March 7, 2012

How Massive Computer Failure is like Writing: Written by David

So for any of you loyal readers who have been checking the blog in the past few weeks, you may have noticed that the standing post has been about my massive computer failure. And for anyone tuning in after our recent trip to the AWP conference in Chicago, or being redirected from whatever strange powers the Internet possesses, that is still the case.

I am at the moment confined to my Dell notebook, which if any of you saw the commercials which showed an assembly line of computers being presented like candy, that is what this computer is. For those who are interested the color is an apple green. This may seem like a completely workable situation, but for a comparison you have to understand the machine I was working on before.

My PC was a heavily upgraded Asus machine. Though really the bare bones could have been anything. Now I won't stand here and try to state that my machine is the Lamborghini of the compute world because I am at present an unemployed teacher, and prior to being unemployed I was a student living on student loans. In fact, the only reason my computer was the beautiful piece of machinery it was is because of a rather large tax rebate.

Bear with me, I'm about to get to the writing part.

My computer was, however, heavily upgraded. A top of the line graphics card, a monstrous power supply that could have run three computers simultaneously, enough RAM to ensure that any time something went wrong with that computer there were only two culprits. Myself or Microsoft. I'm not going to start a flame war because I still love windows and would never switch to a Mac as far as PC's are concerned, but I knew that computer inside and out. It was not a laptop built for ease, nor a run of the mill PC for desk work. It was a power machine meant for playing the most graphically demanding video games while watching HD movies at the same time. And then it failed.

So how does this relate to writing? Firstly that you have to know what you need when you set out to write. A standard computer user would have been overwhelmed by machine and doesn't need everything it could do anyways. Similarly, in this fast paced writing world, if you're writing novels don't bother reading up on current poetic theory on an academic level. Or if you're trying to become the next great literary figure, stop worrying about people like Stephanie Meyer and pay attention to where the literary scene is headed.

But more than that it's a technical thing on a few levels. Firstly in how we as writers approach our writing. There are writers who would never consider writing a first draft on the computer. First they do a physical rough copy and only then do they transfer it to computers. Some people prefer the old typewriter (there's some interesting Bukowski writing about his inability to switch from the typewriter to the computer.) Some people are fine on a laptop.

I preferred my two monitors, spreading my work between flashdrives and harddrives, and generally having either a movie or music on the second screen not as something to distract me, but rather something to keep me focused. Similar to how right now as I type this the news is on the TV as background noise to keep out more distracting sources.

One thing we have to understand as writers is what works best for us as we set out to write, because if you hate the computer but find it's the only thing you can write on, you'll either need to suck it up and adjust or simply write sub-par work.

Alternatively, if life throws you a curve-ball you may find yourself having to scramble to recover. I certainly had to, figuring out ways to transfer documents stuck on my now unpowered internal hard drives and trying to remember all the sites I had bookmarked. Luckily this all came a couple of weeks before the AWP conference, so I knew I had some time to figure things out.

However this massive failure on my computers part has also reminded me of a very important lesson, one that can be evidenced in the film industry all of the time. Adversity breeds ingenuity.

Jaws would have been nothing more than a large budget gore film if the mechanical shark hadn't been a pain to work with. Star Wars would have been...well probably what George Lucas turned the latest three movies into if it hadn't been for time and budget constraints. From the literary world Bukowski's Post Office is a testament to fast paced desperation, having been completed in two weeks with the promise that Bukowski would never have to work in the post office again.

I could go on and on, but sometimes it's not ideal conditions that create great art, but the work it takes to make it work. Which is what I found after that massive computer failure. Though I was able to get all of my documents recovered, I also had to prepare new work for my writers group which consequently involved trying to rewrite what I thought were unaccesible works. Now, I've never found a rewrite to be "better" than the original, but those rewrites contained some integral ideas that the original would have been lacking. Not to the levels of adversity faced by other writers, but even on the small scale, sometimes a little kick in the pants can be enough to get something new going.

So I'm back, and will be doing my best to keep a regular update schedule moving as I work on getting a job, and the magazine as a whole gets to work on our spring and subsequent summer issue. In the coming weeks you can look for me to write about the AWP conference we recently attended, but that usual eclectic mix of topics relating to my own, and others obsessions.

Now for some shout outs. Obsession will be launching the spring issue on March 21st, but it's not too late to view the last issue at

Marathon literary review, a product of Arcadia University's new M.F.A. program recently put out its first issue which just happens to feature two works from your loyal author, and if you're looking for some good reads, or more importantly a good place to submit shorter works, check them out at

My first round of AWP shout outs go out to two fantastic presses, one new to me and one who fascinated me last year as well.

Ghost Town Literary Magazine, who I encountered last year when I purchased a T-shirt featuring Kim Jong Ill holding a burning bush (just the type of strangeness I enjoy), once again were featured at AWP and I couldn't have been happier to see them. The issue of their journal I consumed from the last conference featured a varying mix of poetry and fiction, most of which was strange and experimental and all of which I found fascinating, to the point that if they hadn't given me a copy of their current issue for free at the conference, I would have bought it again. Check them out at, and you can expect me to promote them again when they start taking submissions.

On the side of magazines I did purchase at the conference, Toad Suck Review drew me in with the Hypno Toad (all hail Hypno Toad) and went on to deliver a magazine that features just eclectic enough of a body of work, while never coming off as to snobby. Based out of Arkansas they have a section devoted entirely to work from Arkansas writers, but also featured a piece by Bukowski, interesting eco fiction, experimental fiction, and while I can't speak of the same obsession with each piece that I found in Ghost Town, it contained more home runs than it did pop outs. Check them out at and again, expect more talk when they start taking submissions in the fall.

That's it for today, but I'll be delivering a new article on Friday going into detail what we experienced in Chicago, and how it differed from our experiences in D.C. the year before.

David is one of the co-founders and editors of Obsession Literary Magazine, as well as the head writer for the Obsession blog. His work has been featured in Marathon Literary magazine, and he has a forthcoming publication in Apiary magazine, both of which are based in the Philadelphia area.

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