Having recently returned from the land of redwoods and kelp-infested surf (aka Big Sur… don’t worry, I’ll save the trip photos for FB), I feel like now’s a pretty good time to delve into the second part of my Workday Distractions series, which I’ve decided to title, Stuff I Read When the Computer Kills My Eyes Or When The Internet Vanishes.
As a writer, my computer is my best friend. I spend most of my day sending emails and pitches, surfing the Web for story ideas or general news, promoting my work, staying in touch with other writers, and… well, blogging. Put I also play online games and hang out on Imgur and Youtube way too much. So, with that said, sometimes I need a break from the computer and all things electronic—sometimes it’s because I’ve hit a little productivity slump and I need to mix things up, and other times it’s because my eyes are ready to pop out of my head like bloody Champagne corks due to the fact that I’ve been staring at the computer screen (aka Screen of Death) for hours on end.
So, without further ado, here’s the list:
Books and comics: Ok, this is probably a bit of a no-brainer for most of you, but you’d be amazed by how many writers don’t allocate enough time to reading. Even if I’m busy, I try to allot a certain amount of time to the need-to-read book that I’m trying to work through, which means that I have to pass up on other, sometimes more entertainingly thoughtless distractions, like Adult Swim cartoons or Xbox games. And yes, I’m not trying to throw out some tried platitude in the same vein as one of CBS’ The More You Know commercials, but the old school reading and writing rule is still the best one: The more you read, the better your writing will become. So, with that in mind, I try to read it all: Genre fiction, literary fiction, comic books, pamphlets, take-out menus and crumpled-up coupons—if it’s written halfway decently on a piece of paper that isn’t sopping wet and or on fire, then I’ll read it. Though I have to say, I’m not perfect: I’m not one of those writers who will tout that, “Oh, I can’t wait to curl up with my copy of War and Peace before I go to bed.” Yes, it’s absolutely important that you read the weighty classics, but I still like to read the fun genre stuff. Give me an issue of Y: The Last Man, Saga or a good King short and I’m set for the night. It’s all about balance: Read the heavy stuff, but don’t be afraid to switch over to some light reading too—as long as the story is decent, anyway.
Newspapers and Magazines: Reading TIME.com and Tor is great, but since I’m currently a freelance magazine writer (yikes, that does make me sound a bit old), I do my best to read some of the best works that I can find in today’s newspapers and magazines. I’ll read the local stuff (local city mags, LA Times, LA lifestyle websites, etc.), but I also make a point of reading print publications from outside of LA, two of the best being The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times (those are two very different beasts, I know, but they both offer up some of the best feature writing in the country). Most people look at mags and newspapers as struggling dinosaurs that are wheezing and slumping along as they try to keep up with the super-evolved, ultra-fast electronic mammal we call a “website,” but that’s not entirely accurate. Yes, newspapers and magazines will never, ever be a main source of information in the 21st century, but the print medium is perfect for one thing: Telling the ideal long-form story. The Web is designed for short spurts of information—short blurbs that are meant to get across the key bits of a story. But a print feature can meander a little more. It can spout off important details—such as physical descriptions, longer quotes, and so on—that web editors would cut out in a heart beat. A print story still has to be relatively concise, but the story can takes its time and mature a little, which is honestly something that’s rarely seen online.
Pen and Paper: I do most of writing on the computer. But sometimes it’s nice to break out the old pen and paper. I only started writing in a notebook (either jotting down short stories or quick notes) consistently a few months ago, but I’ve already noticed a few things about my electronic writing: I rely on spellchecker and Google way, way too much. Plus, when you’re writing on your comp, the distractions (especially the web-based distractions) are hard to ignore. But with simple paper, it’s a little easier to focus on the task at hand. I don’t write in my notebook as much as I should, but it does have its perks, and I recommend it to any other writers out there.
Anyway, that’s my list of non-web related Workday Distractions. Thanks for tuning in! If any other writers out there have any suggestions on non-web things to do when I need a break from my computer (but still want to improve my writing skills), let me know.