Of Perhaps Some Archaeological Interest
Posted on December 17, 2011 Posted by John Scalzi 29 Comments
This post I just found in an archive of the alt.society.generation-x newsgroup, dated July 21, 1997:
Just got finished writing my very first novel
Thought y’all might like to know. I’m happy, pleased, tired.
96,098 words, cranked out in a little under three months, working
mostly on weekends, grinding out 5,000 words at a sitting.
Learned two things:
a) I *can* carry a story over such a long stretch;
b) like most things on the planet, thinking about doing it is a lot
worse than simply sitting down and doing it. The writing wasn’t hard
to do, you just need to plant ass in seat and go from there.
I did find it helped not to make my first novel a gut-wrenching
personal story, if you know what I mean. Instead I just tried to write
the sort of science fiction story I would like to read. It was fun.
Now I go in to tinker and fine tune. Will soon have it ready for beta
testing. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
John M. Scalzi II
Writer/Editor, America Online
“THIS isn’t John Scalzi! John Scalzi is a dashing bon vivant! Where is the John Scalzi
of our youth, the John Scalzi of television, film and those Choose-Your-Own-Adventure
— A slightly drunk co-worker
Which novel? This one. I remember writing it in my apartment in Sterling, on Microsoft Works. Takes me back, it does.
Incidentally, don’t try looking for the personal site noted in my signature. It’s not there anymore. Hasn’t been for some time now. I like the signature quote, though. I wish I could remember who specifically said it.
Also: alt.society.generation-x. Good times, man. Good times.
Also of archaeological interest: I just came across a rec.arts.sf.written newsgroup posting that features comments from Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Jo Walton, Kate Nepveu, Dave Klecha, Josh Jasper and PZ Myers. And me. Little did I know that I would get to know them — and some of them well — in my future. Wacky.
I wonder how many writers have this kind of written record to look back on their career. How much has writing changed for you in the years since? How many writers fail step b and never understand why they fail?
Plus, where would we be now if you had given up?????
I certainly recall that First Novel completion/satisfaction, pride of authorship, and sense of *vastening* (in Vernor Vinge’s great term). Even though mine was written on a manual typewriter while in high school, and sold Freshman year at Caltech to a major market. Who later retracted the offer, just as well, as it was a weak first novel. Would have haunted me, and induced Sophomore Slump. Common problem after first novel excitement.
Was busy this morning. Yesterday, a theme Anthology editor FB-messaged me a request to submit a story on that precise topic. I had no such story in my inventory of the roughly 40 works of short fiction I’m most intensively circulating. So I wrote a 1,850 word first chapter, and emailed him. He liked it. So this morning I wrote the remaining 5,100 words of it, to 6,950 words. He’d wanted “short stories in the 3,500-7,000 word range” and was within a curly hair of the upper preference, though he would “consider stories from 2,500-10,000 words.” Why prevail upon a kindly editor to make an exception?
Today was my drop-dead deadline for another rewrite, which you’d already seen on my Facebook Wall “Sumeria to the Stars” to appear in “Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations” [Spring 2012]” This morning I managed a final compression from 57 pages down to 51 pages. I don’t record that as a negative number of words written. Work, though, and hard. Since 6 July 2010 when I doubled my quota to 2,000 words of fiction/day, I’ve thus written 1,086,450 words, including my 12 FB-serialized novels. A short story, officially, is up to 7,500 words. A novel is over 40,000 words. Do the Math…
I specifically recall the adolescent fear that maybe short stories and poems were my natural form, based on my sales from age 12 through 16, and the novel maybe not in my DNA. Overcoming fear is crucial to young writers. Thanks for the reminder, and so VERY glad that you tunneled through the potential barrier!
Yes. My full name: John Michael Scalzi, II. I thought that was common knowledge, actually. It’s on my Wikipedia page!
And here I thought the II was your Spinal Tap Stonehenge tribute.
I am about to do a similar post on my blog about uploading my first ever submission to the Writers of the Future Contest, which I just submitted about 15 minutes ago. I guess we all have to start somewhere.
“Yes. My full name: John Michael Scalzi, II. I thought that was common knowledge, actually. It’s on my Wikipedia page!”
Someone should totally edit that II to 2.0.
Ha! I wrote my first novel on Microsoft Works, too!
However, my first novel is in a trunk. And that’s okay, too.
