(Everything in this series of slowly percolating entries is in some way related. That's one reason why it's taking so long to write them...I can't figure out the best order to write them IN!)
I used to write a fair amount of fiction in my late teens and early twenties. Most of it was written while I lived at home and most of it was pretty awful, though bits and pieces did get published in small-press 'zines at the time.
Looking back on what I used to write, I find -- besides a lot of slapstick naivete -- that I've always had a huge problem with dramatic structure and characterization. I just can't see life in terms of "exposition, rising action, climax, and denouement," and I can't see characters as archetypal "villains" or "heroes" or "comic relief." I guess I view life (and people) as far too complicated for all that. And as a result, much of what I wrote ended up having some surprisingly good tangential moments but the plots were superficial and the characters...well, they all tend to be motivationless black boxes who drift around "acting" but leaving only a vague physical impression.
When I discovered the postmodernists in University I was initially thrilled because they seemed to share my outlook on writing, but then I became paralyzed becuase I couldn't find a way to write about life as *I* saw it, rather than retroactively (and poorly) imitating Coover and Pynchon. Any time I wrote something I compared it against three standards: the modernists, the postmodernists, and real life...so of course I didn't compare very well.
Recently, however, I've begun to feel like I MIGHT be able to write something again. This is mainly a cumulative thing that's been going on for years, but it's also thanks to my re-reading of old novels by John Barth. I realize now that his early work was partially about these exact issues: the problems with "dramatic structure" and the inconstancy of both human rationalization and human character. These books were the ones that killed writing for me in the first place, by asking all sorts of questions that I didn't feel I could tackle. Now, older and wiser, I think I can.
But this brings me to the OTHER thing that stopped me from writing: a lack of discipline. I've never been the type to squirrel myself away to write a certain number of pages a day, and if there's a more attractive thing to do -- play a game, listen to music, visit a blog -- I'll gladly do it. Inspiration usually strikes me when I'm away from the computer; by the time I reach the computer, power it up, open a document, and defeat the urge to check my email...inspiration is gone.
Which brings me to the Alphasmart Neo, a dedicated portable word processor. It powers up instantly, has a battery life of 700 hours (!), saves everything you type, easily interfaces with your computer, and -- most importantly -- DOES NOTHING ELSE. No games or web browsing. Not even a clock. No distractions whatsoever.
I've spent a week mulling over whether to buy one, and after a weekend trip to Toronto -- when I really wished I'd had one on the bus -- I bit the bullet and sent them my money. Hopefully it will be a valuable tool; EVERY review I've read has been favourable.
Then today -- wouldn't you know it? -- they lowered the price. An omen?