A Brief Addendum to “Word Counts and Writing Process”

Done up in Twitter form, and archived here for posterity.

PS: The piece this is a follow up to is here, if you’ve not already read it.

42 Comments on “A Brief Addendum to “Word Counts and Writing Process””

  1. I have also found it harder to work during this time. It almost feels selfish to turn off the internet or TV and write fiction though I know it’s not. I have to push hard to get through the resistance. Stay strong, John! You’ve got this!

  2. Thank you for both writing and not shutting up.

    You’re a source of encouragement to many in the resistance.

  3. So I transcribed the conversation as thus for DH:
    Scalzi: Current political and social conditions for many creative folk are less than conducive.
    Detractor: How dare you complain? People have persevered under far worse circumstances, so you just keep drudging along there.
    At this, DH chimed in with “And after Scalzi ate him and spit out the charred, smoking bones…”
    Pray carry on writing and otherwise creating, not just Our Esteemed Host, but everyone lighting a candle against the dark.

  4. I wonder if there’s some optimum cocktail of good and bad in an era for a writer to live and work in (dependent on said writer’s temperament of course).
    George Orwell said that had he not lived in the era of totalitarianism he’d likely just have written poems about walnut trees or some such. Then again, he wasn’t living *under* totalitarianism like Solschenitzin, merely viewing it from nearby.

  5. I expect JS will continue to soldier on and find his proper form and pace. Might the apparent slowdown be at least partially attributable to more natural effects of age? So long as JS continues to devote his time and considerable talents to writing, talent will continue to out.

    Another interesting question is whether or how the current debased spectacle might change the themes and quality of the work. There has to be some fallout from the meglamanicle, grasping blackhole in the White House which seems to feed off negative energy. Witness the recent, greedy trespassing into the nation’s sporting diversions. Previously, a common consideration of decency confined political intrusions into sporting events to a relatively few, brief and inevitably awkwardly staged phone calls to locker rooms and Rose Garden celebrations of championships. I can’t ever recall this kind of attempt at usurping a relatively apolitical entertainment which provides both a respite from rancor and a place, time and forum where we can gather in common spirit, where even our affiliations are for the most part argued with some level of good sportsmanship. Now we have to endure the sickening spectacle of a public figure wanting and needing to be a dominating and ominous presence wherever and whenever we gather for whatever reason, even during the most happily trivial of times.

    The blackhole in the White House is too serious a symptom of national sickness (if not decline) to be ignored by an author with ambitions to be seriously relevant. But I hope that writers like JS will push back and fight for proportionality and to continue to create with a broader perspective, as this too, shall pass and may even be an uncomfortable and disturbing symptom of the necessary passing of problematic remnants of our much less perfect union, on the way to a more enlightened future.

    So while it is likely and laudable to take note from these times that we are not as far along as we may have supposed or wished, and that risks we have grown comfortable about remain real, I hope we aren’t entering an age in literature that becomes hijacked by temporizing prevocatations. We have better things to think about.

  6. Insightful; meaningful; true. “Stolen brain cycles” is a great term for an experience I think millions of us are sharing. It’s like a yammering in the background of my mind all the time when I want to just daydream or work on plots.

    But, Jesus, I hate when people refer to writers, etc., as “creatives”.

  7. I write a lot about perfectionism, including perfectionism as an obstacle to creative work and social justice. The idea that we can never do enough, never be enough, and that we should always function optimally despite whatever external barriers happen to be present, is deeply perfectionist. We’re not programmable robots: we are humans, embodied and, whether we like to admit it or not, in deep connection with all the world’s blessings and miseries. Moreover, it’s our *job* as creators–and decent human beings–to stay open and connected. And of course that’s going to make us vulnerable. As it happens, it’s the best people who tend toward perfectionism: the ones who care. They care about their work, their society, and the welfare of those around them. Caring is always going to make life and success more complicated, and it will probably always delay the latter.

    I feel sorry for your critics, John, because, like all perfectionists, they have eaten the darkness. Perfectionism always serves the oppressor, and that includes the oppressor within ourselves.

  8. “George Orwell said that had he not lived in the era of totalitarianism he’d likely just have written poems about walnut trees or some such.”

    True — but if you read his shorter non-fiction, his wonderful critical essays, or pieces about what the perfect pub would be (basically the stuff that these days he’d put on a blog) stand up *much* better even than his most famous novels. Yes, we wouldn’t have had 1984 or Animal Farm, but the quality of his other writing suggests that whatever he wrote, it would still have been worth reading.

