I had a recent scare when my computer threatened to die in the midst of a deadline-driven project. I needed a new computer—one that wasn’t on the brink of death—and I needed it immediately. As in, before my old machine gave up the ghost with catastrophic timing.
Normally, I would take my time choosing a new computer: research which version of Windows I wanted, how fast the computer I wanted, test out keyboards, etc., and then I’d probably buy from online because that’s usually where you can find the best deals. In this case, however, I needed to buy a new computer from some place where I could carry it out of the store and have it up and running in a matter of hours, which meant my options were pretty limited. Since it turned out that my computer shopping expedition coincided almost exactly with the Windows 8 release date, I came home with a computer with a touchscreen and Windows’ wacky new operating system.
I’m not big on change, so I probably would not have gone this route except for the time crunch. Now, having used Windows 8 for a few weeks, it’s starting to grow on me.
- I love the touchscreen. I worried that it would take some getting used to, and decrease my productivity in the meantime; instead, I got used to it so quickly that when I use a computer that doesn’t have a touchscreen now, I find myself trying to scroll up and down, click, and move windows around on the screen with my finger. The touchscreen definitely speeds up portions of my writing process because it is slightly faster to navigate between through documents using the touchscreen then it is using keystrokes or a mouse.
- The touchscreen has a second unanticipated benefit. As someone who spends way too much time either on the computer were writing longhand, I have a perpetually inflamed tendon in my right wrist. I’ve worked with the physical therapist, know the right stretches to do, and so on, but I found that the single best thing I can do for my hand is to change up the way I use it. That is, I tried to avoid repetitive motions by switching between the keyboard, voice dictation, different types of mice, and a Wacom bamboo tablet when working on my computer. The touchscreen gives me one more option, one that I find easy to use with my left hand as well as my right and one that is significantly easier on my hand then using a mouse.
- The Windows 8 interface has a significant cool factor. I’m not convinced that finding programs is easier using Windows 8, but it’s not more difficult either. Little by little, I’ve been rearranging the "tiles" to make the programs I use most often more accessible. And I kind of like some of the bells and whistles, like the fact that the tile for pictures scrolls through my recent photos.
- A surprise bonus—apparently, the camera on this new computer (the acer Aspire V5, for those who are interested) is far superior to that on my old machine. Since I do quite a bit of video calling, it was cool to learn that my picture is much clearer!
- Although Windows 8 provides a sleek, simple interface for accessing programs, at times it’s almost too simple. For instance, the built in application for looking at photos is great for looking at photos — but that’s it. In their attempt to simplify, it seems that many of the built in applications have lost functionality.
- Third party applications that are compatible with Windows 8 seemed to have the same problem. For instance, there’s a very slick Windows 8 version of Skype. It fills the entire screen, it’s pretty, and it performs basic Skype functions like sending and receiving calls. However, if you want to use Skype’s more advanced features such as the ability to transfer files, you need to reinstall an earlier version of Skype on the "desktop" which, as far as I can tell, is Microsoft’s nod at the fact that almost no programs are actually ready to run on their new operating system.
- Certain web browsers also seem to have issues with Windows 8. I’m certainly no expert in this arena, but apparently "plug–ins" such as QuickTime and Google voice/video fail to function when running the browser in Windows 8 mode. This seems to be the result of Microsoft’s push toward “plug–in free browsing”. My interpretation is that Microsoft doesn’t work and play well with others, which is created a number of conflicts with other programs I find especially useful. Bummer. On the flipside, I’ve been able to work around most of these problems by running programs in the desktop mode.
Overall, I’m darned happy with my new Windows 8 machine. I think it will take a while for third-party programs to catch up with the new operating system. In fact, I think it’s taking Microsoft a while to catch up with its new operating system, based on some of the glitches I’ve found in their programs as well as those written by other software developers.
Note: I also think the Windows 8 interface would be much less user-friendly without the touchscreen, so if you’re thinking of giving it a try, make sure to test drive the touchscreen version.
