Category Archives: Writing

Jonathan Franzen on the 19th-Century Writer Behind His Internet Skepticism – Joe Fassler – The Atlantic

Ideen om at vi er nødt til at begrænse brug af alle de muligheder vi har nu til dage, tiltrækker mig meget.
Det er som om det er i vores tidsalder at det er blivet meget aktuelt.
Det gælder for vores energiforbrug, brug af plads og naturens resourcer, de muligheder som videnskab giver os eller som her brug af det sociale internet:

Jonathan Franzen on the 19th-Century Writer Behind His Internet Skepticism – Joe Fassler – The Atlantic

“The groupthink of the Internet and the constant electronic stimulation of the devices start to erode the very notion of an individual who is capable of, say, producing a novel.”
  • Good novels are produced by people who voluntarily isolate themselves, and go deep, and report from the depths on what they find.
  • And so it seems to me that the writer’s responsibility nowadays is very basic: to continue to try to be a person, not merely a member of a crowd.
  • I’m trying to monitor my own soul as carefully as I can and find ways to express what I find there.

Languages Again

As ever I have trouble finding out which language to use when I write, and who knows, even when I think. I have been writing in English the last years, but I try to speak Danish in my normal life (not to mention the other languages that are running around somewhere in my head).
Lately I started writing some more things in Danish, and as I didn’t know where to put these on this English blog, I decided to add a wordpress.com blog in danish to it. Just to keep things gathered in the right places. I’ll just see what happens with it, as I don’t want to force me to use a certain language. When I read a book in Danish or Dutch, my natural reaction is to write about it in its language, and the same happens when I listen to a radio program, a video or whatever.

For now I decided to try not to worry about it, even though I know that as a result of changing languages none of them will perhaps be used in an eloquent way, but I will put my trust in the eventual power of simplicity. I have to.

What tools should I use to write?

There are many programs for writing and editing texts and most are good for anybody and anything. Because basically they all do one thing – they let you create texts.

As a writer you write, as an editor you edit and as a publisher you publish. The writer in you wants a tool that can create texts as quickly and easy as possible. Quick because when you are finally getting some good ideas or when the words are coming to your mind faster than you can type,  you need a tool that reacts immediately. Your mind is occupied with trying to grab the ideas and impulses so you also want something that is fool-proof and not distracting.

After many thoughts and attempts I settled for the one obvious tool that does the job best: a plain text-editor.

Text it

A text editor is a small program that basically produces .txt files, which is just about the most bare and smallest kind of text-file you can produce. No different letter types or sizes, nice layout or  italics or bold, but just text, ready to be used everywhere you want. Because of the simple .txt format you can take it anywhere you like in the world of text-based software. Open it in your favourite word-processor and create the most beautiful layout you can think of or send it by email to your best friend who can read it instantly in the mail or open it in what ever software and operating system he or she might happen to use. Copy and past that long post into your blogging tool or create an archive of lightweight basic text files, future-proof.

Text files are very convenient to back-up as their small size guarantees the shortest possible uploading time to a backup service, be it on the web or on your memory key. It will take you very likely more than a lifetime to write 2GB of .txt files, so you don’t have to worry about running out of space anywhere.

But one of the main advantages is the quick response time of text editors. They open instantly and make my old computer react like a brand new top model. Keep a shortcut at hand and whenever an idea pops up write it down immediately and save it, either in a file of its own or keep a file open to gather related ideas.

Save it

Save your files naming them with the current date like yymmdd (for example: 100211) and you automatically create a diary or journal that is stored in the right order and with the exact date you had that brilliant idea.

When you consequently start a new file each day you can keep track of different versions by copying the lightweight .txt file of the day before in your new file and edit and save it.

Control it

In order to keep control over your growing archive of .txt files you can use a search-tool that you tweak to index your archive of .txt files only. In this way you will be able to search very fast and won’t get distracted by .mp3 files or house-cleaning schedules. To ease up the searching process I add tags to pieces of text that I think I might want to use or reread later. A tag like #(tag), as for example: #quote or #idea, doesn’t really work in the search-tools I used as they apparently don’t “read” the #-symbol. So I opted for tag-quote or tag-idea that is certainly indexed by all search tools.

Screenshot of the results of a search in my .txt files (using Tracker).

I put the tag on a new line and I add a few words that somehow describe the piece of text I am referring too as these words show up in my search results directly behind the tag.

Screenshot of a text editor with tabs (gedit)

Choose a text editor that supports tabs so you can open search results or other multiple files you are working on in the same window and quickly switch between them. These could for example be chapters of a book, a plot or character descriptions, quotes or articles. I keep always two tabs open; a todo list or notes file and a file with the tags I use so I can be consistent.

Screenshot of the my complete screen.

Most text editors have the F11 shortcut that will turn it into a full-screen productivity machine and with a default easy-for-the-eye background colour there will be no stopping you.

Well, I can’t see a reason anyway.

