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Writers Write

In a discussion group I frequent, one of the members posed a link, and wondered:

“Not sure if the writers here see the need for this….”

The link was to a Kickstarter pitch for the “Hemingwrite — A Distraction Free Digital Typewriter” which “combines the simplicity of a typewriter with all of the modern conveniences of living in 2014: cloud documents, e-paper display, and full-size mechanical keyboard.”

“Why?” the sales pitch asks.

“Laptops and iPads are multi-purpose devices loaded with games, social media, work email, funny cat videos, and those birthday photos you still need to edit. Like many of you, when we tried to get down to writing, we quickly found ourselves down a YouTube rabbit hole which we rationalized to ourselves as research. Sound familiar? Don’t worry, you are not alone!”

It says the device is a “distraction free” alternative to the “less productive” devices like those yucky laptop computers.

Oh, the horror.

With a $45 (or more) Kickstarter “pledge” ($45 is not nearly enough to get one of these typewriters), they’d send you a “Backspace Key Sabotage Kit” — a “key remover and hammer” (yes, really!) so you can “Eliminate premature editing by eliminating your backspace key!”

The Hemingwrite 'Typewriter'Seriously: I’m not making this up!

Yet they won’t be able to deliver even that for nearly a year!

So how much does this thing cost?

They offered 25 of the devices at a “crazy early” price of $349, 600 more “early bird” sales at $369, an unlimited number at the “regular” price (yet also described as a “deep discount”) of $399, and “early access” to the devices (by one entire month) and a copy of the software developer’s kit (so the buyer can “become part of our exclusive beta testing group”) for 100 people at $499. Yep: you pay extra to be a beta-tester to help their business, rather than do what you set out to do: be a writer!

But hey: it at least supports the Dvorak keyboard layout!

Well, the guy on the forum asked, and I answered:

Oh, boo hoo! I can’t write because I’m SO distracted!

Sheesh.

Writers who have something to SAY sit down and WRITE. The ones who have business sense then PUBLISH. The wanna-bes have “distraction” and “writer’s block” and on and on and on. They “need” to have a broken backspace key to keep them from “premature” edits.

All I can say is …GOOD! They can keep spinning their wheels, and those of us who actually WRITE can satisfy the audience, rather than have more garbage published.

Another member piped in: “Oh, c’mon Randy, don’t hold back. Tell us how you *really* feel.”

Clearly, she knows me well. But you want more? OK! 🙂 I posted:

I lived in LA after college. Lots of “Writers Conferences” there, and I went to a couple.

It was mind-boggling: people sitting around talking about just how COOL it would be to be a successful writer. In other words, wanna-bes, not real writers.

The second one: the same people, with the same wish — months later, and they had made no progress.

That’s all I needed: I spent the time budgeted for writers conferences on …writing!

Devices like the Hemingwrite are a trap: they make wanna-be writers feel like they’re making progress. “If only I had ___, I’d be a writer!” Fill in the blank: “A writer-specific word processor” or “XYZ writing software” or “more time” or “an idea” or whatever — they’d be a writer! And a new company pops up ever day with Yet Another Place for writers to spend money rather than do what writers actually do: write.

If you want to be a writer, you don’t need a Hemingwrite, you need to write. You don’t need special software, you need to write. You don’t even need a computer — Hemingway didn’t! Get some paper and use a pencil or a pen or a quill and some blood and write!

Setting the Mood

Another member piped up in the thread, asking, “How do you set the mood for writing?”

Several weighed in with smartphone applications that make the sounds of a coffeeshop, for those addicted to working at Starbucks (yes, really!) and such. My take on the idea:

I don’t have a “writing mood,” but there are times when I don’t want to write — tired, cranky, feeling ill, whatever.

When that happens, I’ll do something else (like edit) that gets me toward what I need to do. I eventually drop into the groove and get going. “Eventually” means a maximum of a few hours — not days, weeks, or months.

I think it’s a mistake to require something specific to do your job, such as “have to be in a cafe” or whatever (though if you have that need, then faking yourself out with a soundtrack is a good way to start breaking the habit). I’ve written in bed with my laptop (the quietest place in the house), and I’ve written while sitting in the noisy hospitality suite at conferences while keeping one ear on nearby conversations. By “practicing” in a variety of situations, you develop the mindset that you can do your job anywhere — it’s your job!

Imagine a parking valet telling his boss, “I can’t park that car — there’s classical music playing and I only like hiphop.” Or a grocery clerk telling the store manager, “I can’t check that lady out — she has noisy kids that distract me.” Or a bomb disposal expert who says to the Incident Commander, “I can’t defuse THIS bomb: it’s got an electronic timer, and I NEED to hear ticking!”

