Lessons Learned from a (Short) Digital Detox

Audio Edition Coming Soon!

It’s never been more important to live with purpose, on purpose. To live intentionally.

— Colin Wright, The Becoming Tour

I’ve learned that I don’t do “intention” very well. Habit and convenience are extremely powerful and seductive forces. It’s easy to sacrifice long-term gains for short-term pleasures. As someone with an addictive personality who doesn’t handle discomfort well and struggles with self-discipline and depression, I feel pretty susceptible to these temptations. It seems like the bad habits, such eating too much sugar and compulsively checking Facebook, are the ones who gain a foothold. They sneak in and become difficult to dislodge, probably because they appear harmless and require little to no effort.

This year, I took a four-day vacation by myself to the beach. I decided to do a mini-digital detox by wearing a watch instead of keeping my phone with me and spend as much time outside as I could, as long as the weather held. I also planned to spend any rainy hours in a comfortable room continuing to write or read. But things didn’t go quite the way I’d planned. While the view of the ocean from the motel was lovely and the weather remained good, the room I was staying in was… well, not very pleasant. Musty-smelling, moldy, and so saturated with humidity that leaving anything outside a plastic bag meant it would be damp within a few minutes. On top of that, even though the motel technically had wi-fi (which I could get if I sat out on the balcony), I couldn’t get it in the room itself.

I was rather upset and frustrated at first, but I soon realized that this could be a blessing in disguise. A gross room with no wi-fi meant I had to stay outside during 90% of my visit. It forced me to be parsimonious with my time on the internet. If I was going to use it, it had to be for a specific purpose, not just random searching or mindless scrolling. Get on, get off, and save data for the GPS. On the beach, I discovered the joy of wearing a watch. You might wonder what the point of a watch is. I mean, you can just check your phone, right? But opening that phone also opens the temptation to “just check one thing” and before you know it, what was supposed to be a 2-minute check-in turns into a 2-hour deep-dive. A smartphone can do too much. A watch only tells time. That is it’s sole purpose. Using a watch instead of a smartphone and being cut off from the internet meant the number of distractions dropped to near zero. I literally had nothing to do except read, write, walk, and think.

“The Jetty” (Personal photograph; taken Sept. 19, 2018)

Continue reading

Advertisements

I Am Not My Job

Audio Edition Coming Soon!

Photo by Skitterphoto from Pexels

 

It must be the weather.

I started this entry in October 2017. With a few tweaks, it is just as relevant to my state of mind today in September 2018 as it was then.

The problem with being responsible at a day job is that so few people are, so you get more responsibility and expectation heaped upon you until you start to smother. I don’t know if it’s because of how stressful the year has been or what, but my focus has dropped and I’m retreating back into long-running TV shows and oldie-but-goodie favorite movies to cope. While I love me some good stories, I can’t stay there forever.

Even with burnout knocking at my door.

Continue reading

The Neglected Language

Audio Edition Coming Soon!

“I do not play this instrument so well as I should wish to, but I have always supposed that to be my own fault because I would not take the trouble of practicing.”

— Elizabeth Bennett, from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

 

Math is a language. It’s often referred to as the “universal language,” and many science fiction stories use math as the primary means of communication between humans and an alien intelligence. Stephen Spielberg’s film Close Encounters of the Third Kind uses music as the mathematical medium of communication between humans and aliens. The number “3” plays an important role in the novel Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke and the film Mission to Mars. The right angles of geometry cause grand-mal seizures in the brilliant novel Blindsight, a story of first contact by Peter Watts. While sapient beings may have developed different linguistic concepts, counting and other mathematical concepts remain more or less the same. (At least with humans on Earth. Turns out the entire idea of using math to communicate with aliens is actually far more complicated.)

