This is the second or third time I’ve started today’s post.  Hopefully this one will take….  I have snippets of ideas for today, but nothing that seems willing to cohere into a full post.  So it looks like you’re going to get snippets.

Snippet 1:  I started today by writing about ritual.  My girls both start school tomorrow, and I’ve been reflecting on all the back-to-school, end-of-summer rituals that we go through in our household, from shopping for school supplies to taking a First-Day-of School picture of the girls the morning of that first Monday.  We have photos going back years, marking their growth, their different hair styles, their favorite clothing at any particular age. 

And I thought it would be fun to write about my work rituals, the things I do every day to stay productive and positive in my work.  Turns out though that they’re more like routines than rituals and they’re really not very interesting.  In fact, they’re about as mundane as you can imagine.  And in a way there is some value in pointing that out.  This is not glamorous work.  I sit and I write.  I do a bit of research, I read other books, I check my email and comment here at MW.  But there’s not nearly enough there to make a post. 

That said, though, I should mention one crucial daily ritual.  At the end of the day, just before I get up from computer and start being Dad and Husband again, I back up the day’s work.  I put it on a flash drive and on an external hard drive.  Every day.  You should do that, too.

Snippet 2:  It’s common these days for professional writers to speak ill of Google, and particularly of their book project — their effort to digitize every book in existence.  Google has done this with some books that are still in print and still covered by copyright protections, and the resulting lawsuit and Google Book Settlement have been in litigation for ages now.  I see great danger to writers in what Google wishes to do, and I think it is going to force all of us into a lengthy and painful re-examination of the very meaning of copyright and intellectual property.

That said, Google’s digitization of old and out of print books — volumes that are no longer covered by copyright protections — is an invaluable tool for writers doing research on the web.  The other day, as I was searching for information about pre-Revolutionary Boston, I stumbled across something utterly priceless.  I had been trying to find any information I could about a gentleman named Stephen Greenleaf, who was the Sheriff of Suffolk County in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the 1760s.  And I had found nothing beyond descriptions of specific things he did in enforcing royal decrees.  Nothing about his personal life, or his personality.  Nothing about what he looked like, which would have been enormously helpful. 

Until….  A cryptic Google search reference led me to a book published in 1915 that mentioned Greenleaf.  I clicked on the link and found the table of contents and then a list of illustrations.  Including an illustration of Sheriff Greenleaf.  I clicked on the appropriate page, and it took me to the drawing.  Suddenly there he was, staring out of the page at me.  Without Google, I never would have found this. 

Snippet 3:  The Google thing is just one example of ways in which we live in a wondrous age.  Yes, I know:  our world is filled with problems.  The technology that surrounds us every day often seems more like a curse than a boon.  But a few days ago, while reading a history book about Boston, I stumbled across some information of great importance to my Thieftaker books.  Really big stuff that would mean extensive rewrites on book one and a serious rethinking of book two.  I had many questions, and didn’t know who could answer them.  I live in a small university town and there is no one here with the level of expertise I needed. 

But I knew the name of the author of the book in question, and I knew that he was an emeritus professor at a college in California.    It took me about three minutes to find his email address.  I sent him a lengthy email apologizing for disturbing him and asking him my questions.  I figured that maybe I’d hear back from him in a couple of weeks.

His email arrived the following morning.  It was gracious and unbelievably informative, and it included an invitation to write back with any other questions I might have.  And in a PS he mentioned that he had mentioned my email to his son, who reads SF and fantasy.  His son, it turns out, is a fan of my work.  It is, indeed, a small world after all.

That’s about all I have to offer today.  As I said:  snippets.  But these are the things I’m thinking about.  I’m working, and starting to enjoy that again.  I’m watching my girls grow up and am blown away by how quickly times slip by.  I’m fascinated by this wondrous and great and terrible world in which we live, and by the changes I’ve witnessed in my 47 years.  Those are the things on my mind right now.

What’s on your mind?  What are you thinking about this Monday morning?  Care to share a snippet or two?

