Thursday, February 10, 2011

Step Away from the Computer

This February here on The Blood-Red Pencil we’re celebrating a month of The Care and Feeding of the Writer. Okay, actually it’s supposed to be the second half of the month, but since I only post in the first half I thought I’d get in my two cents.

I looked at this topic from two viewpoints. The first is from the writer’s POV. We tend to sit our behinds in a chair and work. And work and work. We type furiously, sometimes literally. Sometimes we only have twenty minutes or maybe an hour or two. Some of us may have all day. Doesn’t matter. We sit and we type, getting up only to fix lunch, which we bring it to our desk and eat in-between typing. We breathe stale air (there is no time to go outside) and hear only the coded ring that alerts us a child is calling (husbands know better). As one writer to another, I beseech you:

Step Away from the Computer.

Sit down at the table or outside on the porch to have lunch. Spend five minutes relaxing on the couch, lost in thoughts not related to the book. Pet the cat. Walk the dog. Call your grandmother. Remember, you’re more than a stressed writer.

But wait. I also look at this from the editor’s POV. I’ve sent manuscripts back to writers whom I know open the document and either scream or collapse in their chairs. Sometimes there are so many marks, comments and highlights, they run together and bleed over onto the next page. Oftentimes, it’s the first page that this happens on. Why the first page? Because this is probably the most important page. It’s the first one seen by an agent, a possible publisher, the reader. It cannot have 52 uses of the word “was.” Rather than just saying that, I highlight each one, point it out to the author, suggest alternatives, page after page after page. Yes, I know I’m causing you stress. But you can work on the problems. You can send it back to me for another read. You rarely get to do that with an agent, a publisher or a reader. So, my Editor advice is:

Step Away from the Computer.

Go get something to drink (I suggest something non-alcoholic, even though alcohol will be tempting). Don’t fire off a curse-filled email to your editor - and, yes, that is probably even more tempting. Go for a walk - I suggest not with the dog since your blood pressure may not be able to handle his attempts to run into the high weeds as he chases a skunk. You might want to wait until the next day to reopen the document and, this time, read the comments and suggestions calmly.

As The Writer, you are responsible for your Care and Feeding. And that, oftentimes, involves Stepping Away from the Computer -- at least until you can breathe without screaming.
 Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, freelance editor and writing coach. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. In addition, her free ezine, Doing It Write, which goes out to subscribers around the globe, is now in its thirteenth year of publication. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn – or catch her April 30, 2011 at Books 'n Authors 'n All That Jazz in Weatherford, Texas, where she and Sylvia Dickey Smith will be talking about “Jazzing Up Your Characters.”

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  1. Excellent advice Helen, but sometimes...well, sometimes I get so engrossed that I simply forget how long I've been glued to the computer. In the interests of the caring and feeding of this writer I'll try and step away from the computer more often. For February, at least!
    Judy (South Africa)

  2. Thanks so much for that, Helen, I could do with following your advice.

  3. Excellent advice. And, seriously, some physical activity is very good for the thought processes. And not eating at the computer can save your computer!

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  4. Great advice, and like all good advice, hard to follow. I've found that my dog reminds me to step away from the computer, better than anything. Those mournful, wistful eyes, that posture of patient waiting as she parks herself in my office doorway -- I am susceptible to guilt. But her joyous exuberance as I get to my feet and we walk out the front door! Her energy transmits itself to me, and by the time we return from our walk, ideas are bubbling in my brain like the smells in her nose. I love my dog.

  5. Great advice, Helen. I have found that time spent away from the computer always enriches my writing. You can't overestimate the value of that back burner work!

  6. Right on! This is what I'm now doing, after over a year of working with editors on my memoir (very soon, now, to be published) and almost a year of blogging. You have to step away, relax, take a walk (for me on the treadmill), watch a movie alone or with someone you love; read a book, read another book.

    Yes! Yes! Thank you, Helen, for this great post!!!
    Ann Best, Author

  7. Yes, great piece of advice and so easty to forget!

  8. Ann, I try to spend time on the elliptical trainer every morning, walking and not thinking about the writing.

  9. Just so everyone will know, that "David" is me, Helen. I'm on his computer and it's automatically signing me in under his name.

  10. Wonderful advice.
    Especially for those of us who get 'touchy' when there's critisim or advice. A walk in the fresh air before returning to the editted prose can give us a fresh, new prespective.
    Similarly, when we walk away from a puzzle such as jigsaw or sudoku-upon returning refreshed-it seems joyously simplified.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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