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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

Spring Events:
April is the Coolest Month

April 13th, 2016

nightmare cinemaApologies to T. S. Eliot, but I couldn’t resist the headline. And there will indeed be some cool things happening now that the winter that “kept us warm” has come to an end.

First up, I’ll be giving a talk at the Penguin Bookshop in Sewickley on April 27, sharing details surrounding the adaptation of my story “Traumatic Descent” for the upcoming anthology film Nightmare Cinema.

Although I cover the process of adapting “TD” in Voices and This Way to Egress, the Penguin event will give me a chance to relate some recent surprises and developments.

End of Watch51U+KNbSiaL._AC_UL320_SR210,320_I also plan to cover practical advice about storytelling and scriptwriting. The talk is titled “From Page to Screen,” and it gets underway at 6:30 p.m. If you’re in the area, I’ll hope to see you there. Professional secrets will be revealed.

It’s worth noting that the aforementioned Nightmare Cinema is being produced by Mick Garris, the same filmmaker who brought us Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers and the television versions of both The Shining and The Stand. I mention these titles because Stephen King will also be giving a talk at the Penguin later this spring, promoting the release of his forthcoming thriller End of Watch.

Tickets for the Stephen King event go on sale April 17. Here’s a link for more information.

Mark's Emmy award 10-27-2007And there’s more. On April 29, my brother and former band mate Mark Connolly will be joining me for a special musical performance at Riley’s Pour House. (That’s Mark on the left with the Emmy he won a few years back. Yeah, my bro’s got talent.)

Mark and I performed together on the college circuit back in the 70s. We called ourselves The Other Brothers, playing gigs, writing songs, and recording demos with our other brother John, who had a basement equipped with what was then state-of-the-art technology. I’m talking reel-to-reel four track tape. Real handmade music!

Mark and I will be playing some Other Brothers tunes at Riley’s, but you don’t have to wait until then to hear them. By clicking the player below (which features another photo of Mark, this time with a 20th-century version of the 21st-Century Scop), you can hear our demo cut of “Midnight Lover.” Mark wrote it, and it should have gone platinum.

Enjoy the song, and I’ll hope to see you at the Penguin Bookshop or Riley’s Pour House – or both. Until then . . . scop on!

The 2011 Bram Stoker Award™ Winners!

April 1st, 2012

The Horror Writers Association announced the winners of the 2011 Bram Stoker Awards™ at its annual awards banquet last night. This year’s presentation was held in Salt Lake City, Utah, at the World Horror Convention, and marks the 25th Anniversary of the awards.

The award is named for Bram Stoker, best known as the author of Dracula. The trophy, which resembles a miniature haunted house, was designed by author Harlan Ellison and sculptor Steven Kirk.

Twelve new bronze haunted-house statuettes were handed over to the writers responsible for creating superior works of horror last year. This year’s winners are:

Superior Achievement in a NOVEL
Flesh Eaters by Joe McKinney (Pinnacle Books)

Superior Achievement in a FIRST NOVEL
Isis Unbound by Allyson Bird (Dark Regions Press)

Superior Achievement in a YOUNG ADULT NOVEL (tie)
The Screaming Season by Nancy Holder (Razorbill)
Dust and Decay by Jonathan Maberry (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

Superior Achievement in a GRAPHIC NOVEL
Neonomicon by Alan Moore (Avatar Press)

Superior Achievement in LONG FICTION
The Ballad of Ballard and Sandrine” by Peter Straub (Conjunctions: 56)

Superior Achievement in SHORT FICTION
“Herman Wouk Is Still Alive” by Stephen King (The Atlantic Magazine, May 2011)

Superior Achievement in a SCREENPLAY
American Horror Story, episode #12: “Afterbirth” by Jessica Sharzer (20th Century Fox Television)

Superior Achievement in a FICTION COLLECTION
The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares by Joyce Carol Oates (Mysterious Press)

Superior Achievement in an ANTHOLOGY
Demons: Encounters with the Devil and his Minions, Fallen Angels and the Possessed edited by John Skipp (Black Dog and Leventhal)

Superior Achievement in NON-FICTION
Stephen King: A Literary Companion by Rocky Wood (McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers)

Superior Achievement in a POETRY COLLECTION
How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend by Linda Addison (Necon Ebooks)

Also awarded:

Vampire Novel of the Century Award to:
Richard Matheson for his modern classic I Am Legend

Lifetime Achievements:
Rick Hautala and Joe R. Lansdale

The Specialty Press Awards:
Derrick Hussey of Hippocampus Press and Roy Robbins of Bad Moon Books.

The President’s Richard Laymon Service Award:
HWA co-founder Karen Lansdale.

Samhain Publishing served as the Platinum Sponsor for the event.

Source: HWA

Beyond the Walls of Horror

February 5th, 2012

Horror isn’t a genre. It’s an ingredient. A seasoning. Such things have been pointed out before, most notably by Douglas Winter in Revelations (1997), but a quick look at this year’s Bram Stoker Award™ Preliminary Ballot shows that it bears repeating.

This year the short-fiction jury has selected three strong works from mainstream publications, Ramona Ausubel’s “Atria” (New Yorker, April 4), George Saunders’s “Home” (New Yorker, June 13) and Stephen King’s “Herman Wouk Is Still Alive” (The Atlantic, May).

The past year also saw Zoetrope All-Story Magazine and Granta putting out special Horror Issues, featuring writers not generally associated with the genre, but most turning in work that puts the ingredients to good use.

Beyond these examples, I’m often struck by passages of genuine horror that I frequently encounter in works that have never been marketed or labeled as such. Most notably Augusten Burroughs’s chilling memoir A Wolf at the Table and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (both books from past years that I have only recently gotten around to reading).

The take-away, of course, is that some of the best opportunities for readers and writers of horror lie well beyond the genre walls.

Do you agree? Got a work you’d like to recommend?

As always, the comment box is open.