The Booze: Michter’s US*1 Kentucky Straight Bourbon I’d heard a lot of good things about Michter’s, so I snagged a bottle while I was at a local shop picking up a cigar for a friend. I cracked it open shortly before writing this, and I quite enjoyed the sweet smell. First little taste, neat, carried
SHE LIVES! (And miraculously is not on fire after I performed minor maintenance.) #motorcycle #honda #shadow #bike #vtwin #lenore A post shared by Mike Oliveri (@mikeoliveri) on Jun 14, 2017 at 6:18pm PDT I find working on my motorcycle both satisfying and humbling. Some of my friends, including those who also ride, are often surprised
It’s National Bourbon Day. Cheers! #bourbon #whiskey #straightedge #cigar #rockypatel #strada #nationalbourbonday A post shared by Mike Oliveri (@mikeoliveri) on Jun 14, 2017 at 8:04pm PDT It’s National Bourbon Day, so I’m sitting here enjoying a tasty glass of Straight Edge bourbon, enjoying a mild thunderstorm and a break in the heat, and hoping this
Scotch and Zen. #scotch #whisky #whiskey #booze #book #zen #thedude #jeffbridges #bernieglassman #drink #reading #bookstagram #leisure #chill #monkeyshoulder #speyside A post shared by Mike Oliveri (@mikeoliveri) on Jun 11, 2017 at 5:16pm PDT The Booze: Monkey Shoulder Scotch Whisky Scotch has been very hit and miss for me, with mostly misses. Some of them are
I lucked into a special deal on the Gurkha Legend at Cigars International, and let me tell you, I’ve been pretty happy with them. They’re not an awesome smoke, but they were well worth the couple bucks a stick I paid for them. They’re a light, creamy, good-for-any-time cigar and they have been easy to share
If you enjoy horror or dark comedy, then you need to check out Santa Clarita Diet on Netflix.
I shotgunned the whole first season in an evening. The best part is each episode is about a half hour long, so the show moves along quickly and doesn’t get bogged down in back story, dramatic dialog, or lingering shots of scenery to create atmosphere.
The plot is fun. Even if you’re tired of zombies, Santa Clarita Diet brings its own spin to the table. And while it’s definitely a comedy, it’s not a rehash of Shawn of the Dead, either. It’s very much focused on how a boring suburban family—including a soccer mom, an aging dad who has lost his cool, and a bored, rebellious teenager—copes with a major, bizarre change in their lifestyle after mom has to eat people now.
Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant play well off one another, and the supporting cast is a lot of fun. The writing is sharp and witty, and the plot teases out just enough back story over the course of the season to keep the audience interested. Nor do the writers make the viewers suffer through an “information dump” episode. There are a few instances the writers appear to set up a trope from horror or zombie flicks, only to take it in a different direction.
Even better, the characters actually grow and change. The first episode dives right in without wasting time on setup. The stakes are raised for the characters throughout the season, both in terms of the family’s relationship and the dangers of their circumstances. While I feel the characters are archetypes reflecting the humorous side of the series, they still evolve with each new challenge.
I’m ready for season two. Bring it on.
The Booze: Templeton Rye (4 year)
I dig bourbon, but I’ve started to flirt with ryes and rye blends and Templeton makes some good stuff. It’s sweet, with notes of caramel and just a bit of a burn when it goes down neat. I’ve tried the six year as well, and my only regret is not trying them side by side.
This is also the first time I brought out one of the Glencairn whiskey glasses I got for Christmas. They claim the shape of the glass concentrates the aroma, and they weren’t wrong. Would I use them every time? Probably not, but I’ll definitely run a few more drinks through them to get a better sense of their nose.
The Book: Dynamic Karate by Masatoshi Nakayama
One of my students was a Shotokan practitioner twenty years or so back, and he loaned me this book. I have a shorter, sort of companion book by the same author, Best Karate Volume 1: Comprehensive. Both books deal with basics and fundamentals, and another student asked why I’d need to read it if I already knew most of what’s in them. The rest, he felt, would probably be specific to Shotokan or at least be handled differently in our style.
I told him that’s not exactly true. Sure, the basic techniques—the punches, kicks, blocks, and stances—are effectively identical, but fundamentals are always important and I’ve already picked up a few differences in language and a few nuances that might help explain techniques to students having trouble picking things up.
In short, even if it doesn’t enhance my own training or karate knowledge, it will at least help my instruction, and that alone makes it a worthwhile read.
