Behind the boiler

Here is a copy of a piece I had in the Tor newsletter this month.  The original may be found here.


My favorite writing space in my life was a tiny room in my apartment, above the porch, just big enough for a desk and a couple of bookshelves. It was cold in the winter and hot in the summer, but it had great light and felt completely separate from the world.

Of course, at that time, I had a life kind of like that office, clean and neat and organized. I’d saved enough money to take some time off and make it as a writer.

I won’t say I failed (five novels and one short story collection), but I can’t claim to have made it big either. I got married, had children, went back to work...and went through a dry spell in my writing. It was a choice I made freely, because usually life just shows up and saying “But I’m writing!” to that knock on the door can be a mistake.

Plus, a family is a really convenient excuse for not getting writing done, though they seldom enjoy being told that.

But as the kids have gotten older and more easily neglected, I’ve had some time. I took the old desk left over from that nice well-lit office (really a door on two filing cabinets) and set it up behind the boiler in my basement. I separated myself from the washer/dryer and the play area with bookshelves, and taped geological maps of the Southwest on the walls. I set up a Writer user on my computer that has all non-writing programs blocked and has no internet access.

I didn’t quit my day job, and, in fact, worked hard to succeed at it. But, early in the mornings before going to work, and during any spare weekend time, I started writing Brain Thief.

Now, more than ten years later, Brain Thief is finally being published.

Here is what I have learned from this experience:

  • It’s the production on your worst day that determines your overall production, not your production on your best day. A succession of days with nothing written can eat any number of days with many words written, like the seven lean years devouring the seven fat years in the story of Joseph.
  • I write less than I used to, but can’t delude myself into thinking I would write twice or three times as much if I had all day to do it. I spend 23 hours looking forward to that one hour in the morning, and do my best to make it count.
  • No one wants to listen to you whine about how your desk is behind the boiler in your basement, because if that’s as romantic as your struggle gets, you can just get back in line.
  • People at your day job may find it interesting that you also write, but they won’t cut you any slack because of it (even if your desk is behind...etc.) They actually only care about the work you do for them. So you should do it as well and as honestly as you can.
  • Take a look around yourself at your day job. This is what most people do all day. Many of them are devoted to their work. All human passions eventually surface in the workplace. Shouldn’t something in your writing reflect all that? Just don’t try to caricature your ex-boss as a world-ransoming supervillain. Unless that was your organization’s actual line of work and her actual job title, in which case you don’t need advice from me.