Category Archives: Commentary

Soundtrack of Writing: How to Use Your Ipod to Create Mood

I’ve been a participate of NaNoWriMo for the past five years. I was not successful in my word count goals every year, but it gave me the support I needed to start writing and to continue to write. In addition to learning about various software and hardware options to enhance my writing experience from the other writers, I also discovered the concept of learning to write while listening to music on your ipod. There are several advantages to this habit.

1. Social Convention. When you are seated in a coffeehouse with earbuds in your ear, people are less likely to interrupt you. The earbud has become a signal of “do not disturb” in public settings.

2. Blocking Out Noise. The ipod blocks out the general noise of the public place you are writing in. There are fewer annoying conversations to slip into your creative state and the sounds of the coffee bar blenders are blocked.

3. Mood Enhancement. Perhaps the biggest advantage, is that the music you choose creates a mood to enhance your writing. When we go to the movies, the soundtrack helps gives us the audience aural cues as to what is happening. The characters all have their own themes and different kinds of scenes are accompanied with different scores to create the mood of the film. We can use these same soundtracks to create similar moods in our minds while writing.

My local NaNoWriMo group has approximately 35 participates and I put up a poll among them to ask what their favorite writing soundtracks were. The majority of them are college aged writers and their age does influence their choices of music, but after reviewing their selections, I discovered a wealth of lush, emotive scores that are clearly above the norm. Here is the list of recommended movie soundtracks from that group.

Hans Zimmer’s Inception
John Powell’s How to Train Your Dragon
Dario Marianelli’s Pride and Prejudice
Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings (all three movies)
Hans Zimmer’s The Holiday
James Newton Howard’s Peter Pan
Hans Zimmer’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Michael Giacchino’s Star Trek XI
Mark Knopfler’s The Princess Bride
Various artists Down with Love
Hans Zimmer’s Sherlock Holmes I
Howard Shore’s Eastern Promises
Various Artists Garden State
John Williams’ Star Wars: The Revenge of the Sith
Michael Giacchino’s John Carter

Antique Manual Drill

In addition to my writing, I’ve been a creator of artisan jewelry for around 16 years. One of the staples that I use in my jewelry are handmade coiled beads. They are accents in earrings, form gently bended arms on bracelets or add a texture element to necklaces. The wire beads are simple to make once you have the proper tools and the technique down, but look complex. The trick is all in the steadiness of the tension you put in the wire as you make them. Ten years ago, I had purchased a device called a Coiling Gizmo. It is the basic tool that most other artisan jewelers use to make the beads. The tool is a U shaped form that you clamp to your bench with holes that will hold two iron rods, each bent on one end to form a handle crank. By turning the rod in the hole, you create the wire beads. One rod is thick and is similar in size to a 14 gauge wire. The other is thinner and conforms to a 18 gauge wire. Both rods created coils that were too large for my intended use. For a time, I stopped using the Coiling Gizmo and only used the coil beads in my larger creations.

I’m not one to admit to admit to defeat in my design ideas and set about creating my own coiling gizmo that would make coils and beads small enough to work in my intended creations. The first replacement needed were the rods. After chatting with other artists, ones that were more advanced than I in the art of coiling, I was told that a 0000 knitting needle was close to a 20 gauge wire and the G string of a guitar was just over the size of a 26 gauge wire. These were the sizes of wire I would rather work with. So I bought the knitting needles and the guitar string and added them to my studio tool box.

Next I needed a way to turn the needles and string so that I could create the coils. My first attempt was with a battery operated power drill. That did not go well. I was not able to control the speed enough to create smooth coils without gaps. I was at a loss as to how to fix this problem until I read of another artist that used a hand cranked manual drill. By using the manual drill, I would be able to go slow enough and to regulate the tension of the wire to create the smooth coils I craved. It was one of those eureka moments and I knew that this would be the solution. But where to find one???

I searched every hardware store in my area and only found power drills. I was told that no one used manual drill anymore because they were old-fashioned and out of date. I searched online, but again had no luck. Only power drills were for sale and the one or two manual drills I did see online were very expensive and had high shipping costs. I was not willing to pay the price.

Months after I had started my fruitless search, I was selling my jewelry at a Harvest Festival located at the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum. It is a place full of various models of steam powered machines that ran cotton gins, tractors and other antique farm equipment. During the festival, the children are given rides around the grounds on 100 year old tractors. Demonstrations on how life on the frontier are given for the children’s education and amusement. Handmade crafts and jewelry are one of the attractions of the Harvest Festival and the reason I was there. Two booths down from mine was a husband and wife team that sold antique tools. Their shop stocked old wooden boxes, files, saws and low and behold, antique manual drills! He had two of the little treasures for sale, each for $10. I bought one that had clean moving gears and operated smoothly. It is a POWR-Kraft drill from Montgomery Ward that was made starting in the 1930s through the 1950s. It is a tool that was manufactured in the United States and is solid steel with a wooden handle. It will out live me due to its rugged construction.

