Shaking Things Up With A Royal KMG (ca. 1949)

Our neighbors down the street were moving out from a house they’d been in for 35 years. Apparently the wife had been holding onto her parents’ typewriters over the years and finally decided to get rid of this one, leaving it in a box by the roadside. My awesome spouse spied the treasure and I hauled it up the hill.

I’ve had exactly one typewriter of my own, a Brother electric daisy wheel typewriter. I eventually graduated to a Panasonic word processor (also daisy wheel) in college and finally to a PC in grad school. The convenience of word processing on a PC or Mac is undeniable, but the distractions are there as well. I’d forgotten the simplicity of the typewriter.

This Royal KMG (based on the serial number, this would’ve been manufactured in 1949) is a hoss of a machine, but it’s 100 percent manual, so there’s no worrying about power outages or memory issues or general electronic fuckery. I’ll never have to reboot it!

The keys were pretty sticky so I took to the internet, found Duane from Phoenix Typewriter on YouTube, and began dousing the innards with mineral spirits and working the keys until they moved freely. I also replaced the drawband with a bit of cloth ribbon from Joanne Fabric, rewound the spring, and got the carriage operating correctly.

The manual typewriter experience is fascinating. It’s taken a few reps to get used to the pressure needed to get a crisp transfer of ink from the ribbon, but in the end, it’s just typing. And there’s the satisfying snap of the slug striking the platen. Did I mention the lack of distraction?

I think maybe the most pleasant aspect is the ingenuity of the machine, all the levers and springs and settings. It’s not a beautiful machine, per se, but it there’s something elegant about its function and the obvious amount of thought that went into every aspect.

With regard to the creative process itself, I like the time typing affords for developing thoughts and ideas. I can only type so fast o the Royal as compared to my laptop where I can go pretty fast and correct mistakes on the fly. With the manual typewriter, I have to be more deliberate to minimize mistakes and therefore have more time to collect my thoughts and let them breathe a little more.

So far, I have $22 into this thing, which, for what it does is pretty amazing. The “f” key keeps sticking so I’ll need to hit the segment with mineral spirits again and clean up the type bar guide as I think there’s some gunk there that’s contributing to the issue. No big deal though!

Anyway, this has been a fun way to come at my writing from a different angle with a different tool. We’ll see how long the stoke lasts, but at the moment, it’s fun and has proven useful for outlining my next novel. My intent is to outline until my story and characters come to life, rather than writing the novel three or four times to get to that point. Also, my intent is to do the first full draft on the typewriter and not worry about typos and such. My hope is that between the extensive outlining and the manual typing, I’ll be able to come away with a super solid first draft.

Time shall tell.



The immortal Rick Steves said this about traveling to Naples, Italy (probably Naples, Florida too):

“If something’s not to your liking, change your liking.”

After reading his Italy guidebook before traveling there for a friend’s wedding in 2016, I think about these words more often than is likely healthy.

On the one obvious hand it is advice to not be so rigid and picky, especially when traveling to foreign lands. Bringing more equanimity to our lives in general would probably reduce our angst by half, if not more.

On the other hand, maybe less obvious, I read this as not being precious about your current situation. To wit, I wake up each weekday morning, make coffee, play with the cat, stretch and write. It’s pretty good, right? I’ve been doing it for almost fourteen years now. It’s a bonafide habit and generally it feels virtuous and right.

And yet… and yet.

It takes me a long time to write a novel with this particular habit that I like so well.

It’s also taken me a long time to realize something needs to change if I want to finish drafts a little quicker.

As so often with the dawn of a new year, I find myself thinking about these kinds of things, looking for methods, for inspiration. I read books, listen to podcasts, search the internet.

Through this quest, one thing occurs to me: Any real change I’ve ever made in my behavior has been a combination of wanting things to be different and figuring out a sustainable way to make them so.

It’s kind of like writing (at least for me) in that to find what works, you go through a bunch of what doesn’t.

Since the new year, I’ve decided to write in the evening as well as the mornings. Not every evening and not for long stretches, maybe a half hour or hour.

