How to Print Essays at the Convenience Store

netprintAs usual when I teach, I hope my students learn as much from me as I do from them.  Last week, the first draft of their essays was due.  Most of these kids are either in a home-stay situation or in a dorm, neither of which allows much access to a printer, so they ran to the computer center at school to print out their essays.  However, a few of the students had their essays ready, so I asked them about their method of printing. It turns out that the convenience stores, which are omnipresent in Tokyo, have a system called NetPrint.

The first step is to pick your favorite brand of convenience store – most likely the one closest to your house. Then go on their website, which will be only in Japanese, to sign up for a NetPrint account.  Once you are signed up, you can upload whatever type of document you want to the site and in return, you will get a confirmation ID.

Then you can go to any convenience store at which you have signed up for an account.  So if you’ve signed up for the Lawsons account because it’s closest to your house, you can use the Lawsons store right by your office or school as well.  It’s only one program for every branch of the shop.

The NetPrint machines in the shops often speak a little English on their touch-screens.  All you have to do is enter your confirmation number and the document you’ve uploaded will print.  You can’t edit from the convenience store machine, but you can change some formatting.  If you don’t upload the document, but have it on a USB key in PDF format, that’s okay too.  You can’t print a .doc or .xls, but you can print a PDF from the key.

You pay right at the machine, inserting coins as needed. It’s 10 yen ($.10) per page for black and white, 20 yen ($.20) per page for color.

To my students, I say sorry – no more excuses for an unprinted essay.  To everyone else, I say, geez, I love this city.  What a system!

Writing, Editing and um… Cleaning Up The Mess.

clock“There’s a blog post in there somewhere,” said my writing partner, A, after a lengthy and funny conversation about time management, drafting and editing.

Of course she’s right; she’s always right.

The whole discussion started because we both receive the daily email from a group of female writers called “The Girlfriends Book Club.” Some of the entries are truly great –ranging from tips on publication, traditional publishing vs. self-publishing, and various other topics including the work/family balance thing.  And then some of the posts are mediocre. But I’m always glad I get them and have the choice to read and learn, or to press the delete button.

The post that really struck A and me was by a woman named Maria Geraci, who discussed her “Secret Time Management Weapon.”  Well what woman wouldn’t want to know about a weapon for managing time??  Geraci, like most writers, has a “day job” – one that she loves. She says that writing completes her as a person, but nursing is part of who she is.  She is lucky to be able to juggle both careers, and she doesn’t take that for granted.  The big piece of advice Geraci offers is that there is value in the fifteen-minute pocket of time.  If you have 15-minutes, she says, you can write one sentence or maybe edit two. Even that little bit counts as progress. It’s all how you take advantage of the increments of time you’re given.

Much of what A and I do with and for each other follows this principle.  With writing, there are no bosses to answer to – no one cares if we spend one hour or one minute on the writing. So we hold each other accountable. Weekly, we each set goals and check in with each other pretty much every day to see if we’ve met the goals or not.  There’s accountability to each other which makes goal setting worthwhile, but we don’t have penalties for each other if goals aren’t met.  Both of us are able to follow this system because one personality trait that we share is how hard we are on ourselves.  Not meeting the goal of the day causes both of us to engage in more self-flagellation than we could ever envision inflicting on each other.

Time management is something A and I also discuss ad nauseum because I am a teacher in my “other” life and she is very active in Japanese/English translation, as well as journalism and other writing-related pursuits, including a recently debuted text book.  We both have kids. So our time is precious and valuable to us and our families.

What was funny about the conversation however, is the different tack we take for writing.  A is a wonderful writer, but she is also a crackerjack editor.  She can labor over a sentence until its perfect, with the result being these beautiful sentences that flow magically into each other to weave a story or article.  I, on the other hand, can spew out 1000 words in an hour without blinking – sometimes more, but when the story is done, so am I.  I don’t mean to denigrate my own writing or anything, but let’s face it: editing and revising are not my strong suits.  I would rather write a great story and hate taking the time to really refine it for the public.  A would like to refine and refine and refine – though she has great ideas, getting them out of her head isn’t always so simple for her.

