Each morning, before leaving for work, I grab my tools, all stuffed in a backpack, and head out the door, intending to write during my hour-long lunch break. The contents of my bag: iPad, Nikon camera, three USB cables, three journals, two pens, and, of late, a book, The Elements of Story. And these are the main components. There are scraps of paper, folded pages of short stories in need of revision, and perhaps some receipts, 99% of them for cigarettes, I’m sure.
So I’m not surprised when, upon arriving at the park about five miles from my job, I find myself overwhelmed by what to do, what to use. More times than not, I don’t have a specific idea in mind when writing during lunch. I let my thoughts fly, either by journaling or allowing some unknown character in my head to come out and play. But each purpose has its own tool. Hence, why I look like a pack mule as I descend the apartment stairs every day.
When traveling or visiting a local coffee shop (or park), no one considers disconnecting their desktop computer, monitor, keyboard and mouse, to then reassemble it for use outside the house. Imagine asking the barista for the nearest power outlet as you pull your 19″ monitor from a fashionable suitcase (on wheels, of course). The tech savvy writer has to make the right choice. Mobility requires light hardware, either pocketable or small enough to throw in a messenger bag.
I stroked my beard as I looked at my various gadgets. A tech-infected mind goes through the usual computations, adept at complex equations that inevitably lead to justification. So I stared at my journals and thought it sacrilegious to be a writer sans paper and pen (the small journal I keep in my back pocket notwithstanding). “It’s not right,” I said to myself, fretting over journals as though the wrong choice would prove catastrophic.
And it could. Typing on a smartphone when the prose calls for a laptop is aggravating; you sit, spitting venom at yourself while trying to preserve your phone battery. Conversely, carrying a 15″ laptop to bang out less than 100 words is overkill. If you can, think about what exactly you want to do and how it applies to the gadget in question. Will it be comfortable to use? Will you have to squint? Will your thumbs turn gangrenous from overexertion? Choose wisely.
Don’t let the tech get in the way.
Writing is, in of itself, a simple task. Put words to paper. Make sure the syntax allows for coherence. Spell words correctly and, on occasion, use the semicolon properly. Learning how to write well places the writer in an awkward position. He’s unsure of the words, of his imagination’s power and attention to detail, and he needs to quickly cut through the perceived shock and awe of creative writing.
So maybe you consider yourself a disciplined writer; when it’s time to get to work, all distractions are removed. It’s you and the blank page. But if you’re like me, you have decisions to make before the first word is written. Again, it’s a matter of choosing wisely. If I can add an addendum, my maxim should read, “choose wisely and quickly.” Amid the gadgets and cables, make quick work of selecting the right soldier, lest the flighty muse flutters away, leaving you in a wake of cliche-riddled prose.
Eventually, after a few minutes of undisturbed beard-stroking, I left the journals behind. And the camera. And the pens, the scrap papers and the bulky backpack itself. I grabbed the iPad, The Elements of Story and a novel, threw them in an old messenger bag and instantly felt lighter. Better prepared to handle the task in the afternoon.
A Writerly Tip.
I prefer clear, concise writing advice—straight lines from point to point—rather than meandering, almost comedic axioms from brainiacs and hacks. So a final revision to my little piece of advice: Choose wisely, quickly and get to work.
I chose the iPad as my primary writing tool; my fingers danced atop the glass display with little pause. Viva la unfettered progress! By alleviating the distraction of multiple tools, I focused on the words and nothing else.
There’s a tool for every job. But you can’t rifle through the toolbox all day. The wood, the concrete, the blueprints await; you have a story to build, a world to erect out of nothingness. The tech is supposed to make the science of writing easier, more productive.
But “ass in seat”Â remains Man’s only corridor from imagination to finished product. Be mindful of what you want to write, where you want to do it, and get out of your own way. A nail needs to be slammed into a piece of wood. Pick up the damn hammer.