Dedicated to Nienke with Love

I have been a writer all my life, but sometimes the writing hasn’t had the opportunity to find its way outside my head. For a brief heady time I made a living as a writer, learning a great deal from the old pros I worked with back when I was a young pup. (Funny, I’m now substantially older than the old pros were then.)

I’ve enjoyed my childrearing hiatus which has of course produced the most amazing kid in the world. Since he’s now in high school, I’ve been dusting off my skills and doing a fair bit of thinking. Over the years I’ve accumulated a reasonable amount of life experience, and rather a lot of story ideas. Best of all, I also have a dedicated laptop, which is the place I’ve set aside to bring my writing to life.

Computer Stuff Digression

My “new” laptop has very little in the way of bells and whistles. It’s primary feature was that it was dirt cheap. We’re talking a rugged little IBM machine that would probably survive a fall from a cliff or being run over by a car, but is also so old the hard drive has less capacity than a writable DVD. Since the antique Windows 98 it came with is unsupported, I’m running Ubuntu (one of the more popular versions of Gnu-Linux) on it, since the hard drive is much too small for the current versions of Windows. So I finally have my open source desktop, and am loving being windows free on this machine, let me tell you. Open source software is awesome.

I’m actually gearing up to a changeover on my “real” computer; I attended my first Ontario GNU Linuxfest yesterday, I learned a lot, got some great advice as well as several different versions of linux to try out at home to decide which is best. There’s this great new technology where you can run a “virtual boz” on your computer, so you can have several different operating systems running on your one computer. The advantage to this is that you don’t have to commit to any specific home version of linus, you can try them out at your leisure. When you’re ready just go ahead and install it. (Until yesterday I had this crazy idea that there was only one home version, Ubuntu, the one on the laptop. I now have disks for fedora 11, Free BSD, opensolaris and opensuse As well, there will be a new release of Ubuntu in a few days which will apparently be able to use Photoshop (which has been my sticking point). And if that still isn’t good enough there’s an Irish version called Mint that is supposed to run video nicely “out of the box”.

Marcel Gagné: Linux without Fear
Marcel Gagné: Linux without Fear

I really enjoyed the talks although much of it was way over my head. Which is probably why Marcel Gagné was my favorite presenter in his talk “Linux Without Fear”. Although aimed at giving pointers to Linux users on spreading linux software in the wider community, he was both entertaining and understandable to neophytes like myself. My other two favorite presentations were Emma Jane Hogbin‘s lively talk on “Writing Effective Self-Help Guides for World Domination” and engineer Neil Bunn’s awesome discussion of designing and building “SciNet the largest Linux System in Canada”.

back on track

Part of the reason for having a separate writing computer is to keep the writing focused. I am in fact writing this blog post on the laptop, because it can go online (just). Because online is so slooooow the temptation to internet distraction will be much less.

Being old and slow myself, I can write at my own speed which isn’t too fast or too much for Open Office on this machine. If I need to do a quick & dirty bit of research it does the job. Serious research, blog posts, photo stuff, email and the like take too long. But for writing, it’s lovely. The keys are comfortable, they have a good solid feel.

It’s time I returned to the novel form. My first attempt at writing a novel in grade nine convinced me that I was not a writer. At the time it seemed clear that writing wasn’t a viable career path for me. So. After mourning the loss of what I thought would be my life’s work I headed off to college where I instead studied media arts (since i love movies and TV almost as much as i love books). As it turned out I became a writer anyway.

Maturity and experience have taught me the problems with my first novel were a combination of writing derivatively and not having the maturity to realize that an outline is a necessary foundation to writing fiction. Essential.

An outline shouldn’t be written in stone since your characters may have other ideas as they come to life. But even if you throw it out in part or in whole along the way due to changing circumstances, you must keep re-writing the outline, so that you the writer knows where you are heading. I have yet to meet a fiction writer who would rather outline than undergo root canal surgery, but it is a necessary evil. The outline remains as essential to writing good fiction as language is.

My talented sister-in-law has helped to keep my dreams alive over the years with her blog The Writing Life. Nienke offers ideas and writing outlets and avenues to follow. Sometimes it’s just a funny story or an interesting anecdote, but I’ve always found what she writes to be of use. Because even when I didn’t make the time for writing, writing has always been a part of who I am. In the back forty of my brain notes are always being taken.

It was through Nienke that I first heard of NaNoWriMo. The idea of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is to write a 50,000 word first draft during the month of November. Yikes. Yet some of us work well to deadlines.

In the past I’ve never been in the right place in my life to be able to get it together to try something like this, but for me this year everything is right. Maybe because I’m old enough to know if you want to do something, you must commit to making time for it. I do believe that I’ll do it for the same reason I was finally able to quit smoking two years ago: I think it’s the right time for me.

Probably this blog will suffer a bit of neglect during the month of November. I may pop by here from time to time with status reports, or with more musings on copyright consultation submissions. I’ve found reading them to have a restorative effect on my soul, and I know going in that writing anything definitely has moments when a restorative is called for. Of course when immersed in intense writing going for a walk in the woods may well prove to be a more effective break. Being November hopefully there won’t even be pesticide out there!

So just in case I don’t manage to get back here at all during the process, rest assured that I will return after NaNoWriMo is all over. Whether or not the novel flies, I am having too much fun within the wind. Maybe someday I’ll wind it down, but not anytime soon.

You know what? I haven’t started the novel yet, but I’m having fun already.

Thanks Nienke!

[OK, I confess… I just used my “real” computer to make a couple of corrections and added a few links I missed on the laptop. Ye olde laptop is definitely not for blogging. Let’s put it this way… it was faster to refer to the paper program from yesterday than to open up new web pages… 🙂 —llr]


4 thoughts on “Dedicated to Nienke with Love

  1. I’d love to be buddies… compare word counts… have fun… i just wanna give it a shot.

    I know everyone has to figure it out for themselves, but I strongly disagree about the outline process. I only know one big-time writer who wrote well without outlining, and that was Isaac Asimov. (And even he should have outlined the 2 volumes of his 2 volume autobiographical trilogy…. fortunately he realized this and never inflicted the third volume on the world… instead wrote something completely different, which was good)

    And yes, I know that there are a couple of wildly successful writers who babble on about how they don’t need outlines, but I think they do. The reason that they are so successful is that they’re excellent storytellers, and so they can suck the reader in so far that it doesn’t matter that there is no outline for most of the book… it only matters when it falls apart at the end.

    From where I sit, they would not only be successful, but their books would be good too if they took the trouble to outline, instead of trying to convince the world it doesn’t matter.

    I don’t care how successful they are, after two like that by any writer I’m gone. Because my time as a reader is valuable, and I feel cheated if the ending is a badly grafted piece of junk that doesn’t really fit but the book has to end now. There are too many good books out there to waste my time with ones where the author can’t be bothered to make the book work as a whole.

  2. You know, outlines are not mandatory for everyone – there are a lot of “pantsers” out there who like to write by the seat of their pants. Even some big time writers don’t use outlines. But, each writer must find the technique that works best for them. I think I’ll attempt Nano again this year – but quietly this time. I’d love to be your buddy! Maybe we can do a few “word wars.”

    Good luck!

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