Sunday, January 23, 2011

On the Pros and Cons of My Kindle

Like many thousands (millions?) of others, I recently received (at my request) a Kindle during this last holiday season. When it comes to technology, I am generally not an early adopter. I like to wait until the kinks and bumps are worked out, and mostly I like to wait until the price comes down. I never envisioned this little piece of hardware as replacing my book collection, but I could see its advantages. I was ready.

Having just completed my first Kindle book, I pass along my initial observations—the pros and cons, as I see them, compared to reading a “real” book. I should confess that I haven’t yet explored all the Kindle’s capabilities. Note that I am not comparing the Kindle to other e-reading devices (can it show things in color)or even considering it’s other uses, such as reading magazines or newspapers. This is Kindle Pros and Cons 101.

The Basic Pros

Size and weight—the new Kindle, even with a hard cover to protect it, weighs about the same as the average paperback but is smaller in dimension. It can fit easily into a small purse.

Capacity—there is no contest here. The Kindle can hold thousands of books. When it comes to travelling, I know which one I will take with me.

Instant ordering—No longer do I have to go into a store to purchase a book or order online and wait. The book I want is mine with a few keystrokes (as long as I have a wi-fi connection for which I don’t have to pay extra). The process of purchasing a book was unbelievably easy, even the first time I tried it. (Possible con—danger of over-ordering.)

Ability to change typesize—I hadn’t thought about this one before, but as my eyes age, the ability to change the size of the type is a Godsend, especially in low light conditions. The type is no longer blurry, reminding me that I might be ready for reading glasses.

Durability—The hard cover that my family so thoughtfully purchased with my Kindle acts as a shell to protect it from wear and tear. When I carry paperbacks around, the inevitably become dog-eared.

Ease of turning pages—A minimal amount of energy is require to turn pages forward or back—just as well since with the larger typeface, I need to turn pages every few seconds.

Keeping your place—When I reboot the Kindle, it always remembers where I last left off. For some reason, I am lazy about bookmarks and often forget where I am in book.

The Basic Cons

Lack of ease of browsing—Not having that great a memory, I like to refer back to people and incidents more than a few pages back. Although the Kindle allows for specific searches, provides a highlighter option, and no doubt other mechanisms that could help, it doesn’t allow for an organic search.

Lack of page numbers—The pages of a Kindle book do not correspond to the pages of the paper version. Instead, the Kindle informs you what percent of the book you have completed. Percents are all very well, but 10% of a 100 page book is very different from 10% of a 1000 page book. I want a sense of how long this book is going to occupy me. A little research onto the website will let me see the book’s actual page length, but it’s another piece of research.

Lack of a unique cover—Silly, maybe, but I like the distinctiveness of each book’s cover that keeps me rooted in what I am reading. In my first Kindle adventure, I was not familiar with the author, and it wasn’t until I finished the book that I read about her. I still can’t remember her name because the book isn’t sitting on my coffee table reminding me.

Battery operated—In its favor, the Kindle is a battery powerhouse. I read a whole book without any suggestion that the battery was low, but I was nevertheless aware that it could run out at an inconvenient moment. Of course, the solution is to keep it charged up for those long trips. But still, it’s one more thing to think about.

The effect of a lit screen on sleep—My unscientific observation is that the Kindle might disturb my ability to get to sleep. I have learned that I cannot work at my computer within an hour and a half of lights out. The week I read my Kindle novel, I had a hard time getting to sleep. Was that the excitement of the particular novel I was reading that got my juices flowing, or was it the electronic screen? Or was something else going on in my constitution? I wil need to try out my theory out with a less engrossing book.

The expense of loss—No one likes to lose a book, but losing a Kindle (or having it stolen) would be quite heartbreaking.

Lack of permanence—Despite the Kindle’s prodigious capacity, at some point I will want to eliminate titles. Maybe this act will be no worse than giving away or selling books, but there is something sad about blowing a book into cyberspace where no one else can enjoy it.

Despite my equal number of pros and cons, the pros definitely carry more weight, with capacity and typeface control winning the day. As with any new gadget, over time I will see how indispensable my Kindle will become and whether there will come a day when I cannot imagine my life without it. For now my immediate challenge is to decide what to order next for my upcoming trip. But while at home, I think I need to spend the next few years catching up with all the unread books on my shelves.