I tell my students, “The day you stop learning is the day you stop living.” Practice is important, but studying is also important, especially for advanced students. It applies to more than just the martial arts, too. Writers, for example, should be studying their craft and learning from others. I have friends in their 30s and 40s going back to school and taking new career paths.
It’s never too late.
For the first time in ages, I suddenly find myself forced to sit and relax.
It’s Columbus Day, so I have the day off from the day gig, and it’s Monday, so I have the day off from the night gig. That made it the perfect day to get some new tires for Lenore, and I set the appointment a few weeks ago.
I layered up for a chilly morning ride. The forty-minute trip is the longest ride I’ve been able to make this season, partly because of the old tires and partly because I spent a lot of time ferrying kids and/or gear around. It felt damned good to be on two wheels again, despite the two pinheads who tried to ruin my day by pulling out in front of me.
Bad news and good news at the bike shop. The bad news is my tires didn’t get ordered. I wasn’t looking forward to the idea of burning vacation time to make another trip back, but worst case, it’s doable. Fortunately they had some different tires in stock and, after cutting me a bit of a deal for the inconvenience, it shaved quite a bit of moolah off my original quote.
Works for me.
They only have one service tech, so install’s gonna be a while. One of the parts guys gave me a ride to a Starbucks down the street, and fortunately I had the foresight to bring a Chromebook along. Now I find myself sitting here with time to actually get something done for the first time in a long while.
Where the hell did this year go? I haven’t been on the motorcycle, my writing has suffered, my workouts have suffered, I haven’t touched my camera in over a year, and I have several projects that need to be done at home.
Damn. Something’s got to give.
In the meantime, I have two anthology invitations and several projects that need my attention. Let’s see if I can’t finally put a dent in one.
Labor Day. I guess Summer’s done, then.
This one shot by in a flash. The daily grind of two jobs played a role in that, I’m sure.
My family has gone back in the house, and as I sit here watching this evening’s backyard bonfire die down, I’m thinking about the long list of things I intended to accomplish over the summer. I haven’t finished a single one.
That’s part of why my cigar time is so valuable to me. I’ve talked about it before, how it forces me to slow down and sit still for a while. Sometimes I write a little, sometimes I noodle over work- or family-related things, and sometimes I just plain tune out and chill.
Soon, though, it’ll be too cold. I won’t have this cigar time, and this year that worries me more than ever before. I realize now I need to find a new zen to fill the void. It may be as simple as cleaning the office again, turn it back into a workspace rather than a collection point for all the paperwork and bullshit that stacks up in our kitchen. Reclaim a space where I can spread out with creative and brain fuel rather than chaos and stress.
Or maybe it’s the bourbon and cigar talking.
My last Gurkha Yakuza cigar is burning down with the fire, and I’m not all that sad to see them go. They’re not a bad smoke, but they’re definitely not a casual, anytime cigar for me.
The Yakuza has a medium-full body, with a heavy, leathery smoke that has a subtle bite almost like gunsmoke. Seems rather fitting for the brand. Though the wrapper is on the dark side, it’s not oily or bitter like, say, a maduro, with a lighter taste not indicative at all of what’s to come once it’s lit. And despite the stronger flavor, it doesn’t linger long on the palate or overpower an accompanying drink.
So, while not unpleasant, it demands one’s attention. It’s a quality smoke, like much of the Gurkha line, but not one I’d pass around to my friends who prefer lighter or even flavored cigars. It’ll be one I’d pick up as part of a mixed package in the future, or as a one-off smoke at a shop when I’m in the mood for something heavier.
“Period. Full Stop. Point. Whatever It’s Called, It’s Going Out of Style” is a bit of a mind bender.
My first reaction was, “What? No way.” Then, halfway through the article, I realized the Times had pulled a fast one: they only used a period once to make a point (no pun intended). The rest of the article? Bereft of periods.
And it’s still perfectly readable.
I’ll admit I’m one of those annoying people who writes text messages in complete sentences, and unless I’m in a real hurry I’ll even copy edit the damned thing before hitting send. Am I just doing it out of habit? If so, is it habit of upbringing, or habit because I think like a writer?
Just now I grabbed my phone and surveyed various messages from friends. My first thought: maybe just the avid readers type in full sentences? Not so much. Two guys my age, one a reader and one not, write in full sentences. A few people several years behind me? Not a period to be found, except one case where there were two sentences in the same text. When she didn’t use exclamations or question marks, there was only a period to end one sentence, and the second sentence was left without.