  9. Welp, as a hard Right (or dissident right) conservative … I don’t like this either, and nor will I shut up either.
    We had better find a way to get along and respect each other because the alternative is race and civil war. And – trust me, that one will be over really quickly and nobody will win it, and everyone will regret it.
    Nobody wants you to shut up, but would it kill ya to at lest THINK before you speak? And hells bells – would it kill you to just write a good book without the social justice lecture? Do you have to ruin a bloody football game with idiot PC politics? There’s a time and a place for this stuff.
    I’m at the point that I don’t care anymore. I’m good either way and if you want a war you will get one… good and hard. It’s time to grow up, kids.

  10. Doesn’t Maslov’s hierarchy of needs apply? If people are feeling threatened at the basic level of survival, it’s going to be hard to do anything else. Perhaps one way to cope might be regular checks on the extent to which the current lunacy is directly affecting oneself, family, friends (recognising that many people are so affected). If it’s not, then try to calm down, reduce one’s amount of exposure. It’s good that you and others are keeping writing – or other creating – even so.

  11. “We had better find a way to get along and respect each other because the alternative is race and civil war.”
    “I’m at the point that I don’t care anymore. I’m good either way and if you want a war you will get one… good and hard.”

    Do you see any internal contradiction in these two statements? I would suggest that if a silent, peaceful protest that literally consists of either respectfully kneeling or locking arms during the playing of some music before a sports event ruins that event for you and suggests an incoming race war, that says more about you than the protest.

  12. I am tempted to change my “they don’t know the counterfactual” question on my upcoming stats midterm to this… but it’s probably not fair to potentially trigger students during an exam.

  13. Technical question: why are your tweets showing up doubled? It happens with everyone when I go to read them. It’s a bit strange to have skip every other one! Thanks!

  14. @Glenfilthie Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your side has always been the aggressor here. If you really want things to change, you must learn to respect, value, and accept *every* person in our society. Everyone should be able to enjoy the same rights, privileges, and freedom from oppression that you do, without having to interrupt your gameday. Seriously… how would you prefer people protest when they have been so egregiously wronged? Pick a method that works best and get back to us. I promise we’ll listen…

  15. This made me think about how some of the best American literature came out in the 1920s and 30s. Guys like Hemingway and Fitzgerald needed a break after the chaos of the First World War before they could sort out their thoughts and create again. We today might not be in their caliber, but we still have the same need to endure our woes before we can get creative.

  16. Glenfgilthie: Just so I understand–because you don’t like what some people write in their novels or on their blogs (all of which which you’re of course free to ignore) and you disagree with peaceful, almost unnoticeable protests by some entertainers you’re going to call for a civil war ala the BalkanWars?

  17. Clancyweeksblog: You must not be paying attention to the news when AntiFa and other leftist “free speech” groups shut down, assault and harrass conservative speakers on college campuses like Ben Shapiro, Ann Coulter, Milo (yes he’s a prancing ass but he still has free speech rights!) in the name of “resisting”. Conservative speakers deserve the same right to speak as your side does. Why don’t you denounce their actions? *Crickets*

    Senor Scalzi: I don’t even know where to begin with you comparing your slower creative writing process due to having angst over Trump to Solzhenitsyn’s arduous process to write the Gulag Archipelago. Dude had to hide and smuggle out manuscripts, watch trusted friends get tortured, etc in order to get his masterpiece published. Stop watching so much MSNBC and just relax. Smoke a bowl :P:P

  18. On the blog that had such a strong reaction to your post, one of the commenters held up Robert E Howard, (who committed suicide) as a Real Writer who kept soldiering on with escapist stories in the midst of the 1930s Depression. I was bemused. Are they really so out of touch?

  19. @CygnusAnalogMan False equivalency. You equate police murdering unarmed African-American males, subjugation of women, murdered protesters by having cars plowed into them, with a little property destruction and inconvenience? Really? Is that your plan for debate?

    I hope you can do better…

  20. Thank you. Just thank you. This post and, more so, the previous one, is comforting and reassuring to all of us that it’s okay to be distracted by the current evil silliness. Thank you for helping us to see that our self-expectations need to be adjusted occasionally to meet our actual circumstances. It’s too easy to expect normalcy from ourselves when little around us is normal anymore. Your words mean a lot, so please keep writing them as best you can. We’ll wait.

  21. @Glenfilthie:

    Do you have to ruin a bloody football game with idiot … politics?

