The Minimal Writing Laptop

The Minimal Writing Laptop

My poor laptop has seen better days. By virtue of being a piece of technology in the modern age, being 7 years old means it is painfully out of date. Progress has marched on, but it has not, and its welded 2GB RAM are not enough to handle more than two or three internet tabs.

I’m fortunate that I was able to afford my shiny desktop, and work provides a laptop, so my personal laptop falling behind the times isn’t a big deal. But where it has been able to shine is in its steady and only half-planned transformation into a minimal writing laptop.

With the laptop not able to handle much anyway, I slowly uninstalled most of the programs. Goodbye Broken Age, lovingly reinstalled on the desktop to finally finish one day; Picasa too, since all my photo drive storage and upload management is done on the more powerful desktop now. VLC, Simple Comic, and all my other “fun time” apps are gone. What does that leave me with?

  1. Some miscellaneous tools for work: TextWrangler, KeyNote, The Unarchiver. Sometimes if you gotta do work at home it’s more tolerable doing it lying down in front of a laptop.
  2. Evernote, Dropbox, Jumpcut and Quicksilver. Always required.
  3. Skype, because I call my family early in the morning and sometimes I can’t quite get out of bed.
  4. And Scrivener, my go-to for all my writing projects and management.

Plus all those annoying system apps that I know, from painful experience, cannot be uninstalled without dire consequences.

Of the above list, the only two real requirements for my minimal writing laptop are Scrivener, to do the actual writing, and Dropbox, to backup and sync the writing between computers. But minimalism comes in stages I suppose, and I haven’t quite escaped using my laptop for things besides writing. Still, it’s getting there, and maybe its dedication to a single task will encourage some more dedication in me too.

Revisiting Old Friends, or, Finally Finishing that Damn Book

You may or may not recall that I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. I didn’t make any this year, either, but there was something about the New Year that gave me the kick I needed to pull my book out of the proverbial drawer and make a go at finishing it.

So, it’s happening. After some time away I got to surprise myself again with the fact that the thing, two years in the making, is 70,000 words. 70,000 unproofed, unedited words, but 70,000 more words than I had two years ago, and in better shape than they were a year ago, and closer to being a finished thing that I start sending to agents than it’s ever been before.

There’s still some work to do and some scenes to finish, but I can see that little glow of the sunrise on the horizon, that hint of the end. Not the end of the process, but the end of this part of the process, which, with all my books and all my writing, I’ve never actually reached before.

Here it goes. I’ll keep you posted.

John Scalzi’s 2-Book-a-Year Writing Plan

John Scalzi has a great blog, if you’re not reading it. His books are pretty darn good too. I recommend Old Man’s War. Lock In was also great.

The man also signed various contracts that over the next ten years will have him churning out books, and for the year 2016, that means two books.

Without knowing the details of how that writing is happening, I like his approach: from 8am (when he gets up) until he finishes 2,000 words for the day, no internet.

I love you, internet, but you do get in the way.

This Thing for Books Called Goodreads

Goodreads 2015 list

There’s a social network for everything. So of course there’s a social network for books. How did it take me so long to jump on the Goodreads bandwagon? Well, it took me two years to sew a new button on my coat, so my underlying personal failings are probably the same for both.

The point is, I’m on Goodreads now. I generally don’t leave negative reviews unless a book was truly vile and/or I felt duped into reading it, so you can check out Goodreads to see what I’ve read and what I’m reading and how great it all is.

Any recommendations I should add to my list?

All the Rage: Violent Revenge Fantasies for Her

TW: rape

Normally I don’t read or watch anything with rape. I mean, why would I? It’s always, always badly handled. It’s shorthand (and a convenient go-to) for a woman’s character development at best. And that’s a very, very relative best in the trash heap of storytelling choices. More often it’s easy character motivation for a man who for whatever reason cares about what happens to that woman. Usually she is “his” woman, so how dare anyone touch his things.

