Tag Archives: writing about writing

Self-Published at 8


My kid wrote a comic book the other day.

He does this from time to time — the impulse just strikes him and he wants to tell a story, and he’ll grab a bunch of white paper and sharpies and markers and go on a writing and drawing spree for a couple hours, then come away with this concoction of hastily-scribbled, choppily-illustrated wonder.

This one, being in a holiday frame of mind, was about Santa Claws.

That’s not a misspelling, you see — in addition to being creatively inclined, the kid also has an affinity for the macabre.

“You thought Christmas was a happy season?” The book begins, ominously.

In his story, to summarize, Santa Claus is attacked by a Clawster (what that is, I have no idea, and upon further discussion, I’m not sure the kid does either). This infects him with a deadly virus that turns him into Santa Claws, who goes on a Tarantino-esque roarin’ rampage of revenge, attacking elves (tearing one in half!) and savaging his reindeer (poor Rudolph!) before being attacked by a SWAT team. (“PREPARE WAR”, Santa Claws says, in a quote from the book.)

This does not deter Santa Claws, however, because his claws are able to slice ‘n’ dice the bullets they shoot at him. The SWAT team comes up short, so it takes the army to subdue him, at which point they learn that the Clawster was from the Civil War, somehow.

Merry Christmas.

(I’d take a picture, but he gave it to my dad as a birthday present — because after hearing him read it to me, I told him his grandfather would love to hear it. )

I tell you all that not to try to brag that the kid’s story is awesome or anything (I mean, as a parent, I’m over here gushing about it. Objectively? …There are some plot holes.).

I tell you that instead to point out just how awesome it is to be a kid. Here I’ve been agonizing over this writing thing for years. One finished novel (unpublished), one drafted but un-edited novel (trunked), and a third in late-stage edits (out for review with some trusted critics). Endless revisions. Long-Dark-Tea-Times-of-the-Soul wondering whether my drivel is any good or will ever come to anything.

This kid has an idea, tosses it off in a couple hours, and starts shopping it around the same day — and then doesn’t think about it again.

Funny that from my self-doubting, self-flagellating self could come such a font of unabashed abandon, such impervious confidence.

I need some of whatever he’s having.


Out, out, damned line


The more I write, the more I think about the craft of writing, and the more I think about the craft of writing, the more I think about how badly I screwed up by not thinking about it more when I was just starting.

Of course, when I was just starting, I hadn’t thought about it all that much, so I couldn’t have done otherwise… and yeah, thoughts like that are ultimately pretty useless.

The point of this is that I’ve got this story idea that I’ve been kicking around for a few years now and I’ve just started actually putting words to paper (or, y’know, words to pixels or whatever, you know what I mean) on it, and … I mean, the idea is nifty and all, but… okay, I have to digress further.

With my other stories, it sort of felt like, from the premise, the story just wanted to get up and go. Like the conflict started up and took off immediately, like a cat startled out of slumber by a zucchini squash.

netflix and chill GIF

With this one, there’s less of that immediate impulse to action. So it feels like the story needs something. It needs guidance. Or, I dunno, maybe it’s not fully formed yet and it needs more time to incubate.

So I spent my session today doing something I’ve never done — in advance, anyway — for a story: outlining it.

That’s right, I went back to high school and I made an outline.

The outline sucks, it’s vague as heck and it reads like every action / spy / thriller movie you’ve ever heard of, but y’know, it’s an outline. And once I had it down, I started fleshing it out with possibilities.

And man, it’s weird. Because in my other work, I usually don’t plan all that much. I just strap a lead on the story and try to hold on while it rushes off to wherever it’s gonna rush off to. But what I noticed is that, in my other stories, they end up wandering around, feeling lost in the middle.

I don’t want to get lost on this one. So I’m trying something new.

Will it work? I don’t have a clue.

Anyway, here’s another cat gif, because cat gifs are awesome and it’s Friday and that’s awesome.

cat attack GIF


Tappity Tap Tap


I wrote 1018 words in 27 minutes today.

I know this because WriteMonkey tells me this.

It also tells me that those numbers average out to give me a words-per-minute rating of a little over 37. But I also know that, during the early phases of the shift, I was spiking as high as 54 words-per-minute.

What do these numbers do for me? Not a whole hell of a lot.