And it seems to be working.

I’m making solid headway through some of the stickiest parts of the novel, just chipping away a little more frequently.

A few of observations:

  • I feel better in general instead of lamenting how slowly I’m writing/editing
  • I feel better knowing I didn’t piss away that time looking at my soccer list feed on Twitter or playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (although I will get back to that eventually!)
  • It doesn’t feel odious and doesn’t weigh me down during the day. I look forward to the evening sessions because it feels like gravy.

Combining that with a deadline for wrapping up edits by the end of April, I think I might be on to something that could very well stick. As with most changes, time will tell, but I look forward to finding out.

Now, off for an evening editing sesh.

3 Tips for Finding the Inspiration to Write

Image by Fiona Art.

Tip 1: Start writing.

Pretty boring, right?

Maybe, but showing up gets stuff done. Few things are finer than seeing the words and pages pile up over time.

Without showing up, I wouldn’t get to enjoy one of my favorite experiences: Printing out an entire manuscript knowing I’m going to read through to discover what will make it to make it better.

Tip 2: Summon that feeling.

When I’m lying in bed in the dark at 6AM, especially this time of year, I recall that rush and fascination of losing myself in the writing.

I remember how many times the dread of writing cannot stand before the actual act. Also, I’ve never regretted a writing session, even if the words didn’t come easily.

It makes it a lot easier to get out of bed for something you look forward to.

Tip 3: Embrace the challenges

I’ve been writing for 13+ years and still want to keep writing.

For me, that means always trying to get better, whether the mechanics of how I write and edit, or the style or the way I make my words say what I want.

Every day presents new, sometimes unanticipated challenges. I think of it as problem solving, knowing that if I put the time in, I’ll figure out a satisfying path forward. It might take days or weeks, but it will happen.

Bonus Tip!

Be kind to yourself. Goals are good, but life happens and there are many paths to the same place.

Wilderness Restoration

Taken from

Last month my wife and I flew out to Idaho to join some friends on a seven-day trip on the Main Salmon River (not to be confused with the Middle Fork or the South Fork). The river runs through the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, the largest contiguous wilderness area in the United States (I have to say rowing the Salmon involved some of the most enjoyable river miles I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. The whitewater was not terribly intense, the scenery was stunning and the wildlife abundant.

It felt good to get back behind the oars for a multi-day trip for the first time in eleven years, since we did a 16-day trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Having guided for a number of years on the rivers of southern West Virginia, returning to the river felt good. It felt natural, reading the currents, feeling the movement and scouting the horizon lines.

The best part about multi-day trips is truly immersing in the condition of just being. Sure I thought about the dinner menu or wondering where we might stop for camp, but mostly I was in the moment, taking it all in, sharing it with my wife and maybe another member of our party who would be boat hopping throughout the day. It’s one of the few times in my life I’ve been able to truly disconnect and let everything else slip away.

We saw eagles and ospreys, big horn sheep and mountain goats, snakes and jumping fish. We ate ripe cherries from an old abandoned homestead and soaked in a primitive riverside hot springs. We watched the sun creep into the canyon in the mornings and slip behind the ridges in the evening. We saw the great bowl of stars overhead, more stars than many people get to see in their lives. That’s the beauty of a huge wilderness area.

As with most trips, I brought my journal and a book, Margaret Atwood’s Year of the Flood. Also as with most trips, I didn’t do much journaling, but read nearly every day. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of reading a dystopian story in a utopian setting. The contrast helped me enjoy both that much more.

At one point someone asked me about my writing and my current novel. In the middle of the conversation, they realized their phone, with which they’d been taking pictures, had fallen out of their vest–and into the river. And that was the end of the conversation. As I look back, that was probably the only time I really thought about my writing during that trip and I think I needed that.

I’ve been back for almost three weeks and finally have my feet under me as I work through key story elements in the beginning of the novel. You’d think that by draft number four I’d have this stuff nailed down, but here we are and it’s okay, just part of the process. I think I can thank the Idaho trip for the dollop of equanimity in the long journey of writing this novel.

