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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Getting Over Writer's Blockade

I posted about a condition I like to call Writer's Blockade back in July of last year.  I promised that I would make a later post about how I got around it over Father's Day weekend.  Well, unfortunately, I cannot remember the specific scenario.  But, there are some tools that you can use to break the blockade.

To recap, Writer's Block is when you have a lack of muse, an ennui, a lack of motivation, or some other similar internal issue that prevents you from writing.  A terrible thing.  Writer's Blockade is when you have an external issue that prevents you from writing, such as having a baby, working too long, a power outage.  In general, Writer's Blockade does not last as long as Writer's Block can, but it can be more frustrating because you still have that drive to write.  In some situations, however, Writer's Blockade could last for years.

In general, a short blockade is going to solve itself.  If the power is out, it will eventually come back on, or you can go somewhere where there is power.  These small problems have two solutions.
The first is perseverance.  Do not stop trying to write, do not give in to the potential excuse.  If your power is out, go to the library!  If their power is out, grab some paper and write by hand starting from where you last remember!
The second is preparedness.  Now you can't be prepared for everything.  It's just not possible.  But you can be prepared for likely scenarios, like a Boy Scout.  If you write on the computer, back-up your work in more than one location.  Keep it on your computer, on a cloud (I use drive.google), on an external hard drive, and on a thumb drive.  Sure, it'll take a while to back up (remember to do so periodically), but if your computer ever crashes (or is stepped on by a toddler), your novel is still mostly intact.  If you use a laptop, keep it more or less charged.  Take simple steps to ensure that your work will not be lost and you will be able to work on it when you need to.

Working on a novel when you need to is another very important step, and is useful in overcoming both Writer's Block and Writer's Blockade.  Set aside a time to write, at least 2 hours at once (to really get into the flow of things), as often as you can afford to.  Set aside a place to write that is relatively free from distractions.  This is getting harder and harder to do with the internet so readily available and sometimes essential to our writing processes.  In some cases it will take discipline.  It is best not to chose your bed (it can mess with your brain and sleep schedule if you work where you sleep), or where you normally work.  It works even better if you are comfortable, but not too comfortable (you don't want to fall asleep).  It should also be the same place or the same two places every time.  Make a routine.  Stick to that routine as often and as rigorously as you can.  Leave your work and your home at your work and your home.  Again, this is a very difficult task in today's world.  If you are worried about work, either handle it quickly before you start (and don't touch or even think about it after you start), or try to wipe it from your mind.  This is time for writing!  Some techniques that work include writing down a list of things to do tomorrow, listening to your favorite music, or taking a moment to mull over the situation in your mind before letting it go.  What works for one person may not work for another, so just keep trying.  Finally, don't go into it with certain expectations in mind.  This will put undue stress on your own creativity.  Instead, keep an open mind.  This is not to say that you should let your writing flow wherever it wills.  But should your mind present an opportunity or an option you didn't see before, you should take a moment to entertain that option and see if it goes somewhere you like.  (This is more appropriate for Writer's Block, but I feel it is part of the entire Writing Time experience).

I have a writing time every week that lasts between 3 and 4 hours in one big chunk.  I go to a local coffee shop/ice cream place, and set up in the same general area in the shop each time.  I invite some friends so we can encourage each other, though at times we are also distraction.  However, I feel that the expectation they have that I will show up will keep me going and in the long run is helping me continue to write.  I tend to choose the music that interests me at the moment (sometimes more distracting than others depending on how ADHD I'm feeling.  For me, I need a certain level of distraction to keep myself focused).  I first go online and deal with all the emails and junk that I didn't get to while watching Addy, and then I leave it all behind and delve into the writing.  I keep an outline open at all times, but I have strayed from it on many occasions, so the outline is more of a guideline that I can return to when I need to.  That is my regular writing schedule.  Of course, I try to write at home as well, and I am still working on my routine for that, but it is coming along.

This little trick will not solve ALL Writer's Blockade problems.  If I am too tired after running after Adelaide, I may not want to drink something with caffeine because it might keep me up half the night.  There are some cases where you simply have to surrender to the Blockade and let it win that battle, but you can never let it win the war.  You must attack it like you're a general, planning and strategizing to get that free time you need.  No, you cannot "make" time, but you can steal it from other things in your life.  There have been times when I spent the week staying up late to write because I knew (or at least hoped) that my wife would be home on the weekends and I'd get to sleep in on Saturday to make up for the loss.  I've sometimes given up other interests of mine so that I will have more time to write.  For example, I've all but stopped playing games of any sort, I do not read as often as I would like to, my cross-stitching has gone untouched for months (yes, I cross-stitch), and I haven't practiced the guitar since Christmas.  Even a little bit of TV takes a large amount of time that can be spent writing.