All of their messages make perfect sense, and I’ve long since stopped noticing the missing periods. And they’re using full sentences, not abbreviations and acronyms. (Maybe those died with the death of numeric keyboards and the rise of autocorrect and predictive text? Either way, I don’t miss them.) I don’t get the impression they much care I use periods, and they certainly don’t take them as aggressive or indicative of emotion. Perhaps it’s time to see how our high school students feel about it.
Language has always been dictated by usage. English has changed quite a bit since Shakespeare, as evidenced by Shakespeare presented in its original pronunciation. Check out this discussion and demonstration by the same linguist cited in the period article:
Fascinating stuff, really. Perhaps we’re seeing language evolve rapid-fire before our eyes in the form of digital content.
Perhaps, then, the period is no different from manuscript habits like using two spaces after a period or double-spacing after line breaks. I once drove an editor mad with tabs at the beginning of paragraphs because software handles first-line indents now, and he finds that a lot more flexible with digital publishing. Are they next to go, or is it just him?
That all said, I don’t see the period disappearing anytime soon. I’m sure publishing will be slow to take up such a drastic change, and academia is even slower. I’ll find it hard to give up the period, even if someone somewhere leads the charge to make it official. I’m sure copy editors and typographers are already having heart attacks at the thought of it.
The next generation may not care. If my kid takes up writing like he says he’d like to, how will his habits change within the next 10-15 years?
On the one hand, it may be a function of design. I read about the punctus in a similar article. That thing sounds pretty cool, but it’s long dead. I bet most of you are googling it right now (and look how “googling” has become a verb, even for those goofy people who still do it on Yahoo!).
It’s about more than just readability, too, because most of us have seen variations of this crop up on our Facebook feeds:
I do wonder about the effect dumping the period would have on someone with dyslexia, or other learning disabilities. Or “emerging readers” (elementary students). That might be a question to bounce off the special ed teachers and reading specialists at my day job.
I’m not advocating for or against the period. My gut says, “This is madness!” Yet my brain had no problem processing the article without periods, and I’ve been reading texts and email from people without them for years. We gave up the fight for good grammar in texts and email a long time ago, with exceptions for situations like job applications.
Language evolves, whether oral or written.
Perhaps it’s a matter of ephemera. A text is not meant to last. Neither is a tweet. Nor any other social media output. They’re all mean to communicate something quickly and disappear, despite being stored in a feed until an account is deleted. Even this blog post will scroll on back in time, read for a few days—or perhaps just hours—and quickly forgotten. If it is going to be thrown away or has to be shoehorned into 140 or 160 characters, it really doesn’t matter.
Consider, then, e-books. Are they ephemeral?
“But Mike, books are available forever!”
We’d like to think so, wouldn’t we? Writers love the idea of books stocked in perpetuity, sitting in dusty stacks to be discovered by future generations. With the sheer volume of digital output produced every moment, though, this is increasingly unlikely. I don’t peruse my e-book collection, and I’d hazard to guess those of us who wistfully fondle our bookshelves are very much in the minority.
It’s all consumed and forgotten, consumed and forgotten. As evidence, we can point to the endless number of books published and forgotten over the last 100 years. Walk into any used book store and consider how many books were consumed and discarded. Why pretend e-books are any different? Because Amazon can let you leave it on their servers forever? They’re just going to get buried deeper and deeper beneath the ever-expanding catalog, just like that used book store overflowing its stacks.
A hundred years from now, maybe the period will go the way of the punctus, and language will have come full circle. Maybe someone will find an ancient link to Winter Kill and say, “This #book has periods, how quaint Now where the hell is book three”
I bounced the article off several English teachers. Two noticed the lack of periods, neither liked it, and one felt the article writer “cheated” by using several single-sentence paragraphs. Good luck filling long literary or non-fiction passages with a lack of periods.
Another didn’t notice the lack of periods, but had the same feeling: dense paragraphs of text would be tedious.
And let’s consider, the whole reason the punctus and later the period were invented were because of those long, dense paragraphs of text. We want to be entertained or enlightened by reading, not fatigued. Which, to me, comes right back to there being a big difference between direct, ephemeral communication like a text message and something intended to be around for a while.