Friday, January 7, 2011

On 10 Lessons Learned (Maybe) and (Possible) Guiding Principles

Most people don’t keep their New Year’s resolutions. So making them invites the possibility of feeling like a failure. I realized after reviewing my year as a writer (see my 1/1/11 blog entry) that while I hadn’t accomplished many of the “reso-goals” I set last January, I could credit myself with a number of other equally ambitious and valuable achievements.

January 1 is somewhat of an arbitrary time to set a course, especially for those of us whose schedule revolves more around the academic year. But because it marks the beginning of a new tax year, it represents a chance to clean out the files (both actual and mental) and consider one’s direction.

This year rather than setting specific and immutable writing-related goals, I am going to apply the analytical skills I use in my paid work and construct a list of lessons learned with some accompanying principles or recommendations in no particular order. Many of these may seem obvious (such as the value of reading for writers), but we often overlook the obvious, and one person’s obvious may be another’s aha moment. As I review my list, I am surprised at how many are inter-related.

1. Keeping a detailed record of my writing-related activities provides me with a sense of accomplishment and keeps me honest in a positive way. Even when I feel I haven’t been doing much to further my writing, all I have to do is review the diary. Good for me for doing this. Recommendation: Add a weekly tally of pages revised or written. Add reading about writing, such as articles, blogs on writing.

2. I thrive on variety. I am constitutionally unable to stay with just one project until it is finished before starting another one. There is nothing wrong with this as long as I don’t leave a string of abandoned projects because I am afraid to finish them and get them out there. Recommendation: Go with the flow. The point is to keep writing and to enjoy it. If this means flitting between projects, so be it.

3. Reading both for the pleasure of it and for learning about writing is a critical part of a writer’s education. I love to read and wish I weren’t so slow. I learn so much from reading good books (and the occasional bad one that has a terrific plot.) Recommendation: Keep the Kindle loaded up and take it everywhere. Keep TV viewing and magazine reading limited.

4. Workshops, conferences, readings and gatherings all provide a periodic inspirational shot in the arm. I no longer have an interest in committing to a ten-week course. I have my writers’ group, and I am a very self-motivated person, but it is helpful to focus on a specific writing issue occasionally and/or to be around others who also write, to learn from them, to be inspired by them. Recommendation: Try to find and attend at least one such event each month. It’s probably less important what it is than just to go to something.

5. Immersing myself in writing, especially in a location away from home, increases my productivity. Occasionally, while on vacation I have had the opportunity to write every day without the distraction of work and in a new environment. I may only write a couple of hours each day, but the consistency allows me to stay revved up and enthusiastic. In addition, it is a luxury to be able to write in the daytime while I am fresher. Recommendation: Build a writing-oriented vacation into my schedule at least once or twice a year, even if only for a few days at a time. Look into going on a writers’ retreat in some nice place.

6. Feedback is essential to becoming a better writer. I knew someone who wrote four novels but made little headway in getting any published. Later I found out that this person never asked anyone to critique his writing. Few people can be objective enough about their work to know whether or not something is working. Recommendation: Continue to seek out critique, not just from my writers’ group, which looks at 5 pages at a time, but from others who may be willing to read larger chunks at one go.

7. If I write after about 10:30 at night I have trouble sleeping. This one is tough because most evenings, the earliest I can really begin is 8:30, and sometimes the juices don’t really get going until 10pm. Recommendation: Start earlier and write regularly, so that even if I don’t spend more than an hour at it, the momentum is there. (See #5.) When possible, consider devoting some afternoon time in addition to the weekend, even when not on vacation.

8. I need to step away from my work for awhile to successfully revise. See #2. Because I have number of irons in the fire, I often leave one alone for awhile. The distance allows me to more critical of what I’ve done. Recommendation: Build in a DNA spiral of revision, even if it takes longer to complete a project. If possible, try to get through a full revision before moving on.