What that means for time management is that she needs to spend her chunks of time committed to initial writing and I need to schedule dedicated time for editing and revising.  A different type of time management for both of us.

“Yeah,” says A, “Maybe we should pair up.  You puke out the mass and I clean up the mess!”

And this is why I love her.

Fifteen minute chunks of time.  We’re trying it – without the blowing of chunks, of course.  But hey, if you can’t have fun when you’re writing and holding each other accountable, then what’s the point??

What Do I Want To Be When I Grow Up?

clock2Writing has been part of my life since I could first use a pencil and left scraps of paper all over my grandmother’s house – my “notes” – when I visited.  She said that from the time I was about six years old, cleaning up after I had spent time with her was entertaining. She never wondered what was on my mind – I wrote everything down. I planned on being a writer all the way through college and graduate school when I realized that I needed a day job to pay the bills.  I resisted teaching for a long while because it was sort of my “family business” – Mom still teaches elementary school (finishing her 46th classroom!), my father was on the board of education for years, my uncle teaches law, another uncle was the vice-chancellor of a big university, and even my grandmother was assistant superintendent of schools in a system in Connecticut when I was little.  I didn’t want any part of it.  I tried advertising, public relations and even a computer firm until I finally caved in and got a doctorate in English education and started teaching writing on the college level.

As any woman knows, balancing the demands and rewards of work and family is no easy feat.  When our family moved to Japan, I was lucky enough to find part time work at Temple University where I could teach two courses a semester and still have plenty of time to not only be a participatory mother, but even volunteer in the kids’ schools and never miss an event.  Adjunct teaching isn’t for everyone, but I was lucky enough to have a husband with a steady job so my career didn’t have to be primary and I could focus on the kids.

Babies tend to do this funny thing: they grow.  A lot.  Quickly.  Though it seems like only seconds ago I walked down a street holding the hands of a toddler and a kindergartener, my current reality has one child graduating from middle school and the other graduating from elementary school.  Yep, in a few short months I will be the parent of a high schooler and middle schooler.

More often than not, the kids are busy after school these days and not home until close to dinner time.  I don’t always have to go with them to these activities because many of them are associated with the school and they have busing.  So that leads me to the question of what I’m going to do next.  It’s an interesting question for any woman at any time, but in Japan, where I’m a trailing spouse, sometimes the issues seem insurmountable.  I don’t speak or read the language, and most Japanese companies don’t want a foreigner working for them anyway.  In addition, with my children’s school schedules, I want to be able to take them to the US for a long summer holiday so they can reconnect with our extended family and American roots.  I can’t take just any full time job, so the Temple University position, for just two semesters a year, is ideal.

Luckily, as a writer I have a lot of other options too.  There are blog posts to read and write, contests to enter, and even English-language magazines for which to write.  I’ll do another posting on writing vs. editing and the challenges therein, but this leads me to another point – focus.  I can’t do everything.  I have to pick what it is that’s important to me and focus on those things, otherwise I’ll do many things and none of them very well or successfully.

So now it’s time to raise the bar and figure out what it is that will claim my focus going forward.  Teaching will hopefully be part of the equation, but what I choose to write and how I choose to organize my time in the next few months remains to be seen.

One thing I’ve learned in recent years is that what I want to be when I grow up is not a static thing.  The idea of it can grow and change as I grow and change – emotionally, physically and even situationally.  That same grandmother who found my scraps of paper when I was little used to tell me, “when I stop learning, that’s how you’ll know I’m dead.” I subscribe to that theory. I’m not sure what exactly I want to be when I grow up, but figuring it out is a great journey

What Can I Do About Uncooperative Characters?

writingpicI have an idea for a story.  Well, more accurately, I have a great character and interesting situation for him and I even have an idea of what he should be doing – a story arc.  So with all that clearly laid out, the writing should be a piece of cake, right?  WRONG!  For some reason this kid is not cooperating with me.  I’ve tried writing from the kid’s point of view and writing from a third-person point of view.  I even aged the kid thirty years and tried it via flashback.  Three times now I’ve written over 1000 words, been dreadfully unhappy, and erased the whole thing.

