So There I Was

Or, Where Do you Write When You Can’t Write?

I have an office. It’s a nice office. It has a nearly bar-height computer desk that used to be a kitchen table, upon which rests my favoritest desktop that I’ve had recently. I can stand there, foot on a 16kg kettlebell (it’s a good idea to move around and shift position periodically when you’re working at a stand) and type away to my heart’s content.

Or, more commonly, play the electronic slot-machines that are modern MMORPGs. Look, it helps me maintain a more or less passable façade of sanity, and I can quit again anytime I want to. Shut up.

As I was saying before I was interrupted, I can stand at my desk, surrounded by things to improve creative flow, fingers trying to make the sound of sizzling bacon on the keys of my sweet, sweet mechanical keyboard, and rock the writing process. It’s glorious.

When it happens.

See, I’ve got littles. An acute case, with no end in sight. What? That’s wonderful, I hear you say. Offspring are a blessing from Deity-of-choice (despite being an abomination unto Nuggan, but what isn’t anymore?), and a comfort as cruel eld saps the strength from one’s limbs, turns bright eyes dim and rheumy, and forces an entire suite of annoyance upon the unwilling.

I’ve got the littles, and I’ve got them bad. Wee-er Than Wee Dave Dave will be a whole year since nativity next week, and Wee Dave is not at all uncertain about letting Daddy know when he’s paying too much attention to junior partner. Wee Dave much mislikes Daddy’s explanation that while the Little Bit may be mobile (can ascend stairs by Bitself, Lord help me) younger sib still requires more assistance than Wee Dave does. Mostly, I just get hard stares and slightly betrayed expressions. *sigh*

So while I’ve got this great office (despite needing a very thorough going over) I don’t really spend much time in it. Especially since we’ve moved Wee-er Dave’s bed in there. For reasons of, “night-wean, you adorable but miserable little beast! Please?”

In point of fact, I’m writing this post, as I’ve written most things in recent weeks, on my not-as-smart-as-I-might-like phone (I’m still holding out for a cyberdeck, me), while ostensibly “playing” Lincoln Logs with Wee Dave. That is to say, the little tyrant directs me to construct edifices to his glory, and them smashes my puny offerings with his pudgy, godlike fist. Such is life.

Which brings me to my point. I’ve been grousing, at least in the relative quiet of the inside of my skull (only place I get any quiet, anymore) that I haven’t the time, energy, or opportunity to spend in anything resembling real writing. Well, I’m learning (slowly, but he can be taught!) that’s not precisely true.

Mostly, I’m adjusting what I think of as writing. I hate virtual keyboards with a passion. When it comes to crafting story, I think through my fingers, and if the haptic response is wonky, so is my process, and this makes for a grouchy Dave. For some time, I’ve wanted to get one of the laser projection keyboards from ThinkGeek or wherever sells them, but I’m nearly certain that whatever I’d gain in cool points, I’d lose in actual usefulness. Since writers are never cool, anyway, it would be a net loss.

So I’m sitting here, leaning against the corner of the couch, while Wee Dave inveigles me to knock off this bizarre tapping on your device, Daddy, and get me Second Breakfast. Naow! (My spawn are at least part feline on their Avo’s side.) and I’ve “written” (I’m concerned about repetitive use injury in my thumbs if this becomes a habit.)

The convenience factor, in this palmtop publishing is a bit of a thing. Seriously, I’m holding a powerful, little computer, the likes of which I can find in the pages of my favorite scifi. That’s not to be understated. And if I can use it to keep writing, so much the better. The downside is, well, mobile interfaces. This iThing is not ideal. I’m using Notes, which is simple and relatively intuitive. I’m fat-fingering like an ogre at high tea, though fortunately, the spell check isn’t terrible. I’m working at integrating the predictive text function into my writing for greater speed. And eventually, when I have the time (*sob*) I’d like to look into a better app for such things.

I’ve done fiction on the phone, and it’s a pain. Especially dialogue, with all the quotation marks and commas and punctuation that I have to flip virtual keyboards to even see.

Ultimately, it’s just different than how I like to work. I dislike running up learning curves. I do that often enough in parenting that I’d prefer to minimize it elsewhere. Stop laughing. The mobile notion certainly works for something like a blog post, however. I’ve heard of people putting togetherness entire nonfiction books on their phones. What about the rest of you? Have you tried writing on a personal mobile computing device (and camera, dictation tool (and don’t think I’m not debating that angle. It’s just the background noise of two littles (and the littlest is chatty!) that makes me wary) encyclopedia, NondiscriminatoryGameChild, map, GPS, and widget of undefined utility)? Does it help you write when you might not otherwise be able to? I’m thin I’m going to keep at this, and see how much of a tool-of-great-use I can forge it into. I’ll keep you all update, you beautiful, shiny writers, you

37 Comments

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37 responses to “So There I Was

  1. If you can do -anything- with a toddler and a baby running around, its a win.

  2. I can’t do the mini-writer, aside from the little pocket notebook I use for ideas. Trying to type or read what I wrote on the screen of the iLeash gives me a headache and I can’t get the ideas to flow like they do in large print. If I can’t get to the computer, I use a freeleaf notepad (Levenger) and write what I can there, then transcribe it.