After the venue was over, I returned to my studio and was able to have complete control over the coiling of my wire. The egg beater style handle of the drill was easy to use and the collate held my knitting needles securely. After that it was easy. My new bracelets and earrings were a huge hit. Other artists had trouble figuring out how I made my beads so small and I was given much kudos for them. Now I make the beads twice a year and use them regularly in my jewelry.

Rubber Meets The Highway

There is something about the movement through space and the speed of the car on the open road that nourishes my soul. I would have never guessed it judging by the tepid reaction to my first car, an old off-red Datsun station wagon. It got me to high school and back home so I didn’t have to keep bumming rides after band practice. It was also a free gift from my parents. Since I could not afford to buy a car at that time, it was gratefully accepted. Once I had the car for a while, I began to realize the freedom that it offered me. I could go to the mall when I wished. I explored country roads. I took my guitar to the local winery to play music among the grape vines. I used it to help deliver newspapers on my paper route.

The first car I bought for myself was a little white Geo Metro Convertible. I was a sophomore in college with a new job and money in my pocket. I got the car new off the lot. It was love at first sight. My family and friends all told me that they could not picture me in a convertible. I was a sensible, hard-working girl, not to mention short and overweight. Convertibles were for fun, popular and tall blondes, not a geek like me. At those words, nothing could hold me back from purchasing that little car. Driving with the top down in Southern California was a pleasure that I relished. My favorite drive was Pacific Coast Highway where I could cruise at a comfortable clip with the wetlands and green rolling hills on one side and the white sand beaches on the other. Driving on that road, the problems of my life would float away as the wind blew through my hair. I held onto that car for a long time and when I finally had to accept a new vehicle, I mourned.

My current vehicle does not have the style of my former little convertible, but it is far more practical for me. It is a Honda CR-V SUV. I love the radio system, the air conditioning and that it has a moon roof. I can open up that moon roof and get a little of the sensation that I used to feel with my convertible, but now I have the capacity to haul the inventory for my business to where it needs to go. I drive to venues to sell my wares on a regular basis. The SUV can handle it. I often drive the highways of the southwest desert, heading to Las Vegas, Phoenix or Tucson. I like driving in the desert. The land is stark, but has a beauty all its own.

The heat outside the vehicle is intense during the day and gives the road a rippling look as you drive. I’m more aware of my surroundings when I travel in the desert. It can be dangerous to be caught without water if you car breaks down and when I’m the only car in sight on a desert road, I worry for my safety. Still, I do not let fear keep me from driving the desert. I keep my triple A card handy, not to mention a good jug of water. That is all I need.

When I write about how my characters feel when they travel, I like to draw on my own experiences of the rubber meeting the highway. The characters could be in a 19th century sailing ship, flying on a dragon, drifting through the asteroid belt in a spaceship, moving in a myriad of ways to travel toward that distant horizon of discovery. Translating these feelings from reality into our stories is what makes us writers.

What ideas do you take from your life and spin into stories?

The Everyday Carry Obsession for Writers

EDC 2010A year or two ago, I had taken my key ring out of my purse. It was a jumble of extra rings, keys that I had no idea what they opened, and a heavy fob that had worn smooth until it was just a hunk of metal. I decided that I was going to update my keyring and make it more functional.

I began research to find ideas on how to organize my keys better. What I discovered is a fad called “everyday carry” or EDC. This is a hobby where people take preparation for life’s little needs to a new level. Intrigued, I scanned photos of what other people carried in their pockets and read about their ideas of preparedness. There was a wide range of people that did EDC including Survivalists that were preparing for the next nuclear war. Yet, there were many others like myself who simply wanted to function in an urban environment in more comfort.

So what makes a basic EDC? It turns out that there are a couple of common items that most people keep in their pockets.

    phone
    keyring
    wallet
    flashlight
    pen
    multi-tool
    knife

The phone and wallet seemed normal enough to me, but the rest I sort of scratched my head at.

My first EDC addition was a leather key fob with a clip that could attach to my purse. I put my car keys and regular keys on the new ring. It had a flower concho on it for decoration and I loved not only the look, but the inexpensive price tag.

Next, I discovered a tiny keychain sized flashlight called a Streamlight Nano. I found that having a flashlight on your person all the time was a godsend. No more having to fumble with my key when I came home at night because my husband had forgotten to turn on the porch light. It helped me feel safer when going to my car after the end of a night class. After a few weeks of using the flashlight on my keyring, I knew that developing a useful EDC was the right way to go.