    Why don’t you ask that of Pete Rozelle, the commissioner of the NFL for most of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. He was the one who originally put in the requirement that the players stand at attention like soldiers during the national anthem… and he did it specifically to politically support the Vietnam War.

    Kneeling during the national anthem isn’t introducing politics. It’s reacting to the politics that were forced in 50 years ago.


  22. Given that the so-called left’s protests are usually met by the right’s withdrawal (and the events are not actually shut down), I think the argument is somewhat overblown.

  23. “Rich or Poor, educated or uneducated, belonging to one nation or another, to one religion or another, adhering to this ideology or that, ultimately each of us is just a human being like everyone else. We all desire happiness and do not want suffering.”

    14th Dalai Lama

  24. Glenfilthie: “the alternative is race and civil war.”

    If you havent noticed, it is a race war: white cops killing unarmed blacks, neonazies killing a woman marching for equality. Bank of America was fined millions for predatory loans that targeted blacks. Klansman shooting guns into crowds. Baltimore pd was found by the justice department to have rampant racism, routinely violating rights of blacks.

    “I’m at the point that I don’t care anymore.”

    Sure you fo, thats why you went off on a rant here. When a bigot whines about a “race war” its only because they’ve been at war with blacks for years and now theyre afraid some blacks might war back.

    “Do you have to ruin a bloody football game with idiot PC politics?”

    If you stop letting cops shoot unarmed blacks on the back, if you actually got off your lazy ass and did something about places like baltimore, if you condemned trump for taking days to condemn nazies while condemning muslims before all the facts are in, if you actually fixed any of that rampant racism that has ended inmocent lives and ruined black families, then you wouldnt have your football game “ruined”.

    Blacks are living in an america rife with racism where police can kill them without consequence and neonazies murder while the president defends them, but your complaint is about how your sports are “ruined”.

    Its weird how right wingers always talk about bleeding heart liberals being a bunch of softies, weaklings, and whiners complaining about stupid stuff. And yet, here you are, crying about football while heather heyer and john crawford are dead.

  25. Well, said, Scalzi. I always appreciate your thoughts, and their articulate communication. Your blog brought me to your books, not the other way around.

    We are in a time of great social ferment, and I suspect we are not done yet.

    At the simplest level, conservative = tradition, liberal = change. That doesn’t map perfectly onto US politics, and left-right is a deeply flawed metaphor to begin with, but the bare bones are there. So, sarcastically speaking, I always love being lectured on societal change by a self-professed “hard right” conservative. Allowing for some paraphrasing, ruining things with “idiot PC politics” has been the complaint of conservatives in response to societal change since, well, forever. That’s the essence of change, isn’t it. The “idiot PC politics” presumably ruining football are black athletes peacefully protesting what is a real problem in our society, namely, the unequal enforcement of the law in almost every regard, from attention and use of force to arrests, charges, convictions, sentencing, parole and the whole thing. There’s a mountain of quality social science support this claim, so it’s not some sort of “alternative facts.” And it’s easy to do well: control for socioeconomic status, so race is the only variable. The differences are usually stark, i.e. you don’t need a statistics course to understand it. A simple example is the application of the entire legal system to crack vs. powder cocaine, which is essentially black vs. white. And now history repeats itself with prosecutions of meth (white) vs. cocaine (black). And we’ve seen it played out with police shootings of unarmed blacks. The science is unambiguous, only the responses vary. And so this is part of a continuum that includes Dr. King and goes back into the mists of history. “Idiot PC politics” is cute, but an equivalent has been said in every generation as a conservative response to changes in social justice. I’ve even heard “blocking streets” and “what if somebody has a heart attack and needs to get through” in response to recent marches> The same arguments were made during the Civil Rights movement, and accusations along those lines were leveled at Dr. King. So, some things never change I guess, even as we continue to change.

    As a scientist, perhaps I am also considered a “creative.” Certainly the climate in the US has gotten me down. Maybe it is just sensitivity rather than creativity? A cinder block of a person might be unperturbed, but any feeling person is a little disoriented these days, with an ignorant schoolyard bully in a White House and nuclear brinksmanship on the news (when it isn’t usurped by yet another unhinged tweet or speech.) No doubt we could talk endlessly about what leadership is, but surely we can agree that part of it is projecting the perception of a firm hand on the rudder? When the Secretary of State and the POTUS are publicly disagreeing about potential nuclear confrontation on the Korean peninsula, involving two of our closest allies, hundreds of millions of people, and the possibility of nuclear weapons reaching the US mainland, our territory of Guam, or the state of Hawaii, a sensitive person will be impacted. The work of everybody I know has been impacted.

