A Little Bit About Writing

I’ve been nattering on about politics and related matters for a while now.  It’s crazy-making because no matter how much sense you might make, or think you’re making, there are a lot of people who basically say “I don’t care, I want it my way!” and ignore everything else.

So I thought I’d talk about writing.

I’ve had a hell of a week in that regard.  Let me explain.

Many folks already know that I had a major (I thought) computer issue earlier this week.  It happened this way.  During the really cold months of winter, rather than turn on the space heater I have in my office, I move my writing upstairs, on a laptop.  The change of venue often kicks loose some ideas, it’s a bit sunnier, and we save on the electric bill.  No real inconvenience, I basically save my work to a floppy (yes, a 3.5 inch floppy, Virginia, they are still made) and carry the floppy back downstairs to transfer the file to my main computer when the story is ready to either print out or submit, at which point I save it to the main hard drive and my handy external hard drive.  So a given file, in this scenario, is saved in four places.

Monday morning was a perfect storm, so to speak.  I’d been working on a novella for about three weeks, a major rewrite, with someone waiting for it, and I finished it Sunday.  Monday morning, early, I made a couple of last-minute grace note touches, saved the final to the floppy, then told the laptop to save it all to its hard drive.  I took the floppy downstairs for the transfer.

First problem.  Cannot open file.  The disc is corrupted.  I tried a couple of things, but no go.  So I grab a clean floppy, head back upstairs to make a new copy, only to find on arrival that the laptop is dead.  Inert.  A few pounds of useless plastic.

Now, this is an ancient laptop, as these things go.  It was a gift from a friend to begin with and I use it seldom, although I have written most of two whole novels on it.  (When our first dog, Kory, was dying, I wrote my one and only Terminator novel on it in the living room, next to her, to keep her company.  I know, multiple ironies in that.)  It wasn’t new when I got it—it had Windows 95 on it—but it’s had a cushy life and hasn’t given me any trouble.  Till now.

Panic, as they say, ensued.  After several more attempts to open that damn file, I resorted to profanity and insane rage against a universe that seemed out to get me.

I posted my problem on Facebook and got the first of many bright glimmers.  People gave advice (although a lot of it centered around saving my work online, which requires technology I do not have with that particular laptop—it’s not connected or, in any practical sense, connectable), condolences, etc.  (Thank you all again, it was very kind and I needed the chin up boost.)

A couple of friends called to offer their services.  Suggestions were made to call the Geek Squad.

I called the Geek Squad, but the $300.00 service call fee stymied me.  I simply don’t have that kind of money just now to spend on spec, on a story that might not sell in the first place, etc.  And we are talking about one story.  Everything else was backed up.

One friend offered to unship the hard drive and see about transferring its contents to another P.C.  I was set to do this—I would have dropped it off tonight—when another friend called to discuss it and made a simple suggestion.  “Did you pull the battery?”

“It’s been plugged into the wall all this time, what difference would that make?”

“Well, most laptops boot from the battery, even if they are hooked to AC.  Pull the battery and it might boot directly from AC.”

I pulled the battery.  The thing came right back on.  Problem solved.  (Thanks again to Justin Olson.)

I have two typewriters in the house.  I have my original Remington Noiseless and I have an IBM Selectric, which needs minor repair (which I now intend to get).  I can go right back to the so-called stone age if I feel I must, even though more and more markets are going to strictly email submissions.  But on paper, typed out, I only have to worry about fire or flood to lose the manuscript.

However, I won’t go that far yet.

So yesterday, I went back to the gym for the first time in two weeks (working steadily on that novella, in the groove, skipping all nonessential activity) and came home intending to get ready for the next story, and I get a rejection in the mail.  Snail mail, yes, from one of the few magazines still doing it the old fashioned way.  I had submitted the problem novella the day before, so I had made my goal of getting it finished and out the door before another rejection came in.

Now I am sitting here procrastinating by writing this.  I have a piece of fiction upstairs that has been through three complete drafts already and I am about to gut it totally and do it from a completely different character’s point of view.  Why?  Because it hasn’t been working.  It doesn’t sing, it can’t dance, even though all the parts are there.  It is not wonderful.

Two things when a story does this—either you have begun it in the wrong place or you are telling it from the wrong perspective.  The first is tactical.  The second is psychological.

The most dramatic approach to story includes telling it from the perspective of the one or ones who have the most to lose.  The ones who are in the greatest danger, the ones risking the most, the ones who by virtue of just showing up will be in the heart of the conflict because the conflict is theirs.  This is hard to do.  It’s natural to avoid pain and discomfort and writers are no different, so often we pick a main character who is safe or at least safer than the others.  There’s a comfort about this character not getting badly hurt.  But it makes for flaccid fiction.

So all week, given the mood I was in, I’ve been thinking about this story as it has been written and trying to find a way to make the main character really hurt.  And everything I come up with feels like artifice.

This morning I wrote the first line from the viewpoint of another character.  The one who really has the most to lose.

I then came here to write this, because I can already sense the knots I’m about to twist my psyche into writing about this guy.  And I’m avoiding—

What?  Pain?  Not mine.  His?  Well…

It’s kind of like bungee jumping.  You know it’s going to be exhilarating, but bringing yourself to take that first step can be very difficult.  Stepping off into nothing, trusting that the way down will bring you what you want—that’s counter intuitive.  Hell, that’s scary.

But once you step off…

Time to go back to the edge.

Published by Mark Tiedemann