Crappy Writers

Typebars in a 1920s typewriter

Typebars in a 1920s typewriter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t want to sound all Holier Than Thou in this post, but I’m going to anyway.  I write this blog, by myself, for no money, I am a blogger.  There are many other commercial blogs out there that contain writers who like to say “we’re journalists” but “we’re bloggers” if someone questions their professional standards.

One thing that always provokes the latter is when someone questions the tone of a piece or the non-impartiality of the writer.

One thing that keeps cropping up that bugs me is the use of the word “crappy”, in fact the title of this piece is actually “‘Crappy’ Writers” –  you see, I’m not being personal.  At all.  Honestly.

You see it regularly when describing gear that the writer feels is not to their liking, or is a bit old, and seems to be said in a kind of nod to the knowing audience who would of course all be agreeing.  Recent examples include a preview of an un-released tablet from a company that wasn’t Apple being described as “another crappy tablet” even though the spec hadn’t been announced and nobody had seen it and a photo taken from one aircraft of another which was taken not with a high-end DSLR worth thousands but with a “crappy Canon ELPH”.  Was it an appallingly bad photo?  No, especially as it was taken from a moving aircraft and was a photo of two other moving aircraft.  As we all know “at the end of the day the best camera is the one you have with you.”  In reality at the end of the day the best camera is the one with a tripod, or a flash, the rest of the day anything will do.  Sorry.

The crappy word isn’t always said, I’ve seen articles about a new phone or chipset saying “but if you’re reading this website you won’t want it because it’s a budget phone” oh so being interested in tech is limited to the well-off now is it?

If there’s a justification, then say it’s not a brilliant piece of kit, review it properly but to say that someone’s camera is crappy just because it’s not this year’s wi-fi connected, app enabled wondersnapper is unfair.  As is describing something that’s aimed at the less well off as crappy just because it’s not got a Ultra HD Full-Eyeball Neural Screen.

Not everyone can afford (or be given) the latest, top of the range kit, so how about holding back the longer c-word for the genuinely crap.

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I’m Still Here – Clutter and Creative Block

4888018The last time I posted to the blog was New Year’s Day and no I haven’t been suffering from a hangover that long.  I was actually suffering from a really persistent cold for the first few weeks of the year which also stopped me going out on New Year’s Eve and this left me feeling bunged-up both physically and creatively.

Colds and the like cause my brain to seize up too, it just wants to watch stuff on TV, coming out in sympathy with the rest of my body saying “look, we’re busy getting rid of this infection you were daft enough to inhale, go watch some QI”.  Anything that isn’t particularly taxing, basically.

Since then however the impulse to write has eluded me and thanks to an article by Mikael Cho on Lifehacker I’ve found out why.  It’s something I’ve thought about before but also didn’t get around to writing about – information overload.

This blog should have quite a narrow remit, it’s about how we cope with modern life; how technology affects us in positive and negative ways; behaviours particular to the 21st century and other stuff about life in 2013 2014.    However, instead of thinking about issues to write about I scour blogs and news sites for things that are relevant, or rather I should do, and it shouldn’t take too long to do, an hour a day should be enough time to skim a few blogs and the news, then move on to the WordPress reader and read posts from the blogs I follow.

I don’t though because I procrastinate, and I do that because I’m afraid of having too much information coming at me.  As the Lifehacker article points out this stream of information actually blocks your brain from getting into the creative mood and formulating an article.  This is why I’d sit down and find that I couldn’t think of anything to write.

I should have known this simply by comparing today to the last time I wrote a complete novel.  It was the summer of 2000 – yes, Two Thousand.  I wrote the book in six months, writing on Sunday mornings, and whenever the mood took me.  There was no internet available to me and only five TV channels.  Research for the book took place at the local library where I read travel books on Italy to get a feel for the locations.  The important thing was that it was the only thing I was doing, I could let my brain focus on one subject, one story, I had no other stories arriving by the hour vying for attention, taking my attention away.

Between news reader apps, Facebook, Twitter etc we are confronted with a constant flow of words and pictures that have to be rapidly consumed and forgotten else you end up with a backlog that more resembles a tidal wave.  You then have the choice of either taking a week off work to catch up (why do you think I’m writing this on a Wednesday morning two days after my birthday) or just taking a deep breath and deleting/throwing out everything you haven’t read (remembers big stack of magazines with “read later” articles hidden behind the sofa).

I’d already started to limit what information I’d add to my future articles notes, defining the scope of what I want to write about, bringing me back to the one story in effect, and as the Lifehacker article says this is an important step.

Clutter is both physical and mental, both affect how you live your life, the important thing is not to let it affect you negatively.

[Lifehacker]

Lunch, Rebooted

On | Off

On | Off (Photo credit: catorze14)

It’s been quite a while since I have written anything.  I’ve sat down at the keyboard and either felt overwhelmed by the amount of stuff to read or been completely lost for anything to say.  Some subjects have seemed too daunting to tackle (for example the very modern issue of governments’ attitudes to what they can just have a look at on the internet, and how similar it seems, superficially, to people who say “if it’s on Facebook then you can do what you like with it) whilst others just didn’t seem wasting what little energy I felt I had on.  I didn’t think it mattered, I watched repeats on TV.

