Interlude: Servetus on blogging

This is going to be one of those “how sausage is made” posts. Look away as necessary.

There’s a ton of advice out there for would-be writers. I have read and been influenced by some of it, but on the whole I think the advice manual genre is overrated in terms of its actual results. The diet that’s fantastic for you has no effect on me, and so on. Mostly, I find, getting things done is a matter of asking for advice, trying different stuff, muddling through, and revising your strategy for next time. I’m always fairly suspicious when I read a writer telling other writers about the only way to do something. I also have taught English composition and now spend a lot of time teaching a sort of triage version of historical writing, and those experiences bear out my feeling that no advice is 100 percent applicable. For instance, I would say, after a decade and a half of teaching and observing results, that most student writers of historical essays — nine out of ten whom I have taught or coached, or more — are significantly benefited by brainstorming ideas, then writing a thesis statement and outline before they start writing actual prose. In contrast, free writing is the big thing that writing teachers encourage these days, but in my own experience as a reader of essays I get way too much free writing turned in — students think that’s all they have to do. I almost wish my students wouldn’t free write. However, I was a free writer well before I learned what free writing was, and so I almost never start writing with a thesis and outline, never did, and yet I have dozens of publications to my credit. Most student writers don’t write enough, however, to understand their own processes very well, and in the choice between creativity and the finished project, most will prefer the finished project and are thus more practically benefited by the brainstorming / thesis / outline style of writing, even if it doesn’t create the pleasure and enjoyment in writing that free writing might. (Why student writers aren’t writing enough is a political question, so I’ll stay away from it here. Though, of course, I have opinions.)

Anyway, the books on writing that have probably influenced me the most as a writer are Robert Boice, Professors as Writers and Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way. (Which someone who reads here recommended to me — thanks, that has been most useful as a corrective to what I see now as pedantic moments in Boice, and as a reminder of things I had forgotten about myself as writer!) They are drastically different insofar as Boice is writing explicitly to deal with the problems of junior faculty whose careers depend on their writing but whose time for it is often crowded out by daily work, and Cameron is providing a template for people who want to get in touch with their creativity (not usually a major concern of academic writers). They do share one important component, however: both of them think one has to write a little every day (or as many days as possible). This recommendation absolutely fits with my M.O. as a writer. I’m a more successful writer when I do it every day. I know a lot of people swear by not planning writing, and “waiting for inspiration,” but that doesn’t work for me. You should write how it suits you, but I find that when I “wait for inspiration,” it more seldom comes then when I commit to writing and I stumble over some inspiration while I’m doing the sort of “writing work out” that might be unlikely to produce anything really publishable / keepable. There are other tricks, but the insistence on writing every day has been most helpful to me. And this is why it’s most worrying (and feels like death) when I’m not writing for a sustained period. I imagine this is how dedicated joggers feel about weather that keeps them inside for more than a day or two.

So the consequence of this attitude is that I constantly feel like I’m restarting. A few days when I have to grade, or pack, or drive, or can’t write, means that when I get back to it (and since February 2010 it’s constantly on my mind — what’s next? when will I get to write again?) I have to spend precious time calming the inner uproar of ideas. I’ve been trying to do that the last few days but I admit that the amazing weather and the feeling that I don’t have any obligations till August means that I’ve been more dilatory than I would have been under other circumstances. In other words, I think what happens when I write every day is that I have a direction and a flow for writing in mind and I don’t have to stop and think about what’s next. When I don’t write every day, then I have to go back to the brainstorming / thesis statement / outlining procedure that I (and my students) find so tedious. But if that’s the only way to distill something keepable from my writing, then that’s what I’ll do.

So here are some things that are on my mind for the blog.