Even if every fictional instance of rape were done well, still, why would I? I exist in a world where one in four women are raped in their lifetimes. The number goes higher if you separate us by racial groups, like Indigenous women, who are targeted by non-Indigenous men specifically because they can be victimized with even less legal consequence (at least in the U.S., with the separation of tribal and city police forces and the lack of collaboration between the two). I don’t necessarily use fiction to escape the world, but I don’t use fiction to see a grim and unaltered reflection of the same world I see every day.

All that said. I did read Courtney Summers’s All the Rage, knowing what kind of book it was going in. It was recommended, dare I say vehemently, by someone whose opinion and taste I admire. So I said, I’ll give it a few pages.

I finished it in three days, and that’s only because none of those days were weekends.

All the Rage is about Romy Grey, who has already been raped. Her rape is a year past, and what we see are the traumas that always follow: She is a liar. She wanted it. Because she told a friend she liked the boy, it was impossible the boy had raped her. How could she say something like that, and ruin the life of such a promising boy. A boy whose family believes and supports him, a boy who has since graduated high school and gotten a job and who is living his life.

Romy is so angry. Not just about the rape or the unending harassment and re-victimization that has followed, but at the indignities she now sees and understands of being a girl who exists in the world. It was that anger that compelled me from page to page, and what I think was part of the passionate recommendation I got for the book in the first place.

Yes, that. That exactly. That is my anger, reflected back at me. And that kind of reflection is welcome, because rather than showing me things I am already too aware of, it instead says, you are not alone in your rage. It is right to be angry. We should all be angry.

People who follow me on Twitter know I was cheering for Romy early on to take violent revenge against everyone who had wronged her. I doubted the book was going to go that way–if only because it was a really, really long list that would’ve put Romy up there with the top serial killers–but I could see the fantasy in her head, and I could see how cathartic it was. Because the violence she imagined, the longing looks at pocket knives and shoving drunk boys’ faces into the dirt, was power. It was the power to say no and have the boy listen, if for no other reason than he had a knife in his gut. It was the power to make threats stop, if for no other reason than the boy was choking on mud. It was the power to make all the people who called her a liar go away, so the only people who were left were the ones who believed. Romy didn’t have the power to make boys not rape. She also didn’t have the power to know which boy could or could not be trusted. But with violence, she could make the ones who showed her they couldn’t be trusted, stop.

Romy’s progress through the book is her taking power how she can, minus knives and murders. It was a progress I really, deeply feared for, with so many people working against her, but one that ultimately reached a satisfying conclusion. Though the book leaves the full aftermath of Romy’s taking power unclear, I choose to imagine the best possible ending. Because this is fiction, and girls deserve the fantasy of seeing their rage realized and rewarded.


Read This Week: No Historical is Complete Without Near-Death in Childbirth

Read this week: Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal

Up next: Soulless by Gail Carriger


I’ve really enjoyed all five of the Glamourist Histories, tearing through them as soon as they come out within about a week. I highly recommend all of them if you’re into Jane Austen and magic, since that is the essential pitch for the whole series. My thoughts here are more around the latest book, Of Noble Family, as opposed to about it.

This is the book that illustrated for me how lacking narratives are that are about white people saving black people. Even though it was a great, fun book that tried very hard to get everything right (see: the wealth of nuanced black characters with their own motivations, goals, families, and lives that exist outside any white people; the author’s notes about the Antiguan Creole English dialect; etc) it still can’t escape being a book about white people looking at black people. We see slavery through people who have never experienced it; we see the nuances of how shadeism (and its racist basis) works in a profoundly anti-black time with profoundly anti-black people through the eyes of a character who can only witness without fully understanding. In short we watch what could be a really important conversation at a distance, because the character and therefore the reader is at a distance from it, and by virtue of being white can never be much closer.

