A friend of mine recommended a book to me that he was reading. Unfortunately my public library didn’t have it, and his only copy was on his Nook (an e-book reader). He was so adamant that he wanted me to read it that he has let me borrow his Nook.
This is my first ever experience with an e-reader, and even at page 258 I’m still not sure if I like it.
There is the anxiety of worrying about the Nook being hurt in my daily travels (I do most of my reading on public transport), but I guess I have to ignore this because I always have a bit of hyper-concern with the books of others anyway, and I’m sure if the e-reader was mine I’d quickly get over it.
One issue I have is not getting the visual cue of how far through the book I am. I know I can look down and see I’m on page 258 of 510, but I like to see that. I like to glance over at my book sitting on the table and see the bookmark sticking out indicating exactly how much more of it I have to go. But I know this is a stupid issue so I can’t really count that.
I also don’t like that it is not as easy to keep my finger in place and flip ahead to see how long the chapter is to know if I will be able to finish it before I get to my stop. I’m sure there probably is some technical way I can do this, but my impatience with the instruction manual rendered it a mystery to me.
I’m also very aware of the reflected glare I might be sending into the eyes of my fellow passengers as I’m reading, in the same way as I have been spotlighted on numerous trips by others. This has led to some awkward reading angles on the bus and might account for the sore back I’ve had this weekend.
But after all those negatives… I have accidentally done a few things, which if I knew how to do intentionally might be quite cool. I’ve slipped my finger on a word and the little Nook has defined it for me. The word was ‘was’ –so probably not one I needed help with, but not matter what angle I poked at other words I couldn’t replicate this handy little feature.
I’ve also accidentally highlighted stuff, not useful stuff, but there have been many times I would have liked to do that with books I’ve read in the past, but my ‘leave it as your received it’ policy on books has strictly forbidden any such vandalism.
Finally there is the benefit of being able to keep so many books in one tiny little machine. I could fit probably twenty of my personal libraries into this one little Nook. But having said that, I love my wall of books in the lounge room, and I can’t see a little Nook being able to replace that.
So I guess the one last downside which probably has sealed the fate of my purchase or not of an e-reader is that you can’t easily lend out your books. Fortunately for my Nook friend I am still old-fashioned, so he’s got one of my oft’ read paperbacks to keep him satisfied until I return his Nook.
Recently I have been thinking a lot about the universal drive to find happiness. There are happiness tests for kids, happiness scores for whole countries and in any self-help section of the book store you will see a whole shelf of various guides to happiness. We are becoming a little obsessed.
It was only when I read ‘The Antidote – happiness for people who can’t stand positive thinking’ by Oliver Burkeman that I considered that perhaps we should not be looking for happiness, but rather contentment? Happiness, like sadness, is an extreme in the spectrum of emotions. It is something that we pass through, and it can often be triggered by external factors over which we have no control. Is it natural, or even possible to be in a state of happiness all the time?
For the first time in about 15 years I am in a place of contentment with my work. I enjoy what I do, it challenges me each day, and I get to mix with a lot of intelligent and friendly people. I don’t bound out of bed each morning with joy in my heart and a song on my tongue, but I don’t dread the alarm and prey for traffic congestion on my way in either. I am content, and I have to admit, I like it.
So I decided that contentedness is something we could strive for instead of happiness. Having reached this conclusion I thought my pondering could come to an end and I could move onto the next big question in life… Until Monday.
Sunday night for me is usually mellow-out time, but last Sunday I wrote a flash fiction story from start to end. I went straight into editing it, and by bed-time I was pretty pleased with what I had produced.
Then Monday morning came. I was doing the same work, with the same people, but I was restless. Really restless. Achingly restless. Each time I walked between meetings, or as I watched my lunch spinning around the microwave, all I could think of was that I’d rather be writing.
I really like my job, I do, but I think that drive for happiness is what makes me sit down, turn the computer on and write. Writing does make me happy, even if only fleetingly, but it is a wonderful feeling that you can get addicted to.
I know several writers now who have ‘made it’ and were able to give away their day jobs. I’m under no illusions that these writers are happy all the time, or even any happier on average than I am now, but I’m sure they get those moments of happiness when a cool idea hits them, or they write those magical two words ‘The End’ –and I would like to feel that more often.
So really, what’s the harm in chasing happiness as well as contentment? I think I’ll try for both!
I recently read a book called ‘The ethics of what we eat’ by Peter Singer & Jim Mason. As I was boiling up the carcass of my roasted free-range chicken (to make stock) and ensure I got every nutritional morsel the poor creature could offer me, I realised what a significant influence reading that book has had on my eating choices.
I have previously seen several documentaries which have showed me big slabs of what this book told me, as well as hearing others espouse the virtues of what this book shared. But until I read the book it just didn’t seem to stick. Now, every time I make a decision about what I’m going to eat, aspects of this book flicker through my thoughts.
I know a big part of this is a me thing; I really get into books. I’m sure for others a book will not have as much impact as seeing something on the screen, or hearing the story from the lips of someone who has seen and knows. But I’m sure there are many others out there who do gel more strongly with what they read.