Quote on Writing


Conrad Busken Huet

This quote reminds me that writing in the first place is something you just want to do – and as such it shouldn’t be aimed directly at an audience. Liberty is available if you dare to let go of your always weary “Lizard Brain”, as Seth Godin calls  it – the part that is always weary about the consequences. The Dutch journalist and literature critic Busken Huet (1826 -1886) apparently did well in writing freely what he thought, but by publishing it he created many conflicts:

Zijn doel, als van ieder werkelijk schrijver – van de lyrische dichter tot de man van wetenschap toe – was zijn gedachten in een zo klaar, zo suggestief, zo adequaat mogelijke vorm uit te drukken waarbij het gelezen willen worden een secundaire vraag van zelfbesef en financiële noodzaak is.(…) Deze denkmoed, onafhankelijk, candide en wereldvreemd is de motor van alle veroveringen in het rijk van de geest en was ook de motor van Huets kritisch vermogen. Maar wie die gave bezit en wie er zo mee woekert als Huet gedaan heeft, moet afstand doen van het verlangen in ongestoorde vrede met zijn medemensen te leven.

bron: Jan Romein en Annie Romein-Verschoor, Erflaters van onze beschaving.
Em. Querido’s Uitgeverij, Amsterdam 1977 page 728

My humble translation attempt:

“His aim, as that of any real writer – from the lyrical poet to the man of science – was to express his thoughts as clearly, as suggestive, as precise as possible, whereas the wish to be read is a secondary question of self-awareness and financial necessity. (…) This courage of thinking, independent, candid and otherwordly is the engine of all conquests in the spiritual world and was also the engine of Huet’s critical capabilities. But he who posses this gift and who makes it profitable as Huet has done, has to abandon the desire to live in undisturbed peace with his fellow human beings.”

Hail the caesar of your genius

After reading a post by Merlin Mann on the process of starting a project (and to keep going) and after listening to Elizabeth Gilbert in a TED-talk mentioned in the post about nursing your creativity, I understand that they offer a way to deal with one of the major obstacles for writers..

We all know it basically comes down to the old truth of “ You just have to work for it and all will be well”, but it is not so easy in practice for the majority of us..

Both clearly indicate that writing on a daily basis is the key to getting work done and creating possibilities to get inspired during the process. As Merlin puts it in a Tweet:

.“Creative work, summarized: In the time you set aside each day to work your ass off, ignore anything that makes you consider stopping.”

.To be able to do this for a longer period – what about a lifespan? – is undoubtable the key to success. As Merlin stresses, this “anything that makes you consider stopping” is no sinecure.

.The majority of those threats that endanger continuation are based upon fear, and this means fear in all its facets. That is easy to say as fear rules just about anything in our world, but when it comes to for example writing it is all the more clearly. Writing is listening to the voice within, digging for inspiration in the depths of a human being, listening to all the tails from the incredible feedreader in the unmeasurable caves of our head. And what voices will be more loud and clear than the ones that originate of fear?

.To ignore those voices and to keep digging for the gold is a major achievement, reminding me of many classical stories, like for example Frodo in “The Lord of the Rings”. Being a writer, an active and serious one, is going through a lot of darkness, traveling on a seemingly hopeless journey like Frodo did.

.But it is also a quest, something that has to be done, for not doing it equals giving up and letting life age you without truly saving your soul.

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Genius

.In her speech on Tedtalk.com Elizabeth Gilbert tells about her way of dealing with the voices of fear. She admits that they are a serious threat to her existence as a well-functioning human and comes up with a solution. Although being aware that it is not the only and most dependable system possible she states that it does her good and advocates to people to try it out for themselves. The idea originates from ancient Greek and Roman times, and it is not only for that not a revolutionary new idea, but Elizabeth gives a positive approach to it that can be a great relief to many.

.Her “trick” is to put the source of inspiration outside the person and thereby putting the blame for many of the problems the voices in head come up with outside herself. It is in that way not her responsibility to produce another flawless bestseller or her fault when the day’s writing isn’t flowing at all, but it is the inspirational voice from outside her that lets her down. Following old Roman traditions she calls this voice a genius.

But unlike romantic ideas of writers, or any other creative persons, being struck by a sudden moment of inspiration, like an arrow of cupid’s bow, she definately holds on to the idea that all she has to do to let her genius work for her is to show up and work every day. That is the only way to blame her genius and not her, because she was there, writing at her desk, giving the genius a fair chance to work.

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My NaNoWriMo 08

NaNoWriMo ’08 was a mixed pleasure for me. I had chosen a not complicated storyline with many autobiographical elements and after plotting it all into yWriter I felt pretty comfortable. In the beginning the writing progressed well but I quickly noticed that this writing 1667 words a day – no matter what quality – was something different than I am used to. It was fun to notice that writing 50.000 words in a month is possible and the thrill of seeing a book evolve was very nice and fulfilling. Plotting is something I had not really done before but it seemed to work well.

I got quickly bored however by just filling out the chapters and the thoughtless typing down what I remembered and wanted to say and soon after I got convinced that the quality of the writing itself was horrible. It felt like forcing.
It made that I wasn’t very interested in the what I was doing and halfway through the month I even started looking for distraction that would prevent me from writing (thanks Ubuntu!).

The whole exercise has given me the idea that a lot is possible and what I wrote is of personal importance for me, or rather the fact that I wrote it. I don’t think that I will join again next year. It seemed to me to be a waist of time to produce something so forcefully and to know that 90% of it is garbage because of it.

I left my carefully build writing habits and I will need to make an effort to get back into it and to reset my mind and intensity in writing.