Monday, February 11, 2019

Using Imagery (the "Metaphor Stuff")

This blogs posts on Mondays. The second Monday of the month is dedicated to my writing workshop students and anyone else interested in creative writing. 

The study of English Literature has its pleasures and virtues, and much to do with learning the craft of creative writing; nonetheless, these are not one and the same endeavor. You can earn a PhD in race, class, gender, or fill-in-the-blank in the novel, yet still not have the wherewithal to actually write one. 

[>> CONTINUE READING THIS POST AT MADAM-MAYO.COM]

Monday, February 04, 2019

Migrating to Self-Hosted WordPress

Oops, I needed to have packed more trail mix and the glamping equipment!
 A few elephants to carry it all would have been fun, too.
Well, dangit, I meant to spend the month of January writing about Texas.
 (Photo: Engraving by G.H. Cushman of a painting by G.P.A Healy,
 Library of Congress, in the public domain.
)

Finally, after more than a decade, I took my own advice to get this blog off the free Google blogger platform and onto self-hosted WordPress at www.madam-mayo.com. It was one part 2019 new year’s resolution and another part yikes-my-book-Meteor-is-about-to-come-out-and-I-should-have-already-taken-care-of-this. For the past few weeks I’ve been huffing and puffing up a steeper learning curve, and one with quite a few more scenic (and not-so-scenic) detours, than I had anticipated.

[>>CONTINUE READING THIS BLOG AT WWW.MADAM-MAYO.COM.]

I do not aim, by the way, to import the entire archive of Madam Mayo blog posts going back to 2006. Archaeologists of Ur-litblogdom are hereby invited to dig around in the archives right where they always were and shall remain for as long as Googledom, for whatever reasons known only to itself, deems apt. What I am importing to www.madam-mayo.com, with selected links updated, are those posts that I believe best hold up over time: some transcripts of my talks, and other items related to my books (including the one in-progress) and podcasts; book reviews and the richer notes on recommended reading; articles for my writing workshop; and the now substantial collection of Q & As with other writers.

If you’re new to this blog, a few of last year’s posts that I would consider representative of what you can expect here going into 2019 include:

Working with a Working Library: Kuddelmuddel
September 24, 2018

Diction Drops and Spikes
(Workshop Post)
August 13, 2018
(In 2019 workshop posts are on the second Monday of the month)

Top 10+ Books Read 2018
December 17, 2018

Q & A: Leslie Pietrzyk on Writers Groups,
the Siren Song of the Online World, and on Writing Silver Girl
February 26, 2018
(In 2019 look for Q & A’s on the fourth Monday of the month)

As of today, February 4, 2019, the top “Madam Mayo” posts for 2018–some thirty in all– plus a wee batch (mainly workshop posts) from a sprinkling of earlier years, are now live at www.madam-mayo.com. So I have more to do.

I also need to figure out the email sign-up thing…

In case you are also thinking of migrating a blog to WordPress, or starting a new blog on WordPress, herewith a few resources that I have found especially helpful:


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>Your comments are always welcome. Click here to send me an email.








Monday, January 28, 2019

Q & A: David A. Taylor on CORK WARS: INTRIGUE AND INDUSTRY IN WORLD WAR II

By C.M. Mayo www.cmmayo.com

This blog posts on Mondays. This year the fourth Monday of the month is dedicated to a Q & A with a fellow writer.

CORK WARS by David A. Taylor
I was excited to see David A. Taylor’s Cork Wars: Intrigue and Industry in World War II, firstly because I know from his previous works that this promises to be a thoroughly researched and superbly written history; and secondly because I have some tangentially related family history with another strategic material during World War II. My grandfather, organic chemist Frank R. Mayo, was then a research chemist at U.S. Rubber Company working on the crucial task of creating a synthetic rubber that could be mass-produced in a dangerously narrowing window of time; sources of natural rubber –-essential for making automobile and airplane tires as well as tank caterpillar tracks–-had been cut off when the Japanese invaded southeast Asia. Moreover, these days I am not the only one nervously aware that as we become increasingly dependent on our computers, smartphones, and electric vehicles, we are becoming  increasingly beholden to a supply of “rare earths,” many found nowhere near the United States, for the batteries (as David mentions in this interview).

Cork, a strategic material: Who’dathunkit? 


