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March 22, 2004

Scalzi on writerly subjects
Posted by Teresa at 05:07 PM *

I’ll mention separately that John Scalzi has been on a tear about writerly subjects. On March 17th, he posted about his Book of the Dumb franchise; on the 18th, his take on Is it me— (he confirms that he’s the author of Patrick’s whom I mentioned but didn’t name); and on the 19th, the spectacular Even More Long-Winded (But Practical) Writing Advice, which he thoughtfully divides up under ten headings:

1. Yes, You’re a Great Writer. So What. 2. I Don’t Care If You’re a Better Writer Than Me.
3. There is Always Someone Less Talented Than You Making More Money As a Writer.
4. Your Opinion About Other Writers (And Their Writing) Means Nothing.
5. You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop, You Know.
6. Until You’re Published, You’re Just in the Peanut Gallery.
7. Did I Mention Life’s Not Fair?
8. Don’t Be An Ass.
9. You Will Look Stupid If You’re Jealous.
10. Life is Long.
Here’s a nice bit from #3:
…Some fat bastard has been rewriting the same book for the last 25 years, and each “new” book is even more of a pointlessly smudged photocopy of his last book than the one before it, which in turn was a smudged photocopy of the book before that. And after his thick, retarded lummox of a book is planted in its own stand-up display smack in the middle of the store’s primary traffic pattern, the author is going to take that money, buy a gorgeous house on Lake Tahoe with it and use the excess cash to charm smart, pretty, ambitious girls and boys to have rampaging sex with his flabby, liver-spotted body while he watches Nick Jr. on his 83-inch high-definition plasma television. Because he can. Meanwhile, you’re lucky if a single copy of your achingly beautifully-written trade paperback, for which you were paid barely enough to cover three month’s rent on a bug-infested Alphabet City 5th-floor walkup, is shelved spine inward in a forgotten limb of the bookstore for a month before its cover is amputated and sent back to the publisher as a mark of abject failure. Welcome to the literary world!
As I said in a comment there, my sole quibble with this is that trade paperbacks are whole-copy returns. Aside from that, it’s spot-on.
Comments on Scalzi on writerly subjects:
#1 ::: chance ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2004, 06:47 PM:

Lovely stuff- I especially love the coffee house bit, because so many writers are in love with the idea of being a writer, and not actually writing.

#2 ::: jo. ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2004, 07:30 PM:

Ah, yes -- but it's not really being in love with the idea of being a writer. It's being in love with being *seen* as a writer.

Being thought to be a writer is much more enjoyable than actually writing. I get that, absolutely. Shit, anything's better than writing, including laundry.

The only problem is, all those cute skinny intense-looking writer types notwithstanding, I've never met a woman who slept with someone because he brought his laptop to a coffee shop.

#3 ::: ariana ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2004, 07:38 PM:

Maybe those lessons are harder for some writers to learn because there's less company in writerly misery? Passed over for a promotion, an office worker can go out drinking with all of ta's co-workers. Passed over for publishing, well, doesn't a good writer drink alone?

#4 ::: Rachel Brown ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2004, 07:59 PM:

Great link. Were you referring to that book that's not quite set in Chicago?

Regarding coffeeshops, almost all the writing and revising of one of my books was done in various Starbucks. I sold it, too. I get more done when I can't browse the net or answer the phone.

#5 ::: Stephan Zielinski ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2004, 08:13 PM:

Regarding bringing the laptop to a coffee shop: I was on the bleeding edge on this one. Macintosh Powerbook 100, 4 meg of RAM, 20 meg hard drive. Cost me about a grand and a half. (Side note to TNH: yes, large parts of the ms. were written on that thing. I still have it, although it no longer boots.)

I tried the coffee shop thing, I really did. Thing is, if you're in a coffee shop, you're drinking coffee. If you're drinking coffee, your bladder fills with urine. Damned if I was going to walk away from a a table with a grand and a half of electronics on it, while counting on people sitting nearby to tackle a thief who grabbed the thing and lit for the door. Since writing is time consuming, it was drink coffee, write, pack everything into bag, hit the head, come back, get next cup of coffee, find seat, write for another hour... Any flow I managed to get up was interrupted by having to come to a kidney-induced screeching halt-- save manuscript, shut down machine, pack up, urinate, unpack machine, reboot machine, restart application.

After (A) not having women rip off their shirts and yell "TAKE ME NOW!" at the sight of a Real, Live Writer, and (B) drinking so much coffee the screen turned into a eyeball-twitch induced blur, I went home.

#6 ::: Hannah Wolf Bowen ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2004, 08:25 PM:

I'm in love with the Italian sodas and hand-painted chocolates at our shiny new coffee shop. Mmm, chocolates.

#7 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2004, 08:51 PM:

I'm not sure what to say about some of this except that:

a) I believe that a number of writers whose work I admire _do_ have emotional involvement over the fact that there are other writers they feel are better than themselves. I've seen and heard them say so.

b) I've written three or four books in coffee houses. I'm writing one now. I like to bring my laptop, have the beans make my fingers twitch, and generate copy in a pleasant environment. Also, people get up and go to the bathroom without anxiety over machines disappearing.

I'll concede that my daily output is probably less than it would be if I followed John Scalzi's Jesuitical advice (issued earlier on his site) about just sitting in a quiet room and typing without distractions. But around the coffeehouses in my part of the world, web designers, musicians, writers of fiction and non-fiction show up with laptops on a daily basis -- I think because they enjoy the working environment. I get the feeling that creative geeks with laptops bring them to coffeehouses out of a sense that they might otherwise die without ever leaving their homes -- not to impress people and initiate pick-up scenarios.

Anyway, mileage may vary on some of these tough-sounding, straight dope precepts.

#8 ::: Hannah Wolf Bowen ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2004, 09:22 PM:

I feel like there's an implicit "your mileage may vary" built into any piece of writerly advice.

Or maybe I just put one in to make myself feel better? But it seems like this kind of thing always belongs with an "it depends."

#9 ::: John Scalzi ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2004, 09:38 PM:

Re: Lenny Bailes/Hannah Wolf Bowen:

Indeed, mileage may vary. As I note in the essay, while I am a published author, "I am also famously a cranky blowhard who readily admits to having his head up his ass a lot of the time." One does have to take that aspect into consideration while reading.

