Open Wounds

Writing Tools

It’s shit or it’s good. You tell me…

Steve Jobs

I’m reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. I’m almost finished with it. It took me half the book before I finally got to the point where I had to finish reading it. The first half of the book stopped myself repeatedly from throwing the book out the window. I kept telling myself to keep going. Just a little bit further.

I picked up the book because a friend of my son’s named Austin, (age 11) a real entrepreneur himself, read most of the audio book and recommended it to me. He knows I like Apple computers. I’d also heard it’s a good book on leadership, a text-book of sorts in the making, and I teach leadership and team building workshops so I figured, what the heck? Maybe I could use it as source workshop material. Besides… I love all things Mac.

So why was I ready to throw the book out the window? Jobs was an asshole. A big one. He had few social skills and saw the world in black and white with very little grey. Things were either shit or good. It was that simple. Oh yeah, he was also a design, marketing, and creative genius. It’s amazing how so much can be forgiven if you are a genius. I’m not sure if that is a good thing or not but it happens, frequently with brilliant individuals (usually men). That’s why I didn’t give up. That’s why I’m almost finished with this fascinating, frustrating, throw it out the window, book. I have also cried and laughed while reading it remembering where I was in my own personal timeline when each of the Macs appeared. I owned the Macintosh SE/30 as my first computer. When I worked at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, it was my desktop computer for four and a half years. I wrote my first novel (still in a closet somewhere never to see the light of day again) on this same machine. I have owned a Mac and written on one ever since.

Reading how smart Jobs was in creating products (simple, elegant design and fewer products each done perfectly) and the way he orchestrated his comeback is compelling material. I’m eating it up. I wish he had been a nicer guy. But isn’t that the key to good storytelling? The contrast in personality and the ability to get things done? Would his story be more compelling if he’d been a nice guy and a genius? More havoc necessary!

I’ll tell you how the story comes out when I’m finished. I know we all know the ending but who knows what surprises are still in store for me. The story of Jobs and Apple is brilliant. Isaacson’s book carries it off. As long as you don’t throw it out the window before you are swept away.

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The Dudes

As you walk into the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (an avenue long by an avenue wide huge monster of a pre-war, pre-war finished 1888 building) you can’t help but be impressed by the picture of these two dudes while you’re waiting to be scanned and wanded through the second stage of security. The sign below them cracked me up. HELP. Need I say more? The rest of the small print says, “…keep our floors clean.” But I couldn’t resist. These guys need all the help we can give them.

So… no, I did not meet the Dudes. I only saw their very real and life-like pictures. And though I didn’t get into the White House I did get into the building where all the business is done next to the White House and I did soak up some of the powerful office space air and the wheezing breath of history. It was cool.

In a strange bit of serendipity one of the two White House ONAP (Office of National AIDS Policy) committee members that our team met with, I actually knew from my days working at Gay Men’s Health Crisis. We realized we knew each other towards the end of the meeting when he mentioned The House of Latex Project (Long story for another time but let’s just say I won trophies for realness and my trophies went down with the world trade center but my memories of winning them did not) and I mentioned I had worked there. We looked at each other, named a few colleagues from the early nineties that we both remembered and smiled. “You had a pony tail and long hair?” he asked. “Yes,” I said.

And so it goes.

What does this have to do with writing? Everything we live and breathe makes it into our work. Everything. The Eisenhower Building becomes the Palace of Falling Chandeliers that lies beneath the cascade falls where seven thousand bound and manacled civil servants in rags bang away on manual Smith Caronas typing the letters, “I will not forget my photo ID,” over and over again until the overlord in dark grey pinstripes and wingtips tells them they can go to their meeting at room 207 (the room we met in) just past the restroom where civil servants go in and none ever comes out.

 

Now check out the picture of the long hall. The picture doesn’t do the reality of how long this hall is justice. It is easily one hundred yards long – an endless hall of bureaucracy with marble floor, hanging lights and door after door, after door…

What will come of the meeting in my day life as a public health worker? I don’t know. Was it worth the trip? Every second of it. Did it give me more material to write about? Always gathering, always using, always thinking, even when my eyes are glassy and I’m daydreaming about someplace else, where typewriters clack and black ribbon snakes spin.


H is for Hoplite

Hoplite is a heavily armed infantry soldier of ancient Greece. Wearing shield, tunic, breastplate, helmet. and greaves they wielded sword and spear in combat.

What does the writer wield? Here’s my equipment inventory for a session on the battlefield of words:

  • Pencil (I don’t use one, I just like having them around because you never know when the electricity will go out and pencils will be back in the game)
  • Pen (I prefer any pen from Levengers – expensive but worth every penny because, as Steve Martin says in Roxanne, “I need just the right pen…” – especially rollerballs) with refills…
  • Computer (iMac 27″ screen especially helpful when comparing two versions of a manuscript or looking at my manuscript late at night in big bold letters, or just not having to use my glasses or squint because I’m too lazy to put them on)
  • Comfortable chair (or wooden hardback if I’m feeling especially spartan) with wheels so I can roll back and forth in endless patterns of procrastination – but not too comfortable so that I easily fall asleep.
  • Notebook or pad of paper (yellow legal or white – again not necessary to use very often but in case something comes up I always have one handy.)
  • Writing software (Word, Scrivener, iA Writer – these are my big three – I use Scrivener now for first drafts of novels then shift over to Word when I’m approaching a third or fourth draft and I use iA Writer on my laptop or iPad when I’m traveling and want to write without thinking about formatting.)
  • WiFi connection (a direct connection to the oracle of the internet)

I have other things to distract me like drawing pads, colored pens and art markers, a bulletin board that collects dust, a pile of folders I don’t use but that seems to get higher as the weeks go forward – I don’t know what’s in the pile but it keeps growing. Reference books to the right on the shelf and some underneath the pile of folders (I think).

What are your warrior writer’s tools of the trade?