Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Freakin Process

Hi and welcome to my column. You'll be seeing me on the weekends when I can drop by and add some words to the general pool of wonderfully interesting stuff you're going to read here. During the week you can find me over at my blog, ArsGeek writing my predictions for the future of technology, interesting ways to use operating systems, posting keen links or talking a bit about new rodents that have been discovered. There, that's my first and last plug.

While I don't have much to offer in the way of speculative fiction on that blog, I do spend a lot of time writing for the site. When I'm not writing for that, I enjoy writing for it's own ends. I've been putting words to paper and fingers to keys for a lot of years now with some interesting, horrible and occasionally good things coming out of it.

What is it that makes some of us do this? Is it the same thing that motivates engineers to design computers that can't be opened and are guaranteed to scrape six inches of skin off your knuckles? God I hope not.

On thinking what motivates me to write and how I actually accomplish the writing process, I came to realize a simple truth about myself. For me writing is, most especially when it comes from the soul, a gut wrenching experience which can drain and exhilarate me at the same time. It is comparable to almost wrecking a car, only to pull out of it at the last possible moment while also rescuing a tree bound kitten and saving the neighborhood orphanage from bankruptcy. With some of my projects I never quite reach the kitten/orphanage stage. That is why I enjoy having written much more than I enjoy actually writing.

This is what I call the Freakin Process. The thing which brings me to the heart of writing, whether it's your fifteenth novel or an article on shell scripting. It's something of a universal truth that it takes about five thousand times more effort to write a sentence than it does to read one.

So why do I continue to write, even in my spare time when I could be watching television or doing something else to degrade my mind? The answer is that I really enjoy having written. So much so that in the end the unavoidable struggle with myself and occasionally my computer is all worth the sweat blood and ink I've poured into it. That in itself is inspiration enough to write but when I can create and add to a genre, be it scientific, poetic, non-fiction or fiction; when I can affect one person with my ideas or generate one new thought, that effort becomes a necessity. This is the closest I can come to creating something hitherto unseen on this earth.

That creation process, like sex or Jackson Pollock, can be very messy. Once in a while it can even be inspired.

What's it like for this geek to write? It goes something like this:

I sit at my computer and fire up OpenOffice. I minimize OpenOffice and cruise around Fark and BoingBoing a while. I Pop OpenOffice back up and type a few lines, which I then delete in a frenzy of keystrokes. I grab a coffee. I gaze longingly at my screen and work at convincing myself I'm a creative kind of guy. There's some head scratching going on here and I get a strong desire to call someone I haven't talked to in a while. I try and spell Jackson Pollock without resorting to Google. This is where the struggle begins. I force myself back to the keyboard and begin to type rapidly. Then I stop to make a few adjustments and as inevitably happens the computer does what I tell it to and not what I want it to. I become a very creative kind of guy and make up a whole new category of cursing, often involving sharks, aliens and their improbably love children. I type on, trying to wrest the thoughts from my mind into language that other people will understand. I click about for a good song on my media player. And so the process continues.
All of this you see, is to write a 300 word story on the uses of some basic Linux command. The real creative stuff takes a real effort.

Every once in a while, something will grab my by the short hairs and suddenly after regain a sense of my surroundings I'll look back at three or four pages of really good stuff. My muse, what ever the hell that is, has struck again and I've written not as a struggle but as if that's what I was put here to do. That's the beauty in this whole thing. That's when I look back over my shoulder, cast my face towards the sky and say "where the hell were you two hours ago!"

It's really the past tense that I'm seeking. After all of this has been accomplished, when the smoke clears from my keyboard and my lap is cooling from where I've removed my laptop I can sit back and relax and reflect on having written once again.

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