  3. Martin L. Shoemaker

    I write virtually everything these days by dictating into my phone. Somehow I suspect that would make things worse for you, not better. “Daddy, who are you talking to?”

  4. I just didn’t write for a number of years. Mind you, I Am Not a Writer*. So that’s less of an issue than for some.

    *I have written. I have even published (finally; the date is wrong on that.) This does not make me a Writer, because those are folks who have their creativity come out that way, and if they don’t write, they will go a bit mad. Me, I’m an artist—who happens to have some stories that nobody else is bothering to write, so I get frustrated because I have to write them myself. It’s slow. It’s often painful. Stupid sense of obligation…

  5. Holly

    Um. Okay. I’m kind of at a loss. I have littles and bigs, and even when it was just littles (three, four and under) I managed to do creative stuff, mostly writing. Because it’s a heck of a lot easier to step away from a computer than a cello safely. Not that I wrote anything good, mind you.
    Their bedtime-your bedtime? Your get-up time-their get-up time? Current littlist, age two, my house, has a ‘cage’, a bigger than playpen foldy thing, and certain toys live in it so she wants to go play there. She’s safe and secure and having fun for a half an hour or more.
    I got a lot of ideas from a very Christian book aimed at homeschool moms called Managers of their Homes. Really helpful in getting schedules that let what needs to happen, happen. With reading older kids, they can even make it happen-ish if I’m down sick.
    And put all the other toys up so Wee Dave isn’t overwhelmed by choices. If I could change one thing from those crazy days when my boys were all little, that would be it. “Okay, it’s lego time.” “Okay, legos put up, hot wheel time.” Because once everything’s mixed up, it’s overwhelming to them, and then they need me to find them something to do.

    • Women have all sorts of unfair advantages you don’t even know about regarding babies. They don’t make you want to kill them, that’s a big one right there. Mummy hormones. They’re a thing.

      Men have to get by on technology and ingenuity. We are at a profound disadvantage, lacking all the biological cheatery that women have already built in. We wear ear protection to keep from going mad from the colicky crying.
      Any man that has two of the little darlings running around wrecking the place, and he manages to keep them alive, well, fed and growing, that man is a saint.

    • We have thousands of toys, and we did not purchase most of them. Grandma has this bad habit of coming in for a visit, declaring that the kids don’t have enough to play with, and pulling out toys that we put away for a reason as well as showering dozens of toys upon them, often secondhand, cheap, and broken. And then asking after specific toys that she brought before that are either buried in the morass that is the garage (full of, as I mentioned, thousands of toys) or deliberately given away.

      To say *I* would be much happier with a carefully-curated selection of toys would be accurate…

    • *fond memory smile* I had my eldest as a college student. I would breastfeed and work on research and essays at the same time, her head braced on my forearm as she happily drowsy-nursed. There was always room for her to cuddle into my lap, while I worked,

  6. I find anything more than very short notes on a touch screen setup are irritating at best. I am hoping that a laptop-like gadget that is a keyboard, screen, and battery that uses a smartphone (via USB) as its ‘brain’ will prove useful as smartphones are powerful enough for most stuff now (and getting better still) but lack a desirable interface. I was supposed to be getting something of the sort in February but as with all such things there are delays. If I’m lucky I’ll have something in June. If really lucky, it’ll be worth a dang. Of course that laptop (mini..) size does lose the pocket[1] portability of a ‘mere’ phone.

    [1] At the way screen size is growing for some those pockets might need to be the size of Captain Kangaroo’s…

    • I have two of those bluetooth keyboards for smartphones, one for iPad/iPhone, one for the Blackberry tablet I bought when they were suuuuper cheap. Both essentially useless, sadly. Completely impossible to do useful work.

      The netbook seems to be the handiest thing so far, and the cheapest. I have an Asus tablet-with-detatchable-keyboard that runs Windows 10, and it is very nice for continuing to work outside the house. I can slap it down on the table in a cafe and write until the cheap chairs make me leave. That one I picked up for $250 CDN a little while ago. Battery life is good for about 8 hours, and if you sit in the car you can plug it in and get unlimited battery. Best part, it fits in the go-bag with all the other crap and it doesn’t weigh a ton.

      I would have preferred a “proper” netbook, but I’m too cheap. 🙂

      • ASUS netbooks are pure love for me, for writing. I have …for lack of better term, shared custody of one of the first generation ASUS netbooks an EEEPC 700 series – remember those? The ones barely bigger than a paperback, with 4 gb of ‘solid state’ hdd?

        For reasons only known to ASUS, the thing has Harman Kardon speakers. I suppose to better hear the music off of Youtube cat videos with.

        The thing still works. Runs Debian, and is completely offline, to better prevent distractions. I’m actually not surprised it still works – it was marketed with the idea of providing cheap homework computers for children. It’s ten years old. Not bad for a laptop that got chucked at (not into) the bin of the bus stop Housemate happened to be sitting at! (The original owner was frustrated at how tiny the keyboard was, and when housemate asked for the power cable, it got flung at him too, I am told.)