Finally, the special ed teacher said the period is a big part of learning to read, especially for emerging readers with difficulties. Removing punctuation would make things considerably more difficult for a large portion of their classrooms.
But if we put emoji in their place. . .
Jesus. I don’t even want to think about that anymore.
Ever since I tried their Young Buck Bourbon, I’ve been wanting to visit the JK Williams distillery, a craft distiller out of nearby East Peoria, Illinois. Schedule conflicts and inclement weather made it tough, and the JK Williams line continued to grow. Finally, the Rugrats were out of town this past Sunday, and the Wife and I were looking for something to do.
Perfect time for a visit. We called another couple and the four of us made the trip.
The distillery is a small place, easy to miss on a frontage road in a row of small businesses and offices. They offer hourly tours on weekends, and though it was 3pm on a Sunday afternoon, their lobby (and bar counter) was fairly crowded with a group who just finished a tour and another group waiting to take one.
Kassi Williams started our tour with a history lesson of both the company and the whiskey business in Peoria. I knew Peoria was once the whiskey capital of the world prior to Prohibition, but the JK Williams crew, particularly the ladies, put together a nice timeline of historic photos and filled in some details I wasn’t aware of.
Then it was on to the still. I knew they were a small operation, but I didn’t realize they only had the one still. We got to see where they cooked up their mash, we smelled the results of the distillation process every step of the way, and Kassi explained the different mixes and mashes that make up their various products.
Something I really respect about them as a craft distiller is they source as much as they can locally. Their corn is local, and the fruit they use in their fruited liquors are picked by adults with special needs who work with the Tazewell County Resource Center. Way cool.
Then we got to see the aging room.
This room and the barrels were a lot smaller than I expected, too, but their output is still quite high for a four-person operation with only one full-time employee.
JK Williams called their first bourbon Young Buck because it was too young to be legally called a bourbon (bourbon must be aged at least two years). One of the owners, Jon, told me at a tasting that they used special barrels to “age the bourbon faster,” and we got to see one of those barrels: they simply drill several holes on the inside of the barrel staves to increase the surface area the whiskey is exposed to. I liked the Young Buck, but I remember finding it a bit strong to drink neat.
After seeing the aging room, we returned to the lobby bar and were invited to try a quarter ounce of up to four different products, free of charge. (Score! Cocktails were available for purchase, too.) I was eager to finally try their fully-matured bourbon and rye. Unfortunately their High Rye wasn’t available just yet; it’s due this Fall.
The ladies went straight for the fruit drinks: the Peach Whiskey, the Blackberry Whiskey, Smitty’s Apple Pie, and the new Pineapple Whiskey. A bottle of the Pineapple Whiskey came home with my wife.
I went for two of their unaged products, JK’s Corn Whiskey and JK’s Naked Rye, the Straight bourbon, and one I wasn’t aware of, JK’s Select Bourbon.
The Corn Whiskey was sweet as promised, and the Naked Rye had a spicy burn. Jesse and Kassi served up the drinks and advised mixers for both, but I’m kinda dumb and wanted to see what the whiskeys were like solo. It doesn’t make a lot of business sense to have barrels and barrels of product sitting in a warehouse doing nothing, so these products, as well as the Young Buck, give them something to market while the rest of the line matures.
The Bourbon Select, if I understood correctly, comes from a barrel chosen by the distiller, Jesse, and this one was aged 17 months. The Straight had a full two years in the barrel. I rather liked both, though it was hard to get a full sense of the flavors with just a quarter ounce sip. Just the same, I found them both pleasant, with a bit more of a burn on the Select’s finish.
In the end I opted for a bottle of JK’s Straight Bourbon and a shiny new JK Williams whiskey glass (about time I added one of those to my collection). When I got home later that night, I didn’t waste time getting it onto some ice and then mixing up an Old Fashioned.
Let me tell you, this is good stuff. I found it smooth and sweet on ice, with those wonderful, subtle hints of caramel and vanilla. Maybe I finally nailed my Old Fashioned recipe, but I was very pleased with that, too. I’m hoping to set up a tasting for myself soon to compare it to the Woodford Reserve and Four Roses Small Batch that I have on hand.
JK’s stock is appearing in several local stores, and the Young Buck is in Costco. It’s probably worth talking to your liquor store to see if they can get their hands on it. Myself, I’ll just stop on back to the distillery for another tour when the High Rye is released.
