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(Dis)connected

© Thorsten | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Do you ever wish you could disconnect from the Internet? We are plugged in via social media, on-demand television, virtual helpers like Google Home and Amazon’s Echo (Alexa), smart thermostats, email, our cars, online banking, and more. We don’t even realize how dependent we are until the connection goes down or we lose power.

Smart computer systems, using access to immense amounts of data, can use our browsing history to recommend new products, guess that we’re pregnant before our own family members, and predict the fastest route from our home to the beach at 5pm tomorrow.

How did I live without all this technology in the first half of my life?

And yet, I sometimes miss that disconnected life. I sometimes envy those who have managed to let it all pass them by, even as they become disassociated from mainstream society. Last year, I found myself almost jealous of the characters in the dystopian novel Station Eleven because they had no obligations to a small glass and metal rectangular object through which an astonishing amount of my life plays out.

I’m not a Luddite by any means. I love technology. I love having two-click access to almost any information, and the ability to turn on my lights with a voice command or “visit” my far-flung family members via FaceTime.

But sometimes, I need to disconnect. I need to go into my backyard, walk the dog, take a hike, or go to the beach, and live screen free for a while. Not just screen free, but instant-access free.

The problem with on-demand everything is that the minute we think a question, we can run off and answer it. But maybe it would be better to merely ponder it for a while. Enjoy the quiet act of thinking without distraction. To stew in our thoughts without always feeding our eyeballs with information.

I’m reading a book (on my iPad, of course) called The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly. It talks about the types of innovations we can expect to see in the future, and how we’re only going to be more integrated. There are a lot of exciting things coming.

But I’m still going to need a break from it all.

Even now, I feel better when I take some time out of my day to unplug. This is one of the reasons why I run. And do yoga. Or brainstorm with—gasp!—paper and pen.

I don’t want to ditch my devices and move off grid, but I am trying to purposely schedule sanity breaks into my day. I imagine they’ll be even more important as we march inevitably forward into the connected abyss.

What are your thoughts on our expanding connectedness?

Facing the blank canvas

blank piece of paper on a table with pens and coffee mug

© creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos

The ability to write anything is scary.

I liken it to being given a blank canvas and told to “Paint something.” It’s paralyzing. But if the same person gave you the canvas and said, “Paint a tree,” you’d probably think for a minute about what a tree looks like to you, and then dive in.

In that way, parameters can actually free up your creativity rather than stifling it.

Once I know how my story starts, then I know which path I’m on. I might take some unexpected detours along the way, but I’m not switching mountains halfway through. (Unless, maybe, killer plot twist?)

I’m trying to work on the next book in my Men of Steele series, and this is where I remember how messed up my process is. No matter which method I use, I end up starting the story about 50 different ways before I figure out how to get into it.

I do have a few constraints to help me out. I know I’m writing romantic suspense, and that it takes place within the world of my Men of Steele series. And I know who the hero is.

But if a character can be stubborn, Kurt Steele is the worst. I’m not one of those writers who believes my characters have control, but once they form in my mind, that’s pretty much what I’m stuck with. (See Scott Kramer of Blindsided, who came to me as a Marine scout sniper, even though I’d been researching and writing Air Force PJ heroes.)

I’ve tried to write Kurt’s book several times now, and he doesn’t cooperate. At all. This time, I’m determined to write him a happily ever after, but I may turn gray doing it.

Wish me luck!

If you’re a writer, have you ever struggled with a particular character’s story? Got any suggestions?

The Great Capitol Crimes Writers Workshop

If you’re in Northern California and looking for an inexpensive, one-day workshop for writers, check out The Great Capitol Crimes Writers Workshop in Rancho Cordova (Sacramento) on April 22nd. It’s sponsored by the local chapter of Sisters in Crime, but the topics are relevant for any fiction author.

The lunchtime keynote speaker is New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter.

And, I’ll be there, talking about—what else?—Scrivener. 😉 I’ve cut back on appearances since the move, and this is my only scheduled in-person workshop (so far) this year. Maybe I’ll see you there!

SINCC conference flyer

By the way, if your group or conference would like a Scrivener presentation, contact me about putting on a one-hour or half-day workshop. I’m also available for group presentations via teleconference.

Making time to read

stack of books in front of flowersDespite all the detours I took getting here, I’ve wanted to be a writer since at least 7th grade. Maybe it’s because I was such a huge reader. Like bring-home-14-books-a-week-from-the-library-during-the-summer huge. Like never-not-reading-something huge. Like up-too-late-reading-under-the-covers-with-a-flashlight-on-a-school-night huge.

(Who’s with me?)

I was constantly immersed in stories, to the point that my friends made fun of my vocabulary. (Because, apparently, no one uses words like risqué in middle school.)

Even while working full time for someone else, I probably read at least a book or two a week. I read on my lunch break, at the gym, while waiting for my boys at sports practice, on weekends, and after the kids went to bed.

Somehow, I managed to have a life and still read.

And then I started writing, and the more I got into it, the less I read. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I was using that time to write. And because I felt like if I had the time, I should write. Or do something else “productive.”

But if I’m always writing and never reading, how do I know what’s going on in the world of books? And how am I refilling my creative well if I’m never immersed anyone else’s words and ideas and style?

Okay, well not never. But there were whole weeks that went by where I didn’t crack open—or power up—a single book that wasn’t for story research or writing education.

For someone who got into writing because she loved stories, that seemed ridiculous. I had two main problems.

  1. I had no office hours. This is the ongoing dilemma for those who work from home. We’re never not at work, and if we have downtime, we feel like we should be filling it with work. One of the few things I miss about working for someone else is that when I came home in the evening, I could relax and enjoy that time guilt-free.
  2. I didn’t make reading a priority. I was making a lot of things happen, but sitting down to read when I could be cleaning, or writing, or answering email, or sorting my socks felt like playing hooky from all the things I should be doing.

I haven’t completely solved number one, but I am getting better at giving myself permission to ignore my office after dinner.

Number two has been easier. I simply added reading to my daily to-do list, and created a goal on Goodreads. Once something is on my list, it’s no longer a guilty pleasure, it’s a must-do.

“Fun read” has its own checkbox right alongside things like working out, writing, and all of my business to-dos. I hate unchecked boxes, so now I find ways to fit it in. I’m back to reading on my lunch break—this newer thing I’m trying where I don’t eat in front of my computer…

I read in the evenings when my husband returns to studying after we eat dinner and watch a show together, and while flossing/brushing my teeth.

Sometimes, on the weekend, I’ll sit in the living room or on the back patio, and get lost in a book for hours. Crazy, right?

Last year I read a little over 60 books—both fiction and nonfiction—against a goal of 52. This year, I’ve already finished more than 20 toward my goal of 75.

I’m pretty sure I’ll smash 75, and enjoy every minute of it.

Are you a big reader? Is there something in your life you’d like to fit in? What’s holding you back?