Taylor’s Cork Wars has been garnering rich praise. Meredith Hindley, author of Destination Casablanca, calls Cork Wars “fascinating;” Mary Otto, author of Teeth, says: “Cork Wars captures the drama of three families whose lives are bound up with a precious forest product—and the urgency of war;” and noted biographer Douglas Brinkley calls Cork Wars “a landmark achievement!”

C.M. MAYO: How might you describe the ideal reader for Cork Wars?

DAVID A. TAYLOR: The story is narrative nonfiction, so really the ideal reader is anyone who loves a good story. Because it involves espionage and World War II, that tends toward a male reader but the focus on families and how they respond to a crisis will make it interesting to a wider audience. I’ve been pleased that a wide range of readers have responded warmly to the book.

C.M. MAYO: An unsung commodity turns out to be crucial for national defense. It seems to me there are many parallels to this, both in the past and the present. Can you talk about this a bit?

DAVID A. TAYLOR: That’s long been an interest of mine, especially commodities that come from nature. We’ve come to know that water can be a flashpoint for conflict and security. And many of us grew up hearing “Blood for oil!” as a shorthand describing the motivation for wars fought over petroleum reserves.

But other parallels today are less well known. One is an obscure ingredient in electronics like our cellphones: minerals called “rare earths.” Your cellphone contains just a tiny amount of rare earths, but they’re irreplaceable – and China holds practically a monopoly on them. That’s why the Pentagon recently issued a report saying rare earths are a matter of U.S. national security.

That’s a factor in the current trade conflict. It helps to know these things as world citizens. And for writers, I think that holds dramatic possibilities as well.

C.M. MAYO: Can you talk about which writers have been the most important influences for your writing in general and for Cork Wars in particular?

DAVID A. TAYLOR: My reading taste has been shaped by so many wonderful writers of both fiction and nonfiction. It’s hard to keep to just a few. In fiction I’ve loved the works of Alice Munro, Grace Paley, Amy Bloom, George Saunders, Kate Wheeler, Chekhov, Tagore (stories), Borges, and Machado de Assis, the Brazilian master who combines wit and poignancy. In nonfiction I’ve been influenced by John McPhee, Rebecca Skloot, Isabel Wilkerson and others.

For Cork Wars, I was very impressed by a novel by Alan Furst called Dark Voyage, set during World War II and in the Mediterranean, in which the crew of a freighter (hauling a cargo of cork for part of the voyage) figures prominently. Furst evoked a world that’s noir and world-wise with vital characters, a combination I wanted for my book.

The other novel that I admired recently – it didn’t influence me because of when it came out – was Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach, which has beautiful writing and characters in that wartime atmosphere of New York harbor.

C.M. MAYO: You have been a consistently productive writer for many years. How has the Digital Revolution affected your writing? Specifically, has it become more challenging to stay focused with the siren calls of email, texting, blogs, online newspapers and magazines, social media, and such? If so, do you have some tips and tricks you might be able to share?

DAVID A. TAYLOR: Thanks, so have you! The digital revolution has had a huge affect on my process. Yes, the distractions – and even the requirements – of email and social media have cut a chunk out of my writing time. I still write in the mornings, right after I get up, and that helps. And at some point in the day I like to write on paper, for a different neural connection to work. But I wish I had more tricks for staying focused (apart from self-imposed deadlines).

C.M. MAYO: Another question apropos of the digital revolution. At what point, if any, were you working on paper? Was working on paper necessary for you, or problematic?

DAVID A. TAYLOR: Yes, I started writing on computers but printing out to review and revise. I’ve seen research findings that reading hardcopy can help foster focus on longform reading (and revising). So as much as I write and revise onscreen, I do also edit on paper. The visceral circling of passages to move around can be satisfying.
I also read my work aloud to get my ear involved in hearing points for improvement.

C.M. MAYO: Organization… Keeping the research and working library all in order is a titantic task in writing a book of this nature. What were some of the things you did for this book that worked especially well for you?

DAVID A. TAYLOR: It’s interesting – have you found your own process has changed with each book? Mine has. For my first book, I used index cards to map out scenes, chapter by chapter. Later books relied on folders on the computer.

This one was challenging in terms of structure – it took a while to find the braided structure woven in three strands, with three families. As the structure evolved, the way I sorted my text, interview transcripts and images shifted.