Looking for something to do in Peoria? Passing through on I-74, or willing to take a small side trip from I-39? Drop on in and check it out. The tours are open on the weekend and they’re free. If you’re at all interested in whiskey, it’s well worth the trip.
Some time ago on Twitter, a friend groused about his lack of motivation when trying to get something done. I told him, “Motivation is really just intimidation in disguise.”
It wasn’t a tough observation, as it’s something I deal with all the time.
Sure, there are plenty of other time-sucking gremlins out there, ranging from social media to the new season of Peaky Blinders to being dumb enough to take on a part-time job. But none of these are truly as damaging as those nagging voices in our heads assuring us we’re just wasting our time. Whether those voices are telling us “nobody’s going to read this” or “this is crap” or “you’d be better off doing X for the day gig or night gig,” they all come down to the same thing: intimidation.
When I read “Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators” at The Atlantic, it really hit home. I crushed it in my English classes. My creative writing teachers in both high school and college told me my work was publishable. I had journalism teachers in both high school and college pushing me to do more and more work. Another English teacher read some goofy poetry I wrote at random in a foreign exchange student’s organizer and told me I should be in her drama club. I wrote some passages for a college placement test and got credit for English 101 and 102 without having to take either course.
So hey, I thought I was pretty good at this writing thing.
Then I hit the real world. Slush piles. Editors. Readers. Not nearly as easy. Rejections really didn’t bother me, but lack of sales? That shit stings. I’m not going to sit here and tell you I’m not successful, as that’s a relative term. I’ve got a Bram Stoker Award statue collecting dust in my office, and Winter Kill has a pile of healthy reviews on Amazon. These things just aren’t putting food on the table, and I allowed it to reshuffle priorities.
Which is funny, because I do still enjoy writing. When I can put off the other distractions and shut out the voices, it feels good to be putting words on the page, whether it’s just a couple hundred or I have that rare good day I hit a thousand or more.
That shifting definition of success brings on a whole new level of intimidation, however. My oldest demon tells me if it’s not generating cash and concrete results, it’s not worth doing. If it’s not better than this or that writer’s work, it’s not worth doing. This demon does it’s job in four little words: “May as well quit.”
The problem with defining success by these accomplishments is so much of that success is out of one’s control. With the glut of content on Amazon and in book stores, it’s damned hard to get noticed. Publishers’ slush piles are bigger than ever, and the 1000 True Fans so many of us are looking for have more content available to them than ever. Social media was supposed to be the great savior for creators of all types, but now we’re all just shouting into a global cacophony in the hope just two or three people will glance at a post on their busy streams.
If we’re going to weigh the act against the results, of course it’s going to be intimidating. The act of creation—whether we’re talking writing, illustration, photography, or recording—takes a lot of time and effort. A lot more time and effort than most people understand. Even in those rare moments when the writing itself comes easy, the rewriting and the editing and the proofreading is a difficult process.
We have to stop thinking about success, however we definite it. Success—and failure, which is also relative—are results. Instead, we should concentrate on purpose.
Why be creative? Because we enjoy it. Because it’s who we are. Because it’s fulfilling. Because we’ve got to get this shit out of our heads. Because it entertains others. These things can all be accomplished whether a book is sitting on a bookshelf, is self-published to Amazon, or is distributed to half a dozen friends by email.
Why, then, should it be intimidating? Because someone may not like it? Big deal. That, too, is a result. That’s getting back to success or failure.
For a work to be seen, to be loved or hated, to make a buck or not, it has to be made.
Get to work.
It’s been a long, odd Summer already.
Not so much bad, but full of ups and downs and several distractions keeping me from the main goals.
It’s a balmy night, and though rednecks are already blowing things up around town, my block is quiet. The Rugrats are in bed and won’t be able to break anything or each other for a while. I’m sipping on my second glass of whiskey and enjoying a Man O’ War Toro. I intended to spend this smoke writing, but instead find myself finding my chill and problem-solving. Maybe this post will help me transition to a little positive creativity.
I’ve enjoyed every Man O’ War I’ve tried, and this eponymous Toro is no exception. It’s a dark and oily beast, but not as bold as a Maduro or Ligero. It boasts a Habano wrapper around Nicaraguan guts, and delivers rich, woody flavors which linger on the palate without turning sour. Tonight’s whiskey is Japan’s The Hakushu and club soda, and it complements the cigar nicely.
