Archive for the lifehacking Category

Dirty Laundry and the Writing Routine

Posted in lifehacking, Tokyo, writing with tags , , , on December 4, 2010 by katekanno

If you’d have asked me five years ago, whether I could be happy back in Japan, I would have laughed. When I returned to the U.S. after thirteen years here, I’d had it with the crowds, and a school system that liked to treat foreign teachers like talking dogs rather than professionals. Well, other than the talking dog part — I’m  now at a university where I am treated as an adult — I’ve discovered there’s a lot less harm in a few grouchy, hung over salarymen than some hopped up douchebag in a BMW trying to cut me off on the 405.

There’s also something about living in a big, abrasive city that perks up the synapses. Having to jostle through crowds and hang up my own laundry rather than throwing it in a dryer, and separating garbage under a Byzantine recycling system, has had some positive side effects on my motivation to write.

I’ve even been alternating chores with writing.  One becomes a reward for the other, but I don’t ever try to do either  all at once.  I’ll write for an hour, then fold the laundry, and so far both are getting done.

I was wondering how others might balance their household chores and other errands with their writing routines.  Any tricks to psyche yourself out and remove the guilt for having left the dishes in the sink?

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Short-listed again!

Posted in genre fiction, lifehacking, multitasking, Science Fiction and Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , on October 18, 2010 by katekanno

Just got word that story I’ve just workshopped again because I wasn’t happy with it has been shortlisted. And this time, even if it’s rejected I’ll get an honorable mention. I’m still waiting to hear back on the first one I mentioned back in August, and I was going to quote the line from Red Leader, but then I remembered that he not only failed to successfully blow up the Death Star, he crashed into a flamey ball on its surface. So no, not going to go there.

In other news, I had to erase my laptop’s WiFi settings. Somehow the connection, once broken, had kicked in and I was wasting time in internet La La-land again. Now I’m back at the kitchen counter hooked to the cable and oh so much more focused and productive. This is not a recommendation for others, but it works for me. I’m too easily distracted. Of course to look at dark side of this arrangement, I am closer to the food.

 

Hibernation over, hopefully…

Posted in blogging, lifehacking, Tokyo, Uncategorized, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 3, 2010 by katekanno

It’s been a long three months since I’ve posted. Getting re-acquainted with Tokyo a new job, as well as a few writing projects, have been part of it.  The other has been our new internet situation.

When we moved into our apartment, we had trouble accessing our WiFi. We fussed and moaned for a few days, and then realized —  wow! — We were so much happier without it.

I’ve been more focused than I’ve been in years, and have not only completed two drafts of my first professional script, but three short stories of which I’m truly proud. I’ve sent them off, received one very hopeful rejection email, and am happily waiting for the rest to circulate back through the ether.

I’ve finally, finally reached that point where writing is a happy compulsion. I knew it was there; it just needed one tiny inconvenience to nudge it awake — in this case it meant having to carry my laptop to the kitchen and hook it up to a LAN cable.  The old stand and surf also has an added benefit of making me more focused about what I’m looking for online.

Other people have more control over their online life. I didn’t.  And when you don’t have control, particularly in cases of technology, it’s sometimes best to downgrade. Throw a shoe in the loom, replace that microwave with a conventional oven. The food’s still there. It’s just better.

Filtering distraction: how to use index cards to stay off the web

Posted in computing, lifehacking, Lists, memory, multitasking, social networking, stationery lust, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2010 by katekanno

“The mind that has no fixed aim loses itself, for, as they say, to be everywhere is to be nowhere.

Michel Montaigne  (From a blogshort essay on idleness that describes internet haze brain to a T.)

This is your brain on the web.

Or mine, anyway, and for the last several months I’ve been obsessed with finding ways to curb the impulse for distraction.

For writers, this problem is exacerbated by our own insecurities, that inner voice that tells us we’ve got a fact wrong, or that we simply don’t know enough about a subject to be blathering on about it like some blowhard in the Guggenheim.

One option I’ve tried is the Freedom application. You can find a better description of it here, but basically it cuts you off the web for a designated amount of time. If you want to get back on, you have to reboot your computer.  It’s an excellent way to get started, a sort of training wheels for willpower.

Another option I’ve devised myself is the use of index cards. Many writers praise them as an immediate idea recording device, but they can also be used, I’ve found, to keep my twitchy little fingers from clicking the browser icon. Here’s how it works.

One.

Obtain index cards, one stack will do, but you’ll find you’ll need more as you go along.

