The Writer's Desk

Writing, publishing & marketing notes from Jamie DeBree & her alter egos

Working Low-Tech & “What If?”

Long time no write…posts, that is. But I’m actually making some progress writing now, and surprisingly, it’s taken a low-tech solution to make that happen. I’ve been having problems writing on my laptop simply because it’s easier to just sit and stare at web sites than to actually tap into my subconscious and suss out a story. I don’t particularly like that, and I’m working on changing my computer-use habits, but I suspect it will be awhile before I have success with that. In the meantime, my trusty Alphasmart Neo has been getting a workout, and I have to say, it’s a rather peaceful break to pull that out and just type…with no backlighting (so easier on the eyes by a lot) and no distractions save the physical when my dogs or husband need something.

I’m not happy to admit that it actually takes some willpower to close the laptop and pick up the Neo instead, but I’m always happy I did once I start typing. I think my whole body actually relaxes…probably partially because the Neo is too thick for me to comfortably use at my booth/desk, so I sit sideways across the booth with my feet up and the Neo in my lap.

There’s something very addictive about the laptop screen…it’s bright and shiny (though I actually dim the display way down to save my eyes at night), and obviously social media is addictive too. Facebook is my biggest online vice, and I think it’s because I’ve always been fascinated by people. I’m a watcher – an observer by nature, and sociology/anthropology has always been extremely interesting to me. I don’t need to engage, but many nights I’ll sit there just watching other people interact on the screen, analyzing why they post what they do, or why they respond as they do to other people. It’s like an ant farm, really, and I can watch for quite a long time without getting bored.

While it’s not necessarily a bad thing for me (I understand that for some people it causes extreme emotions, but I consider myself an “outsider” aside from a very select few friends, so I don’t get too emotionally invested for the most part), it’s easy to just sit and stare. The thing is, once I tear myself away and start writing, and my subconscious takes over the story, writing isn’t much effort either. It’s tearing myself away from the fascinating lives of the “ant farm” that takes effort.

I’ve always been a curious sort…just the very act of comparing Facebook to an ant farm (which I’ve never actually had) makes me wonder if the comparison is apt, and how one would care for an actual ant farm, and whether I should go dig up some of the rather copious amounts of ants we have on the property to start an ant farm so I can watch and learn and decide for sure if the comparison to Facebook is accurate (the fact that my husband would probably like that as much as he liked the idea of putting worms to work composting under the kitchen sink is the only thing now stopping me from establishing an indoor ant colony this weekend).

That’s how my mind works. But I think that’s also what gives me access to endless stories, though the talent for writing them well is something I’ll be working on for the rest of my life. I am constantly asking “what if” questions, and wondering about this or that, whether it be something superficial or an internal thought process. For instance, the story I started last week (yes, a new draft – back to my romance roots just to get moving again) started with about three main “what if” questions that were posited in the first three paragraphs (indirectly, of course). Part inspiration, part curiosity, part “how would someone like me handle that”…and my new character was born, and in a situation neither of us would normally put ourselves in, handling it in a way that I would undoubtedly be too polite to actually do, but in the way I’d want to handle it if I weren’t bound by the self-imposed filter of social niceties. Which, of course, makes her interactions vastly more interesting than my own, or I hope they do.

And then I wondered what her background might be that she could so easily turn those filters off, and drawing inspiration from a TV series we’re currently watching, I decided she would be a sort of shirt-tail descendant of someone with even less of a social filter and a background that would allow her to justify that behavior in her own mind, even as she knows it doesn’t do her any favors in most settings.

I’ve written just under a thousand words of her story, and already I know so much about how she thinks and feels and what motivates and irritates her and ultimately, what she wants…which will all be revealed much more slowly on the page as this particular scene of her life plays out.

And that is why I love writing. It’s not just telling a story. It’s asking questions and exploring why my characters (humans!) do what they do, what drives them, what combination of personality and circumstances can result in someone feeling or acting (or both) one way or the other. It’s the ultimate ant-farm, if you think about it, and the characters are the ants, just doing what they do while we observe and perhaps get context for our own lives through the observation of theirs.

Suddenly I have the urge to watch the movie “Antz” again…

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