How We Got To Now by Steven Johnson

Reads more like a series of essays first published in a paper or blog than a book with a single through-line. Probably a relic of its beginnings as a TV series.

Still, the writing was clear and concise, allowing me to learn the following:

  • The lightbulb took 40 years to develop. Edison was just the last researcher to work out the kinks. Even his formula — carbon filament in a vacuum — was first used in 1841, 38 years before his success.
  • Chicago’s sewer system was installed by raising the entire city — buildings and all — ten feet.
  • The artisans that made Venice famous for its glass were Turkish refugees that settled in the city after the sack of Constantinople in 1204.

Writing in Batches

Novel’s at 56,441 words.

Got most of my writing for the week done on Sunday, in one go.

I’m glad I did. Between the new dog, a root canal retreat, and pushing to get everything done at work before the holiday break, it’s been harder to slip into writing mode during the small breaks I have to get some done.

Hopefully I’ll be able to carve out some more time this weekend to write another chunk of the book, and once the holidays hit, make a concerted push to write more every day.

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

Fantastic. Not the drawing-room novel I feared it would be, nor the swashbuckling “strong woman” archetype book it could have been. Instead, it’s a wonderful travelogue for a nineteenth century populated by fantastical creatures.

This was a quick read, but I still managed to learn some things about writing:

  • It’s possible to convey a lot about the historical treatment of women without depicting brutality (I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones). It’s enough to hear the narrator rail against the constraints she’s placed under, or feel her frustration at having to pretend to not be an intelligent, scientifically curious person.
  • You can invoke a time period’s writing without indulging in that period’s techniques. The book is written with a modern style — short sentences built into short paragraphs that live in short chapters — but still feels like it came out of an alternate Victorian period.
  • A memoir can lose tension because we know the narrator makes it through. One way to push tension back into the story is to take advantage of the fact that the narrator knows more than the reader, and have them drop in sentences that foreshadow future tragedy or triumph.

Shifting the Outline

Novel’s at 55,647 words.

I’ve been able to hit my 250 word goal most days, thank goodness.

Not every day; I’ll confess that when the brand-new tub started leaking again and one of the house’s walls started wobbling and my wife and I stayed up half the night talking about giving up and moving out, my brain was too distracted to do much writing.

But we’re pushing through that, and I’m continuing to push through the book.

I’ve had to shift to doing more outlining, though. I’m about halfway in, and I’ve introduced enough new characters and plot threads that I needed to spend some time adjusting my plan for the latter half of the book.

Granted, that’s time I’m not putting words on the page, but it’s helped me feel more focused when I do start writing again. By taking a step back, I get a better sense of what things are worth keeping going forward, and which characters need a little more fleshing out if they’re going to stay. I can also see what threads I’ve been dropping, and plan a way to bring them back in before it’s too late.