        Right now I want a slightly beefier ASUS netbook, and I know I can probably save up for one that’s less than 300 AUD. That said, I simply LOVE ASUS products. *glances at the two ASUS laptops that are hand-me-downs from customers who decided “Nah, I just want my data back, keep the machine I need to downsize/I bought a new one.”*

  7. Ellyll

    Scrivener has a phone app that’s actually useful for writing with, if you’d care to try it. And if my middle-aged eyes & fingers can manage it, anyone’s can. 🙂 That having been said, I sympathize mightily. These days it’s not toddlers eating the time, but I remember it well. I never was so exhausted. What’s the line? Raising children is like being pecked to death by ducks?

    • No app is useful for writing if you can’t type at a decent speed.

      And by the way, Scrivener is a blight upon the land and an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. Well, maybe not quite, but close.

      It thinks that everybody writes in nice neat little chunks called ‘scenes’, and that the boundaries between one chunk and the next are never transgressed, nor a chunk divided into two, nor two chunks combined into one; but they are only moved about to different places in the manuscript.

      Now imagine how that works for a writer who composes a continuous stream of text, goes back and edits things here and there, and inserts section (or scene) and chapter breaks afterwards where it seems appropriate. (I generally outline by jotting down proposed chapter titles, but it’s mighty seldom that the actual chapters fall out the way I originally intended.)

      WordPress delenda est – but I’d rather write in WP than Scrivener.

  8. Have any of you tried a headphone with radio connect to computer, driving a voice to text converter like Dragon in the computer? Then you can walk and talk at the same time.

    • How do you see what you’ve written?

      • Draven

        How do you explain to the wee one that no you weren’t saying you were going to shoot someone from a mile away?

      • You turn around and look at the screen. If you need to be looking at the screen continuously, my gadget is less useful, though it does free the hands. The dictate is more useful for a draft, and at first requires being at the screen until you are accustomed to dictating all the punctuation.

        • Wait, I thought you were walking and talking at the same time. The screen is following you around somehow? *glyph of confusion*

          (And yes, I need to see the screen all the time. I read back, and I often write out of sequence within a scene.)

    • TRX

      Charles Moore invented the FORTH programming language. Legend has it that he installed a version on a luggable computer and programmed while he was driving to work, using 5-bit Baudot code and a 5-button puck. (like a mouse, but without a cursor)

      I’ve never known whether that was true, but FORTH programmers tend to be pretty far out toward the weird end of the curve…

    • Sounds like the punchline from a joke. Funny, I couldn’t walk and talk before…

  9. Christopher M. Chupik

    “What can you write when you can’t write?”

    A James Patterson novel?

  10. Or, more commonly, play the electronic slot-machines that are modern MMORPGs. Look, it helps me maintain a more or less passable façade of sanity, and I can quit again anytime I want to. Shut up.

    *laughs, with shared sympathy* Lineage II and Star Trek Online. Holy timesinks! But STO I will admit, is easier on the people who work; Lineage II not so much.

    • Robin Munn

      World of Warcraft sucked about a year of my life away* before I said, “You know, I’m not having fun here any more — this just feels like work” and quit. And if my friends had still been playing at that point, I would still have been having fun — they’re the ones I joined the game in order to play with, after all.

      * In retrospect, I really should have paid more attention when the guy who sold me the game said, “I might one day go as high as five, but I really don’t know what that would do to you. So, let’s just start with what we have.”

      • The main pleasure I get is playing with friends. In essence the game is a bit like a chat with a game attached.

        Star Trek Online is much more relaxing. I can get by with duty officer mission setup; and choose to actively play group instances missions if I want. The game also does not penalize me if I walk away and not log in for a few months. In fact it reminded me of it’s existence by giving me a freebie ship code.

        I am making myself play it at the moment though through 5 characters. Earning a free tier 6 ship is just too tempting.

  11. There IS no solution to your real problem, which is to be interrupted every 9 seconds. My deepest sympathies.

    If you have teens or pre-teens close enough to employ at a reasonable rate (with you IN the house, pre-teens are acceptable), or can bribe them by dedicating a novel to them, paying for a couple of hours periodically and on a regular basis may keep you sane. And if they could kindly bathe the child at the same time…

  12. Might take a look at MyScript Stack — I think that’s the name. It’s an alternative to the keyboard, similar to the old PalmPilot “handwriting” interface. Basically one letter at a time, but you do get the predictive line, too. so instead of tapping and thumbing, you’re scribbling?

  13. adventuresfantastic

    Wait, you have quiet inside your skull? How do you get the voices to behave and be quiet. Mine sing rude pirate songs, and when I tell them to stow it, they get rowdy and start singing in the round.

    (Comment written on my phone.)

  14. When I bought my Kindle, I bought the one with the keyboard on it, thinking that maybe I’d be able to write a little with it. I had actually done some writing on a Palm Pilot once (I even have the nifty folding keyboard). However it turned out there were no native text editing apps on it. Much disappointment. Still, awesome for reading on, and still the best way to verify your eBook formatting.