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10 if writing = “Y” then goto 20

April 21, 2011

Nursing a latte is an old trick. A way for writers to study natural dialogue. For those not familiar with the technique, head to your local coffee house, buy yourself a cup of your favorite brown liquid and sit at a table. Listen to the conversations around you and take notes. This technique works in grocery stores too. Loitering around the meat counter you hear all sorts of things. For example last week I overheard two older gentlemen reliving the glory days of 300 baud modems and amber monitors. I found myself drawn to their conversation, mostly because I too have many a happy 8 bit memory. (Sorry I couldn’t help myself.) Listening to their fond recollections made me want to relive the good old days. I loaded my shopping cart with Ramen noodles and store-brand grape soda and drove home with visions of my TRS-80 dancing in my head.

Bonus point if you understand the title. Super-nerdy-bonus points if you can name the iconic 80's movie in which the TRS-80 plays cool techno music. Hint: "Lamda Lamda Lamda"

I soon as I got home I tossed a Cup-o-noodles into the microwave, cracked open a room temperature grape soda and switched on the old beige box. Then, fingers poised over the integrated keyboard, it hit me. I no longer have any idea how to program in Basic. Basic, for anyone born after the A-Team aired on NBC, is how we used to get computers to do things for us. I wrote the very first video game I played. It was no Call of Duty but it blew my thirteen year old mind.

Then came my Comodore 64 and it’s 5.25 disks full of games with real graphics ready to play. No need for me to write Basic everyday. Now I can’t even remember how to make the screen flash different colors. It occurred to me, as I powered down my antiquated machine, that my not remembering how to write Basic because I didn’t do it anymore would make a decent topic for a post. I know I’m not blazing any new ground here. Many is the book or blog which claims that to be a serious writer you have to write everyday.

Well that’s me out then, and probably most of you, too. So thanks for reading and good luck in your day jobs because, according to them, you’ll never be a serious writer. Hey, don’t blame me; I’m just the messenger. You’re the ones who wanted to have kids, a house and a personal life. It’s not my fault the kids have practice after school, your wife wants to invite the neighbors over for a bar-b-que or that your house needs work. Tough tacos, hombre. C’est la vie, boys and girls. It’s over, stop whining.

The fact of the matter is, there aren’t many writers who can write everyday. If you are one of the lucky ones then, I envy you. I made a choice to focus seriously on my writing a couple years ago. I think I’ve done pretty well. I’ve managed to get a few pieces published. I have a decent first draft of a novella and am working on a western novel. Some would argue that were I serious, I would be further along after two years than I actually am.

Part of me wants to agree. Part of me wants to feel guilt for not writing everyday. Part of me wants to tell my eleven year old daughter that I can’t make it to the game to watch her cheer. Part of me wants to call in sick to work so I can stay home and write. Part of me thinks how great it would be if I was somehow able to make money writing–if only I were able to do it more.

Then there is the part of me that says, I’m actually happy with the choices I’ve made. I like being there at half-time and watching my daughter in the middle of the gym making a pyramid of girls and getting the crowd excited. I like being there to hand her a bottled water and say “Yes I could hear you all the way up in the stands.” Part of me likes showing up for work, knowing that what I do helps those less fortunate than I.

I can’t write everyday. I set my life up to be a family man. I can’t expect to change it and everyone around me because I’ve re-discovered my passion for writing. Should I schedule writing time around my family? Maybe that would work for some but not for me. I’m too organic in how I live my life. I need to let it happen naturally. If I force myself into it then it becomes a chore. I don’t want that. So I don’t fit the “serious” writer mold. I’m okay with that. Regardless of what others may think, I still feel I’m taking my writing seriously. I’m just doing it in a way that is comfortable to me and works for my family. The important thing though, is that I’m doing it. I’m not letting my fiction skills go the way of my Basic skills.

What about you? Do you prefer to schedule writing time or do you let it just happen, even if that means flying in the face of conventional wisdom?

Go try that coffee house trick. You’ll be amazed by what you hear.

7 Comments
  1. adampb permalink
    April 21, 2011 12:25 am

    “Revenge of the Nerds” is the name of the film in question. I just don’t understand computer language.

  2. adampb permalink
    April 21, 2011 12:30 am

    This resonates quite strongly as I’ve also taken the “family package” from life’s vending machine. I also like to think I’m a serious writer. I simply timetable it into the week when it fits. And if it doesn’t, that’s life.

  3. April 21, 2011 3:24 am

    You sure have a strange way of making your computer work. All I did was push the button. Still do for that matter.

    But seriously, thanks for having the courage to come out and say this. I guess, I’m like you. I love teaching. I love the thought that I’m helping people who missed their first chance gain skills that will advance them both personally and professionally. Writing is important, but it is one important element alongside others. And it’s not always the most important.

    That said I follow a couple of internet memes and try to come up with at least one piece of flash/fiction per week. If I fail to do that, I’m usually disappointed. I reserve special times like holidays for working on a novel which is slowly beginning to take shape.

  4. April 21, 2011 5:50 am

    Revenge of the Nerds, but it could also have been Weird Science.

    I know how you feel. Someone once told me, “You can do anything you want in life. However, you can’t do EVERYTHING you want.” Balancing priorities of family, day job, social obligations, or even *gasp* other creative endeavors/sports/hobbies is tough.

  5. April 21, 2011 6:08 am

    I have no clue about the movie. Movies were forbidden in my life as a kid (blame my parents), so I’m good for nothing on that front… but Basic?

    Ah, Basic. I loved basic. Now that I spend my days writing code in C++, C# and oh, yes, Visual Basic (among other languages), I can think back fondly of the days when programs were simple, like:

    10 Print “Hello World”
    20 Goto 10

    I remember for a school project I had to write a program in Basic to make a bunny hop across the screen and say “Hoppy Easter”. It was great.

    Anyway, your point is perfectly placed with this and I agree with you and the comments that it comes down to making time for what you want to do. I often say I have trouble “finding time” to write or do other things, but ultimately the time is there and it is what it is. It comes down to prioritizing. Personally, I simply find it tough to prioritize my own desires/hobbies/wishes over the day job or the kids’ events. It’s something I’m working on.

    When I went to an office every day, I had a nice, easy, scheduled block of time to write because I’d arrive at the office nearly two hours early and would (usually) spend it writing or editing. Now that I don’t go to an office anymore, I don’t have that block… somehow that time has evaporated. Clearly, I need to fix that, but to answer your question: I prefer to write when the mood hits me. I just wish the mood hit me when it was convenient, at least once in a while.

  6. April 21, 2011 7:22 am

    Ahhhh, Did you ever bring back some memories (minus Memory) – I’ve written so many BASIC programs, I could probably still make my name flash in rainbow of colors and scroll like no one else’s business. Haha!

    I think a lot of us are faced with the same things… Life and our decision to prioritize differently. You wrote it out beautifully.
    ~2

  7. April 21, 2011 1:04 pm

    I too am struggling to fit writing into the life I’ve chosen, which includes a family, a dog, and a full-time job. I kind of like the fact that writing isn’t my job, though. Perhaps it makes me a less “serious” writer in peoples’ minds, but it means I do it for the love of it, not because it pays the bills. I worry if writing were my full-time gig, it would lose some of its appeal to me.

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