But that's not the point, really:
Against my better judgment, I downloaded Apple's latest update of OSX this week. It's not that I thought there was anything evil in "Mountain Lion" (where do they get these names?), but I really was just fine with the previous incarnation, and it didn't sound like there was a whole lot that would change with the new one. Still, the price was very reasonable, and one has to keep up with technology or be left in its dust. So I took a deep breath, knowing it was probably going to consume the rest of my day, and hit "download."
Sure enough, it took up the rest of my day.
Nothing especially horrendous went wrong, but without cramming in tons of technical details I wouldn't understand anyway, after an hour or so, I realized that my current system, in which I kept the window for my hard drive open all the time and chose applications and documents from it as needed, wasn't working the way it always had before. And after swearing I wouldn't, I ended up calling Apple's support line. And got someone right away. He even spoke the same language as I do.
I know what you're thinking; I'm a racist who can't understand the accent of someone from another country. Well maybe so (I would argue not), but that wasn't the case here. The problem wasn't with this guy's pronounciation; it was with his words. He spoke fluent Tech, a language I'm hoping Rosetta Stone will be featuring soon.
It took a long time to bridge the gap in language, but eventually, the Apple guy (whose name was probably "Chip" or "Chad" or something like that) was able to understand my problem. But his tone indicated that he was, at best, aghast at what I've been doing since I bought my first Apple IIc in 1985.
"You keep the hard drive open all the time?" he asked incredulously.
I was puzzled. I've always operated this way; it allows me direct access to every file I want whenever I want it (granted, some are in folders because otherwise it would all be unwieldy). And Chip/Chad was puzzled because he couldn't believe someone worked a Mac the way I did; he seemed amazed my system was still working.
I'm sure from a technical standpoint, he was right. But I've been doing this for 27 years, and it's hard to change something that fully ingrained.
What struck me was that it had never occurred to me--not once--that this wasn't the way everybody organized their computers. It seemed so intuitive, so obvious a method, that I had simply assumed it was the accepted norm and I could discuss it with Chap (I've decided to call him) as such. Apparently not.
Writing can be like that (you knew I'd get to writing eventually, right?). Writers, especially those like me who operate on a fairly instinctive, rather than intellectual, level, tend to believe there is only one way to write. More specifically, we believe there is only one way for us to write. We're sure there are others who work in differing styles, who operate with more forethought or less, who have every word planned ahead of time--or don't, who can write only when sitting with their left legs crossed over the right, or vice versa.
It's not so. We can venture outside our usual methods, try something we've never done before in terms of content or writing method.
In 1986, Paul Simon hadn't had a hit record in a while. His most recent album, Hearts and Bones, had tanked at the record store. People were saying he was written out, washed up. And Simon, perhaps, was starting to believe them.
He decided, eventually, to try writing songs in a new way. He met with musicians from a completely different culture and started playing tracks without lyrics, just whatever evolved in the jam sessions they enjoyed so thoroughly. And once Simon had collected enough instrumental tracks, he went back to New York and started thinking about lyrics. This was the reverse of the way he usually worked, which had always been to have songs written before he'd entered the recording studio. And Simon found it invigorated his work to operate in a new way.
If you feel like you're in a slump, try doing the opposite of what you usually do. Write in the evening instead of the morning. Outline the whole story before writing, instead of working by the seat of your pants. Maybe give up the housebound computer and work on a laptop outside until the battery runs out. Whatever is what you always don't do, do that.
Now, it's entirely possible that you'll fnd it impossible to write anything coherent without your usual routine or surroundings. You might find that what has always worked for you still works, and you simply needed to look at it another way--and reject that other way--to get back into your groove. You could write something the new way and decide it's the worst work you've ever done in your life.
Or, you could write Graceland. It's happened before.
P.S. Heartfelt congratulations to Shannon Jamieson Vazquez, the incomparable editor of the Haunted Guesthouse mystery series (and the Double Feature series) and her lovely husband Ray on the birth of their son Samuel late last week! Enjoy your time with your three boys, Shannon (and enjoy your new brother, Gabe!), but come back in time for the next book!