March 9th, 2007

running, bomb tech

More freshstartwrite.

This is a copy of the e-mail I sent to the person I talked to, after talking to her. She'd asked that I send her the description, so I did, with commentary.

"We are writers with a good grasp of the writing process, coming together to share tips and tricks, and share brief excerpts for constructive criticism."

It would possibly help if you specified that "good grasp of" meant intermediate to advanced. With writing and the group as it's structured, in as much as there's structure, there's very little functional difference between including an intermediate writer and including an advanced writer. It's a lot different to include a beginning writer or a non-writer in the regular function of the group, though when you suggested that we could invite beginning writers or non-writers to sit in (rather than actively take full participation) that opens up the possibility to better include them.

In case you can think of anything else to say about the group that would fit in the catalog, I'll describe what we do a little more completely.

The format is flexible and takes into account the dynamic needs of the group from meeting to meeting. A typical evening will start out with anyone who has news or items of interest to share talking about it; this can range from talking about global or local writing events, informal chatter about writing projects, to updates on personal situations. This lasts anywhere from ten to thirty minutes, depending on group size and focus that night. Sometimes there is a writing prompt for inspiration for anyone who wants to use the time to write something quick.

After critical mass has been achieved, I take stock of the group size and how many people have brought some piece of writing to share. I decide on a time limit for sharing, announce what it is, and open up the floor to anyone who has a piece of writing to share (or some writing concept or difficulty that they need to bounce off the rest of the group, though this is a little less common). Sharing commences. I set the timer on my cellphone as an impersonal and impartial judge of time limits.

After or during the time someone is sharing their piece or writing problem, there is constructive criticism and friendly deconstruction. If no one can think of something nice or even constructive to say about someone's work, there is an awkward silence, but usually there is a chorus of commentary, both about strengths and weaknesses. As a writer advances in her craft and self-confidence, we become more focused on isolating any weaknesses in the writing and helping overcome them. If we sense that a writer has doubt about her ability to write, especially doubt about her ability to write up to the level that some of the rest of the group is writing, we encourage her in the strengths that we can identify. This is where the true strength of the group lies, because everyone brings a different perspective to identifying the good parts and suggesting improvements. If commentary runs extremely long or the group digresses, I pull us back on task, and we move on to the next person.

In the event that there are only one or two people with anything to share, we focus more on the support of the writing process, inquiring about current works in progress and their status, trying to break down creative barriers and suggest new angles for something that isn't working out as planned. This is the other strength of the group, though it's a far more elusive one. Sometimes no one can help; sometimes it turns into an incredible session of creative breakthrough.

Virtually the whole group participates in NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, the 50,000-word novel challenge that takes place in November. The official's challenge is to write an entire new novel, start to finish, from 12:00:00 AM November first to 11:59:59 PM November 30th, but we don't always play quite by the rules -- works in progress are welcomed, as are non-novel substantial creative efforts. Group format can fluctuate wildly in November. I team up with one of the official NaNoWriMo municipal liaisons, and we work at active support of the marathon novel-writing process in November. Sometimes the group needs to share and get focused feedback like is normal the rest of the year; sometimes the group needs an oasis of writing space out of the chaos that their week turned into.

I'm very glad that you're allowing the writing group to have so much leeway with how we do things, because we're having an incredible amount of fun, and there's so much writing and growth going on.
phone, cordless phone

Day. From. Technical. Hell.

10:44 AM 3/9/2007
I feel feverish. This is either me, what I'm wearing, or the building just being warm.

12:22 PM 3/9/2007
One of the advantages to the ability to check e-mail every now and then throughout the day in a lull is that if one of the subscriptions that one has made in order to start testing out the duties of helping moderate a comm has landed a troll comment in one's inbox, one can then e-mail said comment right to the actual maintainer, who can deal with the troll with speed and efficiency. All in under ten minutes, with no other responses to the troll besides my very bland "That is a very unrelated link. You may be commenting in the wrong community." Flamewar contained at the first spark. (Well, the flamewar is up and raging over in the linked discussion, but not right in the comm where I'm watching.)

2:23 PM 3/9/2007
omfg. omfg. omfg. I can't escape from them. They are some of the nicest people in the world, and omfg. Snarky Lady's Lead Minion is not, not, not a computer person. She's not trained in reading the common UI, so she's very computer-illiterate. I've been teaching her what some of the symbols mean, like the little arrow in the corner for the shortcuts. I guess some people don't really pick up on the visual cues for the UI as fast as someone else would. But someone has to teach her each UI "word"; she's not one of those people who picks up things and then starts picking up more on her own.

The latest? She's been signing out on what she fondly believes to be the timesheet.
Problem is, she's not been. It's been a copy of the sheet, on the desktop of the machine she's been working from. She was wondering why there was already data in there from previous days, but it never occurred to her that she should tell someone and get help with it.

I explained that it was a "fake", amazingly enough without profanity. I explained the concept of a shortcut to the machine in the back room. I explained how all the machines out in Field are using a shortcut to the machine in the back room. I showed the arrows to her. I showed the place in Excel where it displays the path of the current file.

Snarky Lady told her to cut her nails. (She has these daggers on her fingers. Well, not daggers. They're very clean, very nice, very well-kept artificial nails. I think they're artificial. They're clear-polished, whatever they are. But she can't type. It's not physically possible for her hands to touch-type. She has to sort of hunt and poke at about 10wpm.)

In Field, someone asked me how it came to be that over some weekend, somehow the server copy of the sheet in question got totally wiped out. Not just the data, but instead of the sheet it was supposed to be, there was this pristine fresh-looking spreadsheet that had none of the formatting or anything.

I had to explain the concept of "some idiot opened up a new spreadsheet, then hit 'save as' without thinking, that idiot," and that this idiot was not necessarily the one who was last in that spreadsheet.

3:43 PM 3/9/2007
I took break, and gibbered to Turbo. Then I called Darkside. Darkside is the one who managed to get me not-gibbering. Darkside is a prince among men.

4:34 PM 3/9/2007
Got to explain the current problems with internet shortcuts vs. end-users to Turbo. Snarky Lady may have the experience and knowledge, but I speak computer far better.

At some point I might have the spoons to explain it properly, but the combination of an outdated desktop shortcut that cannot be deleted, that the computer-incompetent people are conditioned to use, and then the new link that's been passed around for the login link only works for the people with full privs; the people with partial (monitoring only, not infraction log) privs are refused. The way to get from the login link given is to insert "monitoring" at the end (or middle, depending) of the URL. ("Depending" is whether the URL given is or ...) The people with partial privs are the ones who wouldn't recognize a URL if one came up to them and told them how to locate their rear with both hands. That's a bad combination. At least we are able to save new shortcuts to their desktops.

I mentioned that I was able to call Darkside. This makes me so much saner than I would have otherwise been...