15 Things About Me and Writing

A variation of the meme in the entry immediately before this one. Naturally, if you’re a writer, feel free to do your own version of this.

1. The first time anyone told me specifically that I could write and should keep working at it was when I was in the sixth grade; it was my teacher, Mr. Johnson. His comments were amplified by my freshman composition teacher, Mr. Hayes.

2. Since freshman year in high school, I’ve never considered doing anything else with my life other than being a writer.

3. At the risk of sounding egotistical, in a general sense writing is very easy for me. Specific projects may be difficult due to research or other factors, but the actual sitting down and crafting the words has never been a problem. When other writers talk about how hard writing is for them I can sympathize but not really empathize.

4. Despite it being easy to do, I can get distracted from writing pretty easily, which can get me in trouble. To some extent this is mitigated by my being able to write quickly (5K words a day is not uncommon for me), but one thing I continually try to work on is my ability to structure my time effectively.

5. I find it difficult to write if I’m not using a keyboard — the act of typing is definitely part of my writing process. I write very differently when I am writing long hand or if I am dictating, and (in my opinion) not better. For this reason I am a bit anal about my keyboards. When I bought my Mac, I knew within a week that I couldn’t think using the keyboard that came with the Mac; I tossed it unceremoniously. Now both my Mac and my PC have Logitech keyboards. Logitech keyboards apparently help me think.

6. I’m not a writer who works well in group settings. I don’t like workshops (I have a caveat to that coming up) and I prefer my relationships with other writers be casual rather than professional; I would much rather have a drink with a writer and talk shop than try to co-write or start some sort of writing group. Now, this does not mean I think writers who like collaboration and creative consultation with other writers are doing something wrong; if it works for them, that’s good and well. I just don’t have the inclination for that myself.

7. Having said that, here’s the caveat: I think it would be fun to teach at a workshop, and I like being an editor (on occasion; I don’t know if I have the temperament to do it full time). The fact that I’m interested in teaching and editing but not in peer review and collaboration speaks volumes about me, I’m sure, but as I don’t think what it says about me is a bad thing, that’s fine.

8. Like most writers, I have a hard time judging what writing of mine is going to be particularly resonant with readers (and editors). Some of the writing I thought was not my best has been my most successful; some of the writing I liked the most no one has noticed. What is important is that I know when I’m writing crap, and that writing almost never gets seen by anyone else. So while I can’t tell which of my writing is going to be successful, I at least know all the writing I put out there meets a minimum standard of readability, and that minumum standard is fairly high.

9. And having said that, I do have to say that one of my great challenges as a writer is making sure that my writing is more than merely facile. Writing quickly and not having to struggle to write is a blessing, to be sure, in pounding out sale copy; however, it can present huge issues in quality control. I threw out the first chapter of The Ghost Brigades about six times because what I wrote was perfectly readable, but it wasn’t good — and yes, there is a difference between “readable” and “good”.

10. As a writer, I am not particularly interested in description unless it’s necessary to the plot. For this reason, I think, I am sometimes asked if my novels started out as screenplays, since the convention in screenplays at the moment is not to be overly specific in description, since being so limits the film’s casting directors and production designers.

11. Speaking of which, I have yet to write a screenplay. I’m vaguely interested in the format and I suppose if someone wanted to pay to me try to do one, I would. But it’s not a storytelling format that calls to my soul. Having said that, I think I would be a pretty good script doctor, and I think it would be a lot of fun trying to bang an already-existing script into shape.

12. I’m not in the slightest bit romantic about writing — I love doing it and I would do it even if it weren’t my job, but as it happens it is my job, and since it’s my job one of my aims is to make a lot of money doing it, so I don’t have to do anything else. This is occasionally off-putting to other folks but I don’t worry about that much. Being unromantic about writing doesn’t make one a hack — that comes when you don’t give a crap about what you write, just as long as you get paid. I want to get paid, but I care about what I write. I write for money, but I don’t write just for money.

