Daily Archives: March 27, 2010

Reader Request Week 2010 #7: Writery Bits

In which I answer some of the writing-related questions:

MacBlaze:

Do authors (SF especially) ever use any of the massive over-functionality built into modern word processors? Or would they be just as happy with a typewriter that erased words and saved files?

Or, in other words, how much has the tool changed the trade?

Or, do they ever rtfm so they know how to use the damn things?

I wrote The Ghost Brigades on whatever the most basic notepad program that comes with the Mac is called and had no more problems writing it than I would have had on a more fully functional word processing program, so at least in my case I don’t really use most of the bells and whistles on modern word processing programs, and I suspect most other writers likewise use mostly the basic functions to get things done. I think the most useful tool I have for book writing, in fact, is the large monitor I have, which allows me to show two full pages of text at one time. I like that a whole lot. But in general I think the best thing computers do for writers is make it so much easier to edit the document while in process. Really, that’s such an amazing advancement over typing out physical hard copy that I’m still amazed that writing actually got done before computer word processing.

Don Fitch:

Plants. I’m pretty sure you’re not A Plant Person — not much beyond lettuce, tomato, & onion on a hamburger, or grass & a small tree in photos of sunsets — but I’m wondering if you’re as virtually-blind to plants the way some s-f writers/readers I know are.

Well, I don’t think there are going to be the exact trees, grasses, etc. we have on other worlds. But I do think that the ecological niches on our own world exist for a reason, so that if we posit an earth-like world, I think it’s very likely there will be things very much like trees, grasses, etc., filling up the appropriate ecological niches. So, no, I don’t think I’m virtually-blind to alien flora, but I do think alien flora on an earth-like planet (where many of my books take place) will be at least slightly familiar.

Leah:

Some writers have stories that have been influenced by their kids. Other writers don’t — they deliberately keep their home life and their writing separate. How has your daughter influenced your writing? Or do you keep that part of your life apart? Why or why not?

I’ve noted before that some of the inspiration for Zoe in the Old Man’s War series of books comes from Athena (although only some, since in Zoe’s Tale, Zoe is sixteen and Athena is now only eleven). But by and large at this point she’s not a huge influence on my writing, other than the practical “Now I have to feed and house this small person” influence she wields. It’s not so much a conscious decision to have her affect the books as it is that the sort of books I write don’t generally have much space for an Athena-like eleven year old in them. As she gets older perhaps that will change; I’m not against the idea. But if it happens it’ll happen in a natural way, not by me deciding to drop an Athena analogue into my books.

Alternative Eric S:

Is blogging going the way of chlorophyl gum, channelers and flagpole sitting?

No, but I think the number of people who do “blogging” will probably shrink a bit over time. That because, as I’ve noted before, what most people want to do with their blogs is keep connected to friends and family, and things like Twitter and Facebook let them do that in a far more efficient and headache free manner. Fewer people over time will do what we recognize as stand-alone blogs, because the number of people who want to blog – i.e., write what are essentially little personal columns and/or single-subject sites — has always been relatively small and will continue to be. So they won’t go away, but for most people they’ve already been superseded.

Lisa the Librarian:

Your opinion on the effect of Twilight series on the YA novel industry – it seems to have spawned lots of knock-offs/similar titles.

The same thing happened with Harry Potter series.

So, any thoughts?

I don’t have any great personal affection for either the Twilight or Harry Potter books — they’re not written for me, you know? — but in a general sense I think anything that introduces kids to the idea that books are fun and a fine way to entertain themselves is a very good thing, so in that sense I have nothing but warm feeling for the books. In terms of knockoffs, it’s not terribly surprising but I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with it. As a reader when I find something I like, when I’m done with it I often look for something similar to that experience, and I certainly did that as a younger reader: My fondness for Heinlein is what introduced me to H. Beam Piper and John Varley, for example. That today’s kids are doing the same thing isn’t really a problem.

Paul in NJ:

Can you write about a topic – any topic – without using a commonly-used letter? Say, S or N? (H/T Walter R. Brooks)

Probably but it’s a thing that seems more like work and less like fun, so I likely wouldn’t.

Susan S:

Why do you think writers almost always have pets, and why, in particular, do more writers seem to have cats instead of dogs. (As an aside…even the ones who have dogs seem to often have cats as well.) I tend to think it has something to do with independence – authors are generally independent (occasionally gregarious, perhaps, but generally they’re at least as happy on their own as with others, in my experience anyway).

So: why cats for writers?

I think writers have pets because people have pets, and writers are (generally) people. I also don’t know that writers quantitatively have more cats than dogs; I think it may just be that writers with cats talk about their cats more than writers who have dogs talk about their dogs.

Personally speaking, I’m bit more of a cat person than I dog person, but I’ve had both all my life and at this point we have more cats than dogs simply as a function of stray cats finding us and/or neighbors foisting a kitten onto us because of a misunderstanding. Even my former cat Rex was someone else’s cat before he was mine; I inherited him. The only pet in the household that we went out of way to procure was Kodi. That has to mean something. What? No idea.