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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Method of Productivity

When I was in 3rd grade, my dad came home one day with an old Underwood typewriter, very like the one in the photo to the left. The moment Dad sat that old machine down on the kitchen table and said, "Here, this is for you," my life changed. Little did any of us suspect the gift of an antiquated typewriter would set in motion an obsession that would last a lifetime. But that day my course was set and I began the long and often torturous journey toward becoming a writer.

I typed and typed for the pure joy of watching the words appear on the paper. My stories were like childish script rejects from the old Frankie and Annette beach movies, or they were variations of my favorite fairy tales. I loved that old typewriter because it gave a voice to my over-active imagination. But when I typed for long periods of time, my fingertips got sore. Notice the raised metal rims around the keys in the photo and you'll see the reason.

When I married and left home, the old Underwood stayed behind. If you've ever tried to pick up one of these machines, you know they weigh a ton. Not something you could carry onto a plane or tuck inside a suitcase.

Within a year of leaving home, I landed in California to stay for a while, so I went looking for another typewriter. That's when I acquired a newer model, the Underwood SX-100, elite type, pictured above. This thing was sweet. No metal rims! With the acquisition of this new machine, I moved another step closer to my dream of being a writer.

With this old typewriter, I wrote 4 complete full-length manuscripts, including the first draft of Angel in the Rain, my published novel. I also produced several thousand pages of story ideas and partials. I still have most of them today, packed away in boxes.

A handful of years before getting my first computer, my husband thought he'd do me a favor and bought me a brand spanking new electric typewriter, with correction tape and the whole nine yards. Strange as it may seem, I produced nothing on that machine. It threw off my rhythm. I was used to the clackety-clack of the keys hitting in time with the movement of my fingers. With the electric, my fingers got ahead of the keys and the thing would continue typing even after I'd finished a line. This always brought me up short and and I would watch it finish out the line without me. The rhythm was just off, it was out of sync, and it distracted me right out of business.

Next came a couple of Brother word processors in quick succession. With the advent of electronics also came the headache of glitches and lost work. Both machines were 100% reliant on floppies to operate. Nuff said. The only thing I accomplished on the word processor was the first rewrite of the Angel in the Rain manuscript.

I was already past my 40th birthday when I finally got my first computer and the Microsoft Word program. That was when the gates of Heaven opened up and the light poured down. As a friend described it, "Now you've been given wings to soar!" Or so one would think. So now it's confession time, time to look at the facts in the cold, harsh light of reality. During all the years I've had a computer, I haven't been as productive as I was with my sweet old Underwood SX-100. Shocking, isn't it? I know, it surprises me, too.

So, what's the deal? It's really not hard to figure out. There's that distraction factor again, and it's staring me right in the face. It's called the World Wide Web and for someone who sits here for hours on end, staring at a computer screen, it can be a mighty powerful temptation to step through that door and mix and mingle with the big world out there. With the old Underwood, there were no such diversions. I didn't have the luxury of deleting anything. I couldn't copy and paste, unless I took the scissors to the pages and then taped them back together. And believe me, I have a lot of pages stored away here that resemble montages more than manuscripts. All I could do was plow forward, and that's exactly what I did. Sometimes I've even thought about dragging out the old manual typewriter but, once you've gone tech, there's no going back, at least not for me.

I see a lot of authors and aspiring authors around the internet romance community complaining about lack of discipline when it comes to internet time. The distraction is too much temptation for them, too. I can only speak for myself, but a writer's life is often secluded and lonely. So, we blog. We MySpace. We email. We cruise and call it research. In the end, a lot of us are not producing as much as we need or want to.

So, what's the answer? Other than sheer iron willpower, I have no idea. Are you--like me--guilty of wasting valuable writing time out there on the net? I'm writing this blog post when I should be working on my manuscript. Are you reading this post when you should be working on yours? If so, you're not alone.

Peace,

Devon

4 comments:

  1. Ah, Devon--shame on both of us!
    But you know what? If not for our blogging, we very well might not have become buddies.

    I know, everything in moderation--including the internet.

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  2. Magdalena, all I can figure is the internet fills some kind of need, at least it does for me. Without it, I'd be living and working in a complete bubble. So I do think the blogging and etc. are healthy, but it sure does play h-e-double hockey sticks with our productivity, doesn't it? And yes, you're absolutely right. Without the net, we never would have known each other. With just a couple of exceptions, that's true of all my writing pals. So, I can't give it up. I just wish I could latch onto some discipline when I really need it. It was your post about Dana that got me thinking about the progression of writing equipment through the years. :o)

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  3. Wow, you hit the nail on the head. I do find myself spending way too much time on the net. I have to compulsively check my email, both of them. When I went up to Mom's this past weekend, I really missed my computer. I was only up there a day, but it felt longer.
    My Underwood was a Brother word processor my dad bought for me when I started college. I think I sold the thing at a yardsale for like 10 bucks. And I was glad to be rid of it. It did notes from college, and that was about it. Back then, I only wrote stories in notebooks. I have stacks of them, still, because I hate to throw anything creative away.
    My hubby has my everlasting gratitude. He paid for my first laptop 3 years ago, and I have never looked back.
    Sounds like you maybe need to dig out the Underwood. You sound more creative with it.

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  4. Jennifer, I've tried dragging the Underwood out of the closet. But once computerized, I'm afraid there's no going back. Even if I shut down the computer, it's still there, beckoning to me to come turn it on and check email, check blogs, check sales rankings, etc. etc. Also, after having Word for the past 14 years, using that old typewriter is like trying to write with a rock and chisel on a stone tablet. I was far more productive when I wrote on the old typewriter, but I'm just going to have to learn some discipline and deal with my online habit. Hard to imagine but there are authors out there who don't allow themselves to look at email or anything on the net until they've written their self-imposed page or word count totals for the day. Can you imagine!!! I would love to have that kind of discipline, but I just don't.

    Hang on to all those notebooks with your writings. If you haven't already, one day you'll be able to look at them and see your journey through your own words. They're treasures, so keep them close. :o)

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