One strength in this story’s evolution was the rhythm of research and interviews, writing and revision. The research led me to people to talk with – including Frank DiCara at his home in Baltimore, and Gloria Marsa, the daughter of a man recruited for spying by the OSS. I spoke with her often by phone in Mexico City, where she lives.

Those conversations in turn pointed me forward with search terms for more documentary research, which often yielded details that would be hard to recall, but that help the narrative.

C.M. MAYO: What’s next for you as a writer? 
DAVID A. TAYLOR: I’ve been encouraged by the response to Cork Wars and I think there are other formats in which the story and its characters can speak to us. In earlier work, I was fortunate to have partners for adapting my book about the WPA writers of the 1930s, Soul of a People, as a documentary and later as a feature screenplay (not yet produced, but it did get some nice WGA recognition). So I’d like to explore something like that with this story.

I also have several new projects. I’m in awe of the vision of August Wilson, whose Twentieth Century Cycle is so monumental. I love the idea of imagining a vast canvas, and carving it up by decade! On my own much smaller scale, I have my Thirties story with the WPA writers, and now Cork Wars in the 1940s. So I have a few more to go.

>>Visit David A. Taylor here, and check out this excellent trailer for Cork Wars:





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>Your comments are always welcome. Click here to send me an email.




Monday, January 21, 2019

Meteor (Gival Press Poetry Award) to Launch at AWP

My book Meteor, which won the Gival Press Award for Poetry, and was orginally scheduled to be published in late 2018, has been delayed slightly; it will be out in early 2019. 

I’m thrilled to see the cover, designed by Kenn Schellenberg, and to announce that Meteor which will launch at the Associated Writing Programs Conference in Portland, Oregon this March. If you’re going to conference, come on by my reading which will be part of Gival Press’ 20th Anniversary Celebration, and also to my booksigning the following day in the AWP Bookfair (details below).



Visit Meteor’s webpage here. All of the poems in Meteor have been published, but only a few are online, among them: “In the Garden of Lope de Vega,” “Stay West” and “Bank.”

I’d be the first to say many of these poems could be considered flash fictions, and in fact, a number of them were originally published in literary magazines (e.g., Exquisite Corpse, Gargoyle, Kenyon Review), as fiction. But as I like to say, it’s all poetry– or at least, it should aspire to be.

March 29, 2019 Portland, Oregon
Associated Writing Programs Conference
Oregon Convention Center
7 – 10 PM
C.M. Mayo, author of Meteor, to participate in Gival Press 20th Anniversray Celebration Reading. More details to be announced.

March 30, 2019 Portland, Oregon
Associated Writing Programs Conference
Oregon Convention Center
Book Fair, Gival Press, Table # 8063
10-11:30 AM
C.M. Mayo will be signing Meteor.

Yep, I am still at work on the book about Far West Texas. I aim to post a podcast apropos of that shortly, however next Monday’s post– the month’s fourth– is dedicated, as ever, to a Q & A with another writer: David A. Taylor, who will be talking about his intriguing Cork Wars.

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>Your comments are always welcome. Click here to send me an email.






Monday, January 14, 2019

It Can Be Done! This Writer's Distraction Free Smartphone (Plus an App Evaluation Flowchart to Tailor-Make Your Own)

By C.M. Mayo www.cmmayo.com

SMOMBIE: It's a word that popped up in Germany only in 2015. It's hard to imagine now, but a decade ago, a scene, typical today, of smombies shuffling along city streets would have been but a cliché in a sci fi novel. But here we are. 

[>>CONTINUE READING ON THE SELF-HOSTED WORDPRESS SITE WWW.MADAM-MAYO.COM]

When we lack the words to precisely describe something, it becomes difficult to recognize it, never mind debate and discuss it. Albeit some decades ago, the Digital Revolution burst upon us all, a series of tsunamis of such dizzying celerity that our vocabulary is still catching up. Only a few years ago a much-needed term was coined a few years ago by Jake Knapp: "Distraction Free iPhone." I came across the term when I read Knapp's recent update on his experience here.


DISTRACTION FREE SMARTPHONE = DFS = defis 

I'll switch that last word from "iPhone" to "smartphone" to make it a Distraction Free Smartphone, DFS for short. I did not think of my smartphone as distraction free until now, but for the past several years, that's precisely what I have been moving towards, a DFS. Hmm, that sounds a mite snappier! 