  • finishing the Richard Armitage identity thing I started in May of 2010
  • publication of Armitage “I” statements — compilation
  • finishing the North & South series (2 posts left — pressing)
  • finishing the Armitage barbatus series (3-4 posts left — pressing)
  • the sexy jeans posts
  • resume blogging about Guy / Robin Hood. Long abandoned because of my internal fears. Probably can’t do this until N&S is finished
  • The “value added Armitage” thing on what Armitage brings to N&S, languishing a long time
  • Ditto on the Chris Ryan Strike Back novel
  • Feminist politics and Guy of Gisborne — urged upon me by Judiang a long time ago
  • On that scene in SB 1.2 and feminist politics
  • Watch Captain America more closely. Not enough has been written about this yet.
  • the candid pix of young Armitage post that’s been on my mind since December
  • more analysis of Armitage’s acting — this has fallen off because the level of detail requires more concentration then I am typically able to achieve during the school year, but I’ve got a lot of stuff stacked up
  • Richard Armitage and interiority
  • another “liking food” post
  • Acting / playing humiliation
  • Flirting with the eyes
  • violence / hitting women
  • finishing the “Ugly American” (Sarah Caulfield / Lucas North) analysis series
  • finishing the “Genesis of Perving” series
  • stuff on Richard III, biography vs history, also Richard’s piety. Lots to be said here
  • Armitage anatomy, esp. eyes and shoulders
  • Spooks 9. Grrrr.
  • publish next sexual fantasy stuff. Harder to do than I realized it would be when it exploded out of me that day, but really personally productive.
  • Piece on Sparkhouse fanfics and why these stories won’t leave me alone.
  • on getting into The Hobbit.
  • Long U vowels compilation vid — half done. More analysis of accent / language / U.S. accent
  • That Between the Sheets stuff that’s been on my mind since March of 2010
  • Ditto for Clarissa
  • my feelings about Vicar of Dibley (fear of reaction)
  • Three half done music fanvids!
  • bunch of stuff on Venetia after listening to it three times recently
  • Thoughts I have about an Armitageworld friend who’s encountering a new British actor addiction / sympathies
  • On the struggle between principle and desire, pleasing others and following one’s own path, service and creativity
  • On the relationship of this writing to other projects I have
  • Finishing up a few stalled fan interviews and a few more I’d like to do but haven’t gotten around to writing invitations for yet …

I’m not polling on this stuff, because I don’t know exactly what will emerge next, or whether what you want to read is what I will want to write on any given day, but it helps to list it all along with the priorities and reasons it hasn’t been finished. More importantly, I’ve got something like 75,000 unpublished words in drafts and I want that stuff out there and gone before the premiere of The Hobbit.

Right now, however, I have to go home and make sure my father is not on the roof (the insurance money for the hail damage finally came through, and when I left the contractor had just gotten there), which is where all of our misery with regard to his health started, and get dinner going. Hope to be back again tonight!

~ by Servetus on May 14, 2012.

46 Responses to “Interlude: Servetus on blogging”

  1. Whew!! That’s some list, and you haven’t seen The Hobbit yet!! 🙂

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  2. Piuh, Servetus, you want to get this whole list done over the summer months? Take some vacation as well and get some well deserved rest ;o)
    I must not push you on, though I am looking forward to each single one of your intended (and so far un-intended) posts!

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    • bit by bit. Part of it is that I have this strong feeling that once The Hobbit premieres (and probably at least two months in advance) it will be impossible to say anything serious any more. That was always a planned endpoint for this blog, although I am becoming less rigid about that.

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  3. Gosh, Servetus!! This is an amazing list. I’m thrilled to bits and want to read it ALL ( feeling greedy…) :-))

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  4. I am looking forward to some great summer reading. Specifically, feminist politics and Guy of Gisborne, curious about your Vicar of Dibley, very much want to read the between the sheet stuff, and so cannot wait for that sexy jean post. There is pleasing others/following one’s own path, why Sparkhouse fanfic…..oh, okay I want to read it ALL.