In hindsight I may have been suffering from a bout of depression again, brought on by stress (another issue I intend to tackle on this here blog soon), the feeling that this blog and other things I enjoy being utterly pointless being one indicator.  Something has changed in the last week or so and I feel more ready and able to stand up and be my true self again.  One step at a time.

Poor Memory in The Internet Age

A woman thinking

A woman thinking (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have a ridiculously bad memory which is a problem in an age where we are bombarded with information that we have to remember for work or at home. This is why I’m writing this on a notepad in the bath, before I forget it.

My poor short-term recall is one of the main reasons I’m single. I am pathologically terrified of small-talk or rather my inability to spontaneously make it.

My last few relationships have been generally been with confident and, most importantly, talkative women as I am a good listener. I have however a limited list of subjects to start or continue a conversation with in those rosy early days of a relationship because I can’t remember what I’ve been previously told and can’t remember subjects to make conversations about such as things happening in the news or in a magazine I’ve read, or gossip about friends.

My problem is in my brain’s ability to tag memories as important, most things just enter and go straight to long term memory without being registered as being sufficiently important to remember a few hours or a day or so down the line. I can remember taking a photo of a scene when I’m in the same spot again or an obscure fact if I’m reminded of it but just picking out a random fact is just impossible.

My memory requires a prompt to recall anything and even then sometimes it takes a while to drag the relevant facts to the front, and if the event that I need to remember happened while I was very busy then recalling it becomes extremely difficult unless I’ve made some effort to definitely remember it.

It’s bad enough trying to remember what I’ve read in a magazine as the first article has been forgotten as I’ve read the second but the volume of information available via the internet makes it even worse and trying to remember facts to write into blog posts is a nightmare.  The anxiety of not being able to remember what I want to say is part of why I put off writing and instead employ decoy habits to distract me from what I want to do which is write.  Some say the internet will cause us to stop remembering facts and rely on Google instead but that’s a different problem, what if you don’t even remember what you wanted to find?

There are techniques to alleviate the problem, from focussing more on the information being received, thinking about it before moving onto the next thing, associating the information with an image in the mind, writing things down, and more that I, to be honest, can’t remember.  I have notebooks, both paper and Evernote- based, filled with disjointed information which I can, one day pull together into something interesting and useful but the first step is overcoming the fear of not knowing what to say.  Eating more healthily, exercise and getting enough sleep are also meant to be beneficial and I keep telling myself that my memory is getting better as with so many mind related issues often believing you can do something is half the battle.

Outsider Thinking

Writing

Writing (Photo credit: jjpacres)

I still make excuses for not writing posts on this blog.  Too tired, can’t think of what to say.  It’ll take too long to write, I’ll do it later.

I’ve found though that there is a problem deeper than that.  It’s a common feeling that you don’t deserve to be doing whatever you’re trying to do whether it be writing blogs, books, photography, graphic design, music or making hats.  It’s a kind of outsider thinking – that because you didn’t go to college or university to learn it, because you’re not a professional then you’re just playing, that you’re not part of the group, you’re not a writer or photographer.  It doesn’t matter how many people say that what you do is good the feeling that you shouldn’t be doing it persists, particularly when there are people around who do confirm your beliefs with words like “it’s just a hobby” like your creations can only have value to yourself.  You could even end up doing these things at work for free because you don’t feel your skills are worth any financial reward.

It leads you to read the work of published writers and journalists and so on and think I’m not as good as them.  There are some professions that require professional training but many that don’t, there are many writers and photographers who are entirely self-taught.

You’ll know, or discover whether you are good at what you’re doing the important thing is to not let the outsider thinking prevent you from learning and trying, or valuing what you create.

Declining Writing

We have a paperless office but I still have my...

(Photo credit: Arvid)

The paperless office is still a way off for many companies, at ours we produce invoices, jobsheets, delivery notes and of course orders, most of which I still write out, by hand on paper with a Parker Slinger pen that hangs round my neck like some kind of modern silver and lime talisman (though it is really there so I don’t forget where I’ve put it down, and also so nobody wanders off with it).

At home too I write, between me and my monitor right now is a notepad that I scribble things on when the computer’s not on or if I really need to remember them.  Like many people I find that the act of physically writing something down helps with processing and remembering the information.

It seems though that, according to online stationer Docmail that I’m becoming part of a minority.  In a survey they found that on average people, on average, wrote only every 41 days.  One in three only wrote something once in six months – usually along the lines of “Happy Birthday, lots of love xxx”.  Possibly even with a smiley face to make it feel a bit more like Twitter or Facebook.  LOL.

Saving paper is one thing, though much paper comes from renewable and recycled sources today, but could people one day actually lose or not even bother to learn how to communicate text without a computer?  Perhaps only if technology becomes so ubiquitous and user-friendly that you could replace every use of pen and paper, right down to the scribble pad by the bed that you use to jot down the thought you had just after you switched out the light.  Until then my extensive collection of pens is safe.

[Gizmodo UK]