They tell me that I had a pretty productive session (a heckin’ productive session actually, as my old goal back when I had lofty goals was 1200 words in an hour and I clipped along at nearly twice that). Which in turn tells me I made decent use of the time I carve out for myself when my coworkers are eating lunch (which I skip) and that that carving-out is worthwhile.

Then I go back and remember that I wrote almost 1000 words this morning in my drivel, and I’ll be punching out a few hundred within this very post. Which puts me north of 2000 words on the day, easily.

Which, you know, great, I guess? Numbers are just numbers after all. 2000 words is a pretty great day, productivity-wise, for me. It’d be a garbage day for some. It’d be almost unachievably awesome for others. But it’s just a number.

Kinda like the step counter I still wear on my wrist even though they’ve stopped being cool. (Gotta upgrade to a smartwatch so I can stay fresh, dawg.) Sure, it tells me my (approximate) steps per day (9121 so far!), and it (kinda) tracks my sleep, and it tells me (within a reeeally generous ballpark) my heart rate (61!). But what am I doing with that information?

Nothing, really. I mean, it’s there. It aggregates in cyberspace and could be used, at some point, to track trends over time. But I’m not actively monitoring it. I’m not doing anything with the information. Hell, corroborating that information was the first time I’ve opened the app at all in almost a month. I’m just not that fussed. I run three or four times a week and I’m on my feet all the time at work, so I’m not super worried about my daily steps. I sleep reasonably well (just don’t ask my wife about the snoring). So … there hasn’t really been a good reason for me to worry about these numbers.

But … quantifying things is good, right?

Well, with writing, it feels like it. The feeling that I had a productive session is a good one — and I would certainly have it after a day like today — but knowing — through hard data — that I tore the top off for a second day in a row? That’s quantifiable. That’s something I can point to. That creates a second wave of the GoodFeel I get from writing in the first place.

I am trying out WriteMonkey again for the first time in a while while I’m drafting some new stuff and toying around with some new ideas (now that the previous round of edits on the most recent novel are well and truly finished and in their graves RIP FOR ETERNITY). For the past few years I’ve worked almost entirely in Scrivener, which I love, but which has frustrated me with its endless delay of a massive update. I ranted about this, then googled my old flame, saw that it, too, had had some massive updates, and installed it again.

And you know what? It’s fun. It’s simple. And it has this lovely little carrot of tracking word count and WPM and progress and all that stuff — and Scrivener does that, too, make no mistake — but in WriteMonkey it’s there in the main window, it’s clean…

But maybe more than that is, it’s just different. I’ve been staring at Scrivener’s interface for so long, maybe I’m just a little sick of it. Maybe it’s the change that has me feeling good.

New project, new word processor, new president (WHOOPS I PROMISED I WAS DONE TALKING ABOUT THAT FOR A WHILE)…

Feels good.


Do Your Tools Matter?


This is a stupid question. Ask any woodworker, plumber, electrician… anybody who does any sort of job that requires tools, and they will tell you without hesitation that the right tools make the difference between a job well done and a job that takes ages longer than it should and ends in frustration.

But writers aren’t woodworkers or plumbers or electricians (most of them, anyway), and tools aren’t part of the process for us the way they are for lots of other jobs. So do tools matter to us in the same way?

I’m the wrong person to answer this question, as I’m finicky and flighty and I love one thing then the next for a couple months at a time, proudly proclaiming this new thing to be “the best thing ever” before getting bored with it and moving on to some other new thing which itself becomes the new “best thing ever”. (Maybe what I really like isn’t each successive thing along the way … maybe what I like is just *new* stuff. Did not mean to psychoanalyze myself here today but, yikes, I may have done.)

Regular readers will know about my brief affair with fountain pens (current status: they are lovely but I am too clumsy to own them for long). For a while there I was on mechanical pencils, and while I still love a good clicky pencil, they are far from my first choice in writing implements. But pens are their own animal, and they have a tactile sense all their own.

What about keyboards?

They come in all shapes, sizes, and *feels*, and I am sure somebody in the industry could describe these things to me in a way that would make sense, but all I can tell you is what I’m noticing right now.

Our schools just updated our computers (you know, that whole work-remotely-because-the-world-or-at-least-America-is-on-fire thing), and while I don’t love the new laptop in general — it’s too flimsy for my taste, I feel like I’m gonna break it just moving it around the room (although therein lie points in its favor, because it’s *super* light and easy to move around, which is a plus for me) — I must count myself a fan of its keyboard.