    I’m going to lay a wager: I bet future economists will estimate the impact on US productivity to be in the hundreds of billions. Maybe money will get a conservative’s attention.

  26. @Clancy -false equivalency? Can you point to a single case where police accused of “murdering” unarmed black men did not have charges brought against them? Just because a jury or a judge found them not guilty does not mean the justice system tried to hold them responsible. You want Soviet style show trials of your enemies, comrade? And it wasn’t just property destruction and mere “inconvenience” – Charles Murray and a professor at Middlebury College were assaulted by AntiFa protestors and there is ample video evidence of AntiFa protestors at Charlottesville and elsewhere engaging in violence against NeoNazi protestors and regular conservative protestors. You can justifiably protest against Neo Nazi scum throwing salutes and white power chants without confusing/conflating Tea Party/conservative protestors with brownshirts. Oh wait, you just want a progressive paradise, so every nail needs a hammer, da? You really should get a clue…

  27. Folks, we appear to be getting testy here, as well as wandering off from the topic at hand. So: Be nicer to each other and back on topic, please. Don’t make me bring out the Mallet.

  28. Life in the Soviet Union under communism was exponentially worse than anything going on in America today.

    Please write.

    Please do not “shut up”.

    But please have a sense of scale that is based in reality.


  29. Seems to me this is between writer and publisher. If you can deliver your manuscript on time, or, if not, if you can get your publisher to accept “I’m late because of President Trump” as an excuse, it’s nobody else’s business. So I’m surprised it inspired such a debate!

  30. Dear Glenfilthie,

    “There’s a time and a place for this stuff.”

    I ask, in all seriousness, where and when do you think that would be, then?

    Let’s think about this for a moment, compared to the other possibilities. The football game protests are entirely symbolic in nature — they don’t involve any actions that endanger or even mildly inconvenience in the least way, anyone else. They don’t even cost them a single penny. Which is not what happens with an active protest in the outside — of football — world, ever (at the very least, there are the police who have to be paid to… Well… “police” the event.

    Furthermore, it is a symbolic protest that is directed at a symbol. Not a particular person nor business nor even larger institution. Just a symbol. No one’s ox is getting directly gored, no businesses are being blocked, no offices picketed, etc. No specific someone is being targeted. This is usually not the case with outside-world protests.

    And it lasts a whole, what, five minutes? And then everything goes back to the way it was. How many other protests are that short and that physically inconsequential?!

    So in every imaginable way, this seems to me to be the weakest of weak sauce of possible protests, the least intrusive, the least objectionable, the least costly to anybody.

    What, then, do you propose as more appropriate “a time and a place for this stuff?”

    At the risk of being presumptuous and seeming like I am trying to read your mind, let me say up front that “a time and place where I don’t have to see it” is not a reasonable nor realistic answer. A protest that nobody who feels differently is exposed to is simply not a protest. It is a meaningless exercise. Preaching to the converted is not a protest. Voices chanting in an echo chamber are not a protest.

    You have to take it as a given that it is the very nature of protests that you will be exposed to protests you disagree with.

    So, what is the better time and the better place, in your mind?

    I can’t imagine one that wouldn’t be more annoying, more disruptive, and more unpleasant for the people who disagree with it. By a large margin. But you may well have a better imagination than I do.

    Your turn.

    – pax \ Ctein
    [ Please excuse any word-salad. Dragon Dictate in training! ]
    — Ctein’s Online Gallery. http://ctein.com 
    — Digital Restorations. http://photo-repair.com 

  31. Cygnus: “Can you point to a single case where police accused of “murdering” unarmed black men did not have charges brought against them? ”

    Nearly all of them. Prosecuters generally refuse to pursue charges against the cops they work with on a regular basis. So what they do instead is take it to a grand jury, soft pitch the evidence. the victims family is not part of grand jury proceedings, is not allowed to present their side of the story, is not allowed to counter the narrative given by the prosecutor, and, surprise surprise, grand juries indict 99% of all cases brought before them, EXCEPT for cop cases where they generally indict practically NONE of them.

    Now, the prosecutor can bypass the grand jury in many cases. But with cop cases, they never do. Because they control everything the grand jury sees and no one can contradict them. And because grand jury proceedings are secret, so they could throw the case and no one would know.

    And, it is the grand jury that decides whether to indict soneone or not, actually file charges against someone. And since most do not indict/charge cops, the answer to a case where a cop is not charged is “most of them”.

