Tag Archives: Writing

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.


Little Things


A reminder that, when things spin out of control and the world is in flames outside your door, the little things can help keep you grounded, keep you sane.

For example:

I had a run this morning, and caught a high off it like I haven’t in a while.

My first sip of tea this morning was at just the perfect temperature.

I re-read my first two chapters to kick off one last editing pass in my book, and I didn’t totally hate them.

These are tiny things — absolutely inconsequential in the scheme of things, and probably totally unimportant in the teeth of 2020 — but they gave me a lift today.

Black Coffee, Coffee, Cup, Desk, Drink, Espresso

We deserve every lift we can catch just about all the time, but that goes doubly and triply for 2020.


A Quickie on the Quickies


What the heck am I doing here, anyway?

For the longest time, I sort of made my bread-and-butter on this site these longish, pondering deep dives on whatever.

But lately, I just don’t have the stamina or the focus for all that.

Maybe it’s being 40.

Maybe it’s COVID and everything else going on in the world.

Maybe I’ve just gotten lazy.

Whatever the reason, I didn’t have it in me to sit down and write 1000-plus words about whatever, so I haven’t.

But then, my thoughts about myself turn dark. Writing has sort of become a big part of my identity for the last several years, so to not write … well, that’s an issue, right? After all, I still want to write these little blargs. Even if they don’t mean much to anybody outside of my own skull.

So, maybe my long wandering posts aren’t in the cards right now. But could I do two hundred words? Could I dip my toes in a topic instead of cannonballing into the deep end of overthinking? Hammer out a few words instead of over a thousand on whatever’s in my head?

Yeah, maybe I could do that.

the lord of the rings GIF

So, this is me doing that. This is me putting words one after the other, moving the needle, keeping the momentum going … even if it’s only a teeny tiny bit at a time.

It’s something. And something, most of the time, is better than nothing.

Know what else is better than nothing?

Cat gifs.

nothing GIF

Nobody Knows How to Do the Thing Until They Do It


Once in a while, a man of a certain age gets it into his head that he’s capable of certain things; certain things that he never thought about before. And depending on how much of an idiot he is, he may actually try his hand at these things with varying levels of disastrousness.

Which is my cheeky way of saying I re-did the floors in my basement this weekend.

I should preface by saying I don’t feel I’m particularly handy, which I will then undercut by saying that over 10+ (help!) years of homeownership I’ve done drywall repair, replaced toilets, fixed a ceiling (never do this by yourself) twice (definitely don’t do it twice), replaced faucets, rewired lighting fixtures and garbage disposals, and any number of tiny fix-it tasks around the house.

So maybe I’m slightly handy.

The usual pattern — almost without deviation — is as follows.

  1. Notice the thing that needs doing
  2. Ignore it for a few months
  3. Get annoyed by the thing in a heated moment
  4. Get good and angry and watch a few how-to videos
  5. Go to Home Depot and buy about 2/3 of the required supplies (possibly also buying the wrong items)
  6. Attempt the repair, in the process removing the original thing or damaging it beyond repair, thus moving past the point of no return
  7. Screw up and start over
  8. Slink back to YouTube covered in grime to watch more how-to videos
  9. Attempt the repair again, going slower and super cautious not to make mistakes and screw it up even worse
  10. Realize I’m short on supplies or have the wrong equipment, go to Home Depot again
  11. Finish the job in roughly twice the time the how-to videos suggested it should take
  12. Feel immensely satisfied
  13. Spend the next several weeks to a month cleaning up the mess from the job
  14. Get annoyed over new thing, repeat process

I’ve done this over a dozen times, now. So I dunno what I was thinking, thinking I could handle a large basement room (plus an angled hallway) in a single day, but there I found myself, standing by a stack of floor planks, ready to rip up the carpet.

Needless to say, the pattern held. I was a box short of enough planks to finish the job, necessitating a return trip to the HD. I didn’t know what the fargo I was doing installing the stuff, resulting in a totally crap job after four hours of work covering about 15% of the room that had to be disassembled and started over. I tore up the walls taking the baseboards off, a subsequent repair I have yet to properly tackle. And instead of finishing the job on Saturday evening, it took me until late Sunday afternoon before I was satisfied enough to call the job “done” (barring the unfinished baseboards and the aforementioned holes in the wall).

And as with everything, or at least, as should be the case with everything, there were some lessons to be learned in the doing. Here they are, in no particular order.

The hard part is starting.

