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bear by san

March 2017



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criminal minds reid mathematics

same old thirst for more until they put you in the dirt

People keep asking me why I'm teaching myself math at the ripe old age of 35.

And you know, it strikes me as odd that so many people think you need a reason to learn something. Because it's kind of its own goal, isn't it? But then I realized that there's a better answer.

And the answer is, of course, because I am a writer.

And then they look at me funny.

But it's true. If you're interested in writing books (well, in writing anything, I would guess, but books are what I know from), you might as well get invested in the whole lifetime learner thing now, because you are gonna need it. See, the problem with writing is that you need to know everything.

No, I mean it.

For example, for the seven thousand word fanfic I posted the other day (just for a fanfic!) I looked up: Boston street maps, Boston public transportation schedules, Boston bicycle routes, statistics on handcuff escapes, how to pick a pair of handcuffs, the name of a specific handgun firing position, various information on the current state of the art in large-caliber handguns and suppressors (and somebody wrote me to complain, but I have given up arguing with experts, especially since no two experts ever agree), HIV needle-stick infection rates, a whole bunch of information on abnormal psych, the procedure for obtaining a marriage license in Boston, the relative heights of a couple of actors, ballistic vest failure rates, a bunch of stuff on Pavlovian and operant conditioning, information on how the brain handles denial, information (spotty) on homosexual serial killers, a whole bunch of stuff on David Berkowitz and the Zodiac killer, and about seventeen other things.

For a fanfic. That I only did one draft of. And that I didn't invest a lot of time researching, because it was for fun.

Now imagine how much research goes into a novel.

I've walked through or at least driven past every real place I describe in Blood & Iron. (I have not however ridden a horse the entire length of Broadway.) I have however ridden a horse, and read accounts of it by people who actually know what they are doing. I've swung a sword. I've fired a gun.

I am not really a novelty seeker, but I try to make a point of, whenever an opportunity to do something new comes up, giving it a whirl. (I'll never water ski again, though. Ow.)

And even so, when I write any of those things, I still stop and research.

And the thing is, underneath that research there needs to be a layer of general knowledge that tells you when to stop and look something up. Because it's not the things you don't know that trip you up. It's the things you *think* you know. That you don't stop to think about.

Because often, you are wrong.

And that's why I'm learning math. And guitar. And why I practice archery. And why I juggle. Even though I do all of those things incredibly badly.

And it's also why I go for long walks. And read constantly, about as many topics as I can sustain an interest in. And why I love reading blogs and books written by people who live in other countries.

Because you never know where the telling detail will come from. And that detail is everything.

The more you know, the better you write.

Also, learning things is fun. And, you know, you have that neuroplasticity for a reason.* You might as well exploit it.

*neuroplasticity is cool. I started juggling in high school, took it up again in 1994 or so, and then pretty much abandoned it, like everything else I used to do for fun,. when I moved to Las Vegas. Having now taken it up again for six months ago (and when I say I suck, I really suck) I'm noticing that it's having effects.

For example, when I drop something these days? A lot of the time, my hand just sort of reaches out and catches it without bothering to inform the conscious mind that it's about to do that.

That's pretty cool.

Or will be until the thing I drop is a red-hot frying pan or a just-sharpened kitchen knife.

More on this later today, after I finish the Schwartz book. But first, food and then math.


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My favorite quote

The closest thing I have to a personal motto comes from somebody named Carl Ally:
The creative person wants to be a know-it-all. He wants to know about all kinds of things: ancient history, nineteenth-century mathematics, current manufacturing techniques, flower arranging, and hog futures. Because he never knows when these ideas might come together to form a new idea. It may happen six minutes later or six months, or six years down the road. But he has faith that it will happen.
I don't remember where I found it; I don't know much else about the guy; I don't necessarily intend or expect to find the knowledge handy, but they're just interesting and often do.
My daughter is teachinging herself basic calk at 17. Why is twise that age so much mure suprising?:

Pardon my edema/muscular failures.

no worries.

I dunno, but people seem to find it so. "What are you going to do with it?"

Learn it!
the problem with writing is that you need to know everything

This is what currently has my great writing ambitions paralyzed. Because once I realized this, it was really, really scary. And although I know that I'm going to write a book someday, because my brain is constantly nagging at me that that's what it wants to do, I just don't know where to start. I have a few pages, but only about half of it is any good. And I have a vague plot outline, but I don't know how to deal with the details, or whether the plot itself is just too involved and improbable -- by which I mean people wouldn't act that way, not that stuff like that wouldn't happen in the real world; I'm not really all that concerned with that, since my premise is pretty supernatural to begin with. And the only bits that pop into my head are fragments of things for the characters to say somewhere in the middle of the whole thing. Urrgh. I almost miss the writing I used to do in my early teens, rudimentary narrative skills and all, when I just wrote and didn't worry about making my stories live.