Characters who are good at math are usually stereotyped as cold, analytical thinking machines with poor social skills, hyperfocus towards their given subject of interest, and a lack of empathy or connection with fellow human beings. Sometimes this is played for laughs like in the TV show The Big Bang Theory. Sometimes it is played for sympathy, with the implication that they live lonely, unfulfilled lives because of their obsession with numbers and logic. Or it is portrayed as sinister. Math is used by evil geniuses to create weapons of destruction like Lex Luthor, or creates sentient killer robots who consider emotion an abomination like Skynet and its Terminators. Usually these math-centric characters are male; if a woman gets into the role, she is portrayed as unfeeling and unfeminine who needs to be softened by the sweet madness of romantic love. It’s rare to see a character who likes or who is good at math presented as a real, normal, functional human being.
Continue reading

Seven Years of Blogging

Audio Edition Coming Soon!

 

To escape the sweltering heat that descended upon the East Coast this weekend, I took the opportunity to stay inside and organize my filing cabinet. Like many writers, I’ve got bits and pieces of thoughts and projects scattered across notebooks and folders, empty envelopes and not-longer-sticky Post-it notes. Sometimes I forget just how much paper I’ve generated and accumulated over the years, how many projects are still works in progress and how many handwritten scrawls have not been transcribed into a more legible medium.

And I wonder: when will I have time to deal with all of this?

This year, I turned thirty and I’m astonished at how quickly the months have flown. Sometimes I feel like I’ve hardly gotten anything accomplished, that I’m still were I was at eighteen when I’d just started to take the idea of becoming a professional author seriously. But the piles of paper and notebooks on the floor, the finished manuscript on the desk beside me, and the list of blog posts on my computer suggest that I haven’t been spinning my wheels quite as much as I thought I was.

It’s hard to believe it’s been seven years since The Cat’s Cradle began. My very first published entry was June 22, 2011 with a shiny new Blogspot URL. In March 2013, I moved The Cat’s Cradle from Blogger to WordPress, having a slightly better idea of what I was doing. Over the years, I have continued to learn, adding new sites like LeNoWriCha for the Legendary Novel Writing Challenge in January 2014 and then new features with my Audio Editions in November 2014. More recently, I added Second Unit Reviews in May 2018. As of today, I have 200 followers of The Cat’s Cradle, 32 for LeNoWriCha, and 5 for Second Unit Reviews. (I’m sure a few lurkers stop by and read, but haven’t left any trace of their passing.)

I cannot express how much it means to me when folks read or listen to my entries, who follow any (or all) of my blogs or my Twitter feed, who “Like” my entries on WordPress or Facebook, or (best of all) who leave comments. I know not everyone has the time to do that, so for all those who have stopped by and enjoyed this, thank you so very, very much. I deeply appreciate all of you. I know time is precious, so I’m grateful you decided to spend some time here reading (or listening) to my rambles. To my friends, family, and fellow writers who have been so supportive of me and my work over the years: you have my undying gratitude. Thank you.

So what are my plans for the future? Well, to keep writing, obviously. I still have more than enough novels to work on and I’m still trying to practice short stories to send to online magazines. The Cat’s Cradle will continue to have a new entry posted every other Monday to talk about writing or to give updates on that status of my various projects. LeNoWriCha will pop up for the spring and summer editions of Camp NaNoWriMo and for National Novel Writing Month each November. Second Unit Reviews will keep posting older content every Friday at least through the end of the year and new content will pop up sporadically, whenever the mood strikes me. Alas, my work on Fanfiction.net has not been updated every other Monday as I had originally hoped… Maybe I can change that, but with so much original fiction and blogs to occupy me, it currently isn’t as high on my priority list.

I’ll also continue to record and post Audio Editions for my Cat’s Cradle entries, although I know I am woefully behind at the moment. They take a great deal of time and attention, which is often absconded with for other things (sometimes writing-related, sometimes not.) I’m hoping to record and post #ThrowbackThursday Audio Editions for content published before I was computer-savvy enough to use Audacity.

Here’s to another seven years of blogging! Until then…

 

The Scrutiny of a Thousand Eyes

Click HERE for the Audio Edition!

 

I am not quite sure how to broach this topic. On the one hand, I think it is a legit concern. But on the other hand, it also sounds like privileged whining. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which it is, if the truth lies somewhere in between, with both, or with neither.

