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Writing Days

Summer is winding to a close. The hot days that press down on the prairie like a sizzling iron have eased to moderate temperatures, thanks to the hurricanes pounding the coasts. My brain is starting to wake up and revive from the stupor that three-digit temperatures always induce in me. (My roses feel the same way, perking up and putting on their fall flush of blooms.) Autumn in the prairie cauldron is a short-lived season, one to be seized with joy and gratitude because finally we feel revived and able to get a few things done.

Like write.

Yeah, I know that the sun is mellowing into the golden radiance that late September and October bring, the kind of light that lures me outdoors despite my best nose-to-the-grindstone intentions.

I know that it’s time to clean up the yard, clear off the patio, put away the lawn chairs, wash the windows, treat the grass, buy pumpkins and pansies, plant tulip bulbs, tarp the AC compressor and cast iron patio table, decorate for Halloween, contemplate how many Christmas trees I might put up in November, find my flannel shirts and–more importantly–my socks, and generally get ready for winter, but I need to write.

So many distractions swirling like the north wind that will soon have brown, red, and golden leaves skipping across the lawn–and yet, I need to write.

I am this close to writing the climax of my current work in progress. It was supposed to be one of two books completed this summer. Alas, that objective was not reached. My sights have lowered to the all-important task of getting this one manuscript finished. I can do it. I just have to ignore the beckoning autumn weather, park myself in my writing chair, and type those final scenes.

Back in the days when every summer was a race against the ticking clock of looming publisher deadlines, involving the writing of long, large-cast, complicated novels before my return to the university campus, I typed like a madwoman. The final days of rough drafting were crazy, nearly round-the-clock sessions of writing, eating, writing, crashing to sleep, and rising to write more. I refuse to count the number of years I spent on that particular work treadmill, and how I pushed myself to meet the challenge again and again.

This manuscript is not that complicated. There is no deadline, except the one I’ve set. I have savored the luxury of taking my time. It doesn’t mean I’m writing better. It doesn’t mean this light adventure has any depth. But I’m writing, and for this year–this summer–that is enough.

Here’s a quote from Louis L’Amour that I like: “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

We can let ourselves freeze up from doubt, anxiety, and uncertainty. We might be facing the kind of story we’ve never done before. We might feel we don’t know what we’re doing. We might feel we’re too rusty, too untrained, or insufficiently talented to write what is filling our heart and imagination. As creative people, we can invent a dozen reasons why we shouldn’t try.

But as L’Amour says, turn on the faucet. Sit at your keyboard and type. Make your protagonist talk to someone, even if it’s the nosy little girl next door that has nothing to do with your plot outline. Type anyway, until your story sense takes over and the real scene starts to flow. You can always cut out the little girl later. Or, you might decide to keep her.

Roll with it.


Enjoy the fall weather after your writing session for the day. Whatever your daily page quota happens to be, meet it, even if some pages are too weak or inane to keep. And during the days when buying pansies beckons, reduce your page quota–if your deadline will allow–so you don’t feel guilty and you don’t miss the fun.

And, for as long as you need to write, do it.




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Writing Ergonomics: Laptops

In my previous post, I sneered at the current litter of computer desks available out there as being largely unsuitable for sustained writing. Writers need to work without interruption for two to four hours minimum. Many write in eight-hour shifts. Of course, when a deadline’s looming or the story has you by the throat, you may go even longer.

Trouble is, the human body wasn’t designed for computer work. The screen’s hard on our eyes. Long periods of sitting affects our body. We get stiff and sore. Our circulation grows sluggish. If we slump, our organs suffer. Poor posture takes its toll on our shoulders and lungs.

The laptop computer is ideal for writers who prefer to work away from a desk. I have friends who like to write on the sofa or outdoors or in bed. However, the laptop brings its own ergonomic problems, chiefly from the size and position of the keyboard.

Maybe you enjoy writing with the laptop balanced on your knees. But if you ever try to use it on a desk or your kitchen table, you’ll quickly find that the keyboard is too high. Your shoulders are pushed up, and that position can eventually bring strain, discomfort, perhaps even pain.

My best recommendation is to comb through used office-furniture stores or garage sales for an old-fashioned typing table. These inexpensive tables are generally small and low. Many of them have wheels and may feature drop-leaf extensions. They were originally designed to support a typewriter. I’ve found them to be ideal to hold a laptop at an optimal height.

I own about three or four of these versatile little tables. One has a wood top, but the others are all metal. Cost has ranged from free to $30. I’ve spray-painted them to spiff them up, and find them equally useful for occasional sewing or craft projects. Their small footprint makes it easy to tuck them into a corner when they aren’t in use. Presently, I have one supporting my copier.

If you’re lucky, you may find a table fitted with a small undershelf. This was designed to hold typing paper, carbon paper, or envelopes, but it can also be a terrific place to store the laptop.

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