But I’m warning you—you might never readjust to the normal, non-touch variety!
Anyone else have experience with Windows 8 and/or a touchscreen computer? What do you like or not like?
I have to admit, over the past year writing fiction has been much more difficult that previously. Months ago, I thought I was days away from finishing my novel—only I couldn’t quite seem to get those last few scenes written. I wasn’t sure exactly how they would play out, which made it extremely difficult to actually sit down and write.
However, I promised my son I would do NaNoWriMo with him this year—which means I am sitting down to write for an hour every day whether or not I feel like I have anything to say.
As a result, I’ve rediscovered a truth about writing that I’d managed to forget during this past year: Writing is an act of faith. If you sit down at the page—even if you feel like you have nothing to give—nearly every time, your Muse will produce something remarkable.
Case in point: yesterday, I had a pen and notebook and was brainstorming a scene while waiting for a dentist appointment. I was early, so I knew I had some time, but I had ZERO inspiration. Nonetheless, I started writing:
Scene: in mine.
They go down the ramp and it’s all cool and exciting. Otto’s distracted; Elliot feels weird because he has the urge to shift. Maybe the SD is bearing down on Webb first and Elliot figures what the heck, if I have to shift, make it count… How do you write a good climax? Maybe the key is to have your theme pull it through—winning by conquering your inner demon blah blah blah.
At this point, I put down my pen, looked up at the ceiling, and said to myself, why am I bothering with this? I have nothing to give here. I’m writing worthless gobbledegook—what’s the point?
Because, another voice answered, writing is an act of faith. Every time you feel this way, if you just keep writing, you’re surprised at the result.
So, with a martyred sigh, I picked up my pen and kept writing whatever (stupid, I thought) words happened to come into my head.
1. Down ramp. 2. Seeing the mine. 3. Generator. 4….
And then—something shifted. I caught a snatch of conversation and the scene came alive in my head. My pen raced to capture the events I imagined unfolding.
“Oh, there’s something I should possibly have mentioned,” Otto says. “There might be some sort of Guardian down here.”
[He casts a spell to protect them from the approaching monster—an invisible sphere? Or maybe a wizard’s hedge like earlier]
“Where’s Webb?” Otto demands.
“He’s outside! You have to let him in!”
“I can’t,” he snaps. “Not without taking the entire thing down.”
And just like that, I had my answer to the scene problem. Okay, the prose isn’t beautiful, and the scene probably makes no sense whatsoever without context, but I’d been stuck there for quite some time with no idea how to get from Point A (the scene’s beginning) to Point B (the next planned event). Actually, I won’t be going to Point B because the writing process often takes you in unexpected directions, and in this case the unexpected direction is much better than the original plan.
Writing requires faith: faith that it’s worth it, faith to keep writing even when you’re sure you have nothing to say, and faith that the ugly prose that first hits the page will, someday and somehow, transform into a story worth telling. When I remember this, I keep writing.
What about you? Do you think writing requires a leap of faith?
Did I mention that I didn’t mean to take a “blog-cation”? Then why, you may be wondering, has it taken so long for me to get back to blogging?
I’ve been asking myself that very question. In part, it’s because I was waiting for life to slow down enough to get it “right”—you know, write a bunch of blog posts ahead of time, get a schedule in place, and so on. For some reason, that never happened. Perhaps my goal is too lofty. I want a schedule; I want to post regularly and well; I want to engage with others online; and, since I can’t seem to find the time to do all those things, in my all-or-nothing way, I’m not blogging at all.
I think that part of the issue is that I don’t want to give some nice speech about how I’ve been so busy, but NOW I’m back to my old blogging ways–and then fall down on the job.
The simplest answer would be to stop blogging, of course. But I don’t want to. The break was nice, but after a bit, I kept thinking of stories I wanted to tell and noticing posts and articles I wanted to share. I simply don’t have time to blog as much as I was blogging earlier this year, not if I’m also working on creative writing and working on income-generating types of writing.
