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Jay Lake
Date: 2010-04-30 05:26
Subject: [process] Time, choices, and the virtues of a boring life
Security: Public
Tags:books, cancer, child, health, personal, process, stories, writing
Writer Keith Garrett has a post up this week wherein he takes off from my comment about a boring life, made on Mur Lafferty's I Should Be Writing podcast. Coincidentally, I was discussing cancer and writing with Rob Furey in chat in this morning, when he observed that a lot of people in my position would just pick up the remote and sit on the couch.

As I said to Rob, I don't even have cable. I'd be watching a blue screen all day.

In point of fact, my life is not actually boring. It's damned interesting. Even now with cancer, and I don't just mean that in the proverbial sense of "interesting". But it's interesting in substantial part because of the choices I've made along the way. And those choices have been optimized around the_child and my writing life.

I cancelled my cable in 1994. I've never had an antenna. While I still own a TV, and about a hundred DVDs and VHS tapes, I haven't watched a show on television in 16 years. Incidentally, I have a twelve year old daughter who has grown up without a working television in the house. She's never seen a commercial in her own home.

This wasn't strength of character, or some principled stance on the supposed evils of television. This was me realizing that I would turn on a Simpsons rerun at 6:30, turn off the TV at 10:30, and have no idea what I'd watched, or what I'd done with my evening. The biggest reason I drink very minimally, and gave up street drugs during the first Reagan administration, is that I hate feeling stupid. Drink and drugs make me stupid. And TV made me stupid.

I recovered an amazing amount of time in my schedule, and applied much of it to my writing. (This was seven years before my first sale, just in case you're tracking.)

Likewise, I stopped both console gaming and PC gaming in 2000, for essentially the same reasons. Disclaimer: I still occasionally play games on my iPhone, especially given the toilet-based lifestyle cancer has imposed on me. Sid Meier no longer owns my brain, however. In that case, the plot elements of Civilization-class games were so seductive to me that I found I wrote much less, and needed to write much less, if the itch was being scrapped by gaming. So no more games for me.

Given the amount of D&D and AD&D (first edition, just in case you're tracking) I played between about 1978 and about 1988, if the modern immersive online gaming experience had been available back then, I doubt I'd ever have made it as a writer. World of Warcraft would have carried me away on a happy tide of leveling up and raiding, much as LSD could have carried me away on a happy tide of color and sensory overload if I'd let it. I am of the opinion that we've lost a meaningful part of a generation of writers to online gaming for much the same reasons, though my evidence is purely anecdotal, not data-driven. (And for whatever that's worth, good for them if they're happy. Everybody makes their own choices — all of this is intended as observation, not criticism.)

So I don't leave my house much (working at home will do that to you.) I don't watch tv or game or go to parties or drink in bars. I sit home where I read and write. I exercise. I hang with my kid and my friends and loved ones. And I read and write.

Did I mention reading and writing?

Because in choosing not to pursue several of the most popular forms of entertainment in middle class American culture, I have made my life both more boring and far more interesting than it otherwise would have been. Cancer challenges me in some of these areas, but it's a transient challenge. Like having the flu for a year, with bonus mortality risks.

As I've written before, I hold passionate views on the role of Consumers and Producers in our culture. Everybody is a Consumer by definition. Not very many of us get to be Producers. And I love being a Producer. I'm raising the_child to be a Producer, if she wants. Most of my friends are Producers, or working hard to be so. Being a Producer means giving up a lot of Consuming. Which is of course a paradox, as you can't be an effective Producer if you don't understand what Consumers want, need and love.

So I happily forgo my sixtieth-level wizard-god-kings and my nights telling jokes in the bar and ever seeing a minute of Buffy or Castle in exchange for my books on the shelf and my stories in your hands. That's just me. It's not even advice for you. But I'm here to tell you it works. When I'm not in the grips of cancer, the number of free hours I have to write is staggering, given what I don't do. A boring life holds immense rewards.

