28 October 2010

What We Say When We Have Nothing Much to Say

Tomorrow I’m due at Mendocino High School to (quote) “talk about the process you go through to develop your pieces.”

You caught me at a good time, I’ll say, because it’s a good day to write. It’s raining outside, the Giants’ game hasn’t started, and the computer’s working again.

Blank screen, nothing particular to say. It’s a universal problem for writers. In my case, I have to be interesting for five minutes and about 600 words.

When I’m truly at a loss, I look at the online news, where the GoogleNet tirelessly searches on my behalf for the word “books,” wherever it may be found.

I get news of library BOOK sales in small towns. In Zurich, “Swedish-Swiss engineering giant ABB on Thursday posted a 25 percent drop in third quarter net profit although order BOOKS grew strongly.” The Omaha Fire Department BOOKS are inadequate. GM is moving to clean up the BOOKS before its highly anticipated public stock offering.

It’s depressing how many journalists or headline writers use the term “one for the BOOKS” when describing a Music Hall of Fame induction, dissension in the world of social networking, or the hundreds of people who showed up for one entry level librarian’s assistant job opening in Tacoma, Washington. That, too, was “one for the BOOKS.”

At this stage, kids, I peek at the bottom margin. Hey, we’re 80% of the way to the bottom of the page. Things are looking up, and that’s certainly one for the BOOKS.

When I’m in this nothing-to-write-about mood, something small will get me started. When the mood strikes I can rant for two full pages and often do. Note to aspiring writers: Rants write faster than almost anything else. Book reviews take time. Research takes lots of time. Coming up with one new thought? You don’t want to know how long that takes.

The odd thing is, people respond. I’m startled when something that didn’t take long to write elicits praise. All I did was open the door and watch what straggled through. You enjoyed standing there with me? Fantastic.

Looking over past scripts, I can spot the ones that began with nothing. They started with a news item, or a couple of news items. Something someone said touched me off. I passed on some stuff someone else had the wit to write first (always with attribution, of course).

Once in a while writer’s despair drives me to delve into personal history. It’s interesting to describe what life was like before some of you were born, before Ronald Reagan, before Bush One for that matter. Back when movies were shown in palaces, tomb-like fastnesses where your sneakers stuck to yesterday’s candy. Back when radios were furniture. When it was a big thing to have mom take you by the hand and walk you to the local library. One’s own story is inexhaustible, and sometimes it interests others, too.

There. I’ve filled two pages with today’s version of nothing much to say.

Then there was the story in the current Publishers Weekly about two guys who have developed “A New Model for Fiction” through their start-up publishing company Electric Literature.

“For hundreds of years,” one of them writes, “the best way to transmit complex information was to cut down a tree, pulp it, stain symbols onto the flattened pulp, bind it together, and distribute it. Industries grew to support that process...

“Text, on the other hand, only becomes more useful with technology. After all, digital text is easily searchable, linkable, and shareable... Memoir can include home movies, photo albums, and perfect copies of diaries and letters.”

I feel a rant coming on. Except we’ve already got five minutes in the can, and, well, there’s always next week.


Wow – 727 words an hour? Sorry I went over the speed limit, occifer.

Electric Literature was launched in 2009 by Scott Lindenbaum and Andy Hunter.


Anonymous said...

this does bring up a dilemma for me:

I too love books you can hold in your hand
for many of the same reasons you do, I'm sure.

And when I first read a book,
I like to hold a paper copy in my hand
so that I can take it with me
and let it drop when I fall asleep
and can add to my library
made of real wood.

But after the first reading,
if it is a book I want to refer to again,
I want a searchable PDF file on my computer.

What I am hoping for is the offer of a package deal with every paper book you buy.
Buy this paper copy, and for some extra fee,
get a coupon for a downloadable file of the book,
a PDF file or some other searchable copy.

I don't want a kindle or ipad version, etc.,
and I don't really want to pay full price twice,
for the paper copy and for the ebook.

Indices are limited and are getting worse and worse,
as many publishers skip paying good indexers
the money it takes to develop really useful indices.

mycall gee said...

Yet there is something inherently inefficient and...wrong with centralized publishing of print books. Print, real print, is to me absolutely necessary. The act of reading squiggles of ink on paper is an entirely different, and superior, neurological process than reading a luminous surface. But (and it's a big butt!) in the present technological climate it's insane to deliver the text file to New York or Hong Kong, unite it with paper, ink, glue, cardboard, plastic, string even, to make amazingly heavy little objects and then ship them to either retailers or to the individual point of use.

In my Fantasyland, one buys a digital copy of the file from the author or publisher and gets it printed and bound at whatever level of luxury you wish at a local kiosk/vending machine (similar to the self-service photo print stations I see at drugstores). These machines could be at bookstores, libraries, copy shops, coffee shops. Reducing the enormous material cost of traditional publishing (printing, transportation) should permit both the buyer-reader and seller-author/publisher to make out ok. Copyright worries can be dealt with a number of ways, but it general, people don't steal things if there's little return in it for them.

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