    It isnt until a criminal trial that the prosecuters’ evidence can be challenged by the victims family. It isnt until the case becomes a criminal trial that the proceedings are public and can be scrutinized.

    You complain about a hypothetical slippery slope to soviet style courts, meanwhile, we have the reality where cops kill unarmed blacks, and prosecutors use grand juries as actual real world STAR CHAMBERS, secret proceedings with only one side presenting evidence, and cops go free no matter how atrocious their behavior.

    “Charles Murray and a professor at Middlebury College were assaulted by AntiFa protestors”

    And Heather Heyer was MURDERED. A nazi shouted “hey n***er” while shooting a handgun into a crowd. Number of people killed by nazis and white supremecists number in the thousands. Number of people killed by black supremecists in same time frames is a small fraction of that. So spare me your cherry picked tears.

    “confusing/conflating Tea Party/conservative protestors with brownshirts.”

    Why wouldnt we? Mention the topic of charlottesville, and we get people like you whose first complaint is about antifa, not the nazis or white supremecists. Trump argued a false equivalency between groups like the KKK and nazis who have decades of history of being organized terrorist organizations using violence, and everyone who opposed them. And here you are making that exact same argument.

    Some nitwit above was crying about his sports being “ruined” because someone might silently kneel about the fact that blacks are bring murdered by cops with no repurcussions.

    And youre here with no clear distinction between grand jury/ star chambers and a public/criminal trial with actual charges. You dont even understand the criminal justice system and how it is abused and misused, yet here you are arguing in its defense.

    Why would anyone see you any differently?

  32. How about different people respond differently to a stressful political environment.

    It might have taken Gulag Russia for Solzhenitsyn to write great things in response to. It might have taken him a long time to do it, but it might be that this was “necessary” for that work.

    Same might be said for Tom Paine or Camus. That writing directly in response to complex political times was what made them great.

    Just as some people make great peacetime or wartime leaders but do poorly when the situation is different, the same can probably be said about other professions.

    Musicians often excel with protest songs, or hymns in response to political stress, while others find it easier to write happier tunes in happier times, or dystopias when reality doesn’t seem quite such a mirror…

    Why can’t your troubles be yours, and shared with some, but not necessarily universal for all? It doesn’t make you less or them more, just different.

  33. I’m definitely having a hard time concentrating on work, some of which involves writing (non-fiction) things. And my work actually does make a difference, so I get to feel guilty about not doing it.

    But writing fiction isn’t frivolous or trivial. Reading non-depression fiction is part of what gets many of us through times like these. Even if most of what I’ve managed this year has been re-reading favorites, because that’s all my brain can handle by the end of the work day.

  34. CygnusAnalogMan at 11:46 AM: I don’t even know where to begin with you comparing your slower creative writing process due to having angst over Trump to Solzhenitsyn’s arduous process to write the Gulag Archipelago.

    Uh–I’m not sure what your point is. I don’t believe that Scalzi was exactly comparing himself to Solzhenitsyn; the original “comparison” seemed to be from the tweeter complaining that Scalzi was being a snowflake because he (obviously) didn’t have it as hard as Solzhenitsyn, so Scalzi had no right to complain. Or something. Not to put words in Our Host’s mouth, but I read Scalzi’s reply as along the lines of: “Maybe if Solzhenitsyn hadn’t been in Hell, he would have written more.” The closest he comes to a comparison, I think, is to point out that any kind of bad times can impact an artist’s creativity . . . which (by the by) strikes me as an fairly restrained and limited response to being told that a writer is only allowed to complain about politics if he’s in a gulag.

    The idea that when we are disturbed by public events, we are distracted and our productivity suffers seems like a fairly sensible one to me. But that really is a different point than the one you seem to be making.

  35. A reminder to folks to reel it back in and stick more closely to the topic at hand, not generally kvetch about the state of the world. I’m looking at a couple of you reeeeeeal hard.

  36. I appreciated your main post John, but moreso the 150 replies in it. Even down here in the antipodes current US & UK politics wash up on our shores and can’t be ignored. I spend far more time cruising the newsfeeds than I ever have before. Time that could be better spent reading, watching DVDs or devoted to a hobby – using up my brain cycles. This year I’ve also been through what is probably the worst implemented workplace restructuring I’ve experienced in 30 years – in both private & government organisations. That, along with the world stuff, has got me back into being a workplace union rep (within the civil service) after a 20 year hiatus. I’m not the person I was 20 years ago. The stuff tires me more now than it did then because my capacity for dealing with ‘stupid’ seems to be lower. But someone has to do it. So I do. Kia Kaha!