I don’t know how to quantify it, but there’s a stiffness to the keys, a crispness to each keypress, that previous laptops I’ve used did not have. There’s a sense of certainty around every time you press a key, a sort of “yes, you definitely pressed that button, there’s no need to worry about whether you actually pressed it or not or whether the machine registered the pressing… that button was pressed and it’s gonna stay pressed”.

And the click. My goodness, the click! When you strike a key home, there’s this deep, satisfying click that you hear with your fingertips as well as with the ears. And it’s all the more resonant and satisfying when you type with gusto, letting your fingers crash down upon the buttons like so many tons of rocks in a mudslide, the way I do when I’m writing something I really enjoy.

It’s a silly thing, but the physiological reaction I have to using this keyboard is delightful. It makes me want to write more on this little machine that I otherwise don’t care much about.

For a while, back when I first had the thought of “I’m going to try to be a writer!”, I tried out several word processors. I didn’t love Word because I was a poor recently-graduated-from-college type and since I was also messing about with writing scenes at the time, Word was too clunky to use and gave me heartburn. So I tried out some other ones, writing a few pages in this one, transferring my files over and banging out some words in another one, tweaking settings, testing the way each one “felt”, trying to get it right. (I eventually landed on Scrivener, by the way, which is a lovely program, but we’ll get back to it.)

Some of the programs I enjoyed the most were these bare-bones plain-text editors like q10 and WriteMonkey. These are not robust programs by any stretch, not the sort of thing you want to put a novel together in… they’re essentially glorified versions of Notepad, designed for various purposes but generally with the aim of eliminating distractions and leaving you with only the blank page. I found them great for drafting and would probably still use them for this purpose if it wasn’t so heckin’ tedious to transfer files back and forth when you want to edit them or cram them into a larger project.

But the thing I miss the most about them is so small and silly it’s almost not worth mentioning, except for the fact that this is my personal site and if I want to wax romantic about silly little things then that’s what I’ll bloody well do. And that thing is: they had this option — you could toggle it on and off — to have the program give you aural feedback whenever you struck a key. They had typewriters in various models and other, more exotic clicks and boops and such, but the sounds were varied: striking the space bar was a little different from pressing a letter key, striking Enter gave a little “ding” as your cursor leapt back across the page … it was so strangely soothing and satisfying, a monotonous symphony of white noise as the words spilled out onto the page.

Scrivener does not have this feature, and I wish it did. And sure, you can get programs out there that will run in the background of your computer and make these noises for you… but I don’t want typewriter noises when I’m browsing the web, for goodness’ sake… don’t be ridiculous.

I only want them when I’m capital-w Writing.

This keyboard makes noise, though, which is loud enough to scratch that “typewriter sound” itch without being full-on noise to the point of annoyance when doing other things. It’s not quite that full-on typewriter sound, but it’s close. And it makes me want to write more.

So, do tools matter?

Flippin’ obviously.

For nostalgia’s sake I went and looked back at the WriteMonkey site and it looks like they’ve had a lot of updates since the time when I used it. Which may necessitate me going back and giving it a spin again, just to see what I’m missing out on.

Crap.


Something Finished, Something New


It flew under the radar this week, but I finished a thing.

Actually it’s not true that it flew under the radar… it was all over the radar. I just wasn’t quite sure how to process the jumble of feelings I was having about it.

I finished the novel that I’ve been in permanent purgatory with for the past … I don’t even know how long. Two, three years? Lost chapters, stalled edits, a shattering of my confidence in my abilities as a writer, a return to form, another stall, getting overwhelmed with other projects, uh, COVID… it felt like I would never finish.

But I finished. And I’m actually going to let some people read it.

And I told myself I’d take at least a week off to decompress but … spoiler alert, I did not do that. I started immediately writing something new. But not a novel. Not that I’m done writing novels, but I wanted to get back to my roots, maybe do something for my students. So I’m working on a new play.

It’s nothing much yet, but it’s got me writing like crazy again the past few days. (After so long in the revision phase, it feels like flying to be drafting something NEW again.)

Anyway, I’m still here, still working, over in that dark corner where you can’t see me.

Creating something new.

What a delight.


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