I’m answering a prompt for a short story contest, but the deadline is three weeks away, so I don’t feel any pressure; that’s not the issue.  I am invested in the character and I’d like to make it work, but I’m not sure how.  This hasn’t happened to me before.  In general when I get an idea, I sit down and write it.  Boom.  Done.  That’s it.  I can write more than 1000 words an hour and finished NaNoWriMo before the deadline.  (This is just a comment on volume, not quality – I need a LOT of editing when I write at that pace)  So you can see why I’m stumped here.

My plan going forward is to sit down with a pen and paper and flesh out more details about the character, the supporting cast, the situation and even some of the action.  Perhaps I’ll take out my computer to do it, but sometimes my best thinking is done when I use my hand effectively.  Research has been done about the strong connection between the hand and the brain and that it does not translate to typing and I follow this pattern: writing in my journal is more effective when I think about a story than when I just type.  Lastly on this topic, my NaNoWriMo was the easiest and the best ever this year and I can pinpoint the one reason why: planning.  While I didn’t write at all in October and tried very hard to follow the rules to the letter, I did do a lot of planning.  I had a sketch of each character and an idea of his or her motivation for every scene in the story.  I am going to apply that principle here.  I’m not going to move forward on writing until I have the ideas fully fleshed out.

If anyone out there has a better method, or other advice, I’m open to it.  Please let me know!

Happiness is a DESK

writingpicTo be filed under “news of the new year,” I am teaching again at Temple University’s Japan (TUJ) campus.  Writing at teaching writing are my passions; they’re the two things that get my blood flowing and can bring me to a boil in seconds.  My husband likes to quote from the movie “The Flamingo Kid” when he says, “In life, there are things that you like doing and there are things that you’re good at.  If God is smiling at you, they’re the same thing.”  Well, God is definitely smiling on me with this one since I often cannot believe someone pays me to do this work that I love, and I get pretty good reviews on it, too.

The road to get to my first class this week was a pretty tough one.  I’m the last adjunct hired in the first-year writing department at TUJ so if a class is going to be canceled due to low enrollment, it’s going to be mine.  I wasn’t able to confirm that my class was running until the night before it was supposed to begin.  Luckily, because of department regulation, I had to write syllabi and plan classes well before the deadline, so I was ready when it started.  I suppose it all could have been for naught if both of my classes had been canceled (only one was canceled), but I am lucky that one is running.  Class planning is never useless though; flexing that academic muscle is good for the brain.

Professors at TUJ do something that no professor would consider in the U.S.: they sit in cubicles, bull-pen style.  There’s no privacy and no privilege that comes with walls and a door.  It’s a very Japanese approach to work, as most offices function this way in the country.  It’s just not something we’re accustomed to as Westerners.  Since coming back to work at TUJ last year, I’ve never had my own cubicle, though.  I either teach on Mon/Wed/Fri or Tues/Thurs and they assign met to a desk that I share with a person teaching the opposite days.  This term, for whatever reason, however, I got my own desk.  I don’t know if someone felt badly that both of my classes didn’t fill or about the late run-notice or something else, but it doesn’t matter.  The point is that I have my own desk.

The desk is nothing special, nor is the chair.  There is a good, usable computer on the desktop with a wireless printer attached.  It is light, and near a window.  It’s at the back of the big room and ensures a small measure of privacy.

Best of all, it’s mine for the semester.  I can work here whenever I like, no matter if it’s a teaching day or not. I can come here and write instead of feeling distracted at home.  I can come to school and be inspired by students and other professors as I go through my projects and make progress.  I will be able to get out of the house and see other people every day if I want to when I go use my desk and computer at school.

I have a number of projects and ideas in the hopper, and I can hardly wait to get started.    It all begins with a desk.  A desk with endless possibilities.

How do you find your muse?  Can an inanimate object help you?

