Showing posts with label GPS. Show all posts
Showing posts with label GPS. Show all posts

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Driving Mom Right

Last month I shared with you how my elder son added a GPS app to my cell phone.

Recently I visited the mega-city of Johannesburg in South Africa. The traffic at rush hour on the ring road around the city is so bad that the best way to change lanes is to step out of your car and climb into the one next to you.

Seriously? The solution is to get off the concrete highway (if you can) and negotiate your way through the suburbs. If you're my husband, who has an excellent sense of direction, that makes sense. If you're me—it doesn't. You’ll never see me again.

My younger son and daughter-in-law, who live in Johannesburg, seemed to see this as a very real danger, so they gave us a GPS for the car. They—and I—knew very well Dad didn’t need one, so this was clearly an attempt to drive Mom right. This was the second GPS I received from my family in a matter of weeks. Anyone would think they didn’t want to lose me.

As most of you probably know—and I didn’t—the initials G.P.S. stand for Global Positioning System. This space-based navigational system is based on signals received from satellites which orbit the earth about 12,000 miles above us. Mind-blowing. Once I got used to the spooky feeling of being watched by unseen robotic eyes, I found it amazing. Driving along the long, deserted South African roads on the way home to Port Elizabeth, I found it comforting to think of all those eyes up there keeping watch over me. I had my husband in the car with me, but I know that next time I make a long trip on my own, I will often touch the bottom right corner of the screen to hear a pleasant-sounding lady reassuring me that she knows just where I am, even if I don’t.

I soon learned how to punch in new addresses into my GPS and listen to a calm voice who clearly knew the way to my destination. If I got stuck in traffic, I could try for the nearest exit and trust my robotic companion perched on the dashboard to "recalculate" and find me an alternate route. She never got annoyed, although I’m sure at times she wondered why she hadn’t been allocated to a Ferrari or a Mercedes with a switched-on driver. She even kindly reminded me of changes in the speed limit to prevent me getting a ticket! Sweet.

As long as I follow instructions, and the GPS is correctly programmed, I can be sure of arriving where I need to be. Even if I make a mistake along the way and miss a turning, she quickly "recalculates" and gets me back on track.

Mind you, I’ve heard a few horror stories of people who followed their GPSs into unsavoury locations, perhaps because there is more than one street with the same name. I hardly think we can blame the GPS for that—but it does show the need to double-check our destination on old-fashioned paper maps or new-fashioned Google maps before we set out on a journey.

As writers, the GPS has much to teach us.

1. We need to know where we want to go. Are we writing for children? Or is this a niche-specific article? Are we looking for a general address such as a woman’s magazine? Or are we aiming at a particular house such as breast-cancer survivors? We need to program our thinking clearly before we even start out on the journey.

2. We need a general idea of the directions to our chosen location. We may not have details on the exact plan we intend to follow, but we at least need to have an idea of where we’re headed. That will save many hours of frustration when we find the book we’re almost 2/3 of the way through writing is headed in the wrong direction.

3. It is good to know more eyes than ours are watching the article’s journey. We need critique partners who will look over our writing and say, “I think you need to do some recalculation in this chapter.” It’s good to have them offer alternative wording or a possible change to our direction.

4. It’s great to have companionship along the way. As writers, we tend to enjoy working in isolation, and it’s possible for our story to veer off track while we’re looking the other way. If we chat with someone else who knows the journey and where we’re aiming to go, we may hear words like, “What’s happening here? You seem to be changing direction.”

5. We need to follow the guidelines provided by the publishers, editors, or fellow authors. They are there to steer us along the right route. We shouldn’t think that because our Christmas children’s story is cute, it will be accepted by a woman’s magazine.

6. We need to keep track of the distance. I am beginning to get better at estimating, but when I first started using the GPS I can’t tell you how often I heard her say something like “In 400 meters, turn left.” I spotted a road to the left just ahead, so obediently slowed down and turned left. There would be a slight pause then a patient voice would intone, “Recalculating. Turn right and in 300 meters, turn left.” As we gain experience, we will get better at estimating word counts. But until then, it’s a good idea to work in a program such as MS Word with the word count visible. That will prevent the need to cut a 2,500 word article down to 250 words. (And yes, I’ve done that. More than once.) When the GPS says “turn in 400 meters” it means 400 meters. Turn after 100 and you’ll have to relocate—or get lost. If a publisher requires 500 words, they want 500 words. Offer more, and your story is likely to be relocated—to the trash can.

7. We need to listen to the GPS. If we don’t, we can hardly blame it if we get lost. There’s no point in having it on the dashboard if we don’t switch it on or if our music is louder than our guide’s voice. When writing, if we don’t follow the guidelines or listen to our internal GPS, we’re likely to get lost along the way.

Over to you. Can you think of any other similarities between the GPS in your car, and your writing journey? Next time you switch on the GPS, give some thought to your current writing project and ask if you need further direction to help you arrive at the right market.

Other reading on this topic: Positioning Mom 

SHIRLEY CORDER  lives a short walk from the seaside in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, with her husband Rob. She is author of Strength Renewed: Meditations for your Journey through Breast Cancer. Shirley is also contributing author to ten other books and has published hundreds of devotions and articles internationally. 

