Tools Of Mass Creation

In my inbox, another note about the Freewrite, a typewriter-like device meant only for writing. It's pretty cool and the Freewrite Traveler is cooler still, but both are too expensive for me given that I have fountain pens, typewriters, computers, and a phone. There are only so many tools I need. I still want the Freewrite Traveler, but I'll get over that.

Most writers I know are at least a little picky about tools. Partners in my writing group use Microsoft Word. A novelist friend likes Scrivener. When I'm really writing, I use Writer: The Internet Typewriter. I wish I had hundreds of readers who would buy full access to Writer on my recommendation. Fifty dollars for a lifetime subscription? Such a deal.

The Freewrite is advertised as a distraction-free writing tool while Writer runs in a web browser, host to all the distractions known to man and machine. I run Writer in full-screen mode and it's as distraction-free as any tool I own. All its best features are what it can't do. It has:

  • no spellcheck or grammar check
  • no right-click to research
  • no sharing or social media
  • no page numbering or page breaks
  • no way to see inserted graphics (until published)

It facilitates:

  • writing, word counting, editing, and revision
  • minor formatting (unseen until published)
  • cutting, copying, pasting, undoing, and redoing
  • moving the cursor, deleting, and backspacing

Basically, it's a quiet typewriter that doesn't need correction tape.

Austin Kleon has a cartoon I like about all this. Writing is a journey of the spirit and a self-awakening and all that other crap, and how we go about doing it doesn't really matter. Except it does. I really like Writer and one of the first things I ask creative people is to tell me about their tools.

What tools do you use?

Blogs, Generally

I'm five hours away from home, groggy from a terrible cold and medicine I've taken to get me through. I have a cup of decaf for my throat which was so sore that swallowing woke me at four and wouldn't let me get back to sleep. I'm far from home, up early, and laid low by this cold, but have done my three Morning Pages and know the day will get better.

Yesterday, in Cait Flanders' newsletter, was this passage about blogs:

I've been craving stories. Journeys to follow. Even just the "boring" (NOT BORING) updates we used to share on blogs. Like what are you thinking about right now? What have you been curious enough to actually learn more about? And where are the BEGINNERS!? Where are the people who are raising their hands and saying "I have no idea what I'm doing, but here's what I'm attempting and my progress so far"? I miss those days. Blogging was actually fun, back then.

I get that. Almost all the blogs and newsletters I read are very focused and the writer is an expert (if not the expert) on that idea. This is how one builds a platform (ugh) and a following (ugh), through specific focus such as on living frugally, being much more Zen, or retiring early to name a few I have been reading. These are good for now, but I wonder if, like subscribing to Runners World, that focus wears thin. I could only subscribe to that rag for eight months before the same damn run your fastest 5K! article would make me puke.

My interests are general and so I enjoy Austin Kleon's and Alan Jacobs' writings which focus on the lives of their writers. Thoreau was focused on his living near Walden, but really it's a memoir of living. I like memoir. I like blogs that feel like listening to a friend. My friend is a photographer, but that's only a slice of what we discuss. Then there are Genesis, turntables, our shared history, the Thousand Islands, parents and wives, geology, writing, books, friends, and whatever else we think of.

Go back to the magazine comparison. I like The New Yorker and The New York Times, and I love The Sun because they talk about most everything. There are themes and a feel to each, but they range all over. That's what I like and so, this far anyway, that's what I write.

I have my own recurring themes: Morning Pages, reading, teaching, schools, running, and so on, but there isn't just one thing the blog is about.

I'm unlikely to build much of a following or platform that way, but then again, who's to say? I think of the blog like Morning Pages and I'm on the last few lines of page one of three, about to flip over to a clean, blank page two. It's early in the morning. I have only the slightest idea what I will say on pages two and no idea how the thing will end. It's a journey, an exploration, a way of learning. I'm a beginner. I'm by no means the expert, though I'm feeling more confident in my expertise about a few things and maybe they will become the focal points.

I should go. The coffee and medicine have eased some of the pain in my throat. I've done Morning Pages (about how to do Morning Pages away from home) and written this post. It's time to see what else the day has to offer and what I might want to think about next. This is just the beginning.

Process Stories

There are many reasons why I'm not being read by millions. First, I've got a lot to learn before I reach that kind of an audience. I need to learn how to write better (I always need to learn that), how to serve an audience, and how to get the word out. I read a great short piece by Damon Krukowski and was struck by what a fine writer he is, how he does things that I almost understand but can't yet make happen in my writing. I've been reading Dani Shapiro and there's an art and grace to her work that is clearly the result of having put in the work. I need to put in a lot more work before I reach millions.