#10 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2004, 10:12 PM:

If coffee shops are populated by laptop-bearing writer/poseurs whose true purpose is to try and have cute and impressionable waitresses drag them into the supply room for crazed-monkey sex, I figure that at some distant point in the past, this technique must have actually worked.

Once.

And it's been surviving on tradition and urban legend ever since.

(In actuality, if one actually -writes- in a coffeeshop, it's an unobjectionable practice. I believe several of Robert Asprin's early books were written in his local coffeeshop, on legal pads. Whatever works for you.)


#11 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2004, 10:26 PM:

I take the point of the laptops in coffee shops thing - the local equivalent seems to be people writing longhand in their journals - but...

If I had a laptop, and was trying to write, and didn't have a day job to turn up to, darn tootin' I'd sit in a coffee shop all day, with excursions to the local park when the weather was right.

#12 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2004, 10:46 PM:

Steve Taylor writes: "If I had a laptop, and was trying to write, and didn't have a day job to turn up to, darn tootin' I'd sit in a coffee shop all day, with excursions to the local park when the weather was right."

Need a darn good screen for that. My iBook isn't worth nuthin outdoors.

As far as the bathroom goes, I just took my iBook with me. Requires a certain amount of dexterity. Probably easier for a guy.

#13 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2004, 10:55 PM:

Jon H writes:
> Need a darn good screen for that. My iBook isn't worth nuthin outdoors.

True enough. I guess I'll have to wait those optimistic articles about 'electronic paper' technologies come true and filter down to the consumer level. I hope it's some time before the 'Zeppelins are making a comeback' articles come true, or I could be waiting a while.

#14 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2004, 11:03 PM:

I wrote up my qualifier independent study in my local Cosi. The biggest problem with writing there now is the darned WiFi. The day the hotspot appeared, I cried, "The curse is come upon me," and I've accomplished nothing since.

#15 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2004, 11:50 PM:

As for taking laptops with you, Brenthaven has some nice backpacks. Apple sells a couple models specifically sized for their laptops.

It only really works if you're a guy (or are willing to trust your laptop to the strength of any coat hooks available in the stall), but it's quite practical and leaves both hands free if all you need to get rid of is the filtered coffee....

#16 ::: Rebecca Elsenheimer ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 12:23 AM:

The best device for coffee shops? A PDA with a folding keyboard. I use a Palm Tungsten E with the Palm wireless keyboard. All told the setup cost me less than $300.00, it's got a built-in mp3 player with headphone jack, and a better screen than most monitors. Plus it doesn't have solitaire, internet, or any of the other pesky distractions my home computer has.

John's article is great, and I love the cynical bent to it. Too many writing advice pages or books are so happy lovey-dovey and hand-holding. Sometimes you just need to told to shove it. (Ah, but every writing column should also come with a #11 -- unless you're being paid to do so, quit sitting around analyzing writing and actually _write_.)

#17 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 12:42 AM:

Disclaimer: I am not a commercial writer of whatever genre, but I do have to write project plans, proposals and such. My coffeehouse method is to get things started, knock together some notes or an outline, then print it out (with wide spacing and margins) and take it with me -- leaving the laptop at home or the office. Then I sit down with my preferred Pilot G2 fine point and get to work. I don't know if it is the noise or the coffee or what, but an hour or so working it over generally results with enough to go home and knock out a fairly late draft.

I do the same thing when I am working on the short scriptural reflections I give when working in detention facilities. I'll print out the lessons for the day and either copy off or print out reference material (check Textweek for all that -- once agaon, thanks for that link Teresa). I'll staple the stack of pages together, head for Starbucks and write on the blank backs of the pages.

I must also report that nobody has (yet) mistaken me for a writer at Starbucks, and cast their body before me. This is a good thing as my wife is quite likely to drop in on me there, expecting her usual large decaf drip with hazelnut.

#18 ::: Cory Doctorow ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 12:47 AM:

I write *everywhere* because I'm on the road all the time. The novel I'm finishing this week was written in hotel rooms, airport departure lounges, subways systems in five cities on two continents, tiny cramped coach airline seats, the Acela, taxicabs, cafes, restaurants, kebab stands, crouched in doorways, on long escalators, in the customs queue at Heathrow, and many friends' spare rooms and sofas. I don't do it to get laid, I do it because I'm quasi-homeless.

#19 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 01:37 AM:

"Okay, Mr. DeCameron, I think you've given us an accurate description of the perpetrator. Hey, Benny! Tell the station that Dip Yer Donut Dora's struck again."
"You mean -- this woman deliberately set out to steal --"
"Buddy, she was the first hooker in the Bay Area to be Bluetooth-enabled."

#20 ::: Mel Sherman ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 01:55 AM:

*briefly de-lurking, due to inspiration from recent thread*
...monkey sex in the Starbucks bathroom...this could happen (admittedly unlikely, but still)...I need a laptop. And a Starbucks.

Then I just _know_ I could actually finish writing the farkin' book! I've obviously been going about things all wrong, coming home from work every night and writing until the wee hours whether I feel like it, or not.

#21 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 02:03 AM:

Maybe it only works for the chicks. I tried, many times, to work in a coffeehouse near where I used to live. Mainly because it was warm and had comfy chairs, while my apartment was cold, damp, and had only one wooden chair at the desk, and there's only so much time one wants to spend in bed. But apparently the sight of me writing in my notebook overwhelmed the males in the immediate area: I found that I was interrupted about every ten minutes. I have no ability to rebuff people in that situation, so it meant a lot of lost work time.

This unfortunate problem brought a gift, though: I discovered that the laundromat around the corner had installed a couch, and apparently the smoove guys stayed away from the unsexy land of Tide With Bleach.

I never considered using the notebook thing to try to meet people. Not that I wasn't looking at the time, but mainly because it never occured to me that I might want to date the sort of person who talks to random strangers in coffeehouses.

#22 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 02:55 AM:

You mean people are writing novels at Starbucks? They're not there for the wireless connection? That was why I spent hours at Starbucks when I wasn't home.
I still write at coffee shops sometimes. If I'm out, and I have an idea (and walking kinda does that for me) I go into a coffee shop, or sit outsife if it's nice weather, and I write longhand on my notebook. Some of the things I wrote this way have come in surprisingly useful when it's time to put the story/novel/article together.
(And as for whining about the writerly career - there are whole literary magazines here who simply don't pay you at all for your pieces.)