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  5. I’m so excited! I hope you can get to some/any/all of these. Thank you for not polling because I wouldn’t know how to vote. 🙂 I also appreciate the encouragement to write every day.

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  6. I agree with you about writing. I still outline non-fiction in an essay format and flow-chart anything novella length or longer. I need to see the story arc, acknowledge the thematic material, be certain whose story I’m telling, and so on.
    Your to-do list is formidable, and I would find it completely intimidating. By contrast, I only have four novels to finish, plus any shorts that occur to me along the way. Still, I look forward to reading your posts. You never disappoint.

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    • Keep telling us about your novels. I’m interested to hear more.

      Unfortunately, this is only the detailed list for this project. But I’m accustomed to having long, long lists of things to accomplish.

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      • Re. news of my novels, I’m using DF as a test bed for a novel I’d never intended to write, a fictionalized biography of my grandmother. One of the writers there encouraged me to tell the story. I’ve drafted 14 out of a planned 25 chapters and an epilogue. Life has been complicated the last two weeks, but I may have a new chapter posted by Sunday. I’ll go through and do at least one straight-through edit when it’s done before I consider options for publication. When I get it done, then there’s a murder mystery with the protagonist who’s a “spear carrier” in an opera, a doctor in real life, who witnesses a death onstage and suspects foul play.

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  7. Ah, THE ARTIST’S WAY. I think I need to do my writing pages again. I totally agree with the need to write every day — keeps the creative juices flowing and makes me less grumpy.

    Best wishes on all your projects.

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    • definite on the “makes me less grumpy.” Although why I can’t capitalize on that insight more often is a mystery.

      Good luck on your writing!

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      • Someone else mentioned the WAR OF ART, which is great. It helped me focus on my true desires for writing. I’d also recommend The 4 hour work week, which asks, “are you productive or merely busy?” That’s a deady question that helps in the writing department.

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        • I can already answer the latter question. Almost every university professor is merely busy. It’s a requirement of job performance.

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          • Unfortunately, it’s a requirement for many jobs. Look like you’re working, rather than work. Please the higher ups. That’s why it’s called work, not fun. However, if you can incorporate some fun into your work, that is good. And if your fun becomes a career, there will still be moments of work, but what a success that would be.

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  8. I’m looking forward to almost all of these posts, just start with the easier topics :).

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  9. I’m totally with you on the every day rule. And, to some extent anyway, Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours notion — that if you practice at something for 10,000 hours, you’ll get pretty good at it. I’d only add to that that you’ll also have a clearer idea at the end of that period how to get the most bang for your buck. I know my writing process is different than other people’s, and that’s doubtless because I figured out a process that works for me (more or less) over the course of years of practice.

    I still have things that drive me crazy — my ability to fuss and fume about a single paragraph for hours, for example. Still working on breaking old, bad habits. But I’ll also say that blogging makes me love writing all the more.

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    • I have a really serious problem with physically needing all the sentences to connect to each other. I attribute this to punitive grading regarding transition sentences when I was in the first two years of college. If I can’t figure out immediately how two things relate to each other, I end up in a brown study until I can …

      Also, I know that certain kinds of music make it easier to write but I have the hardest time making myself turn on iTunes. ???

      And yeah, 10,000 hours. Does make certain kinds of things a great deal easier to accomplish.

      Blogging is weird. On my old blogs, it definitely facilitated other writing. Here, not so much, but i haven’t been trying very hard, either. The summer will tell, I suppose.

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      • I do better writing when I’m listening to music, but not something that demands my full attention or when I’m using headphones or earbuds. I guess it’s because I’m something of a fossil.
        I also tend to handwrite in small notebooks when I’m on planes or trains, anywhere someone might be looking over my shoulder.

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        • I really enjoy the sound of silence, but music is a good second choice, and since I write more in public places, a great option for keeping out distracting noise. I think it has something to do with distracting or putting out of commission the portion of my attention that would be doing negative self-judging.