Besides, I'm pretty young and haven't really experienced very much as an adult, from an adult's point of view. I feel like I should straighten out my own life and my relationships with real people before I go inventing fictional ones.
Well, the thing is, there's this odd kind of doublethink that gets me through it.

1) you don't learn if you don't practice
2) it takes, on average, fifteen to twenty years of writing before you're producing salable work
3) it'll never be good enough

I mean, everything I've ever written, I can see a thousand things wrong with.

But that's okay. The more you learn, the worse it will look.

Just write: you learn by doing, and it's somebody else's job to decide if it's good enough to publish.
Of course. It's a job -- one of the rare ones -- where nothing is irrelevant. Literally nothing. You can't ever say, "No one would ever use that in any book." Because you just don't know. So you pick up this and that and the other thing, and you go hither, thither, and yon, and all the time the brain goes clickety clickety whirrrrr.

Also, we kick ass at Trivial Pursuit. ;-)


I think lifelong learning keeps you sharp, not only mentally, but keeps you from getting bored with life.

My Great-Grandfather started taking piano lessons at the age of 80. When people asked him why he said he'd always wanted to learn but never had the time. When he died in his 90's he was physically frail but mentally all there.

I'm a little scared by people who haven't changed and/or learned anything new since they graduated college.

- D

Re: Acutally,

There's some research that suggests that the more diversely you use your brain, the better-defended you are against the effects of stroke, Alzheimer's, etc.
I think learning math is a great idea...I also do a ton of research, though I can't travel to all the places that are real in my books. Thank goodness for mapquest (and the satellite images)! Research is fun, which is why I like to write a book on the real world while writing one in a purely fantastical setting -- though making up everything is pretty cool too!

Writing is such a great job (or will be when I actually get paid something)!
google earth rocks.
Fantastic post.

When I research something, I often get bogged down not because I'm too focused, but because I'm too interested.

I stumble upon things I didn't know, or didn't know quite well enough, and they lead to all kinds of related knowledge which I also find fascinating.

Quite often I don't find what I was originally looking for, but have learned a lot in the process.

But basic skills are also important: sometimes you need to deepen your knowledge, not broaden it.

Some people are afraid that they'd be bored to death if they were immortal. Give me the same -- or better -- access to information that I have right now, and I'll be gladly spending a huge chunk of forever just learning.
I agree.
In my mid-20's, I re-taught myself enough advanced math to learn some physics so I could (try to) better understand what was going on in both some science fiction novels and some philosophy/cosmology I was reading, and at the time thought what a dunderhead I was to have let some bad teachers plus a notion that "artsy types don't like math" put me off for so long. So even aside from your reasons (which sound so much better than mine), I never found it strange at all.
Besides, you can get high on math. The first time I understood the non-standard real numbers was quite a rush.
That article blew my mind. No, really, brains are sliding slowly down the walls.
I definitely love the research element of writing. Although I have that same paralyzed "I don't know enough!" feeling about writing too. But I do know what I do know about and when I hit something I don't know anything about I have a library nearby and the loverly interwebs to help. Of course the real trick is in the actually writing part.

On the other hand, this is an interesting post and comments batch simply because of the fact that mortality and old age have become rather prominent in my worldview recently as my grandmother is deep into dementia while my grandfather just is physically frail. My grandmother is the one that only watched movies, and gameshows and didn't really make an effort to learn anything new (or move on her own for the past few years), while my grandfather continues to read books about new subjects and enjoys learning about the research my dad does and whatnot. I find the difference to be startling between them and would not be surprised if that has something to do with it.
*pulls out her bear icon*

I agree that having a broad base and yet the sense to know when to look something up is vital to being an interesting writer, instead of one who writes the same thing or nearly with only a few changes to make it 'different'.

I've researched a lot of things and am interested in many more things I haven't gotten about to looking up,(pokes at her trove of web pages saved and magazine clippings and notes from books) and yet still want to know loads of things, which is why I've been working my way towards picking up the flute, and maybe even teaching myself Algebra (did HORRIBLY in algebra in HS and college) jut so I won't atrophy. (Mind sharing the Algebra self-study book you got? I think I missed you saying what the title was.)
I was totally with this until we reached the red-hot frying pan and the just-sharpened kitchen knife. Because, as Eddie Murphy in black would say, damn, I do not need help with the sharp object meets flesh thing, you know?

I sincerely hope your awareness will protect you!
Yehah, no kidding!
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