It is important for white people to do the work of educating other people about racism and racial issues. Black people and other people of color are asked to do that kind of free labor all the time, at a 101 level that is often both exhausting and disingenuous. I think as part of a larger body of literature and conversation about educating white people on experiences outside their own, books like Of Noble Family, where we learn about racism with a fellow white person, are good. They are the kiddy pool of a big, deep, complicated ocean of issues. And as the fifth book in a series that has been subtly progressive yet not an overt “issues” fiction, I appreciate the idea of Kowal’s stealth education of her readers, not to mention stealth upending of grosser literary traditions of white saviors and faceless black characters who exist to demonstrate the white person’s goodness for the most basic achievement of not being a racist.

I also think it’s a problem if grown ass people hang out in this kiddy pool too long.

Unabashedly Embracing Lady Stuff

I’d subscribed to about a million new spooky and true crime podcasts over the last week, meaning I fell behind on my less ghosty-and-gory staples like NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour. When I did return, pretty good for a while reminding myself how bizarre and terrible humans can be, I caught up with an old episode PCHH aired all about romance novels.

Even if you don’t (or THINK you don’t) like the romance genre, I’d argue the episode is a whole lot of fun to listen to. Ladies passionately and unabashedly geeking out about their loves is a love of mine, and I really enjoyed hearing the hosts talk about not just their favorite books but also a little about the genres and tropes and why those things are so darn appealing in this big escapist niche of fiction.

Having heard of but not knowing much about Smart Bitches Trashy Books, I liked the idea of a community being built up around what was pre-internet a really solitary and supposedly shameful practice (ie, reading trashy books). Nevermind that trashy detective fiction has never been the subject of as much cultural shame as romance, because of course hardboiled is just a bit of manly fun, but romance, come on now, get your head back in the real world.

The parallel came up again when I was reading an article on Django Girls, a venture to teach women to code. Django Girls is a product with a feminine aesthetic made for women, and the founders’ presentation at a recent conference made some (maybe? well-intentioned?) men uncomfortable.

As the article author Brianna Laugher explains, enforced femininity is a problem, and devaluing or penalizing femininity is a problem, but as design elements

Monospace white-on-black command-line aesthetic is a stylistic choice. It’s one that is relatively unmarked in our community. Glittery pastels is a different aesthetic. They are both perfectly valid ways to invite someone to be a programmer.

If the only problem with pink swirlies is that they are associated with women, that association is the problem, not the swirlies. My own blog aesthetic has probably tipped you off that I am not personally a pink swirly fan, but if that’s your thing then that’s your thing. I can measure your or anyone else’s competency, intelligence, or merit exactly 0% based on preference for pink swirlies.

The same goes for reading or not reading “trashy” books. If the only problem with romance novels is that they are read and enjoyed by women, that association is the problem, not the genre, and not the women who get value from it.

Read This Week: Meditations on Death with White Suburban Teenage Boys

Read this week: More than This by Patrick Ness

Up next: Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal

Patrick Ness is an author with a particular talent for ripping my heart to pieces and making me cry. See: The Chaos Walking trilogy, starting with The Knife of Never Letting Go. I appreciate and admire not only his technical skill but also that he writes middle grade and young adult books that get into some deep, dark stuff. Chaos Walking had gay parents, abusive cult leaders, murder, male anger and entitlement, terrorist violence, and that’s just what I can name off the top of my head from having read it years ago.

I don’t think it’s remotely a spoiler to say that More than This is about death, and particularly suicide. It was incredibly well written and paced, gripping and sad and human in that lovely fallible way we are, and also nicely self-aware about the nature of stories we tell ourselves versus how the world actually is. I cared about Seth, I felt for Seth, I felt for just about everyone in this book even though the things that hurt them were also what drove them to hurt others.

At the same time, through no fault of Ness’s in particular, I am really tired of examining these deep existential questions with white boys. It’s overload: this is another book in a long history of books where we have a white boy (give or take a few traits for variation) take us through how he thinks about and views the world.

In a vacuum, that’s fine. In that long history of books, it’s gotten boring. I’m ready to listen to what someone else thinks about life, the universe and everything. I hope Patrick Ness writes one of those people, but in the meantime there’s more to choose from.*

*I thought about saying “more than this.” I did. I decided to spare you that.