by Marcus Sakey
I recently got a new laptop, as my old one started making this sound like ball bearings dropped down a garbage disposal, or a grandfather endlessly gargling. Not the best for the concentration.
The new one is slick, lightweight, and has three features that make my geeky day. The first is a back-lit keyboard, handy when you do a lot of writing in the late afternoon on the front porch. Somehow my best streaks always seem to come just when it’s getting damn hard to see the keys. The second is a battery with mad life, about six hours of word processing time. And the third is a ‘roided-up WiFi card which lets me connect pretty much anywhere (e.g., the front porch.)
Besides making me happy because I’m a big nerd, the new laptop makes me happy because it expands the way I can work. Or more precisely, where I can work.
Most every time I do a speaking gig, someone asks what my routine is: How many words a day, how many days a week, what kind of computer, where I work. The answers are 5000 a week, five days a week, a PC, and…well, that last is trickier.
One of the unexpected challenges in taking your writing seriously is learning how you work best. It took me twenty short stories and two novels before I had a reasonable idea. It’s the little things. For example, for two years, I spent mornings pacing, banging my head against the wall, trying to will myself to work. I’d break for lunch, then come back around two, sit down and nail my word count. It took me two years to realize that maybe I ought to just not try to write in the morning—that I should take care of other things, and assume that I didn’t have fuck-all to say until two in the afternoon.
Another thing I learned was that I need to change locations. I write probably 50% of a novel sitting at my desk in the second bedroom we’ve converted to a den. But the other 50% is split up into a bunch of little shavings. 8% sitting in front of the open window. 6% on the front porch. 3% standing at the kitchen counter. 4% in the coffee shop. 4% in the bar. And so forth.
For me, the simple change of physical locations seems to unlock something. Maybe it’s new stimuli, or a clarity that comes with novelty, or maybe it’s just a trick I play on my head—there’s a lot of that to writing as well, tricking yourself. But whatever the reason, I find it makes a big difference to move around.
Which got me thinking. The last time I was working in a coffee shop, I took a break between paragraphs and looked around, and I noticed that pretty much everyone there had a laptop. A lot of them were obviously emailing or Facebooking or Twittering or browsing porn (okay, probably not), but some of them were clearly writing.
And maybe they were writing fiction.
I like that idea. It makes me happy to think that people are creating worlds all around us; that the guy on the subway looks a million miles away because he’s planning the next chapter in an ongoing fantasy, or that the shy girl in the library is actually banging out a crime novel. I wonder if any of them are books I’ve read, or if any of them have read my books. An almost-connection.
Anyway, what about you? Do you find that you work best in one particular place, or do you need to nomad it? If you go out, where do you go? After all, I’m always looking for ideas…