the Unending Journey of the Wandering Author

A chronicle of the unending journey of the Wandering Author through life, with notes and observations made along the way. My readers should be aware I will not censor comments that disagree with me, but I do refuse to display comment spam or pointless, obscene rants. Humans may contact me at thewanderingauthor at yahoo dot com - I'll reply as I am able.

Location: New England, United States

I have always known I was meant to write, even when I was too young to know the word 'author'. When I learned that books were printed, I developed an interest in that as well. And I have always been a wanderer, at least in my mind. It's not the worst trait in an author. For more, read my writing; every author illuminates their heart and soul on the pages they write upon.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Annoyances In A Writer's Life

I'm still thinking about "time and attention", which is an important concept to get right. It would seem so simple. Just focus your attention, and spend your time, on those things that are most important. First, of course, you have to decide what is most important. That isn't very difficult for most of us, until you start to realise all the dimensions "important" takes on.

None of us wants to waste time being sick, but it is one of those things that are hard to avoid. That's just a little annoyance, but then there are the big issues. I want to be writing. Instead, I'm trying to keep my computer cooled down while I figure out what's wrong. Since I can't afford a new one right now, it becomes most important to keep the stupid thing from melting down so I can keep on writing.

It is running sluggishly, thanks to some bottleneck of processes at the CPU, and all these racing cycles have it on the verge of overheating any time I try to do much with it. Okay, I know enough about computers to solve this - or at least I thought I did. I cleaned out most of the apps that start up with Windows. I pruned my fonts folder to the lowest level it has ever reached on this machine (which ran fine with more fonts installed for a couple of years). Nothing.

I set up resource meters to see what was gobbling up all my resources. Nothing unusual there, no reason for the trouble. I'm pretty careful, but I downloaded a few more powerful malware scanners, which is where I really got stuck. There seems to be something quietly sitting in the background meddling with every process. Before you helpfully point out in the comments that this must be the malware I was looking for, my research has uncovered the thrilling fact that security software acts in many of the same ways as malware. It hides itself, refuses to identify itself, and makes itself abominably difficult to get rid of.

My particular "infection" is so murky, I have not yet been able to figure out whether it is true malware, or the security software I paid cold hard cash for. Thanks, guys! Either you failed to protect me, or your product is as bad as malware on my system. Either way, I wasted all that cash, and I'm wasting a dreadful amount of time I could be spending writing. I have to work out a plan to uninstall my security software: anti-virus, firewall, and malware detector, and make sure it's gone.

I also have to find alternates so my computer isn't left unprotected. Some of what I have now is freeware, and I'm hoping all of what I put in its place will be free. The best tools I have, the ones I've already been able to verify aren't causing me any trouble at all, are all freeware. Then I have to take the time to back up everything crucial, in case of real trouble, remove the old junk, and install the new stuff so I can see what happens. If that doesn't fix the problem, I'll have to seek out the malware some jerk put on my computer.

What really annoys me is the fact this is too important to ignore, yet it means I'm going to lose a whole lot of writing time. Life is short! Time not spent writing is wasted! (Well, mostly.) When I'm done all that, I need to work out the best (that is, the one that is most helpful without requiring a huge investment of time) method for keeping my attention focused where it ought to be, rather than allowing myself to be distracted by every tantalising article in the tech press.

Avoiding distractions is hard when you're a writer. After all, many ideas come from hunting down this or that intriguing lead. So any promising headline might be a great new idea just waiting to burst onto the stage of my consciousness. Then, of course, saving and managing all those great new resources I find takes up time of its own, but how can I use them if I can't find them again? So time and attention are important resources, but allocating them well is not as easy as it sounds.

After reading an article over at The Technium about preserving information in a digital age, I have some thoughts I hope to expand on here. Preserving information is, or ought to be, an issue of great concern to every writer. The thought of losing any of my manuscripts to any of a thousand possible mishaps fills me with dread. Add to that my background as a former genealogist and my interest in emergency preparedness, and the subject is just too interesting to resist.

Tonight, though, since my theme is annoyances, I'm going to end with something that has been bothering me ever since the election. I'm not very political - my opinion is that either party is just the flip side of the other one. They are both part of "the way things work", and since I believe that needs a real overhaul (my only surprise in this whole economic mess has been how long it took to fall apart), I don't think either choice matters that much.

Oh, it matters a great deal to the specific special interests that stand to gain or lose, but to the average person, life is much the same. So I wasn't convinced the election of either candidate spelled out either our doom or our salvation. Barack Obama isn't a bad man, but I couldn't justify spending my own time and attention (big grin) on whether he or John McCain won.

What I can't ignore is the outpouring of hatred since Barack Obama did win. Instead of accepting their loss and getting over it, this time many of those who opposed him seem determined to keep their fight going. I'm referring to the racial incidents since the election, and especially to the news that there have been significantly more threats against Barack Obama's life than against any other President-elect.

Now, if you oppose the policies he intends to follow, and can make a rational statement of your opposition on those grounds, I may be bored, but I'll at least contend you have a right to your opinions. Even that, of course, is no justification for threatening someone's life. But in this case, it seems the problem is simply the colour of his skin.

Haven't we grown up a bit more than that? Aren't we smarter than that? Some of us are, and I'd hoped most of us were, but it appears that isn't the case. There seem to be people out there who want to kill a man for no better reason than the fact his skin is darker than theirs. Anyone who even has a stray thought along those lines ought to be ashamed of themselves. I know I'm ashamed of my fellow humans.

