installed it on my Netbook and listened to it on my T-ride to and from work. I think the hearing does make a difference.  For around a $50 investment, you have someone to read to you on demand, and someone who can even read other things like emails, electronic books, etc.  Anyone try anything similar?

What do lackluster board meetings and writer’s block have in common?

October 14, 2009

The answer may be a cure. 

Living most of my waking hours in corporate America, I’ve seen all sorts of ideas to stimulate creativity and productivity in meetings.  One that has been a fad lately is meeting toys – small objects that can be plied, twisted, shaped, and otherwise manipulated during said meetings.  They supposedly stimulate creativity.  Hm, maybe.  I’ve tried it.  I also tend to play with things during meetings myself.  In my office I keep a deck of cards (amateur magician), which I shuffle and cut and practice the tools of the prestidigitation trade while talking business. 

So what does this have to do with writer’s block?  Here’s my theory:

Occupying parts of your brain that deal in procedure (much of which happens subconsciously – ever arrive at work only to realize you don’t really recall driving there completely?) can free other parts of your brain to be creative.  Basis in fact?  Perhaps – harkening back to my degree in Biomedical Engineering many years ago, I can’t remember all the details.  What I do know is that one of the most productive creative periods I’ve had was during a nine hour drive to vacation this year, during which I outlined my entire second volume of the trilogy I’m writing.  My hands, eyes and subconscious parts of my process-driven mind were occupied staying on the road, watching for signs, monitoring traffic.  The creative parts flourished.

Am I crazy?  Perhaps, but I will be remembering that going forward.  When those times hit me, as they do all writers, my panacea will possibly be a long drive or a deck of cards.  Let me know what works for you!

Tools of the Trade: Have Netbook Will Travel (And Write!)

October 13, 2009

The seats on the Pittsburgh T are pretty cramped, and being a computer guy, I always write on one. I started trying to use my workstation laptop (the beast I use at work), but there was basically only one seat on the T where I could comfortably flip the screen up enough to see clearly to write. That seat, however, has no leg room, and with my bad knees, was not working out well.

I bought an Asus S101 Netbook and have never regretted the expense. It is small, able to flip open in the most cramped seat, long enough battery life to write for hours AND listen to music while doing so (more about that in another post), and all solid state – for the non-geeks among us, that means there’s no hard drive in the S101 – it’s hard drive is Flash RAM – fast, using less power, no moving parts to break.

The keyboard, however, is fairly small.  It took some getting used to, but I can now type on it fairly quickly.  This may not be true for someone who’s actually learned to type properly (I programmer-type, which is done using only four of my fingers and thumb on spacebar, but I am very good at it). 

The netbook has enabled me and my meager writing habit time.  It’s also handy enough to carry with me anywhere, for those rare occasions when I get to sit under a tree for a half hour and squeak out a few paragraphs.  It may not be for every writer, but I’d recommend trying one to anyone.

Telling a Tale when you have a full-time job

October 11, 2009

Writers, when do you write?  God has blessed me with a wonderful job, but working nine to five, and then some (sometimes quite a bit more “then some”) leaves little time for writing.  What spare time I have is spent with the family or trying to recuperate from the daily stresses.

I’m blessed in more ways than one however.  I take public transportation to and from work each day.  In Pittsburgh, we have the ‘T’, or the Port Authority Transit – think subway, trolly, light rail, or whatever the nomenclature of your particular city.  It provides me with between thirty and forty-five minutes a day to focus on my writing, where it is very difficult to do anything else.

I’m an early-bird, which means I’m on the T between five and six in the morning, when it is not standing room only.  This means I can be sure to get one of the ‘good seats’ that facilitates writing.

It doesn’t seem like much, and I envy those writers who, for a living, spend their days bent over their keyboards.  But for me, I look forward to those few minutes when I can focus and write.

If I took the bus or had to drive, this couldn’t be possible, so again, I am blessed with that daily habit of commute-writing.  Of course, there’s more to the story, which I will save for my next post.  How does one write while riding on a trolly?