How I use #Science #Research in my #Science-Fiction #Writing for The Spanners Series
First, Some #Tech History
Typewriters to Word Processors
I am old enough to remember learning to type on a manual typewriter whose action was so “hard” or difficult that I had to slam each finger onto the keys to get them to hit the ribbon with enough force to get sufficient ink to mark the typing paper. If I were trying to make carbon copies, I had to hit the keys even harder or the copy wouldn’t be impressed with the keys enough for the carbon paper to work properly.
Luckily, I was already a piano student (from the age of 9) by the time I started typing (age 10) and I took my only formal typing class the summer I turned twelve. By then, my fingers were very strong. I do not know how others learned to type and made it work without being pianists. Even with my hours of piano playing every week, I still found it tiring and challenging to type with enough force on these typewriters to make the keys impress the carbon paper, especially when making more than one copy.
The first revolution was the IBM “Selectric” (invented in 1961, but got to me and my part-time jobs in St. Louis, MO, in the late 1960s and early 1970s), which had a spinning ball rather than key action. This made the typing of the letters cause the ball to spin, putting the typed letter in contact with the ink ribbon without having to use as much force. My days of a typewriter jam were almost over (I became an extremely fast typist, but the machine could not keep up!).
The early 1970s brought further great relief from typewriter drudgery with the electric typewriters (soft-touch, less force-required) and then the amazing automatic carriage return. Remember that lever we had to yank on at the end of every line? Gone!
image from http://ecocatlady.blogspot.com
Finally, the best invention for writers and secretaries: the correction key, which worked by back-space-erase-retype action. Before this functional key existed, typists had to use special typewriter erasers (those round ones with the feathery ends so we could brush off the eraser dust from each part of the page) and carbon paper erasers for any mistakes, OR (usually) retype the entire page for one mistake! For larger mistakes or the carbon copies, we newly could use “Liquid Paper” or “Wite-Out”(THANKS, Bette Nesmith Graham, who invented this in her kitchen in 1956!), which also was a revolution in making typed pages appear mistake-free even when they were not.
Liquid Paper display at the Women’s Museum
image from http://en.wikipedia.org
Card Catalogs and Index Cards
Along with these trips down memory lane for typists, which brought us to word-processing/computer-like typewriters and, finally, word-processing software for home computers (the BEST!), we have the trajectory across the last fifty years for researchers. Remember those little pencils that were ubiquitous in libraries for use near the card-catalogs?
I used to spend hours or days or weeks cross-referencing, by hand, with my fingers and tired eyes, to find authors, titles, types of printed works, or microfiche/ microfilm copies of materials. Then, some were not allowed to be “checked out,” only used “in-house.” Or, some had to be requested via Interlibrary Loan, which could take months.
The photocopier was an electrifying (LOL) invention that allowed us to take home pages we wanted to study or read. We could mark them up and use them to take further notes on when items couldn’t be taken out of the library, but they cost a lot per page for my budget. I invented my own shorthand to take copious notes very quickly, a system I learned to use in lecture classes as well. I could quickly crib information from precious materials I couldn’t afford to make copies of in the large numbers of pages I needed for a project.
I am a speed-reader, fast note-taker, and quick thinker. Still, this type of research was slow and laborious since I had to read each page to determine what I wanted to notate, photocopy or ignore. Every resource also had long lists of their own resources which I usually had to follow-up on (and was grateful for the “trail”), but many items were one-of-a-kind and not available when I needed them.
Index cards, notebooks, looseleaf binders, photocopies, smudged ink and so much paper, paper, paper: I was drowning in it. We had to ORGANIZE: color coding, use of tabs, physically taping-moving-retaping the cards or notes on large pieces of paper or a bulletin board, wall or floor. It is at this point I would notice the gaps and have to trudge back (often through snow and ice; not kidding) to the library.
image from http://fairfieldwriter.wordpress.com
I was SO excited to use removable tags and “post-it” notes when they came into our lives: 1968, serendipitous discovery by Dr. Spencer Silver at 3-M, of the reusable glue; and Arthur Fry, mid-1970s for the mass-market applications, like “post-it” notes and removable tabs. If I only could keep it all straight and remember my own process. For example, was I using blue for my thoughts or quotations…?
