When You Should Write

Kage Baker was known to be a prolific writer. In the 13 years of her professional career (1997 to 2009), plus a few posthumous credits since, she published  13 or 15 novels (depending on how you count); over 70 stories, singly and in anthologies; several essays; some poetry; and a mystery play about beer.

She did it by starting years early – around 1960 – and never, ever stopping. She wrote almost every day, for hours – not a specific number of hours, as some writers do: Kage set herself few parameters. She just wrote every day until she was done, which usually meant she could no longer keep her eyes open far enough to see the keyboard. Even asleep, she went over plots and story lines; she talked in her sleep, she woke up other people and talked in their sleep (and rarely remembered what was said, so lots of people learned to make notes), she got up while still asleep and sleep-wrote. Not a lot came of that last endeavor, at least not in a known human language – Kage usually woke up a few paragraphs in, staring around blankly and trying to remember what the gibberish on the screen had said in her head.

On the other hand, I recall that the crucifix scene in Garden of Iden, the final battle in “Some Facts Relating To The Arrest of Dr. Kalugin” and several scenes of delirium did indeed arise from sleep-writing. So I’m not knocking it as a technique. It worked for Kage.

Another advantage Kage possessed in this constant outflow of writing was that she actually loved doing it. She loved it the way she loved road trips and lightning over the sea and classic animation. It was a total sensorium experience, one that enveloped her in a world she liked better than she usually liked this one. “Calgon, take me away*!” she would often exclaim, sitting down at her desk. Then she’d flip her braid out behind her like a tail coat, crack her knuckles, and dive through her computer screen.

“To be a writer, you must write.” And she meant that literally; there was nothing mystical about it, she wasn’t unscrewing the inscrutable. She meant you needed to sit down and open yourself to the tide and literally, physically write.

Which is much harder than it sounds.

I have sought, usually in vain, to attain that comprehensive delight in the last year. I know what it’s like – most of us do, Dear Readers, who have dabbled or dived deep into the seas of ink and dreams. It’s one of the Great Good Highs: ecstasy without drooling, bliss that leaves the brain still working. It had me firmly in hand when I completed The Women of Nell Gwynne II. I found my way to its sanctum when I re-wrote the new novel that has gone to my agent as Knight and Dei. I started Marswife, Charlotte’s Face and “The Teddy Bear Squad” from its high ground, that “brightest heaven of invention” that William Shakespeare invokes for the aspirant author.

Then, in the last year, I went face first into the mud, where I have been  bubbling in futility ever since.

But things have been improving. Spring is here! My evil kidney is gone! I’m healthier, thinner, more rested, better jeweled and suddenly possessed of the mad irresistible urge to WRITE!

I wrote frenetically yestreday – all day re-fribbing the little short story that struck me like lightning this week. I like it better now. I can find something even better to do with it.

I wrote last night, too. Spent most of the evening pounding away at “The Teddy Bear Squad”, which has suddenly recovered its voice and is shouting in my ears. In fact, even after I went to bed last night, it kept waking me up. I was awakened repeatedly, hearing insistent queries like: How could it take them three squirrels to notice the colour?!? And:  Is it axilla or oxter???  And: What about the fleas!?!

Someday, Dear Readers,  these burning questions will make sense. With some good luck, anyway. “Teddy Bear Squad” is a Company story, which increases its chances of being published about a hundred-fold. In the meantime, rest content knowing that I did not ignore the siren call, but got up and spent most of the rest of the night performing a necroscopy in a veterinary lab somewhere on the midnight Pacific Coast.

You can’t pick your times to write. You can barely pick your subjects. You need to just stand out there in the road with all your time ready to hand, and hope that something comes along and hits you.

And, oh, Dear Readers, when it does …



*Watch the commercial here! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVLzkTuVmrw

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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6 Responses to When You Should Write

  1. You know, I was wracking my brain about that crucifix scene just a few weeks ago, and I’m still not sure what to make of it. The fact that it originated from sleep-writing makes me feel a lot better.


    • Kate says:

      Kage was never one of those madly pious little girls – the sort that collected rosaries and holy cards. Religion was something that just sort of happened to little kids, she figured. Imagine a small traumatized child trying to make some rational sense out of a scary crucifix; then try writing it down while you’re asleep …


  2. mizkizzleM says:

    It’s interesting that Kage invoked the famous phrase from the Calgon commercial. I do it too, when the world is too much with me and I need to dive into a story and get away from it all. Young people have to have the context explained to them, as they do “I dreamed I went to/did X, Y or Z in my Maidenform bra.”


  3. mizkizzle says:

    “Calgon, take me away,” has to be explained to our younger viewers, as does, “I dreamed I did (fill in the blank) in my Maidenform bra.”
    I’m guessing that Kage enjoyed Mad Libs. Most people who love language and inappropriate humor were Mad Libs fans.


    • Kate says:

      Calgon is an all-purpose analgesic, and everyone should know about it. I can do without Maidenform Bras … I have hated bras ever since my first one, and have worn them as little as possible thorughout my life. The commercials *were* iconic, though, you’re right.

      Kage adored Mad Libs, with an obsessed frenzy. Some of the results from especially epic games became by-words and catch-phrases in our household until her death, never failing to crack us both up. And she was convinced that the lyrics to “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” by Creedance Clearater (whom she loved also) were written by a game of Mad Libs.

      We tried to come up with some plots using that system a few times. Mankind is not yet ready for the results …


      • mizkizzle says:

        Sorry about the double post. I have no idea why that happened. If you liked Mad Libs, you’d love Cards Against Humanity. It’s sick and twisted and very, very funny.
        BTW, the lyrics to Lookin’ Out My Back Door make one wonder what happened to him in Illinois to give him what appeares to be a psychotic break with reality.


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