My next purchase was a Fox40 safety whistle. It is quite loud, lightweight and sturdy. Because it is pealess, it will not freeze up in cold weather. I wanted a whistle since I’m alone at night on campus or when I’m out in the park walking my dog. I never used it at school in the end, but I did use it once for an emergency. I had fallen in our garage and injured myself. I tried to call out for my husband on the other side of the property, but he could not hear me. I had my keys and the whistle with me. I blew on the whistle and this brought my husband to me. I will always keep a whistle on my keyring for now on.

The whistle, flashlight and keys are all I keep on my main keyring. It can go through the airport security or into any building. With these items and the tools with me every day, it gives me a little added help with my day to day life.

For my pen, I purchased a Fisher Trekker Space Pen. It came with a lightweight carabiner and that little black clip became the main holder of my “tool keyring”. The Trekker has a ring on the pen cap so my space pen hangs in my purse in a place that is easy to get to. Now I always have a good quality pen where ever I go. I added a small moleskine notebook in my purse to go with the pen. When I go to seminars or have a writing idea, I can capture ideas on the fly and go back to it later when I’m home on my computer. I recommend carrying a pen and a moleskine to all writers. It makes a difference.

I did not have much trouble deciding on the multi-tool. I bought a little $20 Leatherman Micra for the job. Its main tool features a good pair of scissors, but it has a nail file, nail cleaner, a bottle opener and assorted screwdrivers. It also has a tiny blade, but I seldom use it. The multi-tool is 2″ long and takes up little room. I find that I use it quite often, especially when I travel, or when I’m in a class or workshop.

The knife was a difficult decision for me. I had never carried a dedicated folder before. Women of my generation were not encouraged to do so, although I’ve been noticing that younger women think nothing of it. The state I live in has stricter knife laws than other places, so in the end I chose a sub 2″ blade from Spyderco called a Ladybug. It helped that the knife scales came in many color choices, including purple! The blade is super sharp, of a high grade of steel and it locks for added safety when using it. I use it to open packages, slice sandwiches in hotel rooms, or to cut twine. It is an excellent beater blade and has been my main pocket knife for two years. It still looks like new.

I have purchased a few more EDC items since then, but these items that I’ve listed are my core items and go with me everywhere.

By adding tools to my everyday carry, and learning how to use them in my daily life, I feel more confident in the way that I tackle the world.

When was the last time you updated YOUR keyring?

Filofax Writing Journal

Filofax Writing Journal and Alphasmart NeoFinding alternate sites to write in is proving to help me to increase my writing productivity. While I have a studio set up in my home that is set aside for me to write and make jewelry in, there are times when the familiar surroundings lull me into the doldrums where little creativity happens. To counter this, I like to find locations outside my home to write in. Sometimes this place is simply my backyard patio, but other times I drive over to the local coffeehouse, treat myself to a fancy coffee and use one of their tables. Power outlets are often hard to come by when I’m out in the world, so I’ve designed a system that is as electric independent as possible. This includes my digital typewriter, the Alphasmart Neo, a paper bound thesaurus and a new Filofax journal to hold all my research notes, character sketches, outlines and word count charts. Everything fits into a large tote bag, so when the writing bug strikes me, I just pick up the bag and go.

My writing journal is a Filofax Crimson Malden that my husband gifted to me for Christmas. The smooth leather, multiple pockets and sturdy rings will make for a rugged, yet elegant writing journal. Moving into the journal with my notes has been an adventure. The most difficult part was learning how to format the printing of my notes out of Scrivener in a meaningful way and of organizing them so that I can find what I need quickly as I write.

The front part of my Filofax is quite ordinary. It holds a plastic pouch for odds and ends and a plastic divider with an inspirational poem. Behind that are various charts that came with the new Filofax, weights and measures, time zones and other general information that is good to have at your fingertips. The next section is a Month on two pages (MoTP) calendar that I use to track my writing output. Word count, what I was writing, how long I was writing and where I was writing are all tallied each day. This is a simple section that takes less than 10 seconds to notate at the end of the day.

Next is a Week on Two Pages (WoTP) section where I keep the present month and the next month in the binder. There I jot down a writing todo list for each day and check if I finish the project or not. I also write down what posts are scheduled to appear on my writing website.

The heart of my writing journal is the research notes section for my novels. Each novel gets a similar section in the writing journal. At the front of each section is an index of characters. Simply all the main characters in the novel. Each character’s full name, titles and other quick reference items are noted on one line per character. Behind the index is my novel outline. Each chapter has a paragraph devoted to what happens in it. A loose road map of what I need to write there.. Finally, behind that is a alphabetical divider system where I place all the character sketches, scene descriptions and maps and other related materials in alphabetical order. If I can’t remember a character’s name, I find it on the index. From there, I can find more related information on the character by flipping to its place in the alphabet.

The research section of my notes is all printed from files I keep in my writing program, Scrivener. I’ve used Nellie’s Guide to Printing on Personal Sized Paper from Philofaxy to print on personal sized filofax paper to facilitate my notes. I end up with clean, professional looking, double side printed notes that are easy to read.