Daily Chores In The Time of Writing

Kage Baker  loved the act of writing.

She always had, from her first flow-of-consciousness baby scribbles (you know, big loops and zigzags done in private languages and crayon) to her last staccato typing on a wireless keyboard. It’s why she never took to speech-enabled software.

We tried out Dragon during her last year, to see if it let her compose directly when she was too weak to sit up and type. Which it did, of course; but it was no fun. No fun for Kage, anyway – I laughed myself half to death, because the program faithfully reproduced all her muttering to herself as she dictated, and then devolved quickly into profanity when she noticed …

Anyway, there was no joy in just reciting. Kage wanted feedback of some sort. Writing longhand was her favourite writing medium well into her 30’s, because she loved the flow of smooth black ink onto clean empty paper. Clear virgin pages were a visual thrill, and seeing her thoughts spool out behind the stylus of a good pen was a visceral delight. She was very picky about both paper and pens – what she liked best of all was plain, good quality typing paper, and a Cro Quill pen dipped in Higgins Waterproof Black Ink. She used legal pads because the narrow lines and pale green paper pleased her, though a steel nib would sometimes write right through a couple of pages at once … Felt tips were an object of her lasting scorn. Pilot Pens finally came up with a small enough ball and a smooth enough ink to please her, and make of writing the unencumbered act of creation Kage demanded.

She kept it up as her favoured medium all the way through In The Garden of Iden, and the first three iterations of Sky Coyote (novella, short story, novel … it expanded and shrank like an accordion). Then she mastered the computer and finally found the perfect composition method. Though she used to speculate wistfully on when someone would come up with that science fiction staple, the thoughtwriter.

I don’t blame her; never did. I think she might have had the same trouble that she did with Dragon, though, because she continued to compose in several voices at once and in nothing resembling  a straight line. It just would have been quieter until she blew up at the machine.  Kage needed a filter or a governor between her and the page.

I am now giddily in the throes of writing, having dug my way through the gate of steel and tower of adamant circumscribing my ability to compose. A keyboard is second nature to me; I’ve earned my living with one since I was 19. Now my only problem is time: management of and passage through …  I want to work on the story (“The Teddy Bear Squad”), and I want to get a blog written maybe every day, and I need to stop at intervals to research.  One of the greatest of mod cons, for the average writer, is the ability to do research as ideas appear, right freaking there at your desk. But you still have to stop writing to do it, which is a pain …

Can I find an English to Hittite dictionary online? What parts of Highway 1 have fallen off lately? Tell me everything about polar bear fur. Are we out of bologna?

Kimberly is an enormous help, and knows how to keep me moving and alive. I can’t remember the damned word for mercury ore! I moan to her; an hour later I come back to my desk and find a note reading (in her inhumanly tidy printing) CINNABAR. Nothing else, but it’s all I need to get back up to speed. And she makes me coffee, and refills my water glass, and reminds me to occasionally eat and take my tana leaves every day.

This is why it’s handy to have artistes in sororal clutches. Just ask the Bronte girls. Or Jane and Cassandra Austen. Not that I’m in their leagues, but – I have the same problems, just as Kage did. And we both came to their solution.

More important than the pen, the paper, any medium you can imagine; more vital than the reference sources, whether you’re riffling frantically through the Peterson Guide to Mammals of North America or trying to access the Galactic Library through an outdated browser. When the writing grabs you by the throat, you need help to deal with everything you need to do just to make it through the day. Sisters are the best.

And now, back to the vicious purple squirrels …




About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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5 Responses to Daily Chores In The Time of Writing

  1. Polar bear fur isn’t white, any more than snow is; it only looks that way. It’s actually transparent. Which allows sunlight to penetrate through to their skin, which is black, and so absorbs heat.


  2. mizkizzle says:

    Polar bears, eh? My mind went right to the nasty beast in The Terror by Dan Simmons. Nobody writes like Simmons. He’s wicked smaat, as my Maine relatives would say.
    If only one’s day could be spent doing nothing but writing and research, life would be perfect bliss. But unfortunately someone has to shop for groceries and take the poodle to get her shots.


  3. mizkizzle says:

    Oh, and purple squirrels? Princeton, NJ, not far from where I live, is famously overrun by black squirrels, the result, some say, of a pair of escapee onyx-hued squirrels that were bred in a mad scientist’s laboratory. (Although why a mad scientist would want to create a race of black squirrels is unknown.)


  4. Kate says:

    I love Dan Simmonds, and read everything he writes – I especially liked The Terror!
    And everyone knows black squirrels come from Mirkwood …

    As for spending the day in research and writing: one of the great joys of taking up writing as a career is that, now and then, you really can spend a blissful day doing just that. I am duly grateful for the fact that it happens at all. But, yeah, domestic shores still have to fitted in somehow anyway. My personal trick (learned from Kage) is to do them in the company of someone good to talk to, and at least brainstorm if you can’t just sit still and write.


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