9. Blogging forces me to reflect in more depth about something I have been thinking about. I began blogging to create more of an external presence in my writer’s persona. But I have found it to be a useful personal forum for sorting out and capturing my thoughts. I know from a point of view of going after a readership, I need to do it more often, but that isn’t my primary goal at the moment. Maybe at some future date. Recommendation: I stuck with my goal of two a month last year, and I think that is a reasonable goal for this year.

10. They were right. Sometimes you just have to sit down and say I only have to write for 15 minutes. The key is sitting down, turning on the computer. When I haven’t had an opportunity to write, lack of confidence and doubt sets in. It’s the continuity that counts. Inevitably the 15 minutes turns into an hour (but see #7 for maximum end time in the evening.) Recommendation: As the Nike folks said, just do it!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

My 2010 Writer's Year in Review

How can I resist publishing something on 1/1/11!

I officially proclaim my activities in writing for 2010. Including my fourth quarter,as a writer, I:
• Participated in 24 sessions of my bi-weekly writer’s group, taking in pages every single time.
• Wrote 24 blog entries, not counting my check-ins.
• Attended 6 evening workshops, 2 full day writing conferences with multiple sessions, 4 writer’s party/networking type events, 4 readings.
• Wrote three flash fiction stories, which I submitted to contests (didn’t win), and completed one other short story.
• Completed 9th draft of one novel, involving some substantial revision to the opening, and had someone critique that version (almost final!!!) It had been critiqued as a whole previously by 5 people. Wrote a new query letter.
• Completed 3rd draft of another novel, and had three people critique whole novel (writers’ group has regularly been critiquing pages). Wrote a synopsis and revised chapter outline. Did some initial editing after the critique, especially to opening chapters to make characters more sympathetic. Needs cutting.
• Made substantial revisions to first four chapters (out of a 10 chapter novel) young adult novel begun many years ago.
• Not counting writing my blog entries, I wrote on 25% of days; adding in blogs, writers’ group, writing events, I did something related to writing on about 46% of days. Not bad given I had one of my hardest work years since I’ve been self-employed.

Here is what I said I would do last January (my reso-goals), and how well I did these things (or why I didn’t.)

1. Complete revisions of my novel on the travails of two women in their middle years (by March 1), obtain further critique from three trusted reviewers (by April 15), make final revisions, prepare manuscript to send out to agents by June 1. What happened: Completed revision (by mid-July) and obtained critique of three people. Because one of the critiquers was involved with me in development of the screenplay on which the novel is based, the timeline has been changed to suit her schedule better. Will have draft 4 ready by summer.
2. Write short synopsis and query letter to be reviewed by six people each. What happened: See above—not quite ready for prime time.
3. Research appropriate agents and send to 5 a month once manuscript is ready, for a total of 30, if needed by end of year. What happened: See above. But should have bit the bullet and done this with the first novel.
4. Write on average two blog entries a month (can cheat and make at least four of these primarily photographic in nature). What happened: SUCCESS!!! And I didn’t even cheat!
5. Write six new short stories for Maine collection (average length-4000 words), or approximately one every two months. What happened: Completed only one additional story in the series, but DID write three flash fictions, revise first novel, and make substantial progress in revising young adult novel (which was not part of the plan.)
6. Read on average one good novel a month (slow reader…)—already in my possession, used, or borrowed. Only buy new if attending a book signing. What happened: Pretty much met this goal. Maybe bought a couple more books than I said I would….
7. Spend at least 20 days in Maine to get inspired for #5. What happened: Spent 22 nights in Maine (over 8 trips) and went to the Maine Diner at least once on most of these trips (for inspiration!)
8. Skim through all magazines, reading only what really interests me (vague, I know—sometimes you have to go with your gut), and complete by end of month in which they arrive, in order to make time for 1-7. What happened: Better at this, but not quite there. Tend not to finish magazines if I am in the middle of a good book.

Biggest disappointment: Didn’t write that much fresh material this past year—most of it was revision. Also, only work submitted was the three flash fictions.

Biggest accomplishments: Believe that novel #1 is just days away from being ready for submission. Made a real breakthrough in presenting the protagonist in a more sympathetic light. Also, feel good about my discipline in writing my blogs regularly. Now to work on getting more of a readership!