By Katharine Eliska Kimbriel
Anyone else inundated by Plaxo, etc. birthday reminders for individuals you’ve never heard of, much less met? Are your spam filters and virus checkers constantly fighting each other and locking up your computer? Are you on your third cell phone in one year, and they all have totally different interfaces?
On the other hand—do you enjoy carrying around your entire WIP and its support files on something the size of a lapel pin? As far as you’re concerned, does new tech rock? How do you feel about monitors and laptops that really are portable (as opposed to the monitor and computer of the Apple IIIc, for example)?
Welcome to the future that we used to warn people about. I’m finally back to writing, and technology is slowing me down.
I can’t blame the technology for everything. Sure, they’ve over-engineered WORD to the point that I’m thinking about Open Office, Apple, or Scriveners. But I can still find basic formatting if I look hard enough. Nothing will convince me that using italics in a manuscript is a good idea, because often you can’t recognize italics when they gallop past. Underlining says: “Put this in Italics” to everyone who happens by.
Then there are the files of synopses and early chapters of those works that were overwhelmed by Life. Are they looking a bit like Urdu right now as opposed to English manuscripts? (Unless Urdu is your preferred writing language. Could things be looking like English—or Mandarin—instead of Urdu?) Some of them I realize I not only recognize, but the story has progressed in my mind. Others are definitely in Urdu, which is not optimal for someone whose first language is English. They mean something, but not what I originally thought they meant. Heck, in one book the protagonist is now sharing that role with several others.
Think of it this way—if you drop the ball for too long, and years flow by—there’s a stranger staring back through the monitor at you, a person with different life experiences and priorities and beliefs. You’re asking her to go back into the minds of people she stopped visiting with regularly. . .stopped seeing a long time ago, in many cases.
And you may still have around your neck the dregs of whatever stopped the muse from kick-starting you going, whether it’s health, or finances, or family combined with one or more of those—real issues that leap into your face every time you turn around.
It’s not that you can’t go back and visit those characters—in fact, if you’re lucky, once your characters see you’re serious about everything, they’ll fall all over themselves to give you an update. Sometimes the problem is how to slow them down so book-sized chunks can be cut from their volumes of stories.
Or at least it’s one of the problems for me.
I have a reminder for all of us. I learned it from writer Barbara Burnett Smith, who was not only a fine mystery writer, but also a speechwriter and coach, and a corporate trainer in how to write good presentations and learn not to panic.
Barbara taught me many things during our time spent together, but one of her greatest gifts arrived posthumously. I had gone back to the house after the funeral, to be with others who loved her, to help support her devastated husband, to try and close the circle on a friendship. Her books were set up for her corporate friends to see, and her training partner had spliced together a few of her classes, to show the writers that side of her we knew little about.
I’d seen her training work before, but not the particular tape playing when I walked into the den. So I sat down to watch her do something she was phenomenal at—being a cheerleader and personal coach for the people who came to learn from her how to give good presentations.
It was near the end of her class, and she had paper up to draw large arrows, graphs and circles upon, showing everyone how far they’d come since the first morning. But the thing that got my attention was this: She told them that she knew they were afraid that they would lose all this skill they had just honed and polished. That they were certain that when they needed to do that presentation in a week—or a month—or six months down the line, they’d freeze and make fools of themselves.
“Not a chance. It’s like riding a bicycle.” Once you learn to ride that bicycle, you never forget. Your skills may have fallen from a ten to an eight or even a seven or six—but you don’t go back to zero. When you get back on one, after years have passed, you may need to ride a block to get your rhythm back, and another to get your body angle in the sweet spot for optimal comfort and speed. But you’re on the bicycle, and you’re on your way. A ten is well within your reach.
I realized that this was her second gift to me. When I was ill, she had told me I was still a writer. I was just on a sabbatical. And now, she was assuring me that I still knew what to do—I just needed a few spins around the block before I headed for market. The helmets and toe clamps may have changed, but they still have the same functions.
Fads and fashions have morphed, and different parts of the genre are grabbing attention, nominations and money. But I’m still a writer, and I still tell a great story.
I simply have to recognize that the way I plan stories, write stories, and rewrite stories may have changed.
There’s one thing I can guarantee hasn’t changed.
I still love to tell stories.