Arthur Fry, inventor of the “Post-It” note
image from http://en.wikipedia.org
Research Access and Writing, First Major Innovations
Fast-forward to the 1990s and (thanks to Al Gore…), the World Wide Web, or as it’s now known, the Internet. At first, not a lot was available to “laypeople.” Research didn’t change for me much during my graduate schools years (1991-96, for my Master’s and doctorate). The scanning interfaces were horrible: grainy and hard to read, with many odd mistakes and quirky formatting problems. Plus, most items weren’t scanned in and scanners were still prohibitively expensive and large, so not widely utilized. Professional journals, esoteric sources and other materials still needed to be found and used at libraries or in person.
The biggest boon and the one I still praise daily is the word processing personal computer. Best parts of that: copy, cut and paste functions. Gone forever are the days of using actual scissors (although I love that the “cut” icon is a pair of scissors). I no longer use sticky tape or post-its to move text around and it’s easy to create outlines that I can change quickly.
First-time, ever: specialized software programs that allowed us to create bibliographies as we write, using sources freely in our properly-positioned footnotes and endnotes, all automatically formatted to the chosen “style” guide, if we were clever enough to input the data correctly. Incredible!
Using Science Research in my Science-Fiction Writing
A Researcher’s Paradise!
Now, in the mid-20-teens, the Internet is alive, well, thriving and chock-full of information. Google, Yahoo, MSN, Wikipedia and other -pedias, specialized news sources and wikis along with nonprofit organizations’, professional associations’ and corporate websites populate the web with more facts than anyone could gather. I can capture and bring them to me via my home computer’s browser with the entry of a few simple search terms.
I am now overflowing with science breakthroughs, breaking news and older sources, with accompanying images, data and video/audio files. I am in a researcher’s paradise!
Word-Processing Software’s References and Resources
We have our own dictionary and thesaurus right within our word processing programs, with grammar and spell-checking functions operating within our own preferences and parameters. We can change these, add words and terms, personalize it all at will.
We can also become completely autonomous as bloggers, authors, producers of content of all sorts. We can independently research, write, edit and format an entire book in electronic or print format from our homes or offices: this is the true revolution of “desk-top publishing.”
My Evolving Research and Writing Process
Best part, for this sci-fi writer: science information on any topic, any time, at my fingertips. I have changed the way I write because of what is available and how I can use it in my books. I used to be an avid outliner (remember the notecards and color-coded tabs?), but usually, now, I mentally sketch out what I want to write about and what characters to include.
Then, throughout the year, I gather tidbits of information that I believe I may want to use. I get links to articles from organization’s or group’s pages’ and friends’ posts on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter and other social media sites.
When something piques my interest, I don’t have to go anywhere to read it. I don’t have to take notes or pay to copy the entire article. I don’t have to carry backpacks filled with heavy books, research journals and articles home.
Oh, no; I do not!
Instead, with a few “clicks,” I travel online to the site to copy and paste part or all of the article and its URL to a word processing document. It is then stored in my research folder with a specific title and date. I review it in its entirety or portions of it later, usually on the day I plan to consider using it.
Screenshot of my research folder’s contents
When I’m ready to write, I begin to mine my research folder for its gold and other ores. When I find something I may want to use (for its facts, explanations, ideas or announcements), I copy and paste parts or all of each article right into my story or book draft. Sometimes, early on in my writing a book for The Spanners Series, I’m not sure what I’ll use, exactly, so I paste them all “at the end.”
When I’m ready to place items by subject somewhere in the chapters set-up, I move the paragraphs or entire articles to that chapter, by topic. As I write, I read more carefully to learn from the parts I’ve captured.
BUT, I am careful NOT to not use these authors’ exact words or do much paraphrasing. Instead, these snippets become my “notes,” acting like outlines, as guides. The sections I’ve pasted show me where I want to take my characters, my plot, or even my series by providing me with the science and facts to back up the next part of the world I’m building and the story I want to tell.