#23 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 04:24 AM:

Speaking as someone who spends a great deal of time both working and schmoozing in my local coffee shop:
1. You don't need to take your laptop with you to the can if you get to know the regulars. You can watch each other's stuff.
2. Yes, fellow patrons can be a distraction, and this is not only true for single women. People start talking to me all the time. However, even with this, I get a lot done at the coffeehouse. No phone, no puttering or cleaning or straightening up to do, etc.
3. I see many people actually doing writing. A woman I see almost every day there is writing her thesis and has to have it done by April. She is very popular with the guys, and they are always coming over to talk to her. Nevertheless, she gets a lot done--I can tell by her keystroke activity.
4. No doubt there are a few poseurs with laptops--but even they, I think, are forced to confront that blank screen and the fact that they have, ultimately, nothing meaningful to say. So perhaps it's worth it for them too....

#24 ::: John Scalzi ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 06:59 AM:

Heh. Somehow I knew #5 would be the most controversial point.

#25 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 07:51 AM:

It never occured to me that I might want to date the sort of person who talks to random strangers in coffeehouses.

Are you by any chance from one of the coasts, Ayse? Because my experience of the midwest is that nearly everybody talks to random strangers in coffeehouses, and grocery stores, and book shops, and so on. It was appalling to me in California when old people would get so happy that you talked to them in the produce department, because here in the Midwest I assume that level of human contact as a matter of course.

Sometimes I need to write somewhere other than my own house because my own house is where my laundry, my unvacuumed floors, my unfinished e-mail to my high school best friend, and my book collection live. Usually I manage to multitask or ignore the other tasks until I've gotten a satisfying amount done, but sometimes fleeing the premises is a much simpler option.

As for being seen as a writer vs. being one, I've accidentally gotten a good half dozen friends to stop referring to themselves as aspiring writers, because I actually wanted to talk about what I was writing, where I was sending it, etc., and they just wanted to talk about how awesome their novel was going to be once they wrote something other than the dramatis personae.

#26 ::: Cat D ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 07:57 AM:

A few years ago, I found a PowerExec Notebook while I was taking out the trash. I wrote my YA novel on it before it died again, but I didn't know that I was *supposed* to do it at a coffee house. I mean, like, being a female, I could have had real monkey-sex with a lost Chippendale dancer that was stopping by for a cup of hot cocoa? Or would it have been with one of those soulful, artist types who was always there, working hard with his sketchbook?

I *so* missed out!

But on a more serious slant: Rule 8

I have messed up and afterwards wanted to go bury my head and other body parts in the sand. Or does Rule 8 only cover "Constant Out & Out Maliciousness" and not "Puppy-dog Eagerness"?

#27 ::: John Scalzi ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 08:10 AM:

Cat D writes:

"I have messed up and afterwards wanted to go bury my head and other body parts in the sand. Or does Rule 8 only cover 'Constant Out & Out Maliciousness' and not 'Puppy-dog Eagerness'?"

Rather more of the former than the latter, I think. I do believe most people forgive puppy-dog eagerness well enough, especially if you yourself later recognize it as such.

#28 ::: MDČ ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 08:51 AM:

About point number 5: Can't do that easily in Paris anymore, Mr Hemingway and his various mimickers got the whole thing covered, it seems, and it's become so cliche only the laptop might be raising interest ; and then again it would probably be interpreted as some techno-domineering executive's love parade... *sigh*
By the way, does writing in the underground on a notebook with a pencil still count as posing ? wouldn't want to be mislabeled as one of those pseudo-writers. You see, my ego won't stand it anymore now.

[The writter-impersonating sex-hunting method must have had more than one succesful attempt I'd bet... reminds me of that german woman who'd have sex only with succesful, best selling, writers. Think I read this one in a Koestler book... Must be in "The Act of Creation"]

#30 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 10:45 AM:

People have crazed monkey sex in coffee shops? Now you tell me.

#31 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 10:50 AM:

Are you by any chance from one of the coasts, Ayse? Because my experience of the midwest is that nearly everybody talks to random strangers in coffeehouses, and grocery stores, and book shops, and so on.

I'm from both coasts, actually (grew up in New York, live in California). I'm also of taciturn ethnicity.

And, for all my comments about not wanting to date somebody who talks to strangers in coffehouses, not only did I later date somebody who approached me with a suggestive remark in the produce aisle at Safeway, but I recently married a Midwesterner who will strike up cheerful conversations about anything and everything with everybody he encounters.

Visiting my in-laws is a bit of a culture shock. (I only recently learned that when they ask, "Where are you from?" they never mean to ask where I grew up; they are asking about the ethnicity of my parents.)

Back to the writing thing, there are people who work in coffehouses because they like the atmosphere and can concentrate there, and there are the inevitable poseurs. What's funny is when somebody who is clearly a poseur (I watch him play solitaire for an hour until the sexy young thing comes in, at which point the screen changes to MS Word) pretends to despise his own type (he whips out a cell phone and has an overly loud conversation about how most people are just there to pick up chicks, but he's trying to get some work done).

I wish I had the time for coffehouse lingering these days. Now that laptops and cell phones are more common, it could be really entertaining.

#32 ::: crazysoph ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 11:27 AM:

Apart from the fact that the minor background hum of most coffee shops helps get me into writing mode (w.m. with training wheels, maybe?), the thought - after the laughter at "coffee-shop writer with portable computer = poser looking for sex" - was:

Sex? Finish book? Sex? Finish book? Sex? Finish book? ... Finish book. Case closed.

Crazy(really! finish book! The "anything" commanded by the great editor! *wink*)Soph

#33 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 11:38 AM:

Ayse: I discovered that the hard way, too. "Where are you from?" "Houston. Where we say 'y'all.'" "No, I mean, where are you really from?" "Where are you 'really' from?" Sigh.

Also, am I one of the last three people on the planet with a laptop who works longhand? :-) I discovered that the lack of email, web-surfing, newsgrouping, and *Angband on a lowly paper notebook works to my benefit. Can't justify writing in a coffeeshop/cafe/whatever, but I've gotten some use out of the public library when I can keep myself from checking out more books than I can carry. (I only bring a small backpack on purpose.)

Er, y'all come back now? :-)

#34 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 11:53 AM:

I don't take my laptop to the coffeeshop, but that's because I don't have a laptop. I take hardcopy to edit, because the different environment helps me see it more clearly. Well, that and because there's nothing else to do so I have to do it. Okay, okay — it's really because I don't have the desk space at home to do it there.