David B. Coe


18 comments to Snippets

  • I agree with you entirely when it comes to the value of Google digitizing old and out-of-print material. I have been chasing the history of a particular sailing ship that was built in 1813 and am still astounded by how much source material I have been able to uncover. And ever time I make a slight change to the wording in my search, I find new stuff. Just last week I found several entirely new data points regarding this ship, and I’ve been at this (on and off) for over two years. Astounding!

  • At the end of the day, just before I get up from computer and start being Dad and Husband again, I back up the day’s work.

    I email the most recent version of my WIP to myself every night. Not only is it saved away from my computer, but it’s handy if I’m away and need to access it for any reason.

  • As I’m waist-deep in revisions right now, my writing routine is different from what it would be while composing the initial draft. Add to that the fact that school doesn’t start for another few days, and most mornings are spent trying to wake up. Once school starts, I’ll be forced to wake up and thus, I’ll hopefully be more productive.

  • Good morning all! Snippets. Great topic David, especially for me today as I am having brain farts. Hmmm.

    Okay — advice first: Remember to be kind to (and about) other writers. You may meet them on a panel someday and they may remember you. Or they may review your book on their blog. Or they may help or hinder your career in any number of ways. Don’t like them personally or how they write? Keep your feelings to yourself. It isn’t that we, as writers and thinking people, can’t have opinions, but that we must use good judgement in how we present those opinions.

    This is very important for me, as I remember faces and names only poorly. (Possibly because I was dropped on my head as a baby.) And because I am so very opinionated that I continuously leave skind marks on my tongue.

    Ritual snippet: Learn that ritual has to belong to you, not you to your ritual. There was a time in my writing career when I wrote in long-hand from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. four days a week, with a break in the middle of the day for the business of writing. Then I’d transpose to computer, doing the first major revision as I went.

    I began to believe that I *needed* that ritual and that I couldn’t write without it. Then my life changed. For one summer, under tight deadline, I had to write when I could–an hour here, two there, between other things. And directly onto the PC. It was horrible. But my writing survived. And got better. Tighter. More direct. The ritual is mine. Not the other way around. That’s my ritual snippet.

  • Good bite-sized chunks of usefulness. Thanks. I have a bunch of similar instances of tracking down experts through the web and getting gracious and helpful responses, a testament to people as well as to the technology they use! My writing rituals are much like yours and even less interesting, and my erratic schedule doesn’t even allow it to be suitably repetetive. The fact that I’m writing this from my campus office sort of proves the point, alas…

  • Edmund, yes, finds like that precious. And it’s good to keep in mind that computers are literal beasts. Switch your search wording, even in a subtle way, and you can open up new doors.

    Misty, I’ve heard of doing this, but have never tried it myself. It’s a great idea. Easy, quick, and a nice way of guarding against house catastrophes.

    Stuart, I can already feel myself being more productive now that the girls are out of the house. I love them very, very much, but they do tend to keep me from working at my best….

    Faith, those are great. I particularly like the ritual advice. I have often found myself being held hostage by my routines and rituals. It’s hard to break out of them, but absolutely necessary. And for the record, you may be opinionated, but the vast majority of your opinions are spot on. Er, in my opinion….

    A.J., that’s a terrific point. The technology is a conduit, but if the historian in question hadn’t been such a fine human being, the connection would have meant nothing. It’s nice that we can retain our humanity even as we float about in a sea of gadgets.

  • David> Great post… and timely as classes start for me tomorrow as well. I spent the morning in a workshop (a lecture,really) about “Generation NeXt:” the students I’m teaching. It made me rethink some of the stuff I do teaching, which will eventually get to my writing as I can’t keep the parts of my life separate. What it really made me think about (and this is where it connects to your point) is TECHNOLOGY. Apparently, today’s students need to have fun/stimulating/technological material in order to learn. Plus, they have huge amounts of access (like Google’s book project) to info and so they need filters.