This Man O’ War smokes easy and burns smooth, but it’s a needy thing that wants to be held. Ignore it for just a few moments and it goes out quick. Be careful on the relight with this one: a little flame goes a long way. Too much and it will bite back before mellowing out again. The ash doesn’t burn much longer than an inch or so, but it clings well enough that it’s not making a mess of the table or my laptop.
This may be the last of them from my last order, and I think I’ll miss them. They’re in the knuckler category, where they’re a good smoke right down to the last half inch threatening to burn my fingers. I prefer to buy milder cigars in larger quantities for casual smoking and for sharing, but I won’t hesitate to pull the trigger next time I see Man O’ War in a bundle or in special packages.
All told it’s a good, solid smoke for dedicated quiet time.
It’s Summer at last! It’s been a long year at the day gig, but though I’ll continue to work through the Summer, things will get a lot easier and I have vacation days to burn before our year rolls over on July 1st.
Summer also means I can sit outside and have a cigar more often, and I’ll have more time to get back to the Smoke Blog entries. I’ve been scouting Cigars International for some great deals to get the humidor stocked, and I started with a killer deal on five different five-packs of cigars. They arrived just in time for the weekend.
I chose to start with the Xikar HC Series Connecticut, a mild-medium blend presumably put together by the same company behind my favorite lighters and humidor gear. They replaced my lighter under their lifetime warranty, so the least I could do is check out their smokes. There are several blends available under the Havana Club label, but the light Connecticut got the nod because I wanted a good range of flavors and strengths in the humidor.
I’ve had two already (it’s been a busy weekend), and I’d call them good but unremarkable. On the plus side, they were both smooth and consistent. They lit easy with no sign of tunneling or canoeing, even in a gentle breeze one night. I loved the clean draw all the way through, and their ash held firm. Definitely a solid, well-constructed cigar.
CI’s info page says these are made with a variety of tobaccos including Costa Rican, Mexican and Nicaraguan fillers with a Sumatran binder. Their name comes from the Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper. The combination results in a pleasant enough taste, but there’s nothing that really stood out for me. Just fine for hanging out with friends and talking or watching the fights at our local haunts.
Definitely worth the bundled price I paid, but perhaps not something I would seek out on its own. They’re a cigar I could easily hand off to a friend to enjoy, especially one who prefers lighter flavors and isn’t all that picky. Got a friend into White Owls and gas station smokes? This will make a nice transition to the good stuff for them.
That all said, the HC Connecticut certainly doesn’t turn me off of their line. This is no throwaway smoke, so I’m curious about their other labels, especially the White Shade Grown. Xikar’s/CI’s price point makes them a very attractive deal, especially in mixed bundles. It’s a brand to keep an eye out for when I look for one-off smokes at local shops.
There's a certain satisfaction in closing the lid on the laptop, walking inside, and seamlessly picking up where I left off on the desktop.
— Mike Oliveri (@MikeOliveri) May 26, 2016
The first thing I teach my computer tech students is technology has one goal: to make our lives easier. Whether we’re talking simple machines like levers and pulleys or supercomputers to handle complex data sets like weather and climate change, the entire purpose is to make work easy and efficient. Some of those tools may get more complex over time, but they can also handle a lot more of the work.
The same has gone for writing tools. When I wrote the tweet above, I was using Google Docs. Everything is instantly saved, no worrying about losing a few hundred words to a power outage, and I have the added bonus of being able to pick up any machine anywhere and getting back to work right where I left off. Even if my home or work Internet connection goes down, I can keep working offline or open a new connection through my cell phone’s shared data. I’ve even accessed online files on a laptop from the car thanks to my phone.
This was almost unthinkable when my friends and I first started getting serious about our writing some 15-20 years ago. I was hammering away on Professional Write on an old computer at first, then transitioned through WordPerfect, OpenOffice.org, and Pages before settling on Google Docs.
We even have better tools within those apps. Google Docs, for example, has a rich revision history built in for tracking changes to manuscripts rather than having several copies of the same novel or story on several different disks or folders.
I know a few writers who lament how the tools have gotten too complex, and all the menus and clicks just get in their way. However, there are plenty of stripped-down or minimalist writing tools out there, and even they have the ability to share across computers or in different formats.
Speaking of, the end of the format war is probably my favorite outcome of the progress of technology. Results were very spotty going from WordPerfect to Word back in the day, and even going between the same program on PC or Mac could be sketchy. I used OpenOffice.org and Pages to work with editors using Microsoft Word and they never noticed, but it did take a little work and management on my part.