It makes you realise, yet again, what power there is in the written word. If only more of us could use that power to do good
I’m really liking my new mantra; sit down, write something, and finish it. It has really helped to get me to… sit down, write something, and finish it. Only one problem. My characters don’t like it.
I made some very logical and scientific decisions about what I was going to focus on, based on how close I was to the end of the stories, what effort was left to finish them off, that sort of thing. As you can imagine it involved some spreadsheets and conditional formatting to make cells change colour, a few drop-down boxes and a meaningless pivot table just to show myself that I hadn’t forgotten how to do it.
So I’m focussing on ‘James’ (one day I’ll win an award for least imaginative working titles), I’m liking ‘James’, I making good inroads into ‘James’, but guess who starts visiting me in the shower, when I’m vaguing out on the bus, when I’m going for a long walk… It’s not ‘James’… It’s ‘Lore’.
‘Lore’ is only 6 chapters long and has at least another 15 to go. ‘Lore’ comes about 12th on my spreadsheet of stories to focus on. ‘Lore’ is meant to be ignored for at least the next 6 months and possibly put on the scrap heap. ‘Lore’ wants to be written.
I’m very aware that ‘inspiration if for amateurs’* so I am trying to resist ‘Lore’ –writing longhand what gets revealed to me, and even then only notating those parts that I have watched play out. But soon I think I’m going to have to give in and dive back into the story.
Maybe the mantra needs another tweak; sit down, write something and finish it, then sit down again and keep working on the things I want to work on as well. Not quite as punchy, but maybe it will put the phantoms to rest?
*quote from artist Chuck Close.
I had a good time at Adelaide Writers’ Week this year, though the 35 degree days did lead to a few headaches and a bit of heat exhaustion! I discovered a few new authors and was made both richer (in experience) and poorer (in book purchases) for having been there.
A funny thing that I noticed with a number of the authors was the concept of when they started to write. A lot of them did not start writing, or even think about becoming writers until their late twenties, thirties or even forties!
Having been writing books since I was in primary school, this shocked me at first. How can you just decide to write? Just knock out a book and get it published in a couple of years? I had been slogging away my whole life and still did not have a publishing contract to show for it.
Instead of drowning in my jealousy (I may have dog-paddled in it for a while) I kept listening, and a theme emerged, both in those who, like me, had always wanted to write, and those who came later to the idea; they all wrote a story.
Yes, it is a crazy idea; to be a writer one has to write a story and finish it. Sure, I have been writing most of my life, intensely over the past 10 years, and I have hundreds of thousands of word to show for it, but how many novels have I written to completion and put through at least one editing round? How many? One.
When you look at it like that it makes perfect sense, in fact the ONLY way you can become an author is to write a story, finish it, polish it and send it off. Everything else is just practice.
I may have seven novels on the go, but until I finish them, it can only ever be a hobby. That was my big take-away from Adelaide Writers’ Week. I’ve always laboured over the fact I need to write, but it is the finishing and polishing that I really need to focus on.
The streets are packed, everyone is running late for work and it is standing room only on the bus. Adelaide’s mad March is on again. It kicked off with the fringe a couple of weeks ago, then hit a bit of a low with the Clipsal 500 starting Friday morning, countered somewhat with the launch of the Arts Festival on Friday night, lifted again by Adelaide Writers’ Week starting on Saturday.
This year there are a lot of authors I have never heard of at Writers’ Week. There are also a lot of authors who specialise in areas I don’t read a lot of; poetry, biography, political commentary. At first, I must confess, I was a little disappointed with the line-up; there are very few speculative fiction writers, and very few commercially popular writers, but I guess a big part of what the festival offers is discovery.
A lot of people have asked me what I get out of it, and in truth not many of them know I write, so the appeal for me may not be obvious. But when they asked me this, it struck me as odd that I couldn’t really answer them with any great clarity.
I do find it fascinating to hear writers talk of their process for bringing a novel into the world, but would I change my process based on their experience? I doubt it. When authors tell of where they get their ideas, does it change my idea-harvesting technique? No, not at all.
All I can conclude is that I love to hear people talk about writing, whether it be well published authors with 50 publications to their name, or my writers group friends who are still trying to find a publishing house for their first novel.
Writing can be a very lonely pastime. Sure it is also wonderful and magical, but when you resurface into the real world, you realise it is just the cat there (or a human loved one) who doesn’t fully understand where you have been for the last three hours. Writers festivals are full of people who understand, and that is a nice place to be… At least for a little while.
The Adelaide Writers’ Week runs from March 2nd to March 7th (no, not a whole week, but Adelaide Writers’ Six Days doesn’t have the same ring to it).
Maybe there are some down sides to being a collector of end of the world predictions. Several of them coincided last week and there was just a part of me wondering if I would have to worry about finishing off all my novels after all.
Most of us heard about the near-miss asteroid long before it had its little fly-by with earth, but on the whole the media were pretty quiet about it. Some underground groups were saying the near-miss was going to be an extinction level event, but the world governments were keeping it quiet so our last days would not be spent in chaos.