I don’t have the perfect answer, but then, perfect anythings—especially answers—seem to be rare. I will blog as time and inspiration coincide, and I have no idea, yet, how often that will be. Not very often for a bit, because as I start getting a little time for myself after months of craziness, I’m finding that it’s time to return to my languishing novel.
Photo Courtesy of mrsdkrebs on Flickr Creative Commons
Otherwise, I’ll never get any sleep!
My post on mindfulness and its applications to the writer’s life is posted on The Wild Writers site this week! Here’s an excerpt:
By Cheryl Reifsnyder
Lately, I’ve begun a practice of mindfulness meditation. I didn’t do it for the sake of writing, either, except in the general sense that when I’m healthier, happier, and less stressed, I’m better able to write. (Yes, it’s sad, but that’s how my mind works: I might not pursue healthy habits for the sake of being healthy, but in the name of writing, now, that’s another story….) I’m not talking about a religious practice here, but the type of meditation taught by the Stress Reduction Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. If you aren’t familiar with mindfulness meditation, I’d encourage you to read more about it, since research shows that the practice helps people combat stress and depression, cope with chronic pain and stressful situations, lower anxiety, and other useful stuff.
But as a writerly-minded person, I was particularly delighted to discover that mindfulness meditation has a number of benefits that apply directly to my writing life:
- It helps me to put other stresses aside when I sit down to write, so I can focus on the work at hand.
- It provides me with practice observing my physical and emotional reactions, giving me first-hand “research” to help create characters with rich and believable inner lives.
Click here to read more on The Wild Writers!
I didn’t mean to take a blog-cation.
I know, I know, summer was starting…I was taking this month-long epic trip to see family who’ve made the unfortunate mistake of living too far away from us…I have two teen boys home from school who wanted to hang with Mom (I know, right?)…PLUS I kinda volunteered to help out with the family business for a week while in PA (largest traditional archery festival in North America, thank you very much)…and, well, I was hitting the job-hunting scene pretty hard because my workload had slowed to a trickle and I need to generate some new revenue streams.
Which meant I had to learn a lot, strike out in new territory, and stress out about all the new skills I was trying to learn.
I have this tendency to think I can do everything. I’m trying to correct that, but for some reason it didn’t occur to me that *maybe* I’d be too busy to blog amidst the travel/work search/work/family/etc. that I’d have going on at the same time, any one of which could have kept me pretty darned busy.
I’m still working on the whole realistic-expectations thing.
So—I’ve decided, in arrears, to take a blog-cation this summer/early fall :~).
Meanwhile, I’m hoping you’ll celebrate with me because this summer has—despite the busy-ness and worries and stress—been a win for me. Here’s what I’m celebrating as summer officially draws to a close*:
- I managed to have a GREAT trip with family this summer–no small feat considering that we packed two dogs, two teen boys, two grownups, and enough computer equipment to set up two mobile offices (my husband and I were both working for part of the trip), and were away from home for more than 4 weeks. I’d hoped the trip would bring us closer as a family, and it did. It was also an experiment with the whole working-from-home thing, which both my husband and I do these days. It wasn’t *easy* to move our work spaces from house to house, but it let us see a LOT more of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins than we would have otherwise.
- I struck out into new territory in the work arena, bidding on jobs writing about science, medicine, health, and fire fighting–and after a slow start, I now have half a dozen new clients. **Happy dance!** I like not worrying about $$, ya know?
- I made–and stuck with–a major dietary change, with the result that I’ve lost 4 lbs in 4 weeks. It’s not a lot, but I’m doing this by changing the way I eat, so it feels like the kind of change that will last.
- I’m working on revamping my schedule to better align with my values and priorities. It’s been a loooong process, but I feel like I’m making some headway.
So–those are my "wins" for the summer.
What about you? What do you have to celebrate this season?
* Hey, maybe summer is ending a little later for me than most of the world, but it’s still 70 outside today, so I’m still counting it.