Two.

Place one of them next to your computer, and write the name of whatever writing project you’re working on across the top.

Three.

Close your browser, bring up word ( or whatever program you use), and start writing. Fend off the evil voice when it’s simply throwing rocks at you — especially do this when it sounds like your mother. However, if it asks a legitimate question such as “Is that really how internal combustion engines work?” or nags you that “you really need to elaborate more on cuttlefish anatomy,” you pick up that card and write it down. Now I usually number the questions, simply because I know I’ll need the order later, but now you are free from the urge to click your browser and thereby instantly forget what it was you were looking up in the first place.


Four.

Gather up your used index cards. You have a mission. Open your browser or go to a library. Find the answers to your questions — or decide that some of them weren’t really as relevant as you first thought — and write them down.

Five.

Return and revise your manuscript with your newfound information, and as a side benefit, a new sense of security because this time you have a better idea of what it is you’re talking about.  The really interesting thing that you’ll discover is that very often, your uninformed instincts about particular topics were more on target than you thought. For example, one of my characters was a 1940s Western director who had trouble finding extras who could actually ride horses. I’d worried that this wasn’t a legitimate plot device for getting another character hired on his film, but when I went to do my research, I discovered that this was indeed a common hurdle for directors of big budget Westerns; furthermore, they were even more frustrated by hiring limits set by the Screen Actor’s guild during the time. I was not only better informed, I was psychic!

This system has worked very well so far. If you’re in need of an extra boost of willpower you can use the index cards while Freedom is on. That should keep you away from the facebook/twitter vortex for at least a little while.

Creating a reading journal (a cozy catastrophe in progress)

Posted in lifehacking, Lists, literature, stationery lust, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2010 by katekanno

Here I am in this noisy café, unable to concentrate thanks to a gaggle of chain-smoking obasans complaining mightily about absent friends and their sorely inadequate children.

It’s as good a time as any to update my blog.As I’ve been making my way through the notebook, I’ve been able to devise a my own version of a reading journal and thought I’d share.

Note: I don’t like to choose sections of my notebook for use beforehand: doing so wrecks the fun of writing in it, sort of like slogging carelessly into a pristine patch of snow takes away the magic, so I organize as I go along.

1. Orange is for Reading

This is the reading journal. A work in progress, but basically if the book is certain to contain a lot of words I’ve never heard of, I draw a line down the page. The inner side I use to write those words and the outer edge for quotations, thoughts, or questions.What I like about this system is that it’s an easy way for me to stay honest about what one blogger aptly called “the shit I know I don’t know.”

2. Beige is for Writing.

I don’t really have a system in place here. If I have a story idea or to expand on something in my reading journal, I scribble it down and slap on a tag. That way I can come back and grimace at my leisure.

3. White is for er… Japanese

The move back to Japan demands that I get my ass in gear and start studying the language again. I passed level one of the Japanese proficiency test back in 1997, but 12 years (five of them out of the country) is plenty of time to get rusty. Thus, I added a language section. I use it the same way I do the reading journal, except there’s A LOT more vocabulary space, and my thoughts are mainly awkward practice sentences.

4. Yellow is for Lists

For anything and everything. I’m especially fond of book lists, but they’re also wonderful writing prompts,  great for mining memory and personal experience — a tip from Barbara DeMarco Barrett’s Pen on Fire.

This is what the closed book looks like. I use tags from mujirushi. I love their muted colors. I love their notebooks, too. And their pens. And their lunch boxes, and…I’ll stop now.

That’s pretty much it. It works well so far, but I’m sure that I’ll be wringing my hands over a new class/system soon. How do you organize your notebooks/ reading journals?

Taking back the clock, one recipe at a time

Posted in blogging, education, lifehacking, movies, multitasking, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2010 by katekanno

I’ve been feeling like I should write one of those end of year blog posts, but in truth I’ve gotten caught up in something else entirely. My partner and I needed a pick me up and some cheap bubbly on New Years Eve, so we stayed in and rented Nora Ephron’s Julie & Julia, which we both enjoyed.

The press reaction to the film has been along the lines of “I liked half the movie” or “see it for Streep, not Adams,” not too off the mark, but a predictable, if not a little unfair, round of criticism. I didn’t find the Adams half to be that bad: Ephron was upfront about all of that Gen X attention whoring, and I was glad that she included Child’s reaction to the blog, although she stops short at telling us exactly what it was that Child said.