---L.

#35 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 11:55 AM:

Ariana: Maybe those lessons are harder for some writers to learn because there's less company in writerly misery? Passed over for a promotion, an office worker can go out drinking with all of ta's co-workers. Passed over for publishing, well, doesn't a good writer drink alone?

A writer of some note and long career recently spent some time explaining this very point to me. His contention is that in the "old days," when he was an up-and-coming writer, there was a writer's community in NYC (which is where he was). He and "the guys" would meet up at least once a week to hit the bars and talk about writing and publishing. Most of the writers in the group either were published to start with or became published as time passed.

As folks became successful, they began to relocate outside of NYC. The group shrank and eventually disappeared entirely. The writer-who-was-telling-me-about-this said that this was the point at which he became an alcoholic, since he was conditioned to go out drinking once a week, and without the guys around he did a lot more drinking and less talking and eating. He also became a lot more lonely, which undoubtedly contributed to the drinking.

It is this writer's contention that all the internet connectivity in the world is no substitute for hanging out with other writers in the flesh. There may be generational bias involved, but I think there is some validity to his position.

Ayse and Yoon Ha: I, a middle-aged white native New Yorker whose family has been in the US for right around 100 years, also get the "where are you from?" question on a regular basis, because my neighborhood is full of all kinds of folks from elsewhere. My answer is, "here," and then they ask, "where are your parents from?" and I say, "here," and then they get funny looks on their faces. Sometimes they ask, "where were your grandparents from?" and then I can either say, "here," if I really want to befuddle them, or explain that my father's parents were from Austria (my grandmother) and somewhere in Europe that was wiped off the map during the first World War (my grandfather).

#36 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 12:55 PM:

regarding Talking to Strangers:

I'm still adjusting. I grew up in Massachusetts, went to college in Maine, and now live in the lovely mountains of North Carolina. Yesterday a woman in Wal-Mart confessed to me that she was really a kid at heart, while she played with Looney Toons talking plushes and exclaimed her delight. The politest thing I could think of to say to that was, "That's okay. So's my husband."

I think she caught the accent and realized she was being friendly to a Yankee. When I saw her next, she was avoiding eye contact.

It's quite an adjustment. The most I ever spoke to a stranger (unless I was working, that is) while in public was if I accidentally stepped on them at the local Borders.

#37 ::: Catie Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 01:23 PM:

Ayse, Yoon, I have a girlfriend of mixed ethnic descent who's rather exotic-looking, and the first time I met her in real life (I'd known her online for some time and had no idea what she looked like), I asked her what her ethnic background was. She gaped at me, because I was the first person who'd ever asked her that question in a way that made sense to her. Usually, she said, people asked her, "What are you?"

She said she typically said, "A human being," or, "A woman," to that question. Which seemed like the only reasonable answers, to me!

#38 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 01:30 PM:

Melissa, I wonder about that too. The Internet has done good things for my life, but it's not a complete substitute for hanging out with friends in person. Loneliness and alienation are occupational hazards for writers at even the best of times.

#39 ::: John Scalzi ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 01:42 PM:

PNH notes:

"The Internet has done good things for my life, but it's not a complete substitute for hanging out with friends in person."

Heh. Some of us have to commute to do that. I love my five acres out in the country, but hanging out with others of my kind is fun too. I may have to up the number of cons I hit in a year. And take up drinking!

#40 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 01:46 PM:

This is a revelation. I always assumed people writing in coffee shops were doing it because they were caught short. I mean they were out, and they had to write something down, and they saw the welcoming light.

I've written lots of poems and bits of dialogue and cryptic notes like "Dog!!! On boat, later!" in cafes, and on park benches, and sitting on walls, and in children's play areas, and launderettes, and public conveniences and... not usually very much, just enough to keep me going until I got home.

The ones with laptops, I thought were just strong and organized, or maybe electronic nomads like Cory Doctorow and Jonathan Evans.

I had no idea people did that on purpose.

Oh, and if anyone is caught short and writing out somewhere and someone interrupts the way Ayse describes, they almost always ask what one is writing about. I've found that the answer "Cows!" works very well to get them to go away, and it was even true the first time.

#41 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 01:54 PM:

Ayse, Yoon, Catie: part of that is generational rather than regional, I think. I used to really enjoy bedeviling my grandmother when I was in college. "Manivanh? Where's she from, honey?" "Apple Valley," I would say. And she would give me a look like I was being difficult and say, "Oh. But where are her parents from?" "White Bear Lake."

It's entirely possible to be ethnically taciturn and still chat with strangers, Ayse. ScanAms have a gender divide on chattiness, but even the men will talk to me in the hardware store: "You gettin' that gravel for your driveway? How big a driveway? What's the slope on it? Have you tried this kind? Your first winter back? Well, welcome home!" Etc. My theory is that both the polite public chattiness and the reticence on more personal topics are to keep us from murdering each other if we should get snowed in together.

Melissa, I've found that the internet is very useful in finding me people to hang out with in person. It doesn't always work out, but I've made several in-person friends with their and my journals as kind of a screen or introduction. E-mail is much less intimidating for me than, say, a phone call -- I know that there are lots of cool writers and fen in the Twin Cities who are in the phone book, because they're not "that kind of" famous. Nobody is mobbing them in the grocery store shrieking their name. But I still wouldn't cold-call someone to tell them I liked their books. I would e-mail, though, and sometimes that becomes a conversation which becomes an invitation to dinner or coffee or something.

Maybe I'd feel differently if I'd ever had an adult social life pre-internet, but I would be terrified to have to call up some local fan group and just show up at a meeting cold. By the time I meet someone in person, I've usually exchanged a few e-mails and feel a little more secure.

#42 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 02:12 PM:

Patrick:

As you know, I have no social life (my daughter has one, instead, and I live to service it). But in my pre-parent days, which also correspond pretty much to my pre-Internet days, I hung out a lot more. And I miss it, though it has less to do with the rise of the internet than the growth of my child.

I also think that as people move to different stations in life, their social patterns change. When I was single and all my friends were single and none of us had children, we hung out a lot more, even though we never seemed to really have enough money to spend on food or entertainment.

When we got more successful and or married and or spawned, we actually hung out less, because we had more or more complicated responsibilities. And people began to move away for various reasons. So the social group of which I was a part slowly disintegrated. I'm sure that also contributed to what the author was talking about.

