Slow the Heck Down

I’ve been in the booth, doing my audiobook recording, and I’ve learnt so much already. It can all be summarised in two words, “Slow Down”. Just take some time and slow right down.

I was keen to get started, to just hammer this thing out and get going. Yeah, well that may work for writer’s block or when I’ve got a story in my head and I know what all the bits are. That’s typing. Typing doesn’t care about speed. If I make a mistake while typing, great, I’ll go back and correct it and move on. That’s not possible when it comes to recording audio.

In the booth, milliseconds count. I can’t stop and have a scratch midway through a sentence. Once I start speaking, I must continue until it’s time to stop. If my mouth is gummy and I choke and cough and mutter profanities, all of that is recorded. To cope, I’ve developed a mechanism and it involves, you guessed it, slowing down.

But first, a horror story: I gave the story my full attention. I put aside the day to do the recording of all the chapters (surely, it won’t take all day!) and locked myself in the booth. After chapter 3, my mouth was dry. OK, lunch, water, have a rest, get back to it. Maybe I’ll have a listen to see how it’s sounding. Hmm, no good. I’m mumbling and not speaking clearly, and talking too fast. Bother. OK, that just means I start again, and this time pay attention to how I sound as I’m talking (the headphones come in real handy at this point).

I’m guilty, you see, of mumbling, of speaking (way) too fast, of dropping consonants and flattening vowels. Thing is, I’m not conscious that I do it, not until you play a video with me talking. I’ve been told many times, by many people, in many ways, “Jez, slow down.”

Start again. No probs, got three chapters done again by Joey o’clock, went to pick him up, came home and had a listen. Still no good. I’m still talking too fast and not clearly. Fine, I get it. Slow the heck down.

I worked into the night, persisting, cracking through the first couple of chapters (again). The next morning I came at it, ready to go, ready to speak clearly and slowly. I started early and got used to listening to myself as I spoke, correcting mistakes as I went, keeping a pace. By the afternoon, I had all chapters done. Perfect. Late lunch, but who cares? I clicked on the play button and died. Ba-bow. Bad news, Jez. The little microphone drop down in Audacity hadn’t been set to the studio mic, rather the internal computer mic.

I had been recording my voice, muffled and indistinct, from within the booth while the microphone on the laptop was outside the booth. There was nothing for it.

The entire day’s recording was utterly, unspeakably, useless.

If I had slowed down, taken the time to check the settings before and replay the clip after each chapter, I would have spotted it in the first hour and only lost a portion of my day. As it was, I was in a royally gloomy funk for the rest of the evening. I had lost a day’s worth of work, had a sore voice, a massive headache and nothing to show for it.

All this means I’ve gotten into a process when it comes to recording – turn on my computer outside the booth, plug in the mic, load up Audacity, make sure it’s on the right bloody microphone, sit down, lock the booth, get thirty seconds of silence and sip some water.

Then I breathe. I use my hand as a metronome. I listen as I speak and, if something doesn’t sound right, I correct myself and try again. Then I check on the chapter as soon as I’ve finished it. It’s slower, but it’s a whole lot better.

Self-Imposed Deadlines

The deadline to get Portsmouth Avenue Ghost up on pre-release was the 21st of November. I hit that deadline. Great. Yay me. Well, I didn’t hit it as much as I flopped messily against it, exhausted, frustrated and strung-out. With everything else that’s going on, the point of hitting the ‘upload’ button on Smashwords felt like an afterthought.

Who made that deadline, anyway? What’s the point of it? Why bother putting myself through the wringer just to hit some arbitrary date scrawled on a whiteboard? Doesn’t that turn writing into a chore?

Let me answer those one by one: I made the deadline. I made a date for the first draft. Then, when I reached that, I made a date for the second, then the third and also for the cover.  Finally I made the deadline for the pre-release.

The point is that by making dates and tracking my progress, I force my focus onto getting that task done. I then prioritise writing over, say, playing video games or watching television. The priority game also comes into play when I’ve got other creative tasks on the menu, like making You Tube videos or drawing or painting or crafting.

Sounds good, right? Keeping myself on track, avoiding the pitfalls of procrastination and distraction. It’s more than that, though. There’s this thing called Reality.

Most decisions are beyond me. It’s often not a matter of ‘I can do this, or I can do that’, rather it’s ‘I must do this and must do that’. See the difference?

The real question is why do I threaten my health and sanity just to reach some uninteresting date imposed by no one other than myself? It’s quite simple, really. I have commitments. I have to work, no questions. I have to take care of my family, no questions. I have to deal with emergencies and chores and errands and last-minute things. There’s no choice about that.

If I want anything of my own to be accomplished, then I have to afford it a status of ‘has to be done’, otherwise it can’t compete against the rest.

And, yes, it does turn writing into a chore. If I was writing for myself or for a friend, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but I’m writing for a bunch of people I’ve never even met. I’m putting my name to a book that can be read by some guy on the other side of the world and he expects that what he gets passes a basic standard, and, more than that, expects it to be entertaining or informative. He won’t be as forgiving as a friend or relative. My credibility is directly linked to his enjoyment of it.

You’re damn right it’s a chore. It’s bloody hard work!

Imagine you’re making a batch of home-brew beer. There’s the cleaning and the sterilising, and the washing and the cooking, checking up on it, then the bottling and capping and storing it all under the house and checking again at intervals. It’s hard work, for sure, and one could easily pop down to the store and buy a slab, but that’s not the point, is it?

Deep down we want to create something. We want to put ourselves into what we do, express ourselves creatively, make something from nothing. That’s being human. Not all creative endeavours benefit others, of course, but those that do must be taken seriously.

A sketch on a napkin or a ditty in one’s head remain just as they are until they get turned into something ‘real’, in that they get taken seriously. The ditty gets engineered into a song. The sketch gets worked into a painting. Time and effort, lots of both, must be spent making something from nothing, creating things that never existed before we applied what God gifted us. Otherwise those little bursts of creativity stay on that scrunched up napkin and eventually get forgotten about.

Believe me, it’s all too easy to pretend that it doesn’t matter. You can think, “Ah, I’ll miss it by a day. Big deal.” It is a big deal. I’ve missed many deadlines and, each time, I kidded myself that there was nothing more that could have been done.

Bollocks.

Each time there was something I could have done. Without exception, every time I looked back, with honest eyes, and understood that I had left things too late, wasted time at the beginning of my project, spent too much effort doing trivial tasks. I could have done more and I could have done it better. Criticising myself retrospectively (another useful tool) means that, now, I reach my deadlines.

Deadlines are a front-line weapon against Entropy. They are an essential tool to make stuff real. Use them honestly and they’ll keep you honest.