Even considering killing anyone for any reason is a pretty drastic thing to do. Doing so for no better reason than their outward appearance would be pathetic if it weren't so frightening that so many people seem inclined to do so. So I sit here, sick at heart, horrified at what could happen if just one idiot gets lucky. I'd like to think, if you're reading my blog, that you share my feelings. If so, I hope you'll say a prayer for Barack Obama and for his family, that they will all stay safe and unharmed. And once he is inaugurated, I hope you'll support President Obama. He's going to be facing enough difficulties without that kind of hatred to deal with. No matter which side you're on when it comes to his policies, he doesn't deserve that.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Time, Attention, and Creativity

I've been giving a lot of thought lately to the new direction Merlin Mann is taking over at 43 Folders. His new focus is less on productivity, and more on "time, attention, and creative work". It makes a lot of sense when you think about it.

What difference does it make if I'm twice as productive, if I'm wasting my time and focusing my attention on something marginal? For widget makers, as long as they can sell the widgets they churn out, I suppose productivity is all they need care about. But what about writers, artists, musicians, and anyone else creative? Wouldn't we all be better off creating something of lasting value, instead of whipping out words (or cartoons, riffs, what have you) no one cares about at the time, let alone three months later?

Yes, a knowledge of how to work more effectively is good; it might mean the difference between a life's work that comprises a single ten thousand page novel exploring the meaning of life, or two ten thousand page novels... Seriously, I do think some effort to improve work habits, learn to get things done more quickly, and so on, does pay off, if only in a bit more time to do the things you really want to.

In my opinion, the important difference is in the effect your efforts have. If they do leave you more time to do the important work, they're worth keeping up. If you're just losing a lot of time downloading cool software you'll use once and forget, you'd probably be happier doing something else. Yes, you have to allow room for mistakes; that's part of the learning process.

The point isn't to be so cautious, so miserly with your time, that you avoid all mistakes. Almost nothing is truly wasted when real creativity is applied to extracting some meaning from it. The point is to remain aware, to stop the experiment as soon as you've learned it is a mistake, instead of going ahead out of habit, or some sense of duty.

How do these thoughts apply to my blog? I haven't fully decided yet whether or not Blogger will remain its permanent home, but I will keep a blog. I will try to post to it with something approaching semi-regularity. As I learn to focus my time and attention where I want them, I may even do a better job of posting. What I won't do is spend much time writing "filler" posts. Either I'll write a post on an issue I'm trying to work out my own thoughts on, as in this case, or I'll post about something I believe may be of real value to my readers, which I also hope this post may prove to be, if it gets you thinking as well.

If you do start thinking about this, remember, the point isn't to focus your time and attention in the place I think it ought to be, or anyone else, for that matter. The point is to make up your mind where you believe your efforts will best be spent. If you're at all creative, you ought to be able to find someplace fulfilling to spend your energies.

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NaNo Diary: the Aftermath

The next day, the 29th, I had a party I had (and did want) to go to, later in the evening. I had originally hoped I might slip in a bit more work on the WIP, just to pile up a more impressive word count, even thought I'd officially become a winner the night before. This and that cropped up, however, and since I no longer had the urgent drive to win, I couldn't swat them aside as easily. In any case, I was pretty tired, and not exactly blazing through anything at impressive speed.

After the party, a friend stuck around for a while, so I was up much later than planned. Between that and NaNo, I was exhausted for the final day of November, and barely crawled out of bed. The weather was nasty, too, which didn't help; dark, gloomy, and wet without light, wind, or anything else to recommend it. Bleah! I got up the next day full of good resolutions, but determined first of all to begin catching up on all that backlog from November.

I started to climb that mountain, and discovered it was much higher, and steeper, than I'd guessed from the bottom. A few minor things cropped up, as they always do, just to make things interesting, and left me updating this diary over a week later than planned. Sorry to anyone who was watching the drama, I didn't mean to let you down. A server malfunction on one of the mailing lists I subscribe to didn't help; it dumped a heap of delayed e-mails, including a whole raft of duplicate ones (with no way to sort the dupes except by opening and scanning), into my inbox starting the other day. They're still coming...

For those of you who are wondering; I do like the book, I think it has potential. I plan to finish the first draft as soon as I can catch my breath and settle down to that, then let it sit in the dark for a while before I revise it and decide just what to do with it. I can't let a chance to slaughter a few sacred cows in SF pass, now can I?

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NaNo Diary: Day Twenty-Eight

I sat down and wrote as soon as I could, for as long as I could stand. I knew the next two days would be too busy to fit in much writing, if any, and I wanted to get as far as I possibly could. I had continuity issues, and spent quite a lot of time re-reading, going back and tweaking this or that mention, or adding a line or two as needed. I know you're not supposed to do that during NaNo, as it slows you down, but I prefer a book that is at least mostly coherent.

By the end of my writing marathon, I suspected I'd passed 50,000 words, at least barely, and a quick check of my word count agreed, but only NaNo's validator could tell for sure. I was exhausted, but I pasted the full manuscript into the validator - and won! The official count was 50,794 words, and that in only twenty-eight days instead of the full thirty, with problems dragging me backwards all month. I paused to smile broadly at the result, then went to bed while I still had the energy to do that.

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NaNo Diary: Day Twenty-Seven

Yes, this is posted quite late, as subsequent posts may explain. Thanksgiving Day is never my best day during NaNo, but I did manage to fit in a bit of writing in the evening. I didn't even bother to update my word count (or to post to the blog), but I just wanted to narrow that margin as much as I could. Especially near the end of the month, this is a great strategy - don't even count the words, don't add them to your total, just slip in a bit more work when you have a spare nanosecond.