And I hereby tweak DFS to "defis," which, I note, is the plural of "defi," which means "challenge" or "defiance." Indeed, using a distraction-free smartphone is an act of defiance towards smombiedom.


BEYOND PRO OR CON

The magic is, this new word, DFS, or defis, nudges us beyond the rigid ping-pong of pro or anti-smartphone; forward-looking or old fogey. As I wrote in this recent post:
The reigning paradigm is the same one we've had since forever: if it's digital and new it must be better; those who resist are old fogeys. It's a crude paradigm, a cultural fiction. And it has lasted so long time in part because those who resisted either were old fogeys and/or for the most part could not articulate their objections beyond a vaguely whiney, "I don't like it."
As an early adopter of digital technologies for decades now (wordprocessing in 1987, email in 1996, website 1998, blog 2006, podcast and Youtube channel 2009, bought a first generation iPad, Twitter 2008, and first generation Kindle, self-pubbed Kindles in 2010, etc.), I have more than earned the cred to say, no, my little grasshoppers, no, if it is digital and it is new it might, actually, maybe, in many instances, be very bad for you.
In other words, adopting a given digital technology does not necessarily equate with "onwards and upwards"; neither does rejecting a given digital technology necessarily equate with backwardness. I so often hear that "there is no choice." There is in fact a splendiferous array of choices, and each with a cascade of consequences. But we have to have our eyes, ears, and minds open enough to perceive these, and the courage to act accordingly.
Of course, when it comes to using digital technologies, different people have different needs, different talents, goals, obligations, opportunities, and vulnerabilities. A responsible mother with young children will probably want to use Whatsapp with the babysitter; a real estate agent who wants to stay in business needs to be available to clients, whether by phone, email or text-- and so on. Some people slip into the vortex of addiction to social media or gaming far more easily than others...  

My aim here is not to judge other people (although I'll admit to some eye-rolling at smombies slapping themselves into streetlamps), but to examine the nature of digital technology and my own use of it. I am not a mother with young children, nor a real estate agent. Games bore me, always have.   I am a writer of books. I blog about digital technology because first, it's my way of grokking it; and second, I trust that what I've learned may be of interest to my readers-- for I know that many of you are also writers. 

We writers are hardly alone in the need for uninterrupted chunks of time. Brain surgeons, composers, painters, historians, statisticians, sculptors, software engineers... many people, in a wide variety of professions and vocations need, to quote Cal Newport, "the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task," that is to say, engage in what he terms "deep work." 

"DEEP WORK"

Writing a book is deep work. And literary travel writing is especially demanding deep work. From my 2009 post on the nature of the genre:


"Literary travel writing is about first perceiving in wider and sharper focus than normal; then, in the act of composition, shaping and exploring these perceptions so that, as with fiction, it may evoke in a reader’s mind emotions, thoughts, and pictures. It’s not meant to be practical, to serve up, say, the top ten deals on rental cars, or a low-down on the newest "hot spas." Literary travel writing, at its best, provides the reader the sense of actually traveling with the writer, so that she smells the tortillas heating on the comal, tastes the almond-laced hot chocolate, sees the lights in the distant houses brightening yellow in the twilight, and, after the put-put of a motorcycle, that sudden swirl of dust over the road."

Writers have always battled distractions, but with the ubiquity of smartphones, and increasingly sophisticated app designs and algorithms to lure us and trap us into "the machine zone," we're at a new level of the game-- or the war, as Steven Pressfield would have it. 

Whatever might or might not be an optimal use of digital technology for you, I know this: 
A book that can claim a thoughtful person's time and attention is not going to be written by someone who is pinged by & poking at their smartphone all the live-long day. 

"OUT IN THE WORLD"

Some writers have outright rejected smartphones-- but so few, in fact, that only two come to mind: John Michael Greer, a prolific blogger and author whose stance on modern conveniences is, as he titled a collection of essays on his vision of the post-industrial future, Collapse Now and Avoid the Rush; and journalist Sebastian Junger. As Junger said on the Joe Rogan podcast:


"when I'm out, I want to be out in the world. If you're looking at your phone, you're not in the world... I just look around at this-- and I'm an anthropologist, and I'm interested in human behavior-- and I look at the behavior, like literally, the physical behavior of people with smartphones and... it looks anti-social and unhappy and anxious, and I don't want to look like that, and I don't want to feel like how I think those people feel."

