Hit The Road, Jack: 5 Benefits To Getting Away From Your Desk

I swear, he was here just a second ago…

I know, I know. I just wrote a post on the benefits of having a dedicated writing space, and now here I am, writing about getting out of that space. I’m a living contradiction. Deal with it.

For reals, though, there are some serious benefits to occasionally shaking it up and moving your writerly ass to a new location. *blows trumpet fanfare* FOR EXAMPLE:

1. Step Away From the Reflecting Pool, Narcissus. Your space is sometimes so you that you lose sight of anything else. Your books, your radio, your music, your mechanized death ray security system. But not everyone has those, or even thinks they’re necessary.* There’s a whole world out there, buttercup, and it doesn’t revolve around you. Get out of your space and experience someone else’s. It’ll freshen up your brain and maybe give you some new ideas.

2. HOLY SHIT I CAN FINALLY BREATHE. Your space is also the place where everything tends to accumulate. Work, writing, other obligations like paying bills and having a family, the occasional court summons or contract killing. Burying your creativity under that mountain can stifle it, until you’re reduced to staring blankly at your computer screen, putting things in your Amazon cart and taking them out again. Get out and get some space.

3. Ghost Mode Enabled. If you’re always in a certain place at a certain time, then other people know where to find you. Which means they can interrupt you. And they will, because Murphy’s Law of Interruptions states that anything that can be interrupted will be interrupted. Leave your accustomed hidey-hole and you might just get a nice, uninterrupted block of time in which to crank out an entire chapter. Don’t forget to erase your tracks or THEY’LL FIND YOU.

4. Go Dark.  Man, I love Wi-Fi, but it has killed my productivity. Some days I just turn it off at home so I can get stuff done without wanting to pop onto Twitter every eight fucking seconds. Benefit of leaving my little writer nest: there is no guarantee of Wi-Fi. At least not free Wi-Fi. And at this point I’m as likely to pay for internet access as I am to pay for water: only if I’m desperate, and I’ll still complain about it.

5. Fresh Meat For The Writer Stew.  People-watching is a seriously underrated form of entertainment. The clearly hungover man three tables away from me, in a rumpled Armani jacket and a red silk tie that he’s tied too short, will probably appear in some story of mine eventually, if only because he cuts such an interesting figure slumped over his cell phone. And an entire platoon of small children just wandered by wearing sequinned devil horns. What the ever-loving fuck, universe. I wouldn’t see this crap from my living room.

I’m on vacation at the moment, but what’s your excuse for getting out? Where do you go? And why?

* Though people who live without music are like aliens to me. How do you do it?

Monday Challenge: The Geographic Cure

Eat my dust, old life.

God, the Monday Challenge. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Let’s bring it back, just for funzies.

If you’ve ever read about addiction—or had any experience with it yourself, either first hand or through others—you might have heard of the geographic cure. It’s a theory that changing location can get you sober. Move from the town where all your favourite bars and drinking buddies are, get away from your dysfunctional family or the job you hate, and maybe you can find the will to kick the habit.

I don’t know what the stats are, but I doubt the geographic works by itself. Wherever you go, you take yourself along for the ride, and that’s the part that needs changing. I’d hazard, though, that the geographic cure can help, if you’re using the change in location as a way to change yourself. Especially if it’s a temporary way to kickstart recovery. There can be relief in a momentary reprieve from the daily pressure, which is why vacations are so popular. But sooner or later, you have to face yourself again.

Aside from addiction, though, I think a lot of us secretly believe in the geographic cure. How often have you looked around and thought that if you didn’t have this job, this town, this family, this life, then everything would be different? Who hasn’t felt the urge to just leave, walking away from it all and vanishing without a trace into a new life? Into a new self?

Monday Challenge: write me a character trying to leave their problems behind. How far would one of your characters have to go to try a geographic cure for their problems? And how long would it be before the problems eventually caught up?

Never Let You Go: Staying Connected To Your Story While Travelling

By eating your computer, you ensure that you are never far away from your story.