Yes, you’ve made up for it in the interim, I’d say.
I am hoping whomever it was who said that outs themselves in the comments. Obviously, it wasn’t me. ;)
If it’s not prying, who was John Michael Scalzi I? Assuming not your father, since you aren’t a Junior.
(Also: totally off-topic. If you want to squash this, squash away.)
It is my father, actually. He hated the “Jr.,” and so went with “II”. Which, you know, is fine, since “Jr.” wouldn’t have pleased me either.
Hey, I just read that book this year. (Well, being lazy I just sat there while Wil Wheaton read it to me.) Was that really only 14.5 years ago?
The best writing program I ever used was Claris Works on the Mac. MS Works on Windows 3.11 was pretty close, though.
@scalzi: I’m a “II” for the exact same reason. My father, born and raised in the deep south, has some negative connotations with the word “Junior” and absolutely refused to have it on my birth certificate and corrected people whenever they tried to use it.
Of course, it caused no end of problems of “to whom are you referring” when growing up, so I as a result I go by my middle name. Which has caused all sorts of Interesting Adventures when it comes to banking, HR departments and Official Government Documents.
I’m currently in the process of writing my first novel and writing the first draft is merely the beginning… There are yet so many other steps to go to finally get published! :P
For some reason I often failed to register people’s names on rasfw (probably because it felt less social to me than rasfwrj), so it is not uncommon for me to be surprised that I crossed paths with people there back in the day. In this case, I have no recollection of you, Dave Klecha, or PZ Myers posting there.
Of course, now I’m curious what it was, but Google Groups is failing me (not surprising; I usually can’t even find things on Google Groups that I remember exist.)
It’s this one.
Just to show how this website sometimes works … I read John’s reply to Carrie V’s post (6:25pm) this morning (11am GMT), thought ‘oh, she’s obviously written something’, clicked on her name, read her website front page, read a ‘Kitty’ sample, then bought the first ‘Kitty’ book for my Kindle! (I hadn’t known her name before.)
And the point about actually doing something being in the end easier than thinking about it applies to a lot more of life than writing – but I expect you know that.
Bless you! I hope you like the book!
Loving it so far, thanks! It’s told at a cracking pace and has a really interesting take on werewolves. (I like Kelley Armstrong’s books so anything werewolfy appeals to me.)
I was scanning the old usenet thread that John referenced above and found another non SF blogger I follow, ORAC aka Dr. David Gorski of Respectful Insolence and Scienced-Based Medicine respectively. I knew both he and PZ, whom John mentioned, read SF but I would have never guessed they would have commented. I could imagine PZ making posts onthe talk.origins group which I read from time to time way back.
My brother has my father’s first name but a different middle name, specifically in order to avoid the “Jr.” He did get called “little Nat” for a while, but he lived that down.
Also: thanks, Mr. Scalzi, for “The Big Idea” re The Freedom Maze. I just finished it–amazing. (And thanks, Ms. Sherman, for writing it!)
Your flashback is my current reality. I’m 60000 words into a second draft of a novel at 1.5 months. Go to work, come home, write, and repeat. I go to coffee shops on weekends and ground out 3000-5000 words in a sitting. And yes, sitting around worrying about how to rewrite the first draft I wrote a couple of years ago was worse than actually writing the damned thing.
I just had a moment of clarity as I read John’s “thinking about doing it” remark. I realized John is successful because he dares to try things instead of analyzing them to death. (Okay, maybe it was a small moment. It’s Sunday and I’m out of bed, what more do you want from me?) Instead of spending brain cycles figuring out why something won’t work, he spends them doing it. Seems like it pays off. (Makes me wonder what his failures look like, though. That could be interesting in a reality TV sort of way.)
My son is a junior of sorts. His name is Robert A., named for his mother Roberta. It’s made for some tedious calls with our insurance company when they denied claims for his medical care because Roberta wasn’t covered by our policy. Once I learned the trick is to get them to check the birth dates, we quit having those problems.
Ah, Usenet. I remember when people used to use it for something other than illegal downloads and porn.
Perhaps this is much better: http://io9.com/5867518/10-pieces-of-crazy-ancient-graffiti
Don’t recall where I read the quote, but I heard that old screenwriters (from the Ring Lardner days of yore) had a saying: “Seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” Works for me.