While I say "AMEN" to Junger's comment, I decided to keep my smartphone because I value having the emergency information-access and communication backups enough to pay for the smartphone for that alone; plus, I much prefer using the smartphone's camera and dictation app to having to carry separate appliances, and I use these often in my work.

For me, the question was never whether or not a smartphone is useful. Obviously it is. The question is rather: 


How can I maximize the benefits of this sleekly convenient multi-tool / communications device, while blocking its djinn-like demands, and so with sharpest powers of observation and consciously directed concentration, stay awake in this world?

I answered this question by turning my smartphone into a distraction free smartphone, as I realized, ex-post, when I read Jake Knapp's post.

Knapp's version of "distraction free" turned out to be different than mine-- he deleted his smartphone's Mail and browser apps, which I kept. And when I Googled around a bit to find other writers who had tried to convert their smartphone to distraction free-- and they were astonishingly few-- I found that each had a different version of distraction free. Some recommended using grayscale, which I did not find helpful-- but you might. Again, no surprise, what works for one writer may not work for another. 

And that got me noodling... over the year-end holidays, instead of going to the movies, I stayed home and made my App Evaluation Flowchart for a Custom Distraction Free Smartphone, which you will find at the end of this post. 

THIS WRITER'S 
DISTRACTION FREE SMARTPHONE (DFS or "defis")

In early 2019, here's where I stand, comfortable at last, with my smartphone. My defis, as it were. In order of importance, I use my smartphone as / for a:


1. Camera
2. Audioplayer (various apps for audio books, podcasts, and music, which I usually listen to when flying or driving, never when walking or on public transport) 
3. Emergency Mail 
4.  Recorder (dictation app for interviews) 
5. Google translator (I'm in German-speaking Switzerland these days)
6. Emergency telephone
7. Emergency Google Maps
8. Emergency Safari
9. Calculator
10. Flashlight

In essence, I use my smartphone only when I decide it will serve me for a specific purpose, e.g., to take a photo, make a call, record an interview. Otherwise, it stays in the charging station at home or zipped into its felt bag in my backpack, wifi off, roaming off. I do not allow it to beep, rill, cheep, chirp, ding, ping or vibrate. 

Other than the above-mentioned apps, I have deleted all apps (except the ones Apple will not allow me to delete; those I corralled into a folder I labeled "NOPE." Do not ask me what they are, I do not remember.) 

No social media apps, no Whatsapp, no news, no games.  

All-- all-- notifications are off. 

About the smartphone as a phone: I make a call from the smartphone maybe two or three times a month. I never check voicemail. Ever. I don't know how to check voicemail and don't tell me its easy because I don't want to know how. Text messages? Not my circus, not my planet.

If you leap to conclude I'm living the life of a Luddite you'd be wrong. I do make and receive plenty of telephone phone calls-- except for emergencies, on a landline. I Skype. I spend hours galore on email-- but at my desk, on a laptop. On the laptop I also manage my website and blog. I podcast, too, editing the audio with GarageBand (listen in anytime here). And I film and edit short videos for my YouTube and Vimeo channels.

When I first got an iPhone nearly a decade ago, oh, did I fiddle with apps, apps for this and apps for that and apps that would confect a fairy's hat! I was becharmed by apps! Ingenious things, apps are.

I was on FB, too, until 2015.

But I am a writer of books, and this smartphone rabbit-hole-orama, it wasn't working for me. 

For me, the two main pulls to pick up the smartphone have been:


(1) to see any messages from people and/or about matters I care about; 
(2) to have something convenient to read / look at when I'm away from my desk and feel bored. 

Once I had this clear, I could formulate a more effective strategy than vaguely "finding a healthy balance" or blanging down the anvil of will power. 

Over the past several years, trying to figure this out, backsliding, and trying again to figure this out, what I have found actually works is to remove or minimize temptations to even look at, never mind pick up, the smartphone when it is not in my fully conscious and decided interest to do so; and crucially, I have replaced those "pulls" to look at the smartphone with what are, for me, either superior or at least realistically acceptable alternatives.