By the time you read this, I’ll probably be…mm, depending on the time difference, hung over somewhere in Australia. Or maybe sleeping. Or trying to figure out Australian Rules Football. Or…kangaroo boxing? Whatever. I’m not here, by which I mean wherever you imagine me writing all this dubious advice.* I am on “vacation”.

Yes, sarcastic quotes. Because, while I’m not at my desk/in my lair, I am still writing.

I don’t like to take breaks from a novel while it’s in a particular stage: drafting, rewriting, editing. I’ve had to, but I don’t like it. I get disconnected from the heartline of the story and it always takes a while to get back to it.

But I’m not going to spend my whole “vacation” plonked in front of a computer, either. I need to stay connected to the story, not fucking hog-tied to it. Here are my compromises:

1) The Notebook. I always carry one as a matter of course, but while on vacation I started a new one and loaded it up with questions that need to be answered about the story: what happened to that guy’s parents? Why does she love her so much? What’s the deal with that thing’s face? All stuff that needs to be answered, all stuff that might get pushed aside in favour of actual writing on a normal day. Besides, long plane rides are excellent places to have a good long think.

2) The iPad. Technically on loan from my husband, I’ll be using this as my primary computing device. That’s what I’ve (hopefully) been using to moderate comments and respond to the more urgent emails while I’m away. I won’t be doing any hardcore writing on it while I’m travelling between bars, but I will dump most of my daily notes on the above questions into my files and take a look to see what else needs to be answered. I’ll also back everything up because notebooks get fucking lost, yo. And, if the urge hits me at five in the morning, I can always crank out a thousand words to scratch the itch.

3) The Sketch-A-Ma-Bob. Technically, all drawing is done in my notebook as well (another reason why I prefer blank paper). These are mostly characters. Drawing them helps me visualize them completely. Also, it’s fun and yet another activity that can be done sitting on a plane or in an airport with no internet connection. Other possibilities include maps, settings, tattoos, sigils, and graffiti found in the public toilets of my imaginary world.

So, if you’re jarred out of your regular schedule in the middle of a story, how do you stay connected to it?

*I’m not going to say it’s a volcano-based lair surrounded by my loyal robot centipedes, but I’m not going to say it’s not, either.


5 Things I Learned About Writing While Trying To Get Home

Other passengers make excellent cushions when properly subdued.

1. All airport coffee is inferior coffee. Both in terms of taste and caffeine. Five cups and I was barely vibrating.

2. That weird half-doze I inevitably fall into while looking out an airplane window brings me the best ideas. I don’t know what it is. Something about staring at the sunlit tops of the clouds puts me in this strange not-awake, not-asleep trance. My eyes are open, and I’m reasonably sure that if you talk to me, I’ll respond*, but all higher brain functions are temporarily suspended. If you put an ear up to my head, you’d hear white noise. Or maybe the ocean.

Something about the Airplane Trance brings me awesome story ideas, though. I think it’s because, with all logical thought disengaged, my creative parts take over and start freewheeling through my brain like a Ferris wheel cut loose from its moorings. I get characters and stories and scenes that way. All partials, of course, because Airplane Trance Brain is absolute balls with planning, but still interesting stuff. Yesterday, on the tiny prop plane that takes people to where I live, I found two guys having a conversation in my head. I’m not entirely sure what they were talking about, but I sure as hell want to find out.

3. Writing is the best way to kill time when your flight is delayed by eight hours.** Absorbing, entertaining, and magically transports you to another place. Which is more than your airline can do at the moment.

4. People will bite you if you come near their power outlet. Based on the evidence of that guy in the suit with a laptop, iPad, iPhone, bluetooth headset, and travel vibrator connected, spider-like, to a single outlet at Pearson Airport. Relax, dude: I charged at the hotel.

5. If you write on a plane, people will read over your shoulder. Yes, I’m talking to you, Leather Jacket Guy Whose Elbows Extend To The Ends Of The Earth. And you, Miss I Bathed In Perfume Before Boarding So I Can Force Everyone To Sit In An Immoveable Cloud Of My Stink. I can see the reflection of your roving eyes in my laptop’s screen if you’re behind me. If you’re next to me, I can tell that you’re not reading your book because you haven’t turned a page in an hour. Don’t think you fool me with your sidelong glances. I know what you’re doing.