How badly do you want to be a Producer? What have you given up? What would you give up? What's an hour of writing (or art or music) worth to you?
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User: mikandra
Date: 2010-04-30 12:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Good on ya.

We never had tv either, even as a child. We've continued the tradition with our family. I have three teenagers who have grown up without tv in the house. No religious reason (we're not religious), we just found it was an immense time-sink. I do a lot to protect my writing time. I started writing seriously in 2005, and maybe, just maybe, I am starting to get somewhere. This writing gig is not something you do for a year and then land a great publishing deal.
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User: fjm
Date: 2010-04-30 12:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
When we bought me a flat in London a few years back, getting me a tv for what seemed like it was going to be only a few days a week, seemed pointless. Then chilperic went on study leave to the USA for two years and I discovered that when he went away, I never went up to the top floor of our (joint) house to watch tv. When we moved into the last house, I got a tv but never got round to cabling it, so DVDs only and those not so much. The current plan is that the tv goes into the new gym room. We want to watch, we cycle.
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User: joycemocha
Date: 2010-04-30 12:44 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You inspired me to have the courage to give up being a consumer (except for internet stuff). Even at that, though, the gaming stuff has never enthralled me. Books, however...

I found it interesting during this last bout of flu that I didn't even turn on the TV when I had first chance at it. In our household, TV is the DH's province, and with digital and our location, that means I can't use another TV to watch what I would prefer instead (we're on the digital cliff and we got analog cable so that he could watch his sports and his favorite shows). I chose to surf, sleep, and read.

Some of my students definitely find me weird. Me, I don't miss it (except for the occasional longing for the last TV show I watched regularly, The X-Files. OTOH, I can create my own, much more satisfying characters without the contradictions Chris Carter ran Mulder and Scully through. And if I want to watch X-Files, or Twin Peaks, or ski pron if I want, I've got the DVDs).
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Laura Anne Gilman
User: suricattus
Date: 2010-04-30 12:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Hrm. I don't play online games, with the exception of Scrabble. No Civ or Quake or WOW or Sims. Never felt the lack of any of them, either. And I limit my time in the social netwebs (yay for leechblock)

I do have a television, and I do have cable. But I'm not a sofa-surfer: I watch maybe 10 hours a week total, and that includes a lot of "discovery-style" shows that trigger story ideas. Plus, good writing is good writing, no matter if it's on the page or in spoken form, and I learn a lot from the choice of a camera angle.

Likewise, I go out: I enjoy both fine dining and dive bars because they offer incredible people-watching opportunities. But I'm an introvert: that limits my interaction to manageable doses.

EtA: being an introvert actually probably cuts out some things I'm not even aware of "missing," on further reflection. I go out, I visit with friends, but I don't stay overlong or miss it when it's done, and I can do my socializing for a few days in a half hour burst and be content. An extrovert might find that a sacrifice.

So I guess there's not much more I would "give up" to get an hour of writing time, because the things I do in that time feeds my writing*. And, honestly, while it would be nice to have more short fiction out there, I've been averaging about 230,000 words a year for the past seven years. I'm good with that.

*and I can't give up any more sleep without getting sick/losing the writing anyway

Edited at 2010-04-30 02:47 pm (UTC)
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barry_king: Me
User: barry_king
Date: 2010-04-30 14:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thanks for posting this. It's a great perspective on the creative life. The reduction of the problem to consumer and producer really helps.

I've given up many of the same things and much on the same schedule in compressed format: recreational drugs, rpgs, cable, tv, videogaming, online comics and other computer-based distractions. I've avoided twitter and any other online community other than LJ and one uunet-style usegroup, and keep my "friends" to a manageable few.

But the point comes where you want to get involved in seasonal activities (picking, preserving, storing, cooking), in keeping that garden, in spending time in the community, trading fiction with your writing buddies. These activities, I think, enrich your creativity by putting you in touch with life's immediacy.

And that's where your consumer/producer contrast helps clarify. These other activities are productive.