B.J. FOGG

B.J. Fogg of Stanford University's Behavior Design Lab has been an influence in my thinking about the smartphone. His basic equation for a inducing a behavior is Motivation + Ability + Prompt (all three simultaneous). You can read more about Fogg's behavior model here. He's all very sunny and even uses puppets when talking about his behavior model and how it can help people improve their lives, and I for one sincerely appreciate this. But I suspect people with darker designs (oh I dunno, like those starry eyed denizens of Silicon Valley who would launch a platform / app that with maximimum speed and efficiency sucks the life-hours, money, and and data out of you) also look to professor Fogg as a guru. What I'm saying is, more likely than not, you are being very, very cannily manipulated to  pick up and remain focused on your smartphone, despite what you know perfectly well are your better interests.


THIS WRITER'S STRATEGIES

I don't pretend that these strategies will work for other writers. This section is not meant to be a series of recommendations but an example: what works for me, a working writer. If you want to go direct to the App Evaluation Flowchart for a Custom Distraction Free Smartsphone, just scroll on down to the end of this post.

1. Focus digital communications on email, and always at the desk, on the laptop
This is, to-the-moon-and-back, the most powerful strategy for me. (Read about my game-changing 10-point email protocol here.) I take email very seriously. However, with rare, emergency-level exceptions, I check email only on my laptop, only after 3 PM, and I batch it. I thereby establish the boundaries I need to be able to do my work, and I can truthfully say, "I welcome email," and "the best way to reach me is by email." And if not perfect, I am ever better about responding to email in a timely manner-- since I have relatively fewer distractions!

Many people have told me that they would prefer to communicate with me on FB or Whatsapp, but... too bad! I am a writer who writes books, which means that I need to funnel communication into specific times, not allowing interruptions to leech my attention willynilly throughout the day. If someone cannot summon the empathy to appreciate that, well, like I said. (Anyway, I love you guys.)

This strategy allows me to keep the smartphone silent and in the closet (its charging station) or zipped in its bag inside my backpack. In B.J. Fogg's terminology, I have hereby eliminated the motivation, the ability, and the prompts to pick up the smartphone. So I don't.


2. When out and about, if there's a chance of having to wait a spell, carry a paperback
Recent Reading:
J.M. Synge's The Aran Islands
Ye, verily, of the time before Instagram
and TripAdvisor
(A classic of travel writing
and the Irish Renaissance,
and a reading cure for "the shallows")
Weighing in at about the same as a potato.
This is the second most powerful strategy for me, and it took what seems to me now an embarrassingly long time to figure it out. 

I've always been an avid reader of books and magazines, but when I got an iPhone, suddenly, in spare moments, such as waiting at the dentist, in line at the grocery store, waiting for a friend in a coffee shop, I found myself pecking at it. I was reading, but... it was, in fact, more often skimming, watching, and surfing.

As Nicholas Carr explains in The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, reading a book and clicking & scrolling on a smartphone (from, say, website to website, to Twitter to FB to Whatsapp to YouTube to Instagram feeds x, then y, then z), do two very different things to one's brain. The latter literally retrains your brain, resulting in what Carr calls "the shallows," and once you're in the shallows, tasks requiring sustained cognitive focus-- such as writing a book-- become ants-in-the-pants-nigh-impossible. 

Don't tell me I could use a Kindle app to read ebooks on my smartphone; I don't and I won't because, again, my goal is to remove as many siren calls to the smartphone as possible, relying on acceptable or superior alternatives. For me, a paperback provides a superior reading experience to an ebook; and if it's not too heavy, I don't mind tucking a real book in my bag.

I do read Kindles on occasion, using the Kindle app on my iPad, as a last resort only, when a paper copy is unavailable. (I also use my iPad for reading news, which I inevitably regret, a select few favorite blogs, and for listening to audiobooks and podcasts, mainly in the kitchen. If not in its charging station, my iPad is parked on the kitchen counter.)

In B.J. Fogg's terminology, with this strategy, I have reduced the motivation to pick up the smartphone. Also in his terminology, I build a tiny habit: when bored, take out the paperback. (You can watch his TEDx talk on tiny habits here.)

3. For a calendar, "to do" lists, and selected contacts, use a Filofax
Behold! Ye Filofax
This strategy is an old one for me, tried and true. As GettingThings Done guru David Allen says, "low-tech is oftentimes better because it is in your face." The Filofax is a century-old British system designed for engineers that is so efficient it still has legions of devotees, among them myself, for over 30 years now. My lovely and ridiculously sturdy cherry-red leather Filofax normally stays next to my laptop on my desk; I can, but I rarely carry it with me. 