Most people change over time. My brother, who just turned 39, told me a few years ago that he rarely spent any time with his closest buds from high school or college. Because they just wanted to go to bars and watch sports, and he wasn't into that anymore. It wasn't just that he'd gotten married--some of them were married too--but that his interests had changed.

It may be that certain writers/people are affected more deeply by shifts in social patterns than are others. We've talked, from time to time, about writers and depression and writers and high-functioning autism. If it takes a person a long time to make a friend, and that friendship eventually dissolves, it can be very difficult to make replacement friends.

In that, however, the internet can actually be helpful. As you know, Bob, I am one of those slow-to-make-friends (mild Asperger's/gifted weirdo) types; I don't do smalltalk well, for instance, and I often open-mouth-insert-foot. Some of my closest friends are people I first met through the internet. Because we could communicate through writing/discussion/argument, which I can do reasonably well, we circumvented many of the to-me awkward first steps of friendship.

I'm not saying that this is a substitute for face-to-face relationships, which I both enjoy and miss. At a family dinner last week, I realized that it was the first time in months I'd been in a conversation that didn't focus on work or child behavior/development/school and included more than two adults.

Just musing, and in a not very organized way, sorry.

#43 ::: Ray Radlein ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 02:44 PM:

I think she caught the accent and realized she was being friendly to a Yankee. When I saw her next, she was avoiding eye contact.

It's quite an adjustment. The most I ever spoke to a stranger (unless I was working, that is) while in public was if I accidentally stepped on them at the local Borders.

I guess that there are plenty enough Yankees here in Atlanta that no one would ever stop chattering away at one. As for stepping on, or being stepped upon, the South shares with Canada the delightful trait that the person being stepped upon is almost certain to apologize for having been stepped upon.

Having grown up in Tampa, lots of Southern Purists doubt my Southernness; but one part of the test that I've always passed is that when someone bumps into me in a crowd, I apologize (I also use "ma'am" and "sir" unironically, open doors for people of either gender, and understand that "y'all" is a second person plural).

#44 ::: jane yolen ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 03:14 PM:

I don't like to write in coffee houses or semi-public places. Admire those who can. I need quiet--no music, no cups of tea sloshed down in front of me, no conversations near me (which I invariably listen in on), no distractions.

Jane

#45 ::: ariana ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 03:24 PM:

Thank you for replying, Melissa, with:
"The group shrank and eventually disappeared entirely. The writer-who-was-telling-me-about-this said that this was the point at which he became an alcoholic, since he was conditioned to go out drinking once a week, and without the guys around he did a lot more drinking and less talking and eating."

If only they had been hanging out in coffee shops instead!

I would be very interested to know if others had similar stories. In my frame of vision, many of the most vocal writers are "writers".

As Mris wrote:
"As for being seen as a writer vs. being one, I've accidentally gotten a good half dozen friends to stop referring to themselves as aspiring writers, because I actually wanted to talk about what I was writing, where I was sending it, etc., and they just wanted to talk about how awesome their novel was going to be once they wrote something other than the dramatis personae."

I've had trouble finding writers in the outside world who actually DO write. I am fortunate enough to have found one, and we have weekly "Guess who just rejected me!" sessions. Not to sound whiney (one close writer friend/$150K advance?), but I really would LOVE to find three or four more.

Hrm, yeah, that's whining. Sorry about that.

#46 ::: Tamara Siler Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 03:39 PM:

I'd be lost without my internet "writer buddies". I bump into other writerly folks and people in the biz at conventions, but have zippo in my "real life". Only the hubby & kid, extended family, a couple non-writer friends and, of course, the cats.

The cats aren't much for conversation, but they do keep a lap warm. ;)

While writing is certainly a solitary activity, sometimes it's nice to talk shop without the muggles looking at you like you've lost a couple more widgets. That's the big reason I've started going to the cons: to meet others of my kind and commisserate over such fascinating topics as marketing strategies, plot dissections and where the cons suite ogres have hidden the black forest cake. ;)

#47 ::: Damien Neil ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 03:40 PM:

I like coffee shops. I take a Japanese class in one. We used to meet at a language school, until my teacher quit working for them. Then we met at an office shared with a few other language teachers, until they raised the rent. Then we met in a classroom at a Buddhist temple, until the new management kicked us out. Now we order drinks and claim a table in a quiet, well-lit corner of a local coffee shop. Somehow this has been my favorite classroom to date, even if it isn't the quietest or most free of distractions.

Lots of people with laptops there. (Including me, on occasion.) The free wireless probably has something to do with that.

No hot monkey sex yet, though.

#48 ::: Stephanie ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 04:22 PM:

Our local coffee shop got WiFi recently. That's OK, though, because it's not free, and no one -- least of all the employees -- can figure out how to use it.

My writing group meets there once a week. In very bad weeks, it's the only time any of us gets any writing done at all.

#49 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 04:47 PM:

I learned to write in the very noisy middle school cafeteria during lunch--sometimes in the endless line--and have the opposite problem of needing peace and quiet, i.e. if I'm off writing, you can be talking to me and there will be a 5 minute time delay (sometimes longer or shorter, depending on how hard the person is trying to get my attention) between anything addressed to me and my response to it. I hear it as it comes in, but it doesn't seem to reach active processing until after that delay. It used to drive my sister nuts (she would say, "Yoon! blah blah blah" then start counting to see how long it took me to respond).

There's something very nice about meeting with other writer-folk in person, but I'll take what I can get, which is internet. Unless anyone on Making Light is in the Tri-Cities region of Washington state, in which case I'd be happy to meet up for tea or poison-of-choice some evening. :-)

Catie, Mris: Generational makes sense, actually. Hadn't thought of that. Makes me wonder what kinds of questions my daughter will get (though it's too early to tell what mix of features she'll have--my husband is Caucasian mostly by way of Germany).

I'm also reminded of being asked by Korean family friends about my boyfriend (now husband) back in college. "What race is he?" "Oh, he's half-German." After a pause: "Half-German and half-Korean?" "Oh, no, no, sorry. Half-German and half-generic-Caucasian."

Then again, I got a fan-email a few years ago from a half-Korean half-Egyptian USAn living in New Jersey or Pennsylvania or something like that. Wonder what he's up to now. :-)

#50 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 05:54 PM:

Huh. I've used laptops (and read books) in lots of coffee shops and, so far as I can remember, nobody's struck up a conversation with me, let alone offered hot monkey sex in the bathroom (why monkeys? is their sex hotter than other animals? how?). I must be doing something wrong. As we travel a lot I'll no doubt be using my laptop in more coffee shops (ghu bless WiFi) so any and all tips are welcome.