I’ve been having trouble working on Seahawks and Storms. I wrote the requisite 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo 2017, but most of it is poorly written garbage. I’m not feeling or hearing the characters like I should or have for other projects. And for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why. I know I haven’t spent as much time with Samuel and Amaris as I have with Ryn and Scion. But even then I had something to work with. Now I just sit and stare and pull them through motions that don’t feel real. As I wrote, they were becoming less and less fleshed out rather than more. At this point, I’ve pretty much shelved the project and moved on to another.

Then I remembered something I saw at WDC 2017. There was a project going on at the conference called “Vulnerability is Sexy.” There was a wall of black paper and a submission box. You could write a secret on a slip of paper, put it in the box, and then artists from the project wrote the secret on the wall in an artistic, illustrated way, kind of like an illuminated manuscript. When it was done, you could see all of these secrets without ever knowing who they belonged to. Many of the secrets resonated with me, but one in particular stood out:
Continue reading

2017: The Year in Review

Click HERE for the Audio Edition!

.

Well, dear readers… what can I say about 2017?

“A mixed bag” is about the best thing I can come up with. I feel like I’m ending the year on a bit of a low note, but maybe that’s just a warped perception of mine since, once again, many of my 2016 goals were not realized. A lot of my successes this year also had downsides so that they seem less like unambiguous wins and more like double-edged swords. Still, I’ll take what I can get.

Continue reading

Post-NaNo Crash

Click HERE for the Audio Edition!

Hi folks! Just a short entry today. You know how most people end up in a turkey-coma after Thanksgiving? Me, I’m in a post-NaNo coma. I reached my word count goal for National Novel Writing Month (see Log #328 on my LeNoWriCha blog for details) but feel like I didn’t accomplish very much. Almost every word was a battle, and I’m not sure if it was because the story was fighting me, or because I just didn’t feel well. And, go figure, I haven’t worked any more on Seahawks and Storms since November 30th.

Okay, okay, I know, that really isn’t too bad. A few days to get my wind back from a well-deserved break. It is nice to be able to watch a movie again without feeling like I’m wasting valuable writing time. (After all, I still need to consume stories to feed my subconscious.) And I did do some writing this evening (by hand no less!) although it was not related in any way, shape, or form to Seahawks. But I must be vigilant and resist the urge to coast again, like it seems I’ve been doing for months.

Although NaNoWriMo refers to January and February as the “Now What?” months where revision takes place, I feel like it can begin sooner, depending on where you are in a project. Seahawks is still too new and unsteady to withstand editing, and I’m struggling to keep focused on writing rather than on all of the pressure towards publication that seems to have paralyzed me. So, the plan is to organize the prose that I do have into some kind of rough chronological order, reread previous notes, and do some research that I feel will help me get a better handle on what the hell is (or should be) happening. But most of all, I need to find my way back into that headspace that allows me to play and relax with my stories rather than twisting them into a predetermined shape with an eye to the future. Neither the past nor the future exist. There is only now… and words.


The Difference Between a Convention and a Conference

Click HERE for the Audio Edition!

It’s been two months since I attended the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference, so I’ve had time to mull over the experience. Going somewhere new for the first time is always stressful, as one cannot know what to expect. The information I learned there was good, the speakers were engaging, and my fellow attendees were both kind and polite. I don’t really regret trying out this new opportunity when it arose.

However, I also don’t think I’ll be going back.
Continue reading

Breaking Routine

Click HERE for the Audio Edition!

(Personal photo 09-11-2017. Click for larger image.)

.
You’ve heard me wax eloquent on the importance of having a routine. Something that ensures you get done everything that needs doing, especially your writing. But today I want to talk about the importance of breaking routines as well as keeping them.

Usually when we talk about breaking routine, it’s a bad thing. We mean to complete certain tasks, but something unexpected throws a monkey-wrench into the careful plans of mice and men. And then we talk about the struggle to get back into a routine once it’s been broken.

However, there are two very good reasons to break routine on purpose:
Continue reading