As for contacts, I keep the addresses and telephone numbers I need at-hand in the Filofax and the rest in a separate system, but not on the smartphone because, again, I aim to focus my communications on email, and always on the laptop. (My smartphone does have emergency contacts.)

Read my post about the Filofax for Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools blog.

In B.J. Foggese: For my to dos and calendar, I have no motivation nor prompts to pick up the smartphone. 


4. For an alarm clock use an alarm clock (and for a watch use a watch)
Back in the days of my starry-eyed wonderfest with apps, I downloaded three different alarm clock apps. The cornucopia of "alarms," from harps to waterfalls to drums to roosters yodeling, that was fun. But I deleted them all and instead use a little plastic alarm clock powered by two AA batteries. It weighs almost nothing, cost less than ten bucks, and works just fine-- so I can keep the volume on the smartphone on mute. Don't tell me I could adjust the volume on the alarm clock app because I don't want to touch the smartphone if I don't have to, and certainly not as the last thing at night and first thing in the morning. And I don't want the smartphone parked anywhere near where I sleep. 

This strategy might sound silly. How is the alarm clock app different than say, the calculator or the flashlight or the camera or diction app? The answer is, by definition an alarm clock distracts, it prompts me to pick it up to turn it off-- and that is precisely what I do not want my distraction free smartphone to do. 

This is not trivial. 

In B.J. Foggese: another motivation, ability, and prompt to pick up the smartphone eliminated.

5. Use paper maps
You read that right. People laugh at me. I laugh back! Sometimes I use a store-bought map but more often, before I go out, I've Googled on my laptop and printed out or sketched the directions. I do make use of Google Maps on the laptop and on my smartphone in emergencies-- it's one of the reasons I keep a smartphone. But by relying primarily on paper, rather than GPS via the smartphone in realtime, I have removed yet another reason to pick up and start poking at the smartphone. 

An added benefit, crucial for me as a travel writer, is that my sense of space, direction, and the lay of any given landscape have remained sharper. 

(If you love the planet and believe everything paper should be digital, I would invite you to Google a bit to learn about server farms and what goes into smartphone batteries.)

6. Always  carry a pen and small a notebook
Another reason not to pick up the smartphone. 

7. Habitally keep it zipped in its bag inside the backpack
I don't make a habit of holding my smartphone my hand, carrying it in a back pocket, or setting it on the table next to me. Unless it's an emergency, or I have good, fully conscious reason to take it out and use it, the smartphone stays dead quiet and out of sight in its bag inside the bag. 

In B.J. Foggese, I thereby reduce my motivation, ability, and prompts to touch it.



IN CONCLUSION


My smartphone is now simply a lightweight selected multi-tool (camera / recorder / audio player / caculator / flashlight) and emergency information-access and communications device which I carry when I go out of the house, unless it is to walk the dogs. (I never take it when I walk the dogs because when I walk the dogs, I walk the dogs.) 

My smartphone does have Mail, Safari, and Googlemaps buttons, but because I rely on my laptop for email and other Internet access, and paper for out-and-about navigation, I no longer feel that pesky tug to pick up and peck at the smartphone-- but I do have these apps available to me should I need them. And sometimes I do need them. 

Ditto the telephone. 

Again, and of course, what works for me may not necessarily work for you. But may this new term, Distraction Free Smartphone, or as I would suggest, DFS, or defis, serve you in thinking through your own concerns and strategies for your own smartphone and your own writing.

DFS MODE

I'll add one more term: "DFS mode." A smartphone need not be distraction free almost all the time, as mine is. Let's say one needs to be available on Whatsapp, voicemail, email or to use some other app for family or work that may ping, ring or ding-ding you at random intervals, and so be it; then, for the time alloted for writing (or other deep work), one's smartphone could be put into DFS mode. As I hope I have made abundantly clear, this would not necessarily be the same as "airplane mode."

APP EVALUATION FLOWCHART FOR YOUR OWN CUSTOMIZED DISTRACTION FREE SMARTPHONE
My App Evaluation Flowchart for Your Own Distraction Free Smartphone.
If that's what you want. Your feedback is welcome. Write to me here.


P.S. Cal Newport's Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World will be out next month. From what I've read of his other books and blog, this promises to be a pathbreaking book. If nothing else, the term "digital minimalism" can help add depth and nuance to our thinking about digital technology and our use of it.


> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.

Visit www.cmmayo.com for more about my books, shorter works, workshop page, and podcasts. 


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