Monday, September 26, 2011


I'm Jeremy, a.k.a. J. James Ross (my intended pen name, by virtue of having had an open URL address), a.k.a. Once and Future Geek. I've been asked to contribute a few thoughts on the subject of writing now and then. I happen to be Katie's husband, but that did not influence Katie's decision to ask me to help out; it was the fact that I "obviously have so much free time" because I "never clean up around the house anyway" and something about listening, or feelings, or something. Anyway.

To start things off, I thought I'd answer, or try to answer, the fundamental question of writing.

"How do you write?"

This is a question. I know this because it ends in a question-mark. Questions should have answers. This question does not.

Well, it kind of does. The actual answer is "With my butt in the chair and my hands on the keyboard." That's not the answer anyone is looking for when they ask the question; what they really mean is, "How do I become a writer?" The same way you become a professional dishwasher: you wash dishes - I mean, write.

You will need a few things: words, a medium, and some means of getting the words onto the medium. Yourself, a piece of paper, and a pencil would suffice. Technological advances mean that a computer can fulfill two roles, leaving the words up to you. Refrigerator poetry handles all three, though! Buy some, you'll be a writer in no time.

So there you are. You've got your words, and they've been written down on paper. You, friend, are now a writer! Did you feel the world-shaking vibration from the massive choior of angels singing out in celebration? Yeah, me neither. Maybe we missed something, let's check the paper again. "Bored. I'm hungry. This paper is dumb." Profound. Maybe we can try a different approach.

So it's not the act of writing that's so meaningful in being a writer, it's what you're writing. The Declaration of Independence didn't just say, "Hey, England - we're gonna do our own thing now. Nothing personal, you're just kind of a dick." There was substance to it.

You've got substance. I hope you do, anyway. You've certainly got a book in you. Celebrity literature has proven: everyone has at least one book to write. Don't just say "they all had ghost-writers" - they did (the ones who aren't writers or comedians, anyway), but the book was in them. A ghost writer is really just a super-editor; they take the endless, meandering stream of words you give them and cut, paste, sand and file until it's a proper book. The book was in there; all anyone has to do is bring it out and write it down somewhere.

But how? "How" is the question, isn't it? How do you take this nebulous, undefined psychic mass and turn it into printed word?

"Nothing can be taught, but anything can be learned."

I don't know how. I've done it (not as a complete novel, but shorter stories, yes) and I still don't know. If I knew, I could do it reliably all the time, and as you can see on my blog, I haven't been. But I can tell you things, like "you've got substance, maybe" and "coffee kicks ass" that might help. Not that I'm trying to teach here. I'm trying to learn. What I'm saying is, you can learn. It's a skill and an art; it can be learned. It just takes practice.

How, then, do you practice?

Place your butt in a chair. Place your hands on a keyboard. Wiggle your fingers until words come on screen. I don't care much if the words make sense; start from wherever you are, creatively, and make something. "See Spot Run" is still a successful book; you can manage to write something. The more you do it, the better you can become.

Figure out what you want to do and do it. It's a simple concept, and even though it's a difficult reality, that's still pretty much all there is to it.