          I used to write everything out physically, but haven’t done that now in ten years or more, I think. I still do some handwriting, but little enough to the point that my handwriting has really suffered.

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          • Because I live in the country, even when I’m at home alone, there is seldom true silence. Music just smoothes out the natural noises when they can be distracting. Yes, getting that negative self-judging voice to shut up is important when you’re first getting the words out, whether onto the computer or on paper. It’s only later that the critical faculty should come into it, when you can regard the writing as something separate.

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            • it’s really quiet at night here. When I lie in bed I can hear my heart beating. Not so much in the morning. Those infernal birds!

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          • My handwriting’s not the only thing that suffers — I can’t write anymore without my hands suffering. Thanks for the info re writing and I look forward to you completing your projects as they’re always interesting (to say the least).

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          • Hi Servetus,

            I do still carry a Composition Book (the old ‘hostility book’) with me almost everywhere, but have become very weak @ journaling or keeping up with any morning pages. My theory on the morning pages is that it’s a sort of clutter and clearing catch-all exercise (it’s very much like getting out for a morning jog). First chakra clearing of mental house so any new incoming information is somehow just more easily processed and logged.

            I also do a lot of writing in public spaces – particularly one with as much foot traffic as a particular Seattle coffee chain – that can give its own form of stabilizing and energizing flow. All my writing (aside from these blog comments) is written into my Comp Books. There’s something oddly pleasing to me in seeing my handwriting across the years.

            Just landed at JFK. Argh, it’s even rainier here than when I left London this morning.

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            • it’s funny about that Seattle coffee chain. I want to hate it but I can’t.

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              • I completely feel your conflict. 🙂 When I’m home, I drink Tully’s Coffee or ANY of the local coffee chains (like Vivace).

                But I also love supporting Puget Sound based companies I encounter outside of Seattle, too. In the UK, I feel somewhat limited to SBUX and COST (Costco). Of course, Amazon and Expedia are also Seattle based; but as internet companies, they kind of already belong to the world. 😉

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                • I wrote almost all of this blog since August 2011 — with the exception of a handful of posts, and most of the ones I wrote while I was at home over Xmas, though even some of those — in an outpost of the Seattle chain. I now have a gold card, and I can’t tell you how many free coffees I’ve gotten. It’s a bit embarrassing. But something about the atmosphere in these places works perfectly for me. My only complaint is that they’re not open later.

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                  • I am visiting Bellevue WA, the cradle of Microsoft, and the Seattle-based chains are ubiquitous, but I dislike the ambience. Back home, you can get better coffee for less almost anywhere, and most places with WiFi let you sit undisturbed for the price of a coffee or a drink. Now that smoking is prohibited in Spanish cafes, restaurants, and bars, the only real gripes I have are the unreliability (bad routers) and the web-based background music.

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                    • Hmmm. Every branch of the chain I’m talking about also lets you sit undisturbed for the price of the coffee. No one’s every asked me to leave one, and I’ve sat in one place for fourteen-sixteen hours regularly. It’s actually one thing that enamors of me of them. If I sit in an indie and suck Internet for that long, I feel guilty because I’m denying them business. And, as mentioned, I’ve got the headphones myself with my own music collection. My branch of the chain in question also has “regulars” — people who you see every day, and also sit there for hours, and with whom you chat from time to time — all of the baristas know me by name, and they know exactly how I prefer my drink.

                      I’ve gotten around the coffee problem by not drinking coffee there. As long as I stick to espresso, I’m not bothered too much by the taste. The best coffee in my new city is clearly available at an indy. I like them a lot (they’re from Ethiopia, roast their own, and know what they’re doing), but they have shorter hours, a dirtier bathroom, less reliable internet, and they are completely closed on Sunday because they are devout Christians. I’d love to patronize them more, but in the end, knowing I can get a guilt-free seat, stay there as long as I like, and feel entirely comfortable win out for an office away from home.