Before. Bonus points: All those plaques and awards belong to my wife. My awards are on the same wall. There just aren’t nearly as many of them.

This isn’t news to me: every time I run, I have to convince myself to step out the door. And the first mile is nothing if not mild self-torture. Every time I sit down to work on my novel, I hesitate: do I really want to put myself through the pain of working on that project? Can I really face the task of pulling words out of the nothing in between my ears? The starting is the hardest part.

As I stood there, pliers and pry-bar perched in my hands, staring at the carpet before me (which I hated), I hesitated. Once I start, there’s no going back. And the doubts were the same. I’m not up to this task. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I shouldn’t be doing this at all; I should hire a professional.

But up the carpet came, and from there, it never made sense to stop. Just like the run — as soon as I’m out the door, it feels foolish to even think about going back. Just like the novel — as soon as I’ve written the first word (or deleted it, as the case is lately), stopping or going back seems idiotic. Take the first step, and the rest of the steps follow after quickly, almost automatically.

You’re going to screw it up

Finally making progress … eight hours later.

Fix-iteering is about trial and error, it’s about testing yourself, it’s about learning. And unfortunately, nobody starts life knowing how to lay down laminate planks. (Or, for that matter, knowing how to write a novel, or how to run long distance.) You figure these things out by taking that first step, screwing it up (perhaps even catastrophically), learning your lesson, and coming back to the task like Rocky getting up after Creed has brought the thunder to his skull for the forty-seventh time.

Once the carpet was up, I started the job the way I thought it was to be started — and it didn’t work. So I scrapped it and started over, and it still didn’t work. So I started over again and I thought it was going better, until the wife came down to check on me and the look on her face told me I still didn’t have it right. This was four hours into the work, by the way. I was ready to stop, return all the flooring to HD and pay triple to have the carpet replaced.

But I didn’t. Partially because that’s not how you grow, partially because I’m penny-squeezing cheap, and partially because …

You can’t do it alone

Laying the floor turned into a family affair. First the wife came down — bless her — and helped me puzzle over the process, pick a new starting point, and convinced me to apply a little more force — a little more EFFORT — to the task than I had been comfortable doing before. I had been afraid to damage the flooring, but it turns out, to make this stuff click together, it takes a bit of percussive maintenance (i.e., a few — or a few dozen — whacks with a mallet). Then my father — bless him — came over to help out when he learned that I was not nearly finished with the project by 7pm as I had naively boasted that morning, but rather just starting over. We listened to the Beatles, who usually I can’t stand, but somehow under the circumstances quite enjoyed, and laughed as we figured out the tricks and the techniques to get the job done.

Come to think of it, my brother helped me move the furniture out of the room before I actually started the job — and would come over again several days later to help me bring it back in. My mom would offer to help re-paint the trouble spots afterward. Even my seven-year-old son would help me out with the cleanup afterward, doing what would have been the backbreaking work of pulling spacers off the walls, had I been the one doing it.

We all have a lot of sweat equity in the finished product, which makes it feel a little sweeter, a little more satisfying, a little more ours.

And, you know, the running and the writing are like that, too. Sure, these are activities completed mostly on one’s own — but comes a time you need other people to check on your work, because they’ll see it in a way you don’t. Comes a time you’ll want a running partner, because it’s too hard to get out the door on your own if you don’t have the extra obligation of somebody counting on you (even if the somebody goes on four legs).

Point is, no man is an island, even when he’s laminated himself into a corner.

Starting day two.

Finishing feels incredible, no matter how long it takes

Long story short (too late!) we have brand new floors in the basement. And they look bloody awesome.

Not bad for a Drama major. Now about that drywall…

And yeah, it took about nine hours more than I expected. And yeah, working my butt off for two days wasn’t what I wanted to wrap up our vacation days. And yeah, I was sorer than I’ve been in recent memory. But the floors are done, and I love them; not just because they look great, but because they’re also a symbol.

They’re a symbol for all that hippie-dippy stuff I was talking about up there; a symbol of teamwork and of willpower and of tenacity. And above all, they’re a testament to the fact that if you put your mind to it, as George McFly once said, you can accomplish anything. If you decide to do the thing, and undertake the task, you can get it done — as long as you’re willing to suffer a bit, learn from your mistakes, and keep hammering away, you can do the thing. Be it running your first mile, writing your first chapter, or laying down the floors in your basement. Do the thing.

Even if you have no idea what you’re doing.


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