You’re a writer? Then write. It’s your job.

If music helps you focus, then by all means: play music. But I don’t want to be “dependent” on any factor — music, noises, specific places, temperatures, whatever — to get my job done. I’ve done my writing in the passenger seat while someone else is driving cross-country. On airplanes. On a sailboat in the Caribbean. In Tibet. In China. In a cybercafe in Eastern Europe. And in too many hotel rooms to count, each with different sights, sounds, smells, and other distractions. So, I’ll suggest if you want to write, try to work in different conditions, in different places, so you can get the work done no matter what.

Oh, and the status of the Kickstarter project? It had an audacious goal — $250,000 — yet it surpassed that level handily. With 10 days to go (as of this writing ←heh! See what I did there?), it had broken $322,000, with more undoubtedly to come. There are sucker wanna-be writers born every minute. “I can’t write like THAT, so maybe I can write like THIS!” The truth is, if you’re a writer, then you can write. Period.

Tip: if you really find a laptop too “distracting,” then close your email program, Skype, etc., so no one can interrupt you. If that’s not good enough, or you can’t afford a computer to write on, then you can get portable “word processors” on eBay, like the Alphasmart Neo, often in near-new condition in the range of $25 …with free shipping!

But really: if you want to be a writer, then your job is to write, five days a week (or more: I typically am at it seven days a week). “Distractions” are excuses. “Research” doesn’t count unless you put what you learn to work today, in your writing.

But “Job” Sounds So Icky!

Yep, another member complained that I used that word. Get over it! By “job” I don’t mean drudgery. You want to be a professional writer? Then by definition that’s your “job” — but if you do it right, it’s not “work,” it’s a pleasure. I love my work. If you had told me more than twenty years ago, when I got the idea for This is True, that I’d still be doing it in 2015, I would have been thunderstruck. But it’s so freaking fun that I have no intention of stopping — as long as the readers keep funding it, and I’m healthy, I’ll keep going with it, simply because it is so fun, and rewarding, and enabling to say things I think (e.g., see previous blog entry!)

If you want to be a writer, don’t be a wanna-be. Be a writer: write!

Related Entry: There’s No Such Thing as Writer’s Block

MediumThis essay is also posted on Medium.

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9 Responses to Writers Write

  1. Deanna, Athens OH January 12, 2015 at 2:21 pm #

    Mike suggested I read your blog today and he was right. *gasp* Thank you for taking the time to write this out. I’m going back to hardcore writing after leaving the ministry and then back to school to focus on a Creative Writing degree and LGBTQ studies because there is a need for writing that connects both religion and LGBTQ issues in a positive light.

    Anyway, I think you’re right about writing. It can be difficult, but really you just have to do it. David Sedaris said the same thing when we heard him speak this past Fall.

    Writers have got to write. The rest of you all can just stay out of my way while I figure this thing out. But a writer has got to write.

    For me, I cannot go very long without writing and that was just when I was doing it recreationally. I FELT like I needed to write a story, or journal, or find some random snipit to fall into the page.

    It’s not always fun, but it can always be good.

    Again, thank you for this blog.

    You’re most welcome. Be sure to read the “Related” essay linked at the bottom about “writers block” too. -rc

  2. Ronnie, Ga. January 13, 2015 at 9:25 am #

    I once saw a car with an “I am a published writer!” bumper sticker on it. I’ve published 21 books but would never consider such a thing. You’re right, way too many people want to say they are writers without doing the hard work of actually being a writer.

  3. Tony, Japan January 14, 2015 at 7:02 am #

    As a hobbyist writer, I use a little gadget called a POMERA, maybe only available in Japan, which is basically a fold up keyboard, screen and SD card. Write anywhere, anytime, no excuses. For writer’s block, let me also recommend a website called oneword.com — it is self explanatory, but I have put out four short stories using it, taking only minutes per day.

  4. Faith, Bolton MA January 16, 2015 at 10:56 pm #

    Yes!! A playwright friend of ours, who knows we work with computers, asked us once if he should get a computer to do his writing, as many people had suggested to him. We asked him how he currently does his writing, and he told us he writes things longhand, and then hires someone to come in and type up what he wrote from his longhand pages. We asked him if he was comfortable working that way. He said yes.

    We told him not to get a computer.

    Gadgets don’t make you a better writer. Writing makes you a better writer. Find something simple that works, and keep doing it on as regular a basis as you can manage.