MKK--must think more about types of communication and their influences (phone, internet, in-person...)

#51 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 05:55 PM:

Yoon, my husband has a cousin who's ethnically Korean (adopted). This cousin's Caucasian wife constantly gets people walking up to her in supermarkets and such saying, "Where did you get your babies?" or "Where did your daughters come from?" I hope your husband doesn't have that. It's obnoxious. (My cousin-in-law-in-law says things like, "At your age, if you don't know, I'm not explaining it to you.")

#52 ::: Stephan Zielinski ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 06:49 PM:

Re: stupid ethnicity questions...

One of my closest friends, a very dark-skinned Dravidian by way of Malaysia, married a very pale Jewish woman. They have two kids. The kids have dark skin as well.

She's gotten used to total strangers wanting to know if they were adopted or something. But one woman pushed it too far-- she asked, "Are those your kids? I mean, yours, as in came from your body?"

So she said, "Well, they're definitely my *husband's*, but I'm not sure they're mine."

#53 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 07:47 PM:

Well, the only writing I have to worry about (for at least the next five weeks) is my senior thesis....

My kids, however, like having me read to them... as often as possible.

My son, 7, actually has a variety of choices for books... but my daughter (4) doesn't like change, and keeps bringing me the same book. Every day.

Now, I have to read the book to her as a goodnight story-- along with the bedside table full of plastic dinosaurs.

Thank you, jane yolan. :)

#54 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 08:16 PM:

Yolen, rather.

I can do vector calculus, and derive complex signal processing formulas... but couldn't spell to save my life.

#55 ::: Jaquandor ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 10:39 PM:

When I was doing a lot more writing longhand, I used to go to the cafe at Borders or the library occasionally, just for a change of scenery. A big factor was that when one's day job involves sitting at a desk staring at a computer all day, it's kind of hard to come right home and do it again for the de facto second job. Going elsewhere to write helped in this regard.

#56 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2004, 12:12 AM:

Also, am I one of the last three people on the planet with a laptop who works longhand?

Definitely not. The "notebook" I mentioned earlier was a paper one. I don't actually own a laptop computer, because I prefer typing on a real keyboard, and much as I love connecting with people through the Internet, I don't want to have a computer with me all the time.

I'm being dragged kicking and screaming into the mobile generation this summer, as my future grad school home is requiring me to buy a laptop equipped with wifi. It almost makes me want to change my mind and get a degree in ceramics.

I, a middle-aged white native New Yorker whose family has been in the US for right around 100 years, also get the "where are you from?" question on a regular basis

The irony of Midwesterners asking me about my ethnic background as if my family were relative newcomers around these parts is that at least part of my family was here before any of the transatlantic crossings. Of course, my dad is a foreigner and I've got this funky-ass Middle Eastern name, so I think I get reset to "first-generation American or possibly immigrant" because of that.

(why monkeys? is their sex hotter than other animals? how?)

I don't know if it's hotter, but some suggest it makes you smarter (?).

(That last link is not work-safe.)

#57 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2004, 01:11 AM:

Ayse: I don't actually own a laptop computer, because I prefer typing on a real keyboard, and much as I love connecting with people through the Internet, I don't want to have a computer with me all the time.

I miss typewriters, because that's what I learned to type on, and there's something satisfying about the clacking and tactile feedback. I remain convinced that playing piano and keyboarding are entangled in my hindbrain. If I could justify getting a manual typewriter when I finally have a laser printer, I'd do it. I use an external keyboard with my iBook because its keyboard gives me fits and also for ergonomic reasons (I use an iCurve--not perfect, but it's one of the laptop stands that lets you put the keyboard directly under the upraised computer, which is helpful when your eyesight sucks).

May you find a laptop that doesn't give you the screaming fits. I found portability was really handy when I was dragging my laptop from my student-teaching placement to classes (where everyone else had the smarts to get Airport/Wifi so they could check email during certain lectures; I had to settle for reviewing hiragana/katakana and learning Dvorak for kicks) to my sister's dorm to my own dorm. Any laptop that survived being jounced around in a bike basket at least twice a day in a non-hard case is good in my book. (Though it still has nothing on the PowerBook 1400 for durability; I'm sure there are hardier laptops, but those are the ones I've, ah, been clumsy with.) Now that I'm not biking madly all over that campus anymore, I find I'd like, of all things, a desktop system. Heresy, heresy...

Now all I need is to bite the bullet and buy a clipboard instead of using the backs of notebooks for hard surfaces, and I'll be set.

#58 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2004, 01:32 AM:

why monkeys? is their sex hotter than other animals? how?

My guess is that monkeys are human enough that we can identify with them, but animal enough to bring on the whole "sex is an animal thing" hangup.

#59 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2004, 03:30 AM:

Would someone please tel me which coffee shop it is where all the sex is going on? It sure ain't mine. Actually, I've been going there for over 7 years now, and I believe that once or twice such a thing may have happened. But if any clandestine activity is happening there, it's usually smoking pot, snorting coke, or even shooting up heroin, with or without falling asleep on the toilet afterwards. Needless to say, this sort of thing is on the DL, but hey, it is New York City.

As for striking up conversations and making acquaintances: There are whole books on the art of doing this, for those who feel unable to pull it off. They make for interesting reading. I used to feel shy about talking to people, but now I find it fairly easy a lot of the time. One important thing is to start off innocuously, and build from there. Another is to ask questions that will demand more than a yes or no answer. For example, "Do you like that book?" is not as good as "What's that book about?"

If, as I do, you frequent the same place day after day, you will end up seeing other people who do the same thing. Quite a few men and women who I now consider friends are people I would see around without speaking to them for sometimes months. Eventually, we would realize that we recognized each other and nod or say hello. Only then did I introduce myself and strike up a conversation. By then, the momentum of the relationship was such that it would have been odder not to talk to each other. Others I talked to (or they talked to me) the first time I saw them. Since I often have a stack of manuscript or proofs, people ask me if I'm grading papers, writing a screenplay, etc...

It's like a party: Stay in the kitchen and everyone will wander in sooner or later...

#60 ::: martin ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2004, 06:58 AM:

"If, as I do, you frequent the same place day after day..."