    All of this does make me think about my writing. When I talk to students about how they write, I talk about how *I* write, adn how others write, and how they’re different and how they’re the same. What rituals I have, etc. (And about BACKING UP their stuff, which I need to do more!)

    And I’ll think more about how the net can help with my research into stuff I’m writing about. I do have one colleague here at my school who knows a ton about Fayetteville, and since my novel is set there, that works well for me! 🙂

  • The snippet I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is change. Change can be good and change can be bad, it all depends on how you approach it and whether you’re able to find the silver lining.

    The comment about Google is a really nice example of how current technology is changing everything we do, for better or for worse. Information is easier to come by, but copyrights are harder to protect. It seems that the publishing industry is having a difficult time adapting, but it is in the adaptation that we will (hopefully) come up with a better, more efficient, more equitable approach to the business. Following the status quo leads to stagnation, not innovation.

    On a personal note, I find that I need frequent change to stay focused. That may seem like an oxymoron, but I have to interrupt my own routines and rituals or I can’t concentrate on the task at hand – like when you’re driving home from work and you pull into your driveway, only to realize that you don’t remember the drive itself. For me, change is an essential part of my creativity and satisfaction with my life.

    On the other hand, too much change all at once and I get overwhelmed and stressed out. Maybe it’s a balance thing.

  • Young_Writer

    Small, direct, and very helpful. Thank you, David. I’m goign back to school tommorow as well, and my brain is fried. i’m writing just like this article; about fifty words at a time. Then I’ll stretch or log on Magical Words or another random site about writing fantasty. Especially with this paper job I’ve taken… Soon I’ll be able to get back into 1,000-3,000 words. That is, if I have good Lit and Language Arts teachers.

  • Emily, thanks for sharing your snippets and finding a way to connect them all, something I didn’t do nearly as well as you did. There was a very interesting piece on NPR this morning about the newest generation of 20-somethings and how different they are earlier generations. Not directly related to your new crop of students, but pretty close. It was a morning edition report — you might want to look for it online. Hope this is a great academic year for you!

    Megan, yes! Change for me is often double-edged. Sometimes it’s a technological thing. Sometimes it’s much simpler. For instance, I love watching my girls grow up, seeing how they deal with the new challenges life throws at them, and taking pride in their accomplishments as they move through school and the various rites of passage associated with childhood and adolescence. And yet, I also dread the day when they’ll leave for college, when they won’t be part of my daily life anymore. And I also find that at times I need to shake up my routines, to break myself out of my comfort zone. It helps with my art; it also helps slow down that inexorable passage of time and allows me to enjoy the little things a bit more.

    Alexa, glad you found the post helpful. Thanks for the comment. I go through phases where I can only write a bit, and then I find my rhythm again and I’m back to my usual pace. You’ll be back up to 3,000 words in no time. Best of luck with the new school year.

  • One thing that has been on my mind a lot lately is the fact that I have to deal with the side effects of an MS episode right now. I have lost feeling in my right arm and hand, and I have double vision in my eyes. The lost feeling just means I have to be more mindful when I type, since typos abound if I’m not paying attention. The double vision necessitates the wearing of an eyepatch and does bring up depth perception issues (and pirate jokes), but the eyepatch means that I can show up for work and get paid.

    And all of this means I theoretically have more time for writing, but I haven’t quite been able to channel that energy (which definitely exists, I’ve just been bad about actually sitting my butt down to write). I feel great about all of this (the symptoms, not the lack of writing) in the circumstances, because I like to be optimistic and I think it’s cool that I can rely on muscle memory to help “normalize” my life. Heat plays a role, too (overheating = bad) so I was delighted to have a conversation with the Beta group about how the weather is in North Carolina in June. I’ve been informed that the hotel for ConCarolinas is quite acceptable, so if things go well for me financially, I’ll be there for my birthday next year. But getting back to my point, now that I’ve found a temporary fix, I just have to use it.