Once I’ve utilized this chapter’s store of ideas and facts (of course, attributing and giving credit in my Appendices when I use any part more literally than conceptually), I put each accessed article into my “USED” folder in my computer. Then, as I write, I delete the “notes” from the copied-pasted nonfiction/research articles’ sections of the draft.
All that is left in each chapter are my own ideas, in my words, with my characters, my plot. I then move on to another source or chapter section.
Summary of All the Changes: Pros and Cons
This process sometimes wreaks havoc with daily word counts, but I’ve learned how to distinguish consistently the “notes” sections separately from the written portions. What I love about this evolving process is how time- and resource-efficient and budget-friendly it is. There are only a few steps, with nothing to photocopy or borrow, no handwritten notes and bits of paper to misplace, fewer or no pieces of paper.
Plus, when I find out I’m missing something crucial or want to go in a new direction, I can open a browser tab and find a new information source in about one minute on my computer, from where I am already sitting. When inspiration strikes, I can “scratch” my creative “itch” immediately. Right away, I can find out if my new idea is feasible by setting the data up right within my draft, look it over, consider it all, then resume writing.
I can easily and quickly re-arrange entire sections, chapters, and themes, distributing ideas and information among my draft volumes as I write each one of my 10-book Spanners Series. For each of the three Volumes I have completed and the one I’m currently midway through, I have re-organized the chapters multiple times. I have changed sections, moved paragraphs and altered the events in timelines (my series includes multiple timelines) so that the chapter sequence changes almost weekly for a while.
I keep track of all these events, data and movement by using header dates for each chapter. I list them in my series’ spreadsheet by chapter and title. I also include some of the chapter’s content, characters and its current Volume number in the cell.
The Spanners Series’ timeline spreadsheet, screenshot
Given the fluid nature of ebooks and self-publishing, it would not surprise me to find out, years from now, that I want to re-arrange the sequence within or of the Volumes I’ve already published significantly! Doing that wouldn’t even be difficult, since self-publishers can withdraw and resubmit Volumes for distribution whenever we want.
Of course, there is one big problem: too much sitting! I have to remind myself to take breaks, get up, walk around, go swimming 5 – 6 times each week, take naps, go outside and walk around. The temptation to stay inside and keep working is so much greater than in the past because everything I need is “right here”!
I also have to be careful not to have another incident of RPI (Repetitive Stress Injury) to my arms, fingers, hands and wrists, which I had severely in my first semester of graduate school. I learned exercises, ways to sleep, the use of ice and NSAIDs to avoid overusing my home computer as I transitioned from relying on an electric typewriter. When there is no paper to load, no carriage level for returns, no ribbon to change and no carbon paper, we don’t move around physically enough.
We have to remember: raise our eyes to look out a window to change our eyes’ focus from near to far, remove our hands from the keyboard to stretch our arms, shoulders, necks, backs, fingers. We need to get up and actually (HORRORS!) leave the keyboard and screen for frequent breaks, or we will ruin our bodies.
Many (like my son, not pictured, but his set-up is similar) now use standing desks and ergonomically designed keyboards with vertical access to prevent the worst harm and future injuries. However, exercise and frequent “away” periods are the best ways to avoid physical problems from developing due to computer overuse.
Ergonomic Desk and Keyboard Set-up
image from http://www.instructables.com
However, I would not trade the convenience of this era for all the manual typewriters and liquid paper in the multiverse. Thanks to all the inventors, developers, creators, scientists, researchers and writers who made/make this all possible for the rest of us!
This Changes Everything, Volume I, The Spanners Series, by Sally Ember, Ed.D., Permafree
Dr. Clara Ackerman Branon, 58, begins having secret visits from holographic representations of beings from the Many Worlds Collective, a consortium of planet and star systems in the multiverse. When Earth is invited to join the consortium, the secret visits are made public. Now Earthers must adjust their beliefs and ideas about life, religion, culture, identity and everything they think and are.
