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Writer at Work:
Standing up for Your Writes

December 18th, 2016

standing-up-for-the-craft2-2“The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”

C.S. Lewis gave that advice in 1937, in an article titled, “Breaking in Print.” But it didn’t originate with him. He got it from his mentor Mary Heaton Vorse, who seems to be the source of the oft-repeated advice.

You may have heard that advice in its more condensed form, a terse little maxim attributed to writers as varied as Oliver Stone and Stephen King:

“Writing equals ass in chair.”

As with most maxims, it’s short, simple, memorable, and frequently offered as sound advice to up-and-comers.

But I’m here to tell you: It isn’t so.

As reported in my previous post, I spent the past six months at my desk, working to finish a book that had been hanging fire for far too long. Taking inspiration from Neil Gaiman, who had put off writing The Graveyard Book for 20 years before realizing he’d reached a point of now-or-never, I decided I either needed to finish the darn thing or admit to myself that it wasn’t going to happen.

So I went to work.

ernest-hemingway-standing-deskAt first, I sat. It seemed like the way to go. Although I often switch off between standing, sitting, and kneeling (in an ergonomic chair), I figured the conventional seated position would help conserve my energy, enable me to channel all my effort more effectively over the long haul. I was wrong. I soon found that rather than channeling energy into the writing, sitting diminished the intensity of the work. Worse, at the end of the day, I felt achy and spent—worn out from maintaining a posture counter to the one that humans are designed for. Before long, I was back to standing.

The changes were dramatic. Aches abated. Focus improved. Page count increased. I didn’t feel spent at the end of the day–a big surprise since my plans to finish the book by the end of the year required spending six-to-eight hours at the desk each day. But best of all, standing improved the book’s pacing, enhanced its action scenes, made me feel like a participant in the adventure rather than a chair-sitting observer.

jefferson-2These were not new revelations. I had been more-or-less aware of them before. But my brief return to sitting had confirmed them. And I’m not alone. Other writers have recognized the benefits of standing. Among them, Ernest Hemingway is perhaps the best known stand-up writer, thanks in part to an iconic image published in Life Magazine (above right) and an interview in an early volume of the Paris Review. But there are many others— Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, Vladimir Nabokov, Virginia Woolf, Philip Roth, Thomas Jefferson (left) to name a few. And the benefits of standing and writing have been documented for centuries, as noted in an 1883 article from Popular Science. Written by physician Felix L. Oswald, the article “The Remedies of Nature” tells us that “literary occupations need not necessarily involve sedentary habits” and suggests “the alternative of a standing desk.” Clearly, my preference for standing is nothing new.

But where does one get such a desk?

pop-science-do-it-your-self-2Mine is improvised, cobbled together from found materials–an inverted drawer from a large bureau, the center pad from a dining-room table, a table-mounted armature for a flat-screen monitor. It works surprisingly well. But there’s no need to scavenge and improvise. With more people discovering the benefits of standing, retailers are now offering a variety of standing desk options, from modular add-ons that fit right on your existing desk to standing units designed to completely replace your existing work station. If you’re adventurous, you might even opt for a combination desk and treadmill, which some users claim reduces standing fatigue (which I haven’t found to be a problem). Moreover, if you’re a do-it-yourselfer, you might check out these instructions from the January 1967 issue of Popular Mechanics, which gives detailed instructions on how to assemble the setup pictured here (on right). Naturally, you will probably want to replace the typewriter with your laptop or keyboard-enabled tablet. Lots of options.

Of course, you could just keep on sitting, but before you do, you might want to check out the video below, which presents a compelling argument for getting out of the chair and standing up for your writes. Take a look and let me know what you think. As always, you can chime in via the comment box below or at any one of the contact buttons above.

Until next time, whether standing or sitting … scop on!

Image Credits:

“The 21st-Century Scop at Work.” Copyright © 2016 by The 21st Century Scop.
“Hemingway Standing.” Life Magazine Archives.
“Thomas Jefferson at Standing Desk.” The History of the Standing Desk. Suite NY.
“Do-It-Yourself Standing Desk.” Popular Science, January 1967.
“The Hidden Risks of Sitting. Ted.ed.

Recommended reading:

“The History of the Standing Desk.” Suite NY.
“Is Sitting The New Smoking?” David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom.
“Who Wrote at Standing Desks?” Open

Airships and Sherlock Holmes

October 22nd, 2011

The master sleuth and Master of the World.

What’s not to love?

The World Fantasy Convention has just released its program schedule for 2011, one that offers an impressive blend of topics centering on this year’s theme: Sailing the Seas of Imagination.

At the con, I’ll be joining a discussion about airships and reading from my latest Sherlock Holmes mystery “The Executioner.”

First up, I’ll be joining  Jetse de Vries, Eric Flint, Charles Gannon, and Cliff Winnig for a panel titled “To Sail Above the Clouds: Airships.” Here’s the description:

With Steampunk’s popularity, airships are rising too. Sometimes they’re treated just like sailing ships. (Airship pirates!). Sometimes more like trains or planes. What is unique about this form of transportation that’s grabbed the attention of Steampunk? What has literature done with it and what does literature get wrong and right? (Friday 2:00 PM)

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about airships, working on a new story tentatively titled “Zeppelin to the Moon,” which brings together Professor Challenger (The Lost World), Mr. Bedford (First Men in the Moon), and Count von Zeppelin (the renowned airship designer) on a mission to rescue the inventor of cavorite from the clutches of the Grand Lunar. Sound interesting?