Granted, the writing time you eek out of daily life is not long, so you will not get that leisurely 2-hour chunk that is so useful, that lets your mind really start to get creative.  But if you write half an hour here and 15 minutes there, then go back when you have 2 hours to write and proof-read yourself, it works out fairly well.  This is an exception to the rule that you should never edit while you write (which is a rule I think should be applied loosely.  I believe everyone's writing style is different, and some require a certain level of active editing).

Finally, some people are simply too busy to write.  This is the realm where serious sacrifices and choices must be made.  How badly do you want to write?  Is it worth giving up something else that is terribly important for you to have a chance to write?  If the answer is no, do not despair!  Never stop thinking, jotting down ideas, and working through plots.  Never stop dreaming.  You are a writer at heart, and perhaps you do not have the time now, but you may have the time later, be it in a month, a year, or several decades.  Eventually, you will work around that block, just as long as you keep trying to.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The 3 Laws

Anyone who is a sci-fi lover knows about Isaac Asimov's 3 Laws of Robotics.  These three laws are as follows:

1) A robot cannot take the life of a human, or through inaction cause a human to die.
2) A robot must obey all orders given to it by humans, except when those orders violate the first law.
3) A robot must preserve itself, except when doing so violates the first two laws.

There are many, many flaws in these laws.  What if I was a less-than-scrupulous person who told a robot that wasn't mine that it now belongs to me and must follow all of my orders and only my orders?  Robot theft/slavery would be rampant.  What if I didn't like someone, so I told their robot to kill itself?  Easy way to have revenge.  What if I attacked the robot's owner and told the robot that if it does anything, I'll kill its owner?  The robot would probably have a meltdown as it bounced between laws and tried to interpret them.

Most of these issues can be solved with some simple bi-laws, things such as "A robot must obey all orders given to it by its owner or any confirmed law enforcement officer..." and, "A robot cannot take the life of a human, or through inaction cause a human to die, unless doing so would save at least as many humans as would die or be killed."  And, of course, this has other problems, as we see in the movie "I, Robot."  In this film, a sentient A.I. of vast intelligence decides that the best way to save humanity is to enslave all of humanity, preventing them from killing each other.  And in the anime Casshan: Robot Hunter, we learn that the "evil" robots which were programmed to save planet Earth did so by killing all humans, the things causing Earth's destruction.  It is feasible a robot would murder everyone it deemed capable or likely to kill another human, would would eliminate everyone in the military, every police officer, every spy, every world leader, etc.  not to mention every violent criminal.  It would take just one glitch to cause havoc.  This is why it was decided that if these laws ever came to be, there would be a 0th Law (similar to the 0th Law of Thermodynamics).

0) A robot cannot harm humanity, or by inaction cause humanity to come to harm.

This would, of course, also change the other laws so that it would take precedence over them.  But still, this offers many flaws that can be exploited.  The most major flaw of all is the purpose of robotics.  In today's world, robots are usually used in industry, to do work humans do not wish to do, and these laws are perfect if robots continue to do such work, and such work alone, in perpetuity.  But we've already started to enter the realm of drone warfare
.  If we want robots to take the place of our men and women on the front lines, they had better be willing to kill humans, otherwise the first human that steps on the field wins by default.  They had better be programmed to not listen to the orders of anyone other than their superiors, or they'll just be told to kill themselves by their enemies.  And they had better not think of "humanity" in the same way as the other side does, or they'll simply freeze in combat.  If we want robots to gain the rights and freedoms of humans (an idea played around with in many stories, including Bicentennial ManStar TrekBlade Runner, Metropolis, and countless more), then we would need to give them the same abilities as us, even if those abilities include breaking the law.

Obviously, the Three Laws of Robotics are not meant as an actual, universal working model.  They can be used as a guideline, or used as a plot device in a story.  In truth, Asimov was a writer and a biochemist, not a roboticist or a computer programmer.  He was more interested in the story, and as a writer, so should you be.  These laws can be played around with, or they can be taken as is and brought to their various logical conclusions.

I, for one, have come up with an interesting new set of laws.  Behold, the Three Laws of Robotics Americans!

1) An American has the right to live and cannot take that right from any other American.
2) An American has the right to liberty, freedom, and choice, provided exercising such rights do not impinge on any other American's right to life or right to liberty.
3) An American has the right to pursue happiness, provided doing so does not violate any other American's rights to life, liberty, or to pursue happiness.
Violating any of these rights will strip you of all rights of the same rank and below.

What do you think?  Plot-worthy?