I still read too much consumer fiction and drink too often, though. They're next to go, I hope. That and commenting on LJs. ;)
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User: keikaimalu
Date: 2010-04-30 15:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've long wondered how much of my mind's loss of focus and clarity over the past few years is due to watching TV and playing video games, and how much is due to radiation treatment, or something else.

I've found, for myself, that I'm happiest when my life includes TV and video games (not least because I want to get into writing for games). I tried the full-time fiction-writing life some years back, and it didn't suit me. Burned out my creativity entirely for years. I'm getting it back now, slowly, with the stipulation that I don't overtax it. This makes me a less productive but far happier writer.

One of life's difficult challenges is figuring out how to customize your life to suit you, regardless of other people's habits and standards. Kudos to you for determining and living the life that works for you.
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They Didn't Ask Me: 7of9voyager
User: dr_phil_physics
Date: 2010-04-30 16:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
We still have a TV hooked up to cable -- I leave it nattering on deep into the night while I work. Frankly, given the odd stuff I watch, I get a lot of technical ideas both for Physics exam problems and my SF writing. (evil grin)

But I know what you mean about gaming. When I first saw some people playing D&D and AD&D back in the mid-70s, I knew that this was NOT the direction for my obsessions or creativity. Video games? I used to stop by arcades every six months and watch others play or watched the demo bits to see how the technology was improving, but I have never put a quarter (or more) into a video game. Ever. I got a CD-ROM with a free copy of Doom, and played with it long enough to see how a first person shooter worked, then set it aside. We did buy Myst and Riven, because they're about solving puzzles. We won a Sony Playstation2 and bought a copy of a MLB baseball game -- and have never opened it. I took the PS2 to the 2004 Clarion workshop so that the gang could have a DVD player and one guy played FIFA Soccer on it, as well.

I am quite sure if I played video games or D&D I would never have time for anything.

Dr. Phil
"Not a Luddite, but I do set limits on Da Tech."
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User: cithra
Date: 2010-04-30 17:08 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Hmm. Other than sensing a wee bit of condescension toward us proles and our viddy, I agree (with what I believe is your gist) that it is a matter of priorities. I can disappear all my good writing time into reading just as easily as anything else; more easily, since that's where I always escaped in my youth. I need a balance, and I let go the things that go pretty easily, for the most part, rather than thinking of it as 'giving something up'- as a personal caveat, though, my wiring is definitely bent toward a need to overindulge in anything I feel I am being denied, so some of this may be internal psycho-semantics. I game a little, I read a little, I watch some TV and go to some movies; I write in and around and behind and during all of the above.

I also acknowledge that not having children certainly gives me a much larger fund of discretionary time, and I know I'm the odd one out in that sense, culturally and otherwise.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-04-30 17:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Certainly didn't mean to be condescending about tv. It would be more accurate to say I'm indifferent. I'm certainly not on some campaign to get other people to stop watching. I did say the "supposed evils" of television, after all...

And kids, yes. Well. Time. Ahem.
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User: cithra
Date: 2010-04-30 18:02 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
And kids, yes. Well. Time. Ahem. Heh, most people think they are worth it. :)
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The NewroticGirl: COH happy hour
User: newroticgirl
Date: 2010-04-30 17:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:COH happy hour
When I was playing my cracklike MMORPG of choice (City of Heroes), I actually did write a lot -- but it was a lot of game related fiction for my characters. Which was good in a way, because it helped get me excited about writing again (I took 5 years off, thinking radio was the career choice for me, and didn't do much writing at all in that time). And it took a while, but eventually I found myself playing less and less and writing more and more.
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Chris McKitterick: just Chris
User: mckitterick
Date: 2010-04-30 18:12 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:just Chris
Computer games were never a real threat to my productive time, but I did stop getting TV in 2002. That was mixed, because the "news" and educational programs were so inspiring for writing. But I've found that picking up individual DVD sets (like Cosmos or Planet Earth) is far better, because I can pause and go back and not suffer through commercials.