It was easy to dismiss them as a bunch of crack-pots (while secretly working out the fastest way home should said chaos descend while I was at work). But then the other end of the world prediction clicked into place; the pope resigned.
It wasn’t so much the resigning bit that set up the portent (being the first time in over 600 years it would be hard to argue with that prediction) but in 1139, a man called St. Malachy predicted the list of popes between then and the end of the world. His predictions have been uncannily accurate and the second to last pope named was Benedict.
Fortunately the election of the new pope has been set for a date long after the asteroid near-miss. Had it occurred before I might have started sussing out where my closest crackpot group was hiding out in the hills and petitioned to become a new recruit!
Then the Russian meteorite happened, only when it was first reported, due to the vast numbers of videos, it was said to be a ‘meteorite shower’. That’s the beginning of the Mayan end of times, and let’s face it, that date wasn’t so long ago and our calendars are known to be inaccurate…
But it wasn’t a meteorite shower, the pope hasn’t left the Vatican yet and the asteroid has sailed pass without so much as a puff of smoke, but it has led me to think quite seriously about something; I need to turn my interests toward fluffy bunnies, doily making, or cup cakes, because last week was just a little too freaky for my liking!
I’ve made a rather important discovery; I write more when I’m reading something I enjoy. If I’m reading something I love, I write even more.
Interestingly I also read more when I’m reading something I like, probably because I don’t want to put it down. One can only assume I do a lot more chocolate eating, TV watching and belly-button staring when I’m reading stuff I don’t enjoy, because I don’t seem to do anything else very productive instead of writing.
Maybe I need to get stricter with my reading rules? I introduced my 100 page rule quite a few years ago, where I evaluate a book at page 100 and if I don’t care what happens next I put it down. But there are too many good books out there to stick with a bad one, and now if you consider my apparent linkage between good reading and doing writing (I won’t say good writing, we all put out our fair share of crap), then I think I need to be more willing to let go.
I hate the idea of giving up on a book too soon, I have read books that started slowly which I ended up adoring, but aren’t we always told that if we don’t hook a publisher in the first paragraph we lose our chance? Could I be so harsh as to let the same rule apply?
I think I’m going to revise my reading rule to 50 pages, and if I’m really disliking it, I’ll let it go even if I’m only on the second page. Perhaps now I will get through my reading pile a little faster, and with luck will start to tick off my writing goals a little more regularly!
Just recently I have read two rather disappointing sequels. Compounding the frustration was how long I waited for both books to get to me (one on a long waiting list at the library, the other from an overseas retailer). My appetite was well whetted and I ripped into them the moment I got my hands on them, so my disappointment was significant when I realised I wasn’t really enjoying them.
This, naturally, led to some introspection. Was the issue with the sequel, or was it actually with me? Had my expectations been raised too high by my love of the first books? Had I blown the first books out of proportion to what they really were? If I had encountered the first books instead at the time when I read the second, would I not have enjoyed them as much?
Or is it just that sequels are often not as good as the original books?
In movies it is often staggeringly obvious that the producers are just trying to cash in on a popular product for an eagerly waiting market. Could the same be true of novels? I wonder if the answer can be found in when the author decided to write the sequel?
Fantasy novels are often written in trilogies, and while I do find that sometimes the second book is filler, there is usually a good and justified place for the final book. So maybe if the sequel is conceived at the same time as the original idea, it has a greater chance of standing on its own?
If, however, the author misses the characters, has no other leads to follow, so heads back into familiar territory, or they get repeatedly begged by adoring readers to PLEASE write a sequel, then maybe that’s when they should step back from the computer?
It’s funny, because when I wrote my first novel, Paragon, I always had an idea for a novella prequel that I wanted to write. It was only after I finished writing the book that I wondered about what the characters would do next. I have since planned out the entire sequel, but have to admit, even with all the details mapped out in intricate detail, the story doesn’t seem as three-dimensional as the prequel I have always had in my head. I can’t help but think that is a sign that the sequel should never be written.
I didn’t like the theme month. While I did like talking about flash fiction, I didn’t like being obliged to do so. I read a great book in January that I wanted to tell you about, but I couldn’t because it wasn’t flash fiction. I had a really interesting conversation with a friend about sequels, which I wanted to share with you, but I couldn’t because it wasn’t flash fiction.
I know, I could have written the posts and then used them some time in the future when (if) they did fit into my theme, but what would happen if I had some amazing insight or piece of inside information about flash fiction given to me THIS month? I wouldn’t be able to share it with you because the flash fiction theme was done in January.
Besides, some ‘themes’ just didn’t warrant four blogs, a single post would be enough. So I won’t be going on with the theme months any more, it was an experiment, I’m glad I tried it, but let’s just put it behind us now and pretend it never happened.
In an effort to do something non-flash fiction related, I added a new page to my site to track the books I’m reading. I have always believed that a writer must always read and read widely. So now you can follow what I deem as reading widely, and please feel free to suggest books. I’m also going to add the books as soon as I pick them up, so you will also get to see what I don’t finish, when that happens I’ll try to explain why.
I hope you had a great first month of the year, and that you managed to stick to your resolutions if you made them.
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