NaNoWriMo is Done – Now What?

As I mentioned, I spent the month of November writing 50,000 words of a novel.  I’m done! Hurrah!  So then what happens, you might ask?

writingpicFirst of all, I have to finish the novel.  I would estimate that it’s about 90% done with first draft.  The last scenes still need to be written.  The challenge is to put down 50,000 words; not finish a book.

It’s after the first draft is done that the hard work really begins.  I have to step back and let it sort of “breathe” for a few weeks.  Then I have to take the fifteen or so assorted scenes that I’ve written and make sure they come together as a cohesive novel.  Then I have to edit.  And edit. And edit.  I will ask others to read the draft after the fourth or so effort.  Those friends will make some serious suggestions and I will do edits five, six and seven on the complete draft.  I  might think it’s ready for outsiders to see by that point.

Then starts the un-fun stuff.  I will then work as more o fa  saleswoman than writer, trying to pitch my book to editors, agents, anyone who will look at it in hopes of publication.  What about the e-book route?  Well, I might go that way also, but that takes research and effort also.

All of this means that I’ve done the fun work of writing and now, if I ever want my book to see the light of day, I have to get right down to the business of being a writer.  The hope is that the hard work will pay off in the end with publication in one form or another at some point in the not-too-distant future.  It hasn’t yet happened for me, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t believe it will happen with one of my novels someday.  I am optimistic about it!

Then I get to do it all over again, because at the end of the day, writing is what I really love to do.  And that, my friends, is what happens when NaNoWriMo is done; just like anything else, we keep on keeping on.

NaNoWriMo

For those of you who don’t know, November is National Novel Writing Month.  Hence the acronym NaNoWriMo.  The challenge, put out by the Office of Letters and Lights (OLL) in California, and undertaken by literally hundreds of thousands of people, is to write 50,000 words in a month.  Yep, 50,000.  In one month.  Just as a point of comparison, a relatively short full novel is approximately 60,000-70,000 words.  The point is to get a jump start on the novel you always meant to write.

This is absolutely something you “win” but you win it for yourself, not for the outside validation.  There’s no guaranteed publication deal or even editing assistance.  Those things come later – much later.  In addition, you keep track of it yourself – there’s no taskmaster whipping you do get it done.

All that being said, the OLL has a great NaNoWriMo website that allows you to keep up with buddies who are also undertaking the challenge and has had some pretty amazing authors come in to write pep talks for the “wrimos”.  There are also meet-ups, so that wrimos in various locations can get together to write.  I get emails daily from the crew writing in Osaka, Japan, where they regularly plan writing-themed events.

The whole thing started in 2000 with 140 writers and now, twelve years later, they are up to more than 250,000 writers.  Somewhere between 13-20 percent of participants cross the finish line and win.

This is my third time in the past four years doing NaNoWriMo.  I’m keeping up a good pace with my word counts and writing pretty much daily.  The first time I did it in 2008, I edited the novel carefully and was able to send it to agents.  I got some great feedback on it – no bites, but great feedback.  I think if I put it through another editing process, it would get even better.  The second time I did it, I finished the novel, but it needs a ton of work.  I touch it up in fits and starts.  I will finish it someday.  And I don’t yet know how this one will end.  I hope I have the wherewithal to not only finish the month successfully, but also to finish the process and see the book through to completion.

One big difference for me this year was planning.  I spent a LOT of time the last two weeks of October planning.  I sketched out each character and wrote a plot outline.  I also gave myself twenty specific tasks to complete over 20 days, figuring about 2000 words apiece, sometimes more, sometimes less.  Doing all of that ahead of time really gave me a jump start.  Following the rules strictly, I never actually wrote even one sentence of the novel until November 1st.  Everything I did prior to that was only planning and only hand-written, in fact.  The planning, however, has made everything so much easier.

So now, for the next two weeks, I expect my blog posts to be a bit shorter and everything else in my life to take a bit of a back seat as I work to finish what I’ve started so nicely.  Goals are good – especially when they’re thought out.  Thank you NaNoWriMo!