 “To Sail Above the Clouds” will mark my second appearance on a steampunk-themed panel this year. The first was two months ago when I joined my good friends Paul Genesse, Anton Strout, Gregory Wilson, and Maurice Broaddus at GenCon for a presentation titled “Make it Steamy: A Look at the Steampunk Genre.” That event really packed them in, with nearly 100 people in attendance. One of the highlights was Maurice’s account of his forthcoming “steampunk story with all black characters.” It’s title: Pimp My Airship. Looking forward to that one!

Paul and I also got the chance to reminisce about works that introduced us to the tropes of steampunk. His was the Ray Harryhausen 1961 film Mysterious Island (soon to be released in a limited-edition Blu-Ray  from Twilight Time). Mine was Karl Zerman’s 1958 Vynález zkázy, released in the States as The Fabulous World of Jules Verne. I remember catching that one at a drive-in near Philadelphia. The world has never been the same.

Also on the bill at this year’s World Fantasy will be a Saturday night book launch and party hosted by Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing.  This will be the big debut for Gaslight Arcanum: Uncanny Tales of Sherlock Holmes, the third in the critically-acclaimed series of anthologies edited by Charles Prepolec and J. R. Campbell. I understand that Paul Kane will also be there, reading from his entry “The Greatest Mystery” – one of the anthology’s standout horror stories.

And of course, as always, there will be the WFC mass-autograph session on Friday night, where I’ll be looking forward to meeting old friends, making new ones, and signing copies of Gaslight Arcanum, as well as Veins, Vipers, Visions, and last year’s collection This Way to Egress. (All titles will be available in the dealers room.) I also hope to have some preview material for the forthcoming Voices: Tales of Horror, which Fantasist Enterprises will be releasing later this year.

If you’re one of the thousand or so people lucky enough to be attending this year’s World Fantasy Convention (memberships sold out last winter, making this year’s con one of the hottest tickets around), I’ll look forward to seeing you there.

Oh yes, and did I mention Neil Gaiman is this year’s Guest of Honor? Should be a good time.

Whether you’re attending or not, please consider leaving a comment below. I’m particularly interested in hearing about when you first encountered the wonders of steampunk.

Perhaps it was Mysterious Island or The Fabulous World of Jules Verne, or maybe it was with more recent works, ones actually published under the steampunk banner. Either way, feel free to chime in. 

2011 World Fantasy Awards Ballot

September 4th, 2011

The World Fantasy Convention 2011 will be held October 27-30 in San Diego, California.
Judges are Andrew Hook, Sascha Mamczak, Mark Rich, Sean Wallace, and Kim Wilkins

Life Achievement

winner Peter S. Beagle
winner Angélica Gorodischer

Lauren Beukes, Zoo City (Jacana (South Africa)/Angry Robot)
N K Jemisin, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, (Orbit)
Graham Joyce, The Silent Land (Gollancz/Doubleday)
Guy Gavriel Kay, Under Heaven (Viking Canada/Roc/Harper Voyager UK)
Karen Lord, Redemption In Indigo (Small Beer Press)
Nnedi Okorafor, Who Fears Death (DAW)

Elizabeth Bear, Bone and Jewel Creatures (Subterranean Press)
Michael Byers, The Broken Man (PS Publishing)
Elizabeth Hand, “The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon” (Stories: All-New Tales)
Tim Lebbon, “The Thief of Broken Toys” (ChiZine Publications)
GRR Martin, “The Mystery Knight” (Warriors)
Rachel Swirsky, “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window” (Subterranea, Summer 2010)

Short Story
Christopher Fowler, “Beautiful Men” (Visitants: Stories of Fallen Angels and Heavenly Hosts, edited by Stephen Jones, Ulysses Press)
Karen Joy Fowler, “Booth’s Ghost” (What I Didn’t See and Other Stories, Small Beer Press)
Kij Johnson, “Ponies” (
Joyce Carol Oates, “Fossil—Figures” (Stories: All-New Tales)
Mercurio D. Rivera, “Tu Sufrimiento Shall Protect Us” (Black Static #18, 08/09.10)

John Joseph Adams, ed., The Way of the Wizard (Prime)
Kate Bernheimer, ed., My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me (Penguin)
Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas, eds., Haunted Legends (Tor)
Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio, eds., Stories: All-New Tales (Morrow/Headline Review)
S. T. Joshi, ed., Black Wings: New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror (PS Publishing)
Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders, eds., Swords & Dark Magic (Eos)

Karen Joy Fowler, What I Didn’t See and Other Stories (Small Beer Press)
Caitlin R. Kiernan, The Ammonite Violin & Others (Subterranean Press)
M. Rickert, Holiday (Golden Gryphon)
Angela Slatter, Sourdough and Other Stories (Tartarus Press)
Jeff VanderMeer, The Third Bear (Tachyon)

Vincent Chong
Kinuko Y. Craft
Richard A. Kirk
John Picacio
Shaun Tan

Special Award—Professional
John Joseph Adams, for editing and anthologies
Lou Anders, for editing at Pyr
Marc Gascoigne, for Angry Robot
Stéphane Marsan and Alain Névant, for Bragelonne
Brett Alexander Savory and Sandra Kasturi, for ChiZine

Special Award—Non-professional
Stephen Jones, Michael Marshall Smith and Amanda Foubister, for Brighton Shock!: The Souvenir Book Of The World Horror Convention 2010
Alisa Krasnostein, for Twelfth Planet Press
Matthew Kressel, for Sybil’s Garage and Senses Five Press
Charles Tan, for Bibliophile Stalker
Lavie Tidhar, for The World SF blog