Clara is selected to be the liaison between Earth and the Many Worlds Collective and she chooses Esperanza Enlaces to be the Media Contact. They team up to provide information to stave off riots and uncertainty. The Many Worlds Collective holos train Clara and the Psi-Warriors for the Psi Wars with the rebelling Psi-Defiers, communicate effectively with many species on Earth and off-planet, eliminate ordinary, elected governments and political boundaries, convene a new group of Global Leaders, and deal with family’s and friends’ reactions.
In what multiple timelines of the ever-expanding multiverse do Clara and her long-time love, Epifanio Dang, get to be together and which leave Clara alone and lonely as the leader of Earth?
This Changes Everything spans the 30-year story of Clara’s term as Earth’s first Chief Communicator, continuing in nine more Volumes of The Spanners Series.
Are YOU ready for the changes?
This Changes My Family and My Life Forever, Volume II, The Spanners Series, by Sally Ember, Ed.D., @$3.99
Intrigued by multiple timelines, aliens, psi skills, romance and planetary change? Clara and the alien “Band” are back.
Now as Chief Communicator, Clara leads the way for interspecies communication on- and off-planet. Fighting these changes are the Psi-Defiers, led by one of the oldest friends of the Chief of the Psi-Warriors, its reluctant leader, Rabbi Moran Ackerman. Stories from younger Spanners about the first five years of The Transition fill Volume II.
How would YOU do with the changes?
This Is/Is Not the Way I Want Things to Change, Volume III, The Spanners Series, by Sally Ember, Ed.D., planned pre-orders 11/1/15 – 12/7/15 @$1.99; planned release 12/8/15 @$3.99; Cover Reveal 10/26/15!
Clara, Moran, Espe, Epifanio and the alien Band of holos are back. Psi-Defiers launch increasingly violent protests during this five-year Transition, attempting to block Earth’s membership into the Many Worlds Collective. To join, Earth’s nations and borders must dissolve and Psi-Warriors must strengthen in their battle against the rebels.
Clara, continuing as Earth’s first Chief Communicator, also juggles family conflicts and danger while creating psi skills training Campuses to help Earth through the Psi Wars. Clara timults alternate versions of their futures as the leaders’ duties and consciences force them each to make difficult choices across multiple timelines while continuing to train and fight.
Will the Psi-Warriors’ and other leaders’ increasing psi skills, interspecies collaborations and budding alien alliances be enough for Earth to make it through The Transition intact? If there is no clear path for Clara’s and Epifanio’s love, does she partner with Steve or go it alone?
What do you do with wanted/unwanted changes?
http://www.sallyember.com main website
http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00HEV2UEW author page
https://www.twitter.com/sallyemberedd Twitter: @sallyemberedd
https://www.facebook.com/TheSpannersSeriesbySallyEmber Spanners Series’ page on FB
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https://plus.google.com/u/0/+SallySueEmber/about/p/pub Sally Sue Ember on Google+
More purchase/free links on Kobo, ibooks and nook as well as reviews, book trailers, author interviews and readings, blog posts, research, series updates and more on Sally’s website: look right, scroll down. http://www.sallyember.com
Cover art and logo by Aidana Willowraven: http://www.willowraven-illustration.blogspot.com/
Thanks Sally. I thoroughly enjoyed and will use the techniques you laid out in this article concerning the writing process. Don’t know if I am ready to spend the day ergonomically correct. I actually played with a band in Mt. Pleasant last week and had to stand for two hours. I was surprised that I was able to do that, and it did not affect me physically, probably because I was focused on what I was doing. Kind of an “out of body” experience. BTW, more has been revealed of “What it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now.” on my blog. Hope you get a chance to check it out.
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Thanks for visiting and commenting, Steve, and I hope the writing tips work for you. If you modify them to good effect, write a “rebuttal” guest blog post for me some time!
As a performer (actor, singer, musician) myself, I know what you mean about “out of body” experiences while performing. I once stepped out to do a one-act and had/have no memory of any of it until the applause began at the end. I hear it went fine.
So it goes.
Best to you,