Ditto for notebooks. I’ve had people tilt their head to better decipher my handwriting. Pretend you were stretching your neck for the eighth time in ten minutes all you want. I know what you’re doing.

I just don’t care.

In fact, just for you, I’m going to pull up that crazy sex scene and start editing it right fucking now. Enjoy.

*Or I would if I didn’t have headphones on.
**And then cancelled entirely. Polar vortex wins again.

Monday Challenge: Open Road

Route dans les Pyrénées françaises

There’s a robot around the turn, but you can’t see it from here. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Roads are odd things. They start right in front of your own house, but after that they could go anywhere. And sometimes it seems like they’re trying to suck the brain right out of your head. Highway Hypnosis, my ass. Highway Brain Stretch is more like it. On a long road trip, I can feel my brain expanding.

We did a lot of driving over the last five days, between work meetings in the Nearest City of Any Size and a camping trip on the side of a mountain. The Husband drove for most of it, leaving me free to daydream out the window. Which I did. A lot. I also, when asked for a story, made up the tale of Sir Jack and Lady Snow, two knights on a long trip and their return home. They were racing the sun, because when the darkness came, the road would no longer be safe.*

There’s just something about the sight of an open road that brings out my creativity. I get the best plot spackle on the road. And while I don’t tend to get full-fledged ideas, I do get the seeds of ideas. The things that, once planted in the fertile soil of my hindbrain, will grow into something worth thinking about. I’m a mobile seed collector on long trips, the idea-spores clinging to me like burrs to a dog’s fur.

Of course, I can’t do anything about those ideas on the road. That’s what home is for. The road is for gathering; home is for making something useable out of the stuff you accumulated.

So, I honour of my brain-enhancing road trips, I present your Monday Challenge: write me a journey. Not the start, not the end. Just the part in the middle. The space between. The time when anything might happen.

I’m going to start growing some of these ideas.

* It was a fun story. They found their way with the aid of magic boxes created by an undead sorcerer named Steve of Jobs.

Turn ‘Em Out: The EDC

One of my more recent internet curiosities is the EDC, or the Every Day Carry. Google it, you’ll find a ton of tumblrs and archives of people turning out the contents of their pockets on the internet. The EDC is, simply, the items that you carry with you every time you leave the house. If you’re a George Carlin fan, it’s the smallest possible version of your stuff.

I don’t know why I find it so fascinating. Maybe it’s the idea you get of a person based on the items they consider utterly necessary. Their survival kit. Or how it varies according to habits, hobbies, professions, and inclinations. Or maybe I just like going through other people’s pockets.

So, here’s my EDC*:

Image 2

1. Wallet. It’s just a wallet. Nothing special. Man’s wallet, though, because women’s ones tend to be covered in glitter or bulky ornamentation, which means I can’t get it in my damn pocket. Nothing really interesting in there: just cash, bank and credit cards, driver’s licence. Oh, and my S.H.I.E.L.D. Field Agent Access Card. You can’t see it. You don’t have the clearance.

2. Notebook. There have been a lot of incarnations of this. Most recent, and likely to stick around for a while, is the Moleskine Cahier Journal Plain, size large. They come in packs of three, which means I usually have a spare around. I never used to get the Moleskine thing, but then I started carrying one of these and got converted. The paper doesn’t bleed, the books are durable, and the size is perfect for throwing in a shoulder bag or tucking into my back pocket. Also: plain paper! Bloody hard to find in a small notebook, but important to me. My thoughts don’t always come out in words and even the ones that do are rarely linear.
The one shown above is almost finished, and it’s still in pretty good shape. Which, as anyone who has seen how I abuse my possessions will know, is impressive.