Visit Shirley on her website to inspire and encourage writers, or on Rise and Soar, her website for encouraging those on the cancer journey. 

Follow her on Twitter or "like" her Author's page on Facebook, and now that she has a GPS, she may even follow you back.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Positioning Mom

Over the past three months my geographically-challenged mind has received a fresh set of eyes. Actually three sets.

It is a family joke that Mom can get lost anywhere.

Only a couple of months ago, I wasted over an hour trying to negotiate my way between the slacks section of an average-sized clothing store and the fitting room. Each time I arrived at one point, I lost my bearings to return to the other.

When my family learned of my pending book tour, as well as an increasing number of speaking appointments, they decided the time had come to address the problem.

The first phase came the day after a major car accident. We were at our eldest son's home about four hours from our own. He set up a GPS on my cell phone. I learned the initials GPS stand for Global Positioning System. Satelites in outer space would track where I was in the grand scheme of things. He showed me how to insert my desired destination into the gadget and explained that it would not only tell me how to get there, it would also show me the way home. This, he felt, was becoming increasingly necessary.

I hasten to explain I do not, as far as I know, suffer from senile dementia or Alzheimer's. I simply switch off and don't pay attention to my surroundings. I have a husband who never gets lost—so why do I need to pay attention? Unfortunately, he isn't always with me.

The following day, my husband and I set out for our home town of Port Elizabeth. Eager to experiment with our new toy, we set the cell phone to tell us how to find our home address. Sure enough, a pleasant sounding lady spoke out from my phone, telling us to turn left at the next corner. From then on, she gave us clear directions.

Once we got over the spooky feeling of being tracked by 24 satellites, we enjoyed knowing that "someone" knew where we were along the lonely South African highway.

The first hitch came when we turned off the national road to take a short bathroom break and drink some coffee. Our cell phone lady took it in her stride, however, telling us that she was "Recalculating . . ." A few seconds later she said, "Turn left and then turn left." That would get us back on track.

When we arrived in Port Elizabeth, we made a slight detour via the police station to sign forms in connection with the accident. I shoved my cell phone into my purse and we walked into the offices. As a tall policeman came up to greet us at the counter, his eyes widened as a bored-sounding voice announced, "Make a U-turn—now!"

One of the problems with using a GPS on a cell phone!

As writers, do we really need a GPS?

  • As writers we often get asked to speak or to attend a book signing in an unknown location. If you're like me, it doesn't even help if you live in the town. If it's a few miles from home, you've had it. 
  • As writers, we're regarded as professionals. The last thing we want to do is arrive at our location an hour late because we got lost along the way—even if the host's directions were faulty, as once happened to me. (No, I wasn't an hour late, but that was no thanks to her wrong directions that had me touring the suburb before getting directions from a passerby at a shopping mall.)
  • If you come across road works and need to take a detour, you can end up completely lost. The beauty of having the GPS on your phone is that even when you didn't anticipate needing satellite navigation, you're likely to have your cell phone with you. If you're on your own, pull over and enter your destination into your phone system. Then get instructions before you get even more lost. (I know you wouldn't use your cell phone while driving.)
  • If you're traveling alone, you can't drive as well as juggle maps and possibly a flashlight. Then again, if you're travelling alone you don't want to rely on a GPS on a cell phone. Maybe investigate other options, and read next month's thoughts on the topic.

How about a GPS for our writing?

  • Always carry a small notebook. You never know when you're going to want to jot down phrases, descriptions, words or even ideas before they get lost in your ever-busy mind. The notebook, plus a pen or pencil, needs to be small enough to slip into a purse or pocket. Unlike the cell phone GPS, you need to transfer the information to whatever form of storage you prefer (journal, notebook, computer file, etc) as soon as you get home.
  • Every publication, genre, or publishing house has its own GPS: its very own guidelines. Follow the instructions closely if you want to be sure of arriving at your publishing destination. Otherwise your prize-winning article won't even reach the slush pile.
  • You may be in familiar territory and think you can manage without the guidelines. Keep them available, and check in from time to time. The beauty of a GPS is if you go off track, it will help you find your way back onto the correct route. The guidelines do the same. But you can waste a lot of time by driving / writing blindly without following instructions.
  • There will be other occasions when you'll need to use your own initiative and intuition. In The Office, Michael Scott drives his car into a lake, because he's determined to follow instructions. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BIakZtDmMgo) That's taking guidelines way too far.
I am grateful I now have a GPS on my cell phone. I haven't yet had to use it to find my way home from some obscure location, but I'm sure that's just a matter of time. Meanwhile, if you know of one I can use inside a department store, I sure would be grateful.

Please come back same time, same place, next month, and read Phase #2 in the GPS saga:"Driving Mom Right."

OVER TO YOU: Do you have a GPS on your cell phone? If so, do you love it, hate it, use it? If not, do you think it might be a good idea?

SHIRLEY CORDER lives a short walk from the seaside in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, with her husband Rob. She is author of Strength Renewed: Meditations for your Journey through Breast Cancer. Shirley is also contributing author to ten other books and has published hundreds of devotions and articles internationally. 

Visit Shirley on her website to inspire and encourage writers, or on Rise and Soar, her website for encouraging those on the cancer journey. Follow her on Twitter or "like" her Author's page on Facebook, and now that she has a GPS, she may even follow you back.

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