Thursday, August 16, 2007

Octavia and I

I’ve been spending a lot of time on dates with my AlphaSmart Neo word processor (tentatively named “Octavia,” for reasons that are either obvious or silly). We’ve been sitting in parks, in coffee shops, and on the front steps of my apartment. We even took an ambitious Kitchener/Waterloo walk/bus tour, of which more in another post.

Whenever I throw myself into an activity I’m aware that it could be a “fad.” Some of my fads last years, and some of them are recurring, but a few are brief flirtations with productivity methods that are quickly shucked when my routine ends up changing. So the fact that I’ve managed to hack together the bulk of three short stories – more fiction than I’ve written in the last ten years combined – is both amazing and worrying: can I keep it going? Is this a dead-end? Will Octavia retire to the basement when the winter comes, allowing me to return to the other things I've stopped doing, like...errr, writing blog entries?

Could be, but the Neo is a very nice device anyway, and it complements my customary writing style. My method of writing has always been like kneeding dough: I force myself to type substandard, off-the-cuff junk until a glimmering of an idea appears, then I go back and edit it to massage out the idea, and the piece is edited over and over again until it is both polished and (hopefully) a good short story.

The Neo makes this a breeze. I can skip between the workspaces, each of which contain ideas or stories or character lists in various stages. The small-ish screen doesn’t hinder me because I’m not much of a “page-formatting” writer: every time I revisit a piece, I start back again at the top (or, if the top has already been polished, at the next section down…and you can easily navigate between sections on the Neo) and I gradually descend through the story, kneeding the wording, deleting the pieces that have become unnecessary, adding detail, and occasionally branching into whatever “theme” seems to be forming.

I also have to give props to the built-in thesaurus. My creative writing teachers always insisted we use a thesaurus, but I read so many awkward and flowery writer’s workshop atrocities that I’ve shied away from them, not to mention I hate losing my train of thought while flipping through an ugly little book. But I find myself using the Neo’s thesaurus often enough for it to be worthwhile, and now I understand that – used judiciously – it’s a really effective/competent/powerful tool.

If you’re the kind of writer who likes to dramatically REARRANGE blocks of text, editing on the Neo is painful (which is why many people use it for drafts and then upload their work for later editing on their computer). But if you take a more organic, unplanned approach, Neo edits as well as any regular word processor.

There's another bonus: since my workspaces are mutating so drastically, I regularly dump them all to my computer. I place each dump into a dated folder so I can preserve old copies and old ideas that I’ve painfully abandoned. Then I drag the cat back outside and keep going.

Are Octavia and I having just a summer romance? Maybe. But what a whirlwind fling it is!


Eric Little said...

Great news!--and since I've been getting hooked recently on HBO's "Rome" series (those Julio- Claudians make excellent high-brow soap opera fodder, as Robert Graves first discovered), keep Octavia away from Mark Antony!

Muffy St. Bernard said...

Synchronicity (both to this comment and your latest blog post)...I plan to absorb "I Claudius" real soon.

VanillaJ said...

I love that "Rome" series! I only recently learned that ancient Roman nobles had breast augmentations and full body waxes.

Muffy, I don't believe you indulge fads, only phases. Any interest that you put away gets pulled off the shelf again, eventually.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

Breast augmentations? I guess we're not just talking about bustiers and taping up...

"Phases" is probably a better word, and I humbly think you're right...mine aren't usually flippant or useless, at least.