Monday, April 28, 2014

What Do I Need To Write

This is a cross post from the Wyrdsmiths blog, written in response to the question, "what do you need for writing?"

In the past, I would have said time and money. In many ways, they are the same. Money gives you the free time to write. Many writers find themselves in a bind. Because they aren’t making a living at writing, they need a day job; and the day job sucks their time, so they are not able to establish a writing career. This was my problem for many years. Though, to be honest, I have always written slowly and taken many breaks from writing—because I felt I had nothing to say at the moment, or because I couldn’t figure out what came next in a story, or because I was really interested in some other aspect of my life, such as my day job.

However, I was forcibly retired after the 2008 financial crash. After looking for work for a year and a half, I gave up and applied for Social Security. So now I have time and enough money to get by. SS is key, but I do make a little income from writing.

What do I need to write now?

A computer, a printer, paper, notebooks, pens, mechanical pencils, and erasers. Books and magazines also help. I subscribe to New Scientist. My sub to MIT’s Technology Review has lapsed. I need to think about renewing it. For the most part, the books I read are either nonfiction, often popular science, or science fiction and fantasy. Nonfiction provides information. Fiction by other writers provides inspiration.

I have a desk that is my at-home workspace, but it’s usually covered with paper. Either I work at the desktop computer in the living room, or I take my little netbook out to a coffee shop. I love to write in coffee shops. They are full of people working at computers. The staff leaves you alone. If I want to take a break, I can people watch or get myself something to eat or drink.

My favorite coffee shop plays good and interesting CDs: blues, folk music, French chanteurs ... At home, I listen to classical music on Minnesota Public Radio or put on a classical music CD.

I go back and forth between the computer and pen and paper. Often I begin on paper, then move to the computer. As I input what I’ve written on paper, I make changes and then continue the story on the computer. I always print out stories and revise on the hard copy. I can’t see mistakes on the computer.

What else do I need? Friends and writing groups. I belong to two groups: the Wyrdsmiths and an s.f. poetry group. Both provide support and criticism. At this point, I can’t imagine writing entirely on my own.

But I do still need time to myself, a lot of it, to write and read and think. I find walking the track at the gym is very helpful. I work out plot problems and even compose dialogue while walking. The track is usually quiet and almost empty. A walk by the river is less useful, since nature is distracting, and I have to watch out for other people.

That’s about it: time, money, equipment, reading material, a workspace, friends, and silence …

(Background music is okay. It counts as a kind of silence.)

Wednesday, April 09, 2014


A cross post from the Wyrdsmiths blog:

I got together with Lyda Morehouse and Naomi Kritzer today and talked about Captain America, also about writing. I have been going through a bad patch, in which I envy other writers and feel bad about my writing career. Naomi pointed out that I have stories almost ready to go out and I am wasting time -- weeks and months -- tweeking them. They should go out the door.

It's perfectly true that fiction does not sell till editors look at it, and most of my work sells sooner or later.

I have no idea why I'm stalled right now. But the obvious thing to do -- as Naomi says -- is get the stories out.

There are plenty of things that can go wrong with a writing career. All you can do is make sure that the things going wrong have nothing to do with you. Don't do the work of malign fate for malign fate.

Cap 2

Well, now I have seen Captain America 2. I think I have used up a month's supply of adrenaline. Thus far, my favorite Marvel movies are Thor 1 and Captain America 1. But this movie is a fine mix of violence, paranoia and cynicism. I will say no more, for fear of spoiling the story for the two or three people who haven't seen CA # 2 yet.

Note: Cap is never cynical, nor is he treated with cynicism. But the world that poor guy has found himself in. You can understand why he longs for WWII.

I did nothing after Captain America, except lie on the couch and read. I am going through Quiet a second time. According to the book, introverts need to limit their input. Well, I certainly exceeded my limit at CA # 2. That's okay, so long as I have down time after. Now I am thinking about the movie, trying to understand what it says. Not that it's hard to figure out, but I need to distance myself from all the crashing and banging. It occurs to me that good writing -- writing that is obviously skillful and thoughtful -- can put a barrier between the reader and the experience: a kind of glass wall. Action flicks smash right through that wall. The noise and the adrenaline removes a layer of protection. Remember that American torturers use noise -- especially rock music -- to break their victims down. I am not saying that the noise of an action flick is torture, but it makes the audience vulnerable. You can't maintain an intellectual and emotional distance in an action flick. Of course, there is evidence that this kind of adrenaline high also protects people from the reality of what's happening. But I guess I am inclined to think that the crudeness and rawness of an action flick is closer to life in contemporary America than is intelligence and grace.

An action flick says, "Civilization? You think we have a civilization here? The more fool you!"

There are a lot of ways that writing -- and movies and art -- can break through the glass wall which I don't like. I am kind of a wimp, and there is a limit to how much ugliness I can handle. I didn't like The Avengers, except for the bit at the end when they are in the shawarma joint. It's almost the only part of the movie I remember. Too much violence. Not enough plot. And the villains were all external. The problem for me is -- how do you break the glass wall without being way too nasty? And is disgust an adequate way to break the wall?

I think I am trying to be profound and failing. Ah well.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Shark Post

I've been in a vile mood, I think because I'm revising stories. One story in particular has been really hard to finish, and I'm getting more and more frustrated. But I want this thing done and out the door and out of my life.

Why can't I be like a shark and resolve problems by biting them in half?