I write in my lunch break in a local biker pub where the coffee's cheap, and the duke box plays heavy rock.

It's not the kind of bar where my colleagues would drink, so it was nice place to be anonymous and get in some quality laptop time.

However, after a few months, my unobtrusiveness has made people more, rather than less, likely to chat to me. I've even made some new friends.

So now I have to be very disciplined and polite about not being drawn into conversations when I need to work.

So, I think Robert L's advice works, even if you don't mean it to!

#61 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2004, 08:32 AM:

Ayse Sercan, I confess I thought your name was a fannish pun pseudonym. Sorry about that.

#62 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2004, 09:50 AM:

For non-extrovert types (and I think quite a few of you are in that category along with me), the Internet can be a joy. Friends eventually move out of town, and now I've moved too, and my current boondock doesn't exactly prompt me to start a social life. I'm also phone-phobic. But my "dual lives" as book reviewer and web-poster of ancient diaries about 1960s psychedelic rock music in San Francisco have brought me into contact with some great people (including a couple of the musicians I admired way back when, as well as writers I like today). As a bonus, even a couple of my long-lost friends found my name online and got back in touch. Kids may take this stuff for granted, but it's one of the things that make me glad I survived into modern times (helping to balance all the negative, depressing stuff I see via the online news).

#63 ::: Becky Maines ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2004, 09:55 AM:

There's a cadre of familiar strangers who work in the Starbucks I go to. One is a professor, I think, based on the books he usually has spread around him; not sure what the other guy is doing on his laptop; and there are two elderly men, father and son, who share the newspaper every day. And me. Others come and go, but we are the regulars. We greet each other with a silent nod, buy our coffee and chat with the counter staff for a minute or two, then settle into our regular spots and work without distraction. More than once, a troupe of teens has come in and started to settle at a table near me, and the manager has politely asked them to relocate to another table: "She's working, please don't bother her." What more could one ask?

Monkey sex in the bathroom? Thanks, no. Too much of a distraction.

I like to write on trains, too; the Acela is great for it, but I do it with a laptop or notebook (the paper kind) balanced on my knees on any train. Something about the rhythm of the motion and the white-noise clatter and rumble.

Pubs are great for writing in the UK; bars in the U.S. tend to be too social. In busy hours, too much loudness and distraction; in off hours, too many lonely people who came there for someone to talk to.

Home is okay, but the phone rings, the FedEx guy buzzes, the Jehovah's Witnesses stop by...I can ignore all that, but the act of ignoring it is in itself an intrusion and distraction. Once I figured that out and went to Starbucks, my productivity went way up.

But Scalzi's right about everything else. :-)

#64 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2004, 10:37 AM:

The whole coffee-shop image vs. reality discussion reminds me of certain Theatre Types I used to know. They would sing at the drop of a hat, as if life were a musical comedy. They seemed to be auditioning all the time for anyone who would listen (and in the case of public transport, those who had no choice but to listen).

Just as nobody has ever had a comely coffee-shop assistant scream, "Take me in the back for wild monkey sex, you Writer you!" I never heard of anyone stopping those thesps mid-Sondheim and saying, "Kid, I'm gonna make you a STAR!"

Either scenario might make for a funny "Mary Sue" parody, though....

#65 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2004, 11:29 AM:

I tend to use starbucks or a local hospitable restaurant for study during examtime. At home, bed is too tempting, at the library, I tend to pick up on every one ELSE studying and get antsy.

I usually don't have my laptop, though, unless I haven't yet printed my notes. In class, of course, I know I wouldn't survive without it. Two weeks while it got repaired, and I chewed through three whole legal pads, nothing on which was as legible as I would, perhaps, like.

#66 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2004, 01:51 PM:

Jo Walton says: "This is a revelation. I always assumed people writing in coffee shops were doing it because they were caught short. I mean they were out, and they had to write something down, and they saw the welcoming light."

I just need to get out of the house sometimes. I take advantage of the particularly mild weather California has by going half a mile down to the strip mall, grabbing lunch at the Boston Market, then sitting outside for 3-4 hours drinking chai and the occasional latte and writing. It's near a Starbucks because I love me the chai, which, like the music and the cigarettes and the sitting outside, helps make me nice and comfortable and contribute to a productive me.

It's not something I necessarily do as a routine, but it is something I do regularly enough to make it a habit.

#67 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2004, 05:51 PM:

BSD: Whew I never thought of that. I'd have been in deep trouble if all the other people studying in the library made me antsy. See, I was working on a Masters degree in Library and Information Science. And I worked in the library. My classes were in the library. I'd get there between 7:30 and 8 in the morning and leave when they turfed me out at midnight. I worked there, went to class there, studied there. Since I was both an employee and a student there I could even have my choice of places to have lunch: employee lounge, library grad student lounge, or the regular student lounge with all the vending machines. Okay, sometimes I'd leave and walk a couple of blocks to the Town Tavern for dinner, but then went right back. I knew which couches on which floor were comfiest. I knew which tables were likely to be empty when, and how to find any book I wanted in the place. If there were no empty tables or chairs, like during exam time, I could always take my books and notebooks off to my desk in my office where it would be very very very quiet at night. I still dream about the place sometimes.

MKK

#68 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2004, 08:48 PM:

Ayse Sercan, I confess I thought your name was a fannish pun pseudonym.

Ah ha ha ha ha!

Thanks for the best laugh of the day.

I'm not an SF or fannish type. I don't even need to take my socks off to count the number of SF authors I've read. On the other hand, over the years I have been given a number of books about some chick called "Ayesha" by people who are amazed that a real human being has the same name as a storybook character. I keep meaning to read them. Maybe someday when I get over being shocked that the average American doesn't know how common it is for practitioners of a religion to name their children after important people in its history.

#69 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2004, 10:21 PM:

I am from New York. That has as heck of a lot more to do with my identity than the fact that my grandparents are from Eastern Europe. Oh, when I'm asked my ethnic background, I don't make a big deal out of it - I like to be accommodating - I answer the question. But, truly, I realize that I use "New York Jew" in the same way other people use their ethnicity or race,.

I've been known to bring my laptop to a coffee shop, but I mainly do it at places that have Wi-Fi connections, and I'll be the first to admit that when I'm there, I'm doing one of the following:

- Trying to download Internet porn without getting caught out by the staff.