3. Glasses. Because, goddamnit, I still need them.

4. Reliable Pen. Emphasis on the reliable. I fucking hate when I’m out and about, working on something, trying to scribble fast enough to keep up with my brain, and the goddamn pen gives out. Or scratches, or skips, or whatever other fucking bullshit the God of Writing Implements decides to torment me with. You can keep your cheap ballpoints. Like the notebook, I’ll spend a little more on something I use every day.
And no pencils. Pencils are for drawing, not writing. And they smudge like a motherfucker.
Also, the pen must have black ink. Not blue. Black. Because reasons.
The above model is the Pilot disposable fountain pen, which I quite like, but I also use the Sharpie pens.

5. “Phone.” Really a pocket computer/music player/text message depot. I almost never use it for actual phone calls. This is an iPhone 4, couple of years old. Still works well, though I do notice the battery life starting to drop.
Also includes a voice recorder, which is useful for those times when my hand can’t keep up with my brain and I have to make auditory notes.

6. Keys and knife. The keys for opening doors, the knife in case anything weird was waiting on the other side.
A note: I recently stripped this down to just the essential keys: car and house. The third key is for a friend’s house that I’m checking on this summer, so that’s a temporary thing.
And the knife, while tiny, is quite sharp and has a number of other useful attachments. Like a bottle opener. Because if there’s one lesson I learned from dorm parties, it’s that an extra bottle opener never goes astray.

7. Saint medal. No, really. I’m not religious, but my mother is, and she gave it to me. It’s St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes. Quite the sense of humour, my mother.
I’ve worn this for a number of years, so the copper is starting to show on the medal itself.

8. Wedding ring. Polished titanium. Incredibly light, incredibly comfortable, and (again, important for me) incredibly durable. It’s still picked up a couple of scratches, though.

And that’s it. That’s the kit for the wandering writer. It’s deliberately small. While I often carry a purse, I don’t like having to, so everything here can fit into pockets on on my person. Even the notebook tucks nicely into the back pocket of my jeans.

So, I showed you mine. Now what’s in your pockets?

*Unlabelled, because I couldn’t be arsed to open my photo editor this morning. If you can’t tell which item is which, you might have a problem.

Rewriting Classics, or Why I Will Be Murdered By Herman Melville’s Ghost

English: Illustration from an early edition of...

I’ve got your white whale right here. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, my friend Kat, who blog over here, was reading Fifty Shades of Grey* and texting me some of the more hilarious lines.** And she mentioned that a friend of hers had jokingly told her to write Fifty Shades of Dorian Grey as her next writing project.

…You probably see where this is going.

So, purely as a creative exercise, we began coming up with titles for erotic versions of classic novels. And now I’ve come up with plots for some of them. Again, purely creative.

Stop judging me.

So here’s the highlights (and maybe your new summer reading list):

Moby’s Dick: Captain Ahab realizes his obsession with the ‘white whale’ is just a Freudian misdirect to avoid dealing with his dual attraction to the wandering sailor Ishmael and the handsome harpooner Queequag.*** When the boat is far out to sea, he begins his ‘hunt’…

The Caning of the Shrew: When his attempt at courtship fails, Petruchio must find a new way to woo the bad-tempered dominatrix Katerina. An introduction to the world of BDSM gives him a new plan: become her latest sub.

The Gropes of Wrath: On the road to California, Tom Joad encounters a frisky parole officer bent on returning him to Oklahoma. His only way to remain with his family is to give the officer something else to chase.

She Poops to Conquer: A comedy of manners, as a young woman posing as a house maid discovers her lover’s scatological fetish while cleaning the bathrooms.

The Hos of Kilimanjaro: This collection of short stories details the adventures of a group of loose women, from the bored socialite on safari with ‘interesting’ people to the young woman who was a man’s first lover and “did first what no one ever did better”.

Think you can do better? Tell me in the comments. Or, better yet, write it. And then submit**** it to the same publishers that did Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Clearly there’s a market here. We just need to tap it.

*Don’t judge her. She’s a librarian, so technically she was reading it for work. Or so she tells me.
**Seriously, there’s a shitload. Don’t mistake me: I like erotica. Hell, I did my master’s thesis on it. But I like well-written erotica, and this ain’t it.
***Man the harpoons. If you know what I mean.
****I just cannot get my mind out of the gutter now.