“She just doesn’t seem very serious, does she?…I worked very hard on that book. I tested and retested those recipes for eight years so that everybody could cook them. And many, many people have. I don’t understand how she could have problems with them. She just must not be much of a cook.”

Child’s jab was a little unfair, but that’s the rub, the generation gap, the entire mess of it all, because if there’s any reason to criticize this enjoyable film for being less than an art house masterpiece, it’s that it could have been about so much more than cooking and self-actualization: It could have been about the difference between a generation privileged to have time on its hands, and one that has none.

I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog obsessing over people’s growing need to make lists, publicize goals, multitask, as they race their way toward haphazard pseudo mastery, and I think the Julie/Julia question is a perfect example of this conflict. In short, we’re a generation trying to cram eight years of writing a cookbook into a one year blogging project, which may seem shallow and self-indulgent, but goddamn it, it isn’t our fault.

We’ve been robbed of time in some fundamental way, by technocrats, our increasing work hours, by an education system that would rather “race to the top” than slow down and let our kids think. So why complain when we turn those lists and charts and graphs back on their purveyors as a means of resistance, of forcing something genuine back into lives in which the satisfaction of real mastery is being replaced with a ribbon thin substitute at the end of a finish line?

Child may have taken years to piece that book together and the world is probably a better place for it, but other than the wealthy, who among us has that time these days? If Powell became a success by cramming something meaningful into the two or three hours of freedom she was alloted after each working day, then good on her. She might not be much of a cook, but in turn she got her time back to become one should she so choose.

And that, if not the food, is probably why her story should inspire the rest of us, fighting if not for fame, then at least fifteen minutes.

Exploitation vs. Exploration

Posted in blogging, books, education, lifehacking, literature, multitasking, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2009 by katekanno

Exploitation vs. Exploration.

Previously the former word brought to mind underpaid factory workers or at least those miserably lopsided friendships in junior high, whereas exploration has always drummed up that conscientious chap in the beat up Tee, making his open-minded, charitable way through a new place.  If exploitation was Saruman, hacking up the trees in Lord of the Rings, then exploration was Indiana Jones, knowledgeable, adaptable, and of course, heroic.

On a larger level, of course, this is still true. On a personal level, such thinking is the disaster that we inflict on both ourselves and the world.

How, you might ask, can trying new things, reading new authors, and meeting fabulous new people be a bad thing? It isn’t.
But my life, and I suspect the same is happening in those of many other people, is suffering from a glut of exploration, both physical and psychological. It’s what buries our living spaces in useless consumer junk, the books we don’t read, our time with mildly interesting pursuits and people we know only tangentially, and our brains with all of that digital information on which we, to use that ominously cutesy term coined by David Armano,  snack.

Take all of those indelicate act(s) of multitasking: What are they but pure exploration at the expense of exploitation? We listen to 30 new songs on Pandora while talking on the phone and attempting to cook that souffle via the step by step instructions that we’re watching on the Food Network. And we’re making a hash of it all, even the talking, which we’re reducing more and more to Malaprops, disjointed threads, and yes, grunts.

So this is the year I make a determined effort to exploit more and explore less. Exploit! Exploit! Exploit! I’m with you Saruman. But only when it comes to myself. Save the trees.

Because when you exploit on a personal level, you do save trees. Let’s take my book habit, because it’s come to me after spending five predominantly dull years in the world’s dullest town with nothing else to do but read like a maniac, how very rarely I’ve come away from a book feeling that I know it  to my satisfaction, that I have many of its ideas, characters, and underlying themes mastered, before I’m on to the next one. I’m not trying to beat myself up, or to argue that I’ve gained nothing for my efforts. But as a writer, I want to be better poised to use what’s in what I read both for inspiration and to strengthen my own abilities.

Exploitation project 1: The Reading Journal.

To this purpose I’ve been keeping a reading journal. I’ve been doing it for awhile, but haven’t really landed on a good system until now, my biggest problem being how to separate the writing I do for myself with notes or ideas taken from books. I’ve been using color coded tags from Mujirushi to separate pages of my own writing and the  journal, which is working out well so far. In the reading journal, I  draw a line down the page and note any words or concepts with which I’m unfamiliar, leaving random thoughts or quotes I want to keep on the other. Although I’m not a proponent of Gardner’s learning styles, which are finally, and thankfully being discredited, the act of writing things down rather than typing them up does seem to help me remember what I’ve read. It’s rote baby! There’s no magic trick or psychobabble that can make it any easier.