Today? Just about everything opens every format seamlessly. Some editors request .rtf files for safety’s sake, but for the most part, you can send them anything and they should be able to open it. If they’re demanding .doc files, it’s more or less out of habit or because it’s what everyone else does. With Google Docs, one click will send a manuscript to an editor as a .doc anyway.
It’s nice to be able to concentrate on the writing itself and not the fiddly bits that allow it to happen. Which, by the way, is why it’s also nice to write on a Chromebook rather than on a laptop where a hard drive might crash, a virus might derail a few hours of progess, or one has to monkey with drivers and updates causing crashes. With a Chromebook, the writer just opens the lid and gets to work.
Now we’ve almost come full circle. A pencil and paper were crash proof, write-anywhere tools. Now, with Chromebooks and smartphones and Google Docs, we’re just about back to that same level of reliability.
I look forward to seeing what’s next.
Sure, outlining is important.
When telling a story, it helps to know where it ends. It helps to understand the setup and plot twists along the way. Or, when writing time is scarce, it gives the writer a clear sense of direction rather than wasting time winging it and having to backtrack or rewrite after a pre-reader or editor points out why a key element doesn’t work.
The problem is it’s easy to overdo outlining.
Some people labor over their outlines for months, sometimes years, tweaking every little detail until the whole thing sings. Or they’ll develop complex backgrounds for even minor characters, things they may not ever use in the story.
At some point you’ve just gotta write. Fish or cut bait. Shit or get off the pot.
I’m not saying character sheets and fat outlines and story bibles aren’t good tools. I’m saying readers don’t buy character sheets and fat outlines and story bibles, they buy finished works.
It’s easy to fall into the “outlining is creating” trap. Hell, I’ve done it a time or two myself. And oftentimes, no matter how meticulous an outline has become, a new opportunity appears halfway through and takes the story in a whole new directly.
We writers like to tell ourselves precious things like “my characters tell me what to do” or “my characters just won’t listen to me,” but the reality is the act of creation is a very organic, fluid process. When we start writing, we start making new connections.
Outlining is creative, but also logical. You might have a killer character and a dynamite scenario, but when you have to put the building blocks together to get the character to the scenario, you have to involve a different part of your brain. It’s effectively math vs art, left brain vs right brain. Is your time better spent solving problems or crafting sentences and making new connections?
As an example, I started work on a new project last night. I feel like I know the protagonist fairly well, as I’ve been thinking about her and her story for a long time now. Until last night, her story has been jammed up behind a few other projects in the pipeline.
Within the first 500 words of the first page, I’d both found and filled a major hole in her back story that I didn’t even know existed, and it made her introduction more effective.
Would I have found that hole by just brainstorming over and over? Maybe, but I doubt it. The brainstorming time was focused on the plot problem, and this was a free-form connection that arose from the act of writing and telling the reader about the character. It sprang directly from the creative effort.
A gift from the muse, if you’ll allow another writers’ cliché.
If you’re all about outlines and character sheets, by all means, keep it up. As with most creative efforts, your style is your own and your mileage may vary.
I’m just saying at some point it’s more important to start creating. Take that skeleton outline and throw some prose meat on its bones. Find out what it really looks like.
The left side of the brain makes important contributions to a story, but the real magic happens on the right side.
It’s been a little over five weeks since I last hit the weights. I was going to start back again tonight, but pain in my right forearm and wrist is still nagging at me, so I opted to wait a little longer.
I beat myself up at first, but then I realized this is the longest break I’ve taken in about four years, so maybe I’m due. Guess I’ll have another cocktail and cigar.
Oh, the pain.
Someone suggested maybe I’m getting too old for this shit. Meanwhile, despite my arm injury, I’m still able to finish karate workouts and run, while they bitch about the pain in their back and knees yet do nothing. I pointed out the difference and they don’t seem to get it. I guess I should do nothing and still be in pain? I’m kind of afraid to see how they’re going to feel in another 20-30 years.
If recovery periods like this are what it takes to free up a little time to work on some writing projects, though, then so be it. This is the first time in those five recovery weeks that I haven’t been tied up at the second job, away with family, or running other household errands I’ve been slacking on.
I’m drowning in a backlog of ideas and stories, and as I sit here looking at my various notes, I don’t even know where to start. In a minute I’ll just pick something and roll.
Let’s see what comes of it.