There are other reasons why I'm not yet a household name (outside my household and that of my mom), but the one I'm thinking of today is how interested I am in process stories. I'm loath to look back and count, but my guess is that I've published at least fifty stories about how I work, tools I use, and even times of day when I'm most productive. It's not that I'm so full of myself (though I am too full of myself more often than not) as much as I love these kinds of stories from other creators and want to tell my own. Austin Kleon often talks about his processes and shares what he has learned of other people's work. Annie Dillard, Anne Lamott, and Natalie Goldberg have written books about process and I've read each of them multiple times. In the words of the great philosophers Depeche Mode, I just can't get enough.

Were I to meet any of these writers I so admire, I would ask them to tell me about their days. When did you get up? Did you make coffee? Do you stay in the house or go out? Do you need to write first thing or does it wait? I'd want to see their writing spaces, ask what word processor they each use, and know what they do about their phones and other distractions. I'd want to know every detail.

There's an entire network on cable (probably more than one) devoted to watching people cook. There should be one on which we watch people write. I want to just see them at work. Ohhhhh, so they keep their back to the window. Interesting.

It's a wonder I'm not a television exec.

Today I'm happy to have heard Chris McDougall, author of Born To Run, Natural Born Heroes, and the forthcoming Running With Sherman describe his process on The Consummate Athlete podcast. McDougall can't write first thing in the morning. Instead, he screws around all day — feeding the chickens, goats, sheep, and donkeys, riding his bike, walking and running with friends, answering email, and calling in for podcasts. Then, at night, having gotten all hyperactivity out of his system, he sits and cranks out work until one in the morning.

This is great!

What excites me is that I could never work that way. I'm a morning person. After dinner my brain turns to sludge even without bourbon. There's just nothing there. (It has been argued that there isn't much there to begin with, but I'll leave that for another time.) In the morning I'm ready to go, can't wait to start. I'm just that way.

As I push on this writing thing, I get nervous that successful writers work so differently than I do. I find myself thinking, maybe I should... There's something to be said for learning from other people's methods — I don't have everything worked out — but the point is to craft my own methods. I'm not going to spend the morning feeding animals (it's not that involved a process to feed two cats and a dog) because I need to start the day with the pen in my hand, the keyboard beneath my fingers, ideas appearing on page and screen as if by magic.

I'm working on the reasons why a million people aren't reading this post. One thing to work on is refining my process. Every time I read or hear of another writer's methods, it inspires but also relieves me of the worry that I'm doing this thing all wrong and should give it up. That's good because because I don't have any kind of future in developing television networks. None whatsoever.

Let's Just See What Happens

Keep going. Don't quit five minutes before the miracle.

The first part of that is the title of Austin Kleon's new book. The second part is my paraphrase of a Dani Shapiro idea. I like both thoughts and how they fit together to inform what I'm doing and trying to do.

Last night's sticky note, a reminder to myself and a start my morning pages, says: The slow work. Just keep doing it and believe in the worth of what I am writing. It's easy to forget that the tiny thing I do today adds to whatever I did yesterday and will be followed by what I do tomorrow. I forget that, especially when I want to be published and successful in this writing thing. Successful? Isn't this successful? Does making money equate with success? If money is success, I may be out of luck. A friend wrote me that "Trying to earn anything from memoir is...well, possible. But it helps if you were raised by religious fanatics in Idaho and wound up with a degree from Cambridge." My degrees are from Onondaga Community College, SUNY Oswego, and Radford University. I grew up in Syracuse. My parents were not fanatics about much of anything. I'm so screwed.

What I'm doing now, writing on this blog, sending out an essay or two, earns me no money and likely won't for a while. I have very few followers on the Twitter account I set up only for writing and connecting with writers. I have just over fifty people subscribed to the blog. These are the facts of my networking efforts. But that is less than half the picture.

I have been writing every single day. A lot of writing. It adds up. The effect is cumulative.

Just now I went out and shoveled the driveway and sidewalks for the second time today. The snow is still falling. I may go out later and clear it again. Then tomorrow morning there will be more snow and I will clear that. The snow will keep coming until it isn't coming any more and we see and feel spring. Each time I clear the driveway is one more push to keep things orderly, to keep going, knowing that the miracle of spring is only minutes away if I squint at my watch just right.