Writing small blog entries has been satisfying largely because it has yielded the reward of completing things. However, it takes me a relatively large amount of time to blog, especially when weighed against the number of words involved. I wonder whether it makes more sense to concentrate on writing longer pieces.
I’ve been an on-again off-again blogger for over ten years. Writing is hardly a passing interest for me, but I am not one of those people who must write all the time. Writing takes time, and writing well takes continual practice. Not surprising, I get sidetracked, and my blogs remain dormant, often for months on end. There’s not enough time in the day, I complain, especially when my early morning hours, what I have called my “novel-writing time” is devoted to another craft I’d like to practice: programming.
Inevitably, like the prodigal son, I return to my writing places, hoping for reintegration. Usually I do so only when it feels as though my head is going to explode if I don’t write. I know that feeling is a lie; I don’t ever have as many great ideas it seems. If I’m lucky, the few good ideas swimming around in my head are just tangled up in their own convolutions. Writing is for me then the most powerful way of clarifying my thoughts, of getting to the heart of the matter. Words are only approximations for thoughts but they have great advantages. I can share them with others, and they persist beyond my transitory brainstorms.
With forecasts of massive storms for the next week or two, it behooves me to concoct ways to stay cheerful in the face of gray skies and heavy rains. At least it’s not snow, I say to myself. Rain speaks to the limitations of life in the Bay Area, whereas sunny days inspire in me the prospects of unlimited opportunity. OK: slight exaggeration — but I’m already looking forward to the first sunny day after the storms.
Because the Communications of the ACM has so much surprisingly good writing, it has become one of my favorite periodicals. (I say surprisingly because CACM is a technical journal.) Though the journal is aimed primarily at computer scientists, much of the content is accessible to a wider audience. Take, for example, “Mightier than the pen.” Communications of the ACM 52, no. 12 (12, 2009): 112. [closed access, alas], Joe Haldeman’s essay on how the complex relationship he has as a writer with both the computer and pen and paper. I got such a kick out of the essay that I was moved to submit the following comment to the piece:
I identify very much with Joe Haldeman’s “collaboration between pen and computer”. I had to think twice about whether I’d make the same hard decision of computer over pen if one had to choose one and concluded that yes, I’d do the same. I would have wanted to read more about what Mr. Haldeman thinks a world of computers without “a fountain pen [writing] into a bound blank book” would be like. It was only after a family member gave me my first Moleskine journal that I rediscovered what I had lost when I wrote almost exclusively on a computer.
Earlier in the week, I came across an article that I’ve been mulling over the past couple of days. It goes a long way in addressing a problem that I’ve been facing: that of not being able to get started with big writing projects. If you have the same problem, I recommend reading and Tomorrow’s Professor Blog: How to Write Anything and following its recommendations. Here’s an excerpt:
- A much more effective strategy is to make a commitment to regularly devote short periods of time to major writing projects. Thirty minutes a day is plenty, or maybe an hour three times a week. One approach is to designate a fixed time period on specified days, preferably at a time of day when you’re at your peak, during which you close your door, ignore your phone, and do nothing but work on the project. Alternatively, you might take a few 10-15 minute breaks during the day-times when you would ordinarily check your email or surf the Web or play Sudoku-and use them to work on the project instead. Either way, when you start to write you’ll quickly remember where you left off last time and jump in with little wasted motion. When you’ve put in your budgeted time for the day, you can (and generally should) stop and go back to the rest of your life.
I’ve gotten back into reading — and enjoying — short stories. The easiest way for me to settle into a short fiction reading habit is to pick up a random issues from our pile of New Yorkers. Laura and I both recently read David Hoon Kim’s Sweetheart Sorrow. I’m looking forward to reading Q. & A.: Living Language, an interview with Kim, to help me sort out some of my questions concerning the story.
Serendipitiously, Laura had in her backpack my copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.
I remember it to be an entertaining and inspiring guide for writers the
first time I read it over five years ago. Now I’m re-reading Bird by Bird
as I embark on my time of joyful trial and write my first book. The
most memorable phrase from the book is “shitty first drafts,” one I use
with relish to describe the first round of chapters that emerge from my
computer. I’m not overly concerned with my dismal prose since I’m just
trying to get all my thoughts down on paper. Now if I don’t move
quickly to fixing up the words into serviceable text as my first
deadline approaches, the holiday relaxation will begin to wear thin!