How To Write?

Kage Baker, being a methodical person,  had distinct steps leading up to the daily act of writing. They worked, too. She followed her specialized preparation regimen and 9 times times out 10, she settled down at the end and wrote stuff.

Kage being a resolutely self-identified obsessive-compulsive, they were richly detailed and complicated procedures. I think she added frills and furbelows just to amuse herself, or to fill out the corners of the picture frame she was working to create: Kage adored marginal illuminations, and she  added them to her writing routine by way of these rituals. She felt strongly that writing needed illustrations – even if she was the only one who knew that a given story had a motif of waves in the sun and matiljia poppies round the edges, it mattered to her.

Also, it was a way to trick herself into the process of writing. Sometimes you have to sneak up on the Muse, and get him in a hammer-lock before you can start. Sometimes, you have to school yourself to sit still, so he can get a hammer-lock on you. And sometimes, everyone involved has to sneak up on the work or it will go haring off into the high brush, and then there is nothing to do but sit down and read Terry Pratchett novels.

I have rituals of my own. Some of them are Kage’s, some of them I’ve evolved. They’re all a lot sloppier than Kage’s. I don’t start my sessions with single, austere, carefully rationed video game, for instance, as Kage did. But I do have a writing hat, the wearing of which actually seems to make a difference – Kage would laugh that to scorn, as her only concern about writing clothes was colour coordination.

Today I was talking with a writer friend, literally about how to write; how the hell to get all the neurons in line and  so accomplish something with a plot and some progress.  I realized that I do, indeed, have things I must do in order to write. But I also have things I do with appalling regularity that derail me entirely. Fixing those is my new challenge.

I get a lot of ideas, for instance, as I am falling asleep.  I used to dismiss them, assuming they’d come round again come the dawning day. But, guess what? They go up in fiery gauze, like ethanol fumes above a smouldering barbecue.

Going to bed is no longer the careless act of youth, Dear Readers, as many of you have probably also discovered.  I can’t just cast myself down on the nearest flat surface and doze off. I have to arrange the CPAP mask so it doesn’t blow air in my eyes, and sequester the hoses so they don’t strangle me, or attack passing innocents.

Are the clips out of my hair? Am I  still wearing my glasses under my mask? (No wonder it doesn’t fit … ) There’s turning off the computer, the postage meter, the plasma generator; making sure I’ve clicked on the light in the hemisphere of Mars that glows on my wall … by the time I snuggle into my nest of pillows, my brain is back in full gear, even if I was yawning when I started.

So I lie there thinking over plot devices and dialogue and secondary characters … until it all blends into already bizarre dreams of building a Faire, someplace where oak trees have sprouted up like mushrooms and taken over the world.

Splendid writer and all-around good guy, Steve Baxter, recommends keeping a dream journal, in order to mine the gems that burrow to the surface of one’s busy mind in sleep. This is a great idea: but not, so far, for me.  I am just no damn good at dream journals.  Anything kept by my bed to write in is both dangerous and doomed, especially a notebook. I get it tangled in my CPAP hoses. Spiral binders do not mix well with CPAP hoses, especially when I keep knocking off the other vital goodies by my bed – my cane, my stuffed Anomalocaris and spotted owl; a flashlight, six million knitting needles, the glass of water for when my mouth falls open while in the CPAP mask and I wake up with Mars throat … and I keep knocking that glass right off and on to a passing cat, so feline hysteria gets added to the mix.

So I get up every morning and scour my mind for what I can recall, and enter it into my Story Notes File on the computer. It works, but not as well as recording dreams as soon as I have them. And it would probably work even better if I didn’t wait until I was disconnected, dressed, washed and caffeinated until I did it.  I’m working on that. It might be helped by adjusting the timing.

I’m trying to intersperse writing times with other, different, creative kinds of work – answer my correspondence, and read a certain amount each day. Work on this blog. Knit. Get out into the actual sun and fresh air.  The idea here is to stop falling into the inescapable flypaper hours where I spend all day reading Fark and back issues of Smithsonian Magazine. I need to stop expending intellectual fuel, and instead store some up.

How do you become a writer? People asked Kage that, as they do everyone who writes anything at all. Her only answer was: To be a writer, you have to write. Just write. Just sit the hell down and write.

I can hear her grinning at me and saying: Hell, there is no HOW. Because nothing matters. Except the work.

 

 

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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7 Responses to How To Write?

  1. Jason Evans says:

    A Friend of mine introduced me to the cult of Save The Cat. I am a ckeric in the faith, quickly moving to high priest. Once I can see my scenes on that board, writing comes easily. (Even if I go in an unexpected direction) all hail Save the Cat!

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  2. Lynn says:

    Life in bed is more difficult AC (after C-Pap and its hoses. I found that a bottle of water doesn’t spill as easily as a glass of water.I also keep a big pad of paper, without wires, and a Sharpie next to the bed for those thoughts that Won’t Shut the Hell Up while I’m trying to sleep. I find that if I write them down they let me be. The Sharpie helps me to not write over that most important word in the sentence that gives clarity to the entire thought. (Ask me how I know!) I don’t have a potentially hysterical cat to deal with but I do have a potentially grumpy bed partner – not a genial person when woken up at 2 in the morning just because I had an idea.

    Of course I don’t write as a general rule, and the things that keep me awake are thankfully few and in between recently. I do recommend the large pad, Sharpie and bottled water though. That other stuff may need a second bedside table.

    Blessing to you and your sleep.

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    • Kate says:

      Thank you! The pad and pen is the best bet – I lose pens with alarming ease, but you can always find them, right> They’re usually in your shoes or at the foot of the bed … I’ve traded in the glass of water for a sipper with a lid and a straw. It not only prevents me from drowning the cat, it prevents the cat from drinking my water! (The cat is now glaring at me from where she is sharpening her claws inside my discarded huarache … sigh.)

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  3. Tom says:

    Very timely. I need a better ignition process.

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    • Kate says:

      Tom, I have sometimes found myself eyeing a lighter and considering setting my shoes alight. Luckily, I am rarely wearing any shoes. But you really do need to experiment and find out something that will, YES, get you moving. The hardest thing for me to do is put down the Kindle and the mouse.

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  4. Edit ruthlessly. If it doesn’t fit in with the overall story, if it’s unnecessary, or if you don’t like what you’ve written, cut it out. Check for coherency. Do all parts of the story make sense together? If so, continue. If not, consider revising whatever doesn’t fit in.

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