I'm sure you get this reaction, too: My friends and students all think I'm kind of weird, and we lack a lot of common, popular culture references, hindering many conversations. However, I do occasionally host Movie Night at my place (my TV and sound system are pretty awesome), which I find a million times more interesting than broadcast TV, and movies are better quality and cheaper to watch at home than in the theater.

Back to gaming: I confess that I do love RPGs, board games, and card games. When my work wasn't quite so insance, I held Game Day at my joynt almost every Saturday. I've avoided RPGs for many years, because that can consume one's brain - especially as I prefer to GM, which requires much creativity and time. Board games hold no real risk except for the Saturday of a Game Day; card games, however, do (my poison is Magic). I occasionally consider getting out of the game, for the reasons you describe, but I really enjoy it and hanging out with the guys I play with (I play one night a week). So I hear you on this.

However, I find the greatest threat to my productivity is work. This is not necessarily work's fault, I realize, but my own: I tend to let work responsibilities creep and have a hard time saying no. For example, this semester I'm teaching three regular classes - the usual full load - plus three small classes and two online classes. I also guest-edited a magazine, wrote several articles for a few magazines, and serve on a couple of awards committees. And I volunteer a lot of time to the Center for the Study of Science Fiction. See, the big danger with my work is that it's so closely tied to my writing life, and I have difficulty separating work from life, and work ends up consuming 110% of my waking time.

So those late nights when I'm not teaching or doing work-related stuff? My brain needs time off, thus a DVD or a card tournament.

Not sure how to deal with this, really!
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Max Kaehn: H1D20
User: slothman
Date: 2010-04-30 18:20 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yeah, I have to discipline myself that way as well, though I’m not as rigorous as you are. It helps to have a TiVo, which breaks up TV into a list of prerecorded programs that I thought would be worth watching, and when I’ve cleared that off I’m done; my video gaming habits tend to story-based RPGs that have a clear finishing point so I can put them away once I’ve seen the story play out. (I think the only one I’ve ever played through twice was Mass Effect, and that only to refresh my memory on the plot points before playing Mass Effect 2.) Even so, those are very addictive. Most of my creative output goes into being a game master in face-to-face RPGs.
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User: cathshaffer
Date: 2010-04-30 18:26 (UTC)
Subject: [process] Time, choices, and the virtues of a boring life
you hit the nail on the head there. I think we writers need a precise mix of inspiration and boredom. I had to give up gaming and I no longer have cable tv. My life is really better and more productive for it. I do like watching tv online or on dvd but that doesn't seem to suck time like the firehose of cable.
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User: cyborgsuzy
Date: 2010-04-30 18:55 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I had to quit WoW for pretty much the same reason. It's not just the time-suck aspect, (I was actually pretty good about pulling myself away to do chores and have an outside social life). I just realized that I didn't do any art or creative work of my own when I played it regularly. It stimulated the same part of my brain, and I'd get get creative satisfaction in the short term, but feel empty in the long term... and the easiest cure was to play more.
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User: e_bourne
Date: 2010-04-30 19:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The big owie in my mind is that with TV and Video games, we're losing readers. No, this is not whining. (Although I could whine, I think I need practice). used to be people read newspapers and books on the bus. Now, when I take the bus, I see people playing games on their iPods and cell phones. A few people are reading. Not as many as used to be. No one is reading a paper.

How about at home? Used to be reading was a big entertainment source. Pulps! Guys read pulps. Women read True Romance stories. Women still read romances. Not so many men read anymore. They play a lotta games.

Totally subjective, my opnion only, not based on anything but pure, unscientific observation, no numbers or quantitative measurements involved. But my company does that stuff so it must be true. :-)
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User: martianmooncrab
Date: 2010-04-30 19:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I tend to record programs so I can fast forward through the commercials and the chase/action scenes and can watch that 1 hour program in oh, 30 minutes. A 2 hour Skiffy channel movie can be done in 20 minutes. Except where I slo-mo any tentacle action.
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Leah Cutter: Relaxing
User: lrcutter
Date: 2010-04-30 20:22 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I often think I have a boring life because for days at a time I do nothing other than write and work on the day job. But I also know better -- I have to have that "down time" in order to have the energy intensive "up time".