Slow Burn

I’m working through the fourth draft of my latest novel, Flood, and have been leaning into the process, doing my best to not worry about the final product and timelines.

It’s hard work.

But it’s also good, gratifying work. The way I figure, we only have the time before us. The time that’s most enjoyable is the time actually doing the work. Sure I like to imagine what commercial and critical success looks like, but if that’s the only thing I’m after, what about all the time spent (13 years and counting)?

If I never publish a novel will it all have been for naught?

Will I have wasted my time?

That was a question I didn’t ask myself when I was younger and my life was stretching ahead of me. But as I’ve put some decades behind me–five and change so far–I’ve become more conscious of how finite my time is. And so the question of using time wisely is often in the forefront of my mind.

But I’ve also become more conscious of how the time we’re in, the present, is the only time we have. And thus, there’s no reason to be in a rush.

So when my mind starts questioning the value of my writing, my toiling in unpublished anonymity, I ask myself, “Is the writing enjoyable? Is the challenge still there? Do you still get a thrill seeing things come together?” Samuel Delany points to the German word “Begeisterung”, literally defined as “bespiritedness”, to capture the kind of enthusiasm creatives bring to their work.

Begeisterung is a tonic for all my doubt, all these questions, so much so that when I find myself revisiting them yet again, my answer is invariably “yes,” which is reason enough to keep writing.

Raising a Relic

Coming to you live from the Star City, Roanoke, Virginia.

I’ve decided to bring back Words and Coffee using the most economical means possible. As a result, I’m back where I started on I probably should bring in all the content between that last post I did on this platform in 2010(!), but we’ll see if I can find the old .xml export from when I took Words and Coffee offline in 2021.

Long story short, I’m still writing, deep in draft number four of my latest novel. It’s been an illuminating project for a few reasons:

  1. Having done this before, I thought I would find some efficiencies, but that really hasn’t been the case;
  2. Because this is a totally different novel and my goals go beyond just getting a novel under my belt, I have more difficult goals that are taking longer to materialize; and,
  3. It occurs to me that, if you’re striving to be better with everything you write, your difficulty level is always increasing and therefore the idea that it gets easier isn’t really true.

I read an interview with an author recently (I can’t remember who, shame on me) where they said every subsequent novel is actually harder. I firmly believe that’s true, although I secretly hope it isn’t at least once!

I’ll make no commitments to how often I post, but because I’m still at it, it’s a good idea to have an online presence, especially since I’ve dialed back my social media presence almost to nil for sanity’s sake.

Anyway, it’s good to be back. Looking forward to reconnecting.

The Mysterious Explorations of Jasper Morello

I may have posted this before, but I’ve been thinking about it lately. Great story. Great animation. Steampunk at its finest.

Here’s the synopsis:

Nominated for an Oscar and for a BAFTA award, Jasper Morello is a short feature made in a unique style of silhouette animation developed by director Anthony Lucas and inspired by the work of authors Edgar Alan Poe and Jules Verne. In the frontier city of Carpathia, Jasper Morello discovers that his former adversary Doctor Claude Belgon has returned from the grave. When Claude reveals that he knows the location of the ancient city of Alto Mea where the secrets of life have been discovered, Jasper cannot resist the temptation to bring his own dead wife Amelia back.

But they are captured by Armand Forgette, leader of the radical Horizontalist anti-technology movement, who is determined to reanimate his terrorist father Vasco. As lightning energises the arcane machineries of life in the floating castle of Alto Mea, Jasper must choose between having his beloved restored or seeing the government of Gothia destroyed. Set in a world of iron dirigibles and steam powered computers, this gothic horror mystery tells the story of Jasper Morello, a disgraced aerial navigator who flees his Plague-ridden home on a desperate voyage to redeem himself.

For more on this world, visit here.

More Neal Stephenson

This video is an hour long,  or roughly two and half cups of coffee, but the first three minutes is worth it alone. In the rest of the video, Stephenson talks about Anathem. If you’ve got the time, watch. It’s fascinating to see how a sci-fi author delves the modern day for material.

Oh yeah, read Anathem.