12 July, 2011

Dojo Summer Sessions: Freedom to Explore

Some of you in the audience are probably quite a bit like me: mildly OCD.  We build up habits and concepts that are terribly difficult to change.

Here's how bad I am: I cannot use any other program than Microsoft Works to write books.  I know there are people out there who use and love Word, or use it and hate it but use it because it's the program everybody uses.  But I got my start with Works, and nearly had a breakdown when I got my new computer and had a horrible moment thinking that my old copy of Works, the one without the bells and whistles that made it look like that horrible icky Word, would not install properly.

It's not that Works is a fantastic program.  It's not bad, but it's no great shakes.  It's just that it's what was on my first computer.  We've spent a lot of years together.  I've got it organized just so.  I know its foibles and how to deal with them.  I'm not distracted by the way it looks or acts.  It allows me to sit down and simply write.  Everything else I looked at didn't have enough advantages to outweigh the fact that it looks weird compared to Works.  Because of all that, I've been extremely reluctant to try anything else.

Same thing with ebook publishing.  Fine for them as wants it, I told myself, but my magnum opuses and I are going the tried-and-true route.  We're gonna write the book (eventually), then we're gonna find an agent, and someday a publisher, and it'll be just like we've always dreamed.  Unless, of course, something breaks down along the way, i.e., every agent and/or publisher hates it.

But this year's different.  This year, I'm doing something I've never done before: writing a non-fiction book.  And I decided, seeing as how I've never written a non-fiction book before, I might as well branch out a bit.  It's new enough I can use it to play around with other ways of doing things.  For a start, I don't plan to shop it out to any agents or publishers.  No, we're going to try this new-fangled self-published ebook thingy.  Because, frankly, I think it might suit me.  However, I refuse to use my magnum opus to beta test this crazy idea, because it's too precious to me to potentially fuck up.  My lovely Lingua Lithica is also important, but we haven't spent the last ten or twenty years with each other.  If something goes horribly awry, it's okay.  The situation can be rescued without seeing my entire writing life burnt to ashes.

That's a very freeing thing.  That makes my writerly OCD slink off and sulk in a corner.

And then my coblogger Steamforged told me that Scrivener's now available in a beta version for Windows.  I'd heard of it through Ed Yong and other professional writers who sing its praises to the highest heavens, and I'd wanted to try it, but there was no way I was going to drop a few thousand dollars on a Mac just to give it a spin.  But a beta version for Windows?  Sign me up!  I've never beta tested anything in my life, and I'd never ever ever put my magnum opus into a beta version of a program, but Lingua Lithica won't mind the risks.  So I've downloaded Scrivener, and aside from not knowing what the hell I'm doing and its distressing tendency to crash every few minutes when I'm editing a line of Japanese text, I love it.  So what if it's got some weird foibles and it's completely unfamiliar?  It's beta.  So is Lingua Lithica.  By the end of this little experiment, the full version will be out, writing Lingua Lithica in it will have given me the confidence to dump my magnum opus in and continue on with a far superior writing program, and things should be all unicorns and rainbows, with a possibility of champagne and roses.  Unless it's not, in which case we'll have an amicable divorce.

The point is this: a project completely outside your usual fare is not only a good way to build up your writing muscles, but an excellent way to give yourself some freedom to explore.  You go into the thing knowing it's an experiment and knowing it might fail, and so the stress level is quite low.  It gives you the chance to try all those things you've wanted to try but couldn't because you are, when it comes to your precious baby of a writing project, too risk-averse to so much as step a toe outside of your well-worn rut.

You may never want to, and that's okay.  As my coblogger told me when I shame-facedly admitted to still using Works, "Also, it's not silly to use old stuff if it's what you know and what works.  Even when upgrading to a 'better' program, it takes time to adjust to the new workflow and design of it, and that's time spent not writing!"  Well, exactly.  So not experimenting with an established project is perfectly valid, and like she said, it's not silly to use your old stuff.  But when you've got a brand-new type of project that's an experiment to begin with, and you're going to be adjusting to a new workflow anyway, you'll never have a better opportunity to say, "Oh, what the hell," and download something potentially better.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There's very little value in changing writing programs just to change writing programs; the new program ought to offer something of value you can't get with the old.

My university department upgraded all its computers to use the latest version of Word last year, eliciting much swearing from professors and students alike. As far as I can tell, the user interface changed just enough to confuse everyone. Not only that, but those of us who aren't willing to spend our precious dollars on an upgrade can't read the documents written by the new version! Technology is sooo wonderful...