13. Every year I buy a Writer’s Market, and every year I never use it. I buy it to remind myself that if everything I have going for me at the moment craters and collapses, I still have a couple thousand other chances to still keep writing professionally.

14. I have no good answer for “what would you do if you didn’t write?” I can’t imagine not writing. I can imagine not making a living at it, but that’s an entirely separate thing. If I couldn’t make a living writing, I don’t think it would particularly matter what I did, since I doubt my self-image would be connected to that job.

15. I think I’m a good writer. I also think I’ve been a very lucky writer. Both have worked to my advantage at different times in my career. I know that some better writers have been less lucky than I, and that some worse writers have been more lucky. In both cases, I try not to worry too much about it. I just try to make sure that the luck I have eventually gets justified by good writing. If that gets me to a place where I can spread some of my luck around, so much the better.

14 Comments on “15 Things About Me and Writing”

  1. one of my great challenges as a writer is making sure is making sure that my writing is more than merely facile. Writing quickly and not having to struggle to write is a blessing, to be sure, in pounding out sale copy; however, it can present huge issues in quality control.

    But luckily there are copy editors to point out the spots where you do things like repeat three-word phrases inside a single sentence.

    … hugs,

    –Anne

  2. 6. I’m not a writer who works well in group settings. I don’t like workshops (I have a caveat to that coming up) and I prefer my relationships with other writers be casual rather than professional; I would much rather have a drink with a writer and talk shop than try to co-write or start some sort of writing group. Now, this does not mean I think writers who like collaboration and creative consultation with other writers are doing something wrong; if it works for them, that’s good and well. I just don’t have the inclination for that myself.

    Damn. I’ll just have to punt that particular aspiration.

  3. Mr. Johnson’s is a name repeated with appreciation by everyone I’ve ever known who was in his sixth grade class. I wish I’d had the opportunity to know him.

  4. John,

    This article is timely. I was wondering how your train of thought works when it comes to the way your write. Thanks for explaining.

    Although I haven’t read any of your books yet, but from what I’ve read from this blog of yours, I think you’re a fantastic (and downright hilarious) writer. Kudos, dude.

  5. John said:

    3. At the risk of sounding egotistical, in a general sense writing is very easy for me. Specific projects may be difficult due to research or other factors, but the actual sitting down and crafting the words has never been a problem. When other writers talk about how hard writing is for them I can sympathize but not really empathize.

    Could you describe your personal definitions of ‘sympathize’ and ’empathize’? I looked them up at m-w.com, but their definitions there weren’t sufficiently different to really clarify things for me. In my own mind, ‘sympathy’ is what is used when someone has direct personal experience in something (say, breaking a bone) and is thus able to feel (‘-pathy’) the same thing (‘sym-‘) as another person with that same experience; whereas ’empathy’ is used when someone without prior direct experience must mentally/emotionally project their prior experiences into (’em-‘) the new experience in order to feel (‘-pathy’) what the other person feels.

    Just curious…

  6. To play devil’s advocate, 7 and 11 are both desires to be in a position of creative authority over something you don’t find interesting for its own sake — they betray a didactic streak. But your blog advertises that just as well, I suppose.

  7. Thanks for the tip re: Agent to the Stars – I didn’t know that was there.

    I started reading your blog fairly recently (probably via a link in WWdN) and had pretty much decided to pick up Old Man’s War when it comes out in paperback here in the UK.

    Now I can sample your novel writing without the wait or the financial outlay! If your blog writing is anything to go by I’m looking forward to an entertaining read …

  8. Minivet:

    “betray” might be a little much. I think it’s more recognition that some aspects of both processes interest me while others don’t.

    Colin F:

    Yes, that’s what Agent is there for. However, that’s not to dissuade you from picking up the paperback of Old Man’s War, which will be out soon. Here’s the Amazon UK link.

  9. I’m curious — what of your wok did you think was great that didn’t then take off? I’d like to check it out.