I do have a TV, and cable. But I generally don't turn it on until after I've finished the writing for the night. It's part of the background noise for while I'm knitting or sewing. Because of my recent injuries I've only been able to do the one thing -- watch TV -- and it's incredibly boring. I'm looking forward to when it's just background again.
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User: msconduct
Date: 2010-04-30 22:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It's a very interesting question, and one that challenges me every day. I work long hours from home in my own business and writing time is at a premium. On the other hand, there's also filling the well, an important consideration when you don't go out into the world every day.

My take on it has always been that it's less about the what than about the how. The medium is a lot less important than how you consume it: limited, thoughtful, active consumption - taking in material that provokes contemplation and sends the mind off in new directions - is possible for most media. There's a great deal of difference between turning on the TV and watching whatever's on and cherrypicking the best, for example. Granted, I'm always defensive about television as I used to write for British TV, but I'm not remotely apologetic about watching it: some HBO series, for example, are extremely high quality dramas and well worth the time. You can read dross just as much as you can watch dross: neither's going to help a writer much. It's all about a careful selection process.

What I have let go for writing as a category, however, is (the vast majority of) social networking. No Facebook. No Twitter. No reading and commenting in online forums. The only exception is LJ, and even here I have only a handful of friends. It's all I can keep up with without it eating unacceptably into my free (i.e. writing) time.

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User: mmegaera
Date: 2010-04-30 23:32 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I haven't dropped my cable altogether, but I did drop it back to bare bones (I can't get broadcast anything where I am, and there are a few things I would really miss) a few years ago, which was one of the smarter things I've ever done. I watch maybe five or six hours of TV a week.

And I don't play games, except for the occasional round of solitaire to keep the fingers busy while I'm thinking.

But the Internet itself is a horrific timesink. I can't figure out how to keep its benefits without succumbing to the siren call of LJ and email lists and blogrolls. The information I glean in these places is useful, and I've made a lot of friends (that I've gone on to meet and spend time with in real life), but I spend too much time online being unproductive, and it frustrates me.

Any ideas on how to deal with that? Timers and such don't work. And I'm not giving up my connection altogether.
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User: hkneale
Date: 2010-05-01 02:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
How about this, Mmegaera:

Make sure you write first, before you start playing online. "Buy" your online time; fifteen minutes of writing time will earn you fifteen minutes of Internet indulgence.

It's a case of putting your big rocks in the jar before you pour in the sand.
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User: mmegaera
Date: 2010-05-01 03:22 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've tried playing all sorts of games like that with myself [wry g]. None of them seem to work, alas. My backbrain knows that's what they are -- games to fool myself.

I do keep trying, though.
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User: hkneale
Date: 2010-05-01 02:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I totally get this.

I love being a Creator too. I find it far more satisfying than merely Appreciating. (Though I do that too, mostly in the name of balance. Gotta recharge the batteries somehow.)

I've given up a lot (but not all) my television. And then, wth the television I've kept, I record everything I want to watch (which is about, oh, four shows, if that) and watch it when I want (usually when my brain is burned out from creating and I need some downtime). So yeah, I've given up all live television.

I've also given up some reading, all but the most necessary of household chores and a bit of my social life. Don't play computer games any more. Don't really miss them.

I've also given up a few creative pursuits, as I was being rather scattershot with my talents. Only sew when necessary, and I don't even quilt any more. I rarely paint and have turned my palate over to my artist daughter.

I've also let filmmaking fall to the side, which might be a mistake.

Things I won't give up: sleep, exercise, time with His Grace and Their Ladyships, piano lessons, church. These things are necessary to maintain my health and make me a more efficient Producer.

Thing I should give up but don't: Richard Armitage.
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