There is Writing, and then there is *Writing*


…and Neil Gaiman obviously provides us with the latter. In this post, he gives us a window on his writing process, and I have to admit to some awe and jealousy.

Neil Gaiman has already identified himself as a “pen man”, and his love for paper, and blank books, definitely puts his writing into the realm of artistry.

I’m in awe because like Neil, I like a good pen. I have a decent Waterman fountain pen and it truly is much more comfortable to write with than your standard ballpoint pen — it’s more comfortable than your standard gel pen, even, and you never run out of ink (unlike the gel pens which seem to have less than fifty pages worth of ink inside them). I have my favourite pad of paper: a Cambridge pad, with thick, ink-absorbing pages in a soft-yellow colour. And I am jealous because I haven’t been able to make use of these items for about a year.

One of the many questions an author receives, alongside “where do you get your ideas” is “where or when do you write,” and the answer to that this past year has been, “anywhere I can.” My MacBook laptop has provided an excellent venue for writing. I can whip it out almost anywhere and type in a few lines. I can call up different articles in a few seconds, or go back and revise.

There are two mystiques in writing. One has the writer sitting in a coffee shop all day, rattling his laptop as he works on his latest masterpiece. And I admit that I enjoy playing to that, to going out with my laptop and typing (and, as I can type accurately at 85 words per minute, I can get a lot done).

But the other mystique has the writer scribbling away with a pen and a pad of paper, and one of my prouder no-one-else-will-see-it moments came when I completed a draft of The Young City entirely in pen and paper. I still have that manuscript floating around somewhere. It’s almost 200 pages long, and 200 sheets of handwritten paper has with it a heft that laptops don’t. Instead of a few electrons on a hard drive, here’s this wad of wood fibres and ink that says, “I wrote this.”

I’m jealous that Neil Gaiman can work like this apparently so effortlessly. Somewhere in his house is a trunk-ful of handwritten manuscripts — some of them bound like the tomes of a monastery.

But where I write best, right now, is on the computer. So, let me salute Mr. Gaiman for his work, and get back to my MacBook.

…and watch while Neil whips out his baby laptop. Geez, it’s hard to keep up with the Gaimans.

The photo, by the way, is entitled Pen 3 by Merlinprincesse and is used in accordance to her Creative Commons license.

The Desperate Search For Simple Answers

A friend wondered why, in the aftermath of the killings at Virginia Tech, the blogs he has been reading haven’t been commenting on the massacre at all. Are we, he wonders, getting innured to this stuff?

I don’t think so. I’ve kept silent because, really, I haven’t much to say about this subject. Just what can I contribute? And my need to comment diminished even further as Peter Dodson comes up with one of the most rational assessments of this tragedy:

In the days following the latest school shooting at Virginia Tech, we have been treated to the usual suspects of who and what is to blame - too many guns, not enough guns, video games, violent movies, Islam, and my personal favorite, The Devil (my only question is this - why haven’t we blamed Marilyn Manson yet? Or Anna Nicole Smith?). All of them, as far as I am concerned, far too simplistic to explain why massacres such as this happen. That is not to say that these things didn’t play some part (well, other than the Devil - that’s just kind of dumb), just that none of these things is the sole cause of why Cho Seung-Hui decided to kill 32 of his fellow human beings. As we try to make sense of this, and many other things, most people in our society tend to rely on simplistic explanations to try and explain why complicated things happen.


The truth is that we live in a complex world and humans are complex creatures. At the end of the day, who we are is the result of the interaction between our experiences and our inherited genetic nature - these are not things that can be explained with one liners. I have often thought that we rely on these simplicities so that we can feel as though we understand the world - with most people being busy they simply do not have the time to sit down and think deeply about why some of these things occur. So, instead of just shrugging our shoulders and saying that we don’t know, we trot out these simplistic explanations as if they are gospel

(Go read the full post).

One of those simplistic explanations focused around the violent and nihilistic stories the killer had written in the months leading up to the attack. And I thought, oh no, we’re about to have a rash of people reporting fiction-writing teenagers to the police, a la William Poole. A far better indication that the Virginia Tech killer needed attention included previous psychiatric assessments, and the fact that he had been charged with stalking women on campus.

Fortunately, that angle seemed to die out, possibly because the other angles were available to provide a better explanation.

There is no meaning to be had in tragedies like this. All we can do is take comfort in the fact that there will be far, far more days when this sort of thing doesn’t happen versus days when it does, and far, far more people who will never experience this first hand. And we can take comfort in the fact that we are still innocent enough to be shocked by these events says more about the state of our humanity than the depth of the killer’s depravity.

And Now For Something Completely Different…

…What if Star Wars was a silent movie?

Hat tip to Matt Grady

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