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                    • @Leigh Vondereau – How is the weather in Bellevue this week for your visit?? Are you able to see Mt. Rainier at all? Have you had a chance to cross the I-520 floating bridge which spans Lake Washington (and is the longest floating bridge in the world)?

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                    • It’s warm this week, mostly clear; the mountain has been “out” on several days. It is supposed to go to 80 degrees F, but thus far I’ve only seen mid-70s. We used the fans in the evening two days, There’s supposed to be clouds coming in on Saturday, naturally, the day when a barbecue is planned.

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                    • I have crossed the 520 floating bridge before, but not this trip. It is now subject to a hefty toll.

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                    • @Leigh Vondereau- I am SO RELIEVED to hear the weather has been warm and mostly clear for your stay! I have friends who have NEVER seen Mt. Rainier while visiting Seattle because it has been too overcast!

                      The I-520 has a toll??? That’s AWFUL. I suppose Seattle has had to go the way of San Francisco with their bridges & tolls. 😦

                      I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and as many citiies as I’ve lived in, I still consider that region of the world ‘home’. 🙂

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                    • @UK Expat, I am quite surprised that it has not rained for 13 days here, but I can feel the weather changing. Yes, everything that was once free or low-cost now seems to carry a significant pricetag. Taxis and parking are ridiculously costly, and there’s an extra hotel & restaurant tax. However, there’s still no charge for the use of shopping trolleys; I catch myself fishing for a euro when I don’t need it.

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                  • Ahhh, Servetus – I am so happy to hear that ‘Seattle Coffee Chain’ has been so amenable to your creative flow process as evidenced by the output of this blog! There are definitely 24-hour SBUX, so perhaps you can present a business case for later hours to your outpost? 😉

                    Interestingly, both SBUX and COST were not original ideas (both companies have credited others with their retail models) yet both have managed to improve upon the original versions. SBUX was emulating Peet’s Coffee (whom they later acquired) and COST was emulating Walmart’s Sam’s Club (whom they surpass in same store profitability every year).

                    I particularly noticed the ‘flow’ created by constant people movement at SBUX when I was last @ Paddington Station. It was palpable the energy of movement surrounding me – I suspect you are equally sensitive to this friendly (but not too personal) energy of movement surrounding you and it may be one of the elements that so works well for you about the outposts.

                    I also suspect that SBUX may be the 21st century food chain version of MCD – wherein people can stop in in any location in the world and have a similar experience, despite the otherwise unfamiliar surroundings.

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                    • We had a Peet’s for two years in the location of my last job. Now *that* was an amazing product. However, they were hostile to people sitting in their store. They had like ten seats or something. They left after two years, with the official statement that their sales of bulk product did not meet their forecasts. I suspect the real reason was other: they were in a very high-rent spot, thus highly dependent on lots of traffic, but didn’t put in the seats they would need to create a critical mass that would drive traffic — and didn’t solve the problem of dealing with vagrant customers.

                      I don’t have a lot of experience worldwide of the chain, but one summer I did spend a fair amount of time sitting in the Berlin Mitte outpost. Mostly because it was one of few places that was airconditioned. But I couldn’t write there for some reason. Not sure why. I twas easier to write in other Berlin cafes but at that point anyway you didn’t see people with laptops out and it felt a bit odd to pull out the computer and start working. I always think the point of drinking coffee in Germany isn’t work anyway — it’s the cake.

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  10. May I add to your list of rec reading? “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield and “The Writers Journey” by Christopher Vogler. Both of these books sit on my desk and both of these books made me a better writer. I hope you enjoy your summer break.

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  11. […] whole hours to myself, and here I sit, and I can’t figure out what to write about. Despite the list. This isn’t surprising; I’m still all over the place with stuff that’s happening […]

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  12. […] wrote one of these posts almost a year ago to the day — and it’s kind of depressing to read it now, given just how many things I […]

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