    And don’t start writing today and assume you’ll have the next Great American Novel or next Grammy-Winning Song tomorrow! You didn’t learn to ride a bike the first time you got on, so why do you expect to be a perfect writer the first time you try? Assume you’ll suck at it. But over time, if you keep at it and keep writing more and more stuff, eventually you’ll suck less and less, until some day you’ll write something that will knock your socks off. And then keep going. I’m really happy with a lot of the songs I’ve written so far, having started in 2006. I still write sucky ones, but the ratio of decent to sucky is improving!

    And the Grammy award you’ll eventually get will be made right here in my tiny town of Ridgway, too. Yes, really. -rc

  5. Niall, Ireland January 17, 2015 at 4:19 am #

    I wrote the outline and most of the plot for my first novella in a €1.25 notebook with a 50c pen.

    I also wrote the bulk of that outline sitting on a train late on a Sunday night.

    I love the idea of the Hemingwrite, but I spent YEARS putting off writing because of A, B and C reasons. Then I’d find a set of D-Z reasons after I’d worn out my first set of excuses.

    Sit. Write. Repeat.

    It’s how things get done.

  6. Carol in Chicago, IL January 17, 2015 at 9:41 am #

    Thoughtful and thought-provoking. Substitute “knitter” “artist” or any other creative job for “writer” and it still rings true (although I would not try to paint on a plane) (that’s what sketchbooks are for).

    What is an unemployed philosopher? One who is not thinking at the time.

  7. Tor, Hawaii January 23, 2015 at 12:46 am #

    A backspace key destroyer? That’s rather over the top. I’m sure that for some people having a computer or writing device that minimizes distractions can help, but there are free programs that can provide a writing area only screen and suppress notifications.

    There is a certain minimum equipment that writers need, without which one can fairly say they cannot write. That bar is pretty low though — namely, a way to record strings of characters in the language of choice in a form that will last long enough to be read by the intended audience or transferred by one or more steps to such. For anyone who must do a fair amount of editing of their work in this day and age, (wealthy folk have, ironically, probably more leeway here, being able to hire transcribers) said recording being in the form of bits is probably close to required. From there “need” turns quickly to “want”.

    To be honest, when I write I’d be a little lost without Emacs or something that works similarly. Having learned the original command set (or at least an adequate subset thereof) the more typical CUA command set drives me up the wall very quickly. Emacs cursor movement commands I execute without thought have annoying to dangerous effects in CUA (select all and continue typing, obliterating an entire document is a real possibility). I’m sure I could learn Vim, but I’m not sure I’d be very willing to tolerate much else.

    Emacs, short for Editor MACroS, is a text editor first released in 1976, and purists like to use its command-line (read: not mouse-driven) command system. CUA (Common User Access) is a different command interface that some purists don’t like. -rc

  8. Tor, Hawaii January 25, 2015 at 5:29 am #

    “…that some purists don’t like. -rc”

    Emacs also has the advantage of countless thousands of development hours put into it by the very people using it, people who spend their days editing text and who demand the most efficient text editor they can get their hands on. These days Emacs does support the mouse as well as any other editor, but it isn’t needed.

    CUA is actually the command set most people are familiar with. I used it quite happily (and knew the key commands quite well) before I learned the Emacs command set.

    Now that I’ve done so, not only do I find myself doing things like bring up the print dialog in CUA programs when I only wanted move up a line or two, but I tend to miss assorted commands I’ve grown accustomed to having that I am unaware of existing in other programs — things like capitalize word, that deals with that lower case letter after you’ve broken a sentence into two.

    Emacs does even have a CUA mode for those who prefer that, and though I haven’t used it, I don’t doubt that it is extended enough to be (one of) the most powerful CUA text editing command sets out there. It wouldn’t surprise me if a CUA mode Emacs user still runs a substantial risk of becoming horribly frustrated with the lack of keyboard commands in every word processor out there.

    The Windows text editor I use (Textpad) has keystroke commands for a good number of its functions (e.g., Ctrl-U upper-cases a letter). Sometimes moused-based editing is faster, but usually keystrokes are faster. When you work a lot in a tool, it’s smart to really learn the tool so you can work smarter and faster. -rc

  9. David T. in Hamilton, Ontario February 21, 2015 at 6:46 pm #

    This reminds me of an address Robert A. Heinlein gave at Annapolis in the early 70s. Part of his talk was on writing, mainly because they begged him to talk about it. Heinlein had four rules to become a successful writer:

    1. Write
    2. Finish what you write
    3. Submit what you have written
    4. Continue to submit what you have written until someone buys it.

    Such simple, yet critical, advice. Yet so many don’t follow these easy steps. -rc

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