    There have been other thoughts going through my mind … but I have yet to find the right way to put them into words. They involve Twitter. I may just post them to Facebook or to my friends-only LJ, because of how sticky they are and how there seems to be a taboo against speaking of them.

  • Oh, and family has been on my mind. I’ve been meeting and talking with distant relatives, since to me genealogy is pretty cool. But my sisters have no interest, so they can’t understand why I like it so much, and they don’t seem to care much about the historical and (very distant) royal figures we came from. It’s unfortunate, but at least it’s great story-fodder. Or it will be, eventually.

  • The google books thing is a hairy topic. Being a massive long term computer nerd my initial instinct is that information should never be chained down. We always need ways of accessing and distributing information, it does no good having our culture, history and innovations hidden away behind lock and key so no one can benefit.
    Having said that we also need to make sure there is enough incentive for people to release their information, get it out of their heads. In the case of music I think the copyright/piracy thing is quite clear cut: musicians/bands get paid for performing and entertaining not for recording once then living off the fat for the rest of existence. But in the case of an author they can hardly be expected to “perform” on stage to earn their crust. While there would still be plenty of people writing regardless of money (heck I’ve never been paid to write and here I am churning out tens of thousands of words at a time) the quality would probably not be that high (just check out the self published stuff on Amazon). I reckon we’ll end up with serialized writing. People will pay a subscription to Magical Words for example and each week/month get the next bit of completed work by Faith, David, Misty et al.
    Oh and also as a massive computer nerd: back up! The difference between an IT professional and a hack largely comes down to backing up and not backing up. I think the same might be said for writers 🙂 And backing up means on a separate physically located thing, no good if your house burns down and all the copies of your work are lost because they were in the same office.

  • Moira, I’m sorry to hear that you’re having health problems, and I also have to say that I’m amazed by how upbeat you sound in dealing with them. I admire your strength and your courage. I hope that you’re able to translate your more time for writing into productive writing time. Best of luck. And the family stuff sounds very cool. I have no royalty in my ancestry. I could say something here about my daughters being princesses, but I think I’d better not. They might read this….

    Scion, I think you raise many good points about copyright and piracy. I have to say though that I don’t see any difference between copyright protections for musicians versus those for writers. Yes, it’s true that I don’t perform and so can’t make money that way. But I’m not a musician. In my opinion, the fact that musicians can make money on stage should do nothing to void the copyright protections for their recorded music. But we’ll have to agree to disagree on that

  • Sorry, I wasn’t trying to say musicians shouldn’t get ownership over their intellectual property. I was trying to say they have a way of using their property to make money despite piracy, whereas a writer would need to be more creative if piracy became too large an issue.
    Mind you maybe live writing could become a spectator sport in the future?
    Imagine live fiction contests with time limits, fiction rules, themes and teams. Perhaps the writers teams could include actors or animators who, as the writer writes bring the story to life with visuals and sound…

  • I reckon we’ll end up with serialized writing. People will pay a subscription to Magical Words for example and each week/month get the next bit of completed work by Faith, David, Misty et al.

    Everything old is new again, huh? 😀 Isn’t that the way they did it back in Dickens’ day, serializing the chapters and then releasing the complete novel later?

  • No problem, Scion. As I say, there are differing opinions on all this stuff. Sorry if I misinterpreted what you were saying. I love the idea of performance writing, although it will quickly remove the any glamour that is currently attached to the writing profession. Watching me write will be only slightly less boring than watching grass grow. 😉

    Misty, yes I do think that’s how it was done in Dickens’ day. He was also paid by the word. A return to that tradition in novel writing might usher in a new age of the big fat fantasy….

  • Thank you, David. At this point, I just take it as it comes. I can’t be pessimistic because it’s not productive. I would rather keep myself open than wallow; it’s just a matter of making things work and adjusting to the new reality, even if that means wearing an eyepatch. I got a thousand words written yesterday, so I’m feeling a little bit better about the writing side of things.

    And every little girl is a princess, of course!