- Getting into witty IM exchanges with my pals, like this:
ME: BITE ME!
PAL: No, YOU bite ME!
ME: You.
PAL: No, you.
ME: No, you.
etc.


MDČ: By the way, does writing in the underground on a notebook with a pencil still count as posing - wouldn't want to be mislabeled as one of those pseudo-writers. You see, my ego won't stand it anymore now.

I think the next time I bring my laptop to a coffeeshop, I'm going to wear black jeans, black boots, a black turtleneck sweater and a black beret. And I'm going to , and to pretend to be furiously writing, while emitting the occasional world-weary sigh in the midst of the smoke of smelly French cigarettes.

Le despair. Le futility of it all.

#70 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2004, 11:29 PM:

Le frigging proofreading boner.

#71 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2004, 11:36 AM:

'I think the next time I bring my laptop to a coffeeshop, I'm going to wear black jeans, black boots, a black turtleneck sweater and a black beret. And I'm going to , and to pretend to be furiously writing, while emitting the occasional world-weary sigh in the midst of the smoke of smelly French cigarettes.'

whoa, bad acid flashback there, I once started strangling my roomate when I was on 19 hits and he had the temerity to tell me "You know Bryan, next year I think I'll grow my hair out, dye it black, have it hang to the left, wear black turtlenecks and a beret and be an R.E.M freak or something."

and that was back when R.E.M was good.
didn't strangle him all the way finished though, so that was okay.

#72 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2004, 02:48 PM:

Posing as a writer in a coffeehouse in the hopes of wild monkey sex is just stupid. I mean, everybody knows it's musicians who get all the action in coffeehouses.

(It worked for me, anyway. And I was a wicked mediocre musician when my wife-to-be sent me a drink in the place I hosted my open mic - and not even on a night I was playing, either.)

#73 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2004, 06:36 PM:

Well. It's the baristas who get all the hot steamy love—aren't they hired for charm everywhere?

Seattle nostalgia: Gosh, I miss the Last Exit.

#74 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2004, 11:50 PM:

I'd say about half the baristas in my local are musicians. Some of them are even good musicians. You figure it out.

#75 ::: Robert A. Sloan ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2004, 12:33 PM:

Laptops and coffeehouses -- I take the annual "National Novel Writing Month" at Nanowrimo.org as an excuse to a) buy a t-shirt, and b) get a novel's rough draft done in an atmosphere a lot like entering the Boston Marathon. This may be the exception to the coffeehouse-laptop thing in itself, because doing that in November will throw you into the company of a lot of other prospective novelists. Cheering the rest on will get me a cheering section for my progress, judged strictly on quantity. Everyone has fun. It's a neat thing to do and at least one nanowrimo winner has sold a book pro, something founder Chris Baty naturally posted with pride. Most of its veterans are still in rewrites, including me. But it's loads of fun and a great excuse to get some writing done.

The only other time I did, a couple of nights at an ihop, I was doing nonfiction articles to spend my waitress ex-girlfriend's breaks with her. I got interrupted a couple of times by her friends asking what I was writing but otherwise had several uninterrupted hours offline and endless coffee. It hurt my back but staying offline was good for productivity.

Maybe it's all in attitude about it. I've got a decent batting average for short pieces submitted and short pieces accepted, if I get even close to that with novels in legitimate small press and pro publishing I'll make a good living. I'll have fun along the way too. If I ever do a "writing book" it will probably be motivational though, because I write motivational articles to cheer up and produce way, way too many of them. :)

Robert and Ari >^..^

#76 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2004, 09:09 PM:

As I posted on the original piece, for some of us, home is not a quiet retreat where we can do our writing, hidden from the vagaries of the world. Two hours at Starbucks is two hours where nobody is playing a loud computer game right next to me, nobody is asking me questions about the grocery list, nobody is shrieking at her brother, nobody is reading over my shoulder.

#77 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2004, 08:57 AM:

Oddly enough, novelist Madeleine Robins, mother of two highly voluble daughters, has made almost identical points about why she writes in coffee shops.

#78 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2004, 05:53 PM:

Mitch Wagner wrote
Le frigging proofreading boner

Which, for some reason, has me giggling madly as I prepare for yet another round of "Yes, I know you like your way better, but my editorial changes are correct," with Our Co-publishing Colleagues.

Mitch, is that, like, when you're so excited by the joys of proofreading footnoted nested citations in quotations of legal material that you need to leave your desk for some nice, cold, bracing air?

...Sorry. I'll return to explaining the difference between "voltage generator" and "generator voltage" now, giggling quietly all the way.

#79 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2004, 09:23 AM:

jennie - If you are using the word "boner" as a synonym for "penile erection," then I am shocked, SCHOCKED at your adolescent language.

I prefer the words "chubby" or "woody" myself. Or "one-eyed trouser snake."

#80 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2004, 02:23 PM:

Not so odd, Patrick (though I know you know that); until the soundproof invisible-to-children work bubble is invented, Starbucks will have to do.

#81 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2004, 02:41 PM:

Mitch, thanks. You've expanded my adolescent bathroom-wall vocabulary. I apoligise for my own sophomoric semantics (and can anyone tell me why sophomores have more juvenile minds than, say, froshlings or third-years?)

Truth be told, if I were creating a dictionary of slang, I'd have given "penile erection" as the primary definition for boner. But the authorities indicate that I'd probably have been wrong.

o.k. here's what the online authorities say:
The Slang Dictionary gives "boner (noun, count) erection Term not heard much today"; however, Merriam Webster's Collegiate, 11th ed. gives "n. (ca. 1899) 1: one that bones 2 a clumsy or stupid mistake; also HOWLER 2 3: usu vulgar : an erect penis". The Nelson Canadian Dictionary gives only n. Informal. A blunder or an error.

Sigh I used to have such a clean mind.

Enough applied lexicography. Back to the kiddie books.

#82 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2004, 03:57 PM:

"Term not heard much today" in 1899? It was quite thriving among 11-year-old boys on Long Island in 1972.

It's such a wonderful word for that biological phenomenon.

The verb form is, "Pop a boner," which is not a synonym for the male orgasm but rather a synonym for the word from "Wayne's World": "Shwing!"

#83 ::: colleen @ del rey ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2004, 06:34 PM:

Okay, everyone, go back over to whatever, cos John's got even MORE writing advice... and if possible, its even funnier than his previous writing advice.

Choose:
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Even larger type, with serifs

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.