The other day I had a question from a work friend who has been reading this series: “do you apply this to your academic writing too?”
Which was unexpectedly revealing. Because, on one level, I don’t. As part of my job, I have to write papers, course outlines, funding applications, and so forth. But I don’t tend to approach it thinking “I’ll do 500 words a day.”
And yet, on another level, I do. The way I get a project done, especially if it’s a big scary one like a monograph, is to tackle it in small chunks, every day. Not “I’ll write 500 words” necessarily, but “I’ll get down to the end of the page,” or “I’ll make notes on one article every day for the next week.” It’s also certainly true that I usually do at least a little academic writing every weekday, though I’ll only do it at weekends if I’m up against an unanticipated deadline.
Which is, however, where the first significant difference applies. When I’m writing fiction, the deadlines are usually self-imposed– or, if they’re imposed from outside, they’re at least ones I’ve got enough advance notice on that I can work towards them. In academic writing, I’m almost always writing to a deadline, and sometimes it’s the sort of deadline that requires more than 500 words a day to complete.
The other significant difference is that my work writing is often a collaboration with other people. This means you have to take other people’s schedules and writing styles into account, and that sometimes doesn’t work with a 500-word-a-day habit.
So I would say that, while the philosophy of Lunchtime Writing can help you write non-fiction or other types of work writing, one generally has to be flexible with its actual execution, and it may need a little more in the way of advance planning than regular Lunchtime Writing.
And I can definitely confirm that, if you’re struggling to begin a piece of work or find that you keep putting it off, that approaching it as if it were Lunchtime Writing is a good way to start and to see it through to completion.
In the interests of completism, and possibly masochism, I decided it might be worth reading and reviewing Ben Bova’s novel The Starcrossed. This book always comes up when The Starlost is discussed because, as the title suggests, it’s based, albeit loosely, on Bova’s time as technical advisor on the series.
The novel is set at some unstated time in the relatively near future: there are rejuvenation techniques, 3D holographic televisions, and legal marijuana, although pollution and climate change are getting worse (in a near-the-knuckle satire, the city of Los Angeles has taken to dyeing the smog pretty colours and perfuming it to make it more attractive). A television company, hearing of a revolutionary new 3D production technique, decides to make use of it with a blockbuster space opera written by Ron Gabriel, a popular SF writer, which is a sort of mashup between the concept of The Starlost, and Romeo and Juliet (two lovers from feuding clans of space-faring merchants run away together, fleeing from planet to planet with their families in pursuit).
Hijinks inevitably ensue as the production is moved to Canada to save costs: the Canadian production team prove to be hopeless incompetents, a Neanderthal hockey star is cast as the male lead to improve local ratings, the scripts are sourced from a high-school writing competition (something which I’ve heard asserted about the actual Starlost, but I wonder if it isn’t something that Bova made up which bled out into popular perception). Eventually it becomes apparent that the production company is just using the production as a cover for embezzling investor funds, and it all goes, well, south. Bova does, however, give his series the happy ending that The Starlost never had, perhaps a bit of wish-fulfilment, and incidentally invents the deepfake in the process.
As a satire of 1970s TV production it’s, well, okay I guess. The portrayal of the Canadian TV industry as small-scale and incompetent seems a bit ironic in hindsight, but then, at the time of The Starlost, it was. The parade of evil Hollywood executives, profiteers, drug-addled directors, prurient censors and ageing stars is entertaining, though not terribly original, and the SF elements are fairly slight but used to good satirical effect.
It doesn’t really provide much insight into The Starlost, however, mostly reading like the author’s rant against television production more generally. Some of it’s plainly not true: For instance a scene where model designers are shown as having no understanding of design or physics, which is certainly not the case for The Starlost‘s actual model team. Although Robin Ward might not be the greatest actor in the world, he’s certainly not a belligerent thug along the lines of “Francois Dulac”, the hockey player in The Starlost, Gay Rowan isn’t an ageing star rejuvenating herself to stay current, and the series never recruited any brilliant but drug-addicted Hollywood directors. Ron Gabriel, the Harlan Ellison-alike character, rings true as an antagonistic figure, but Ellison walked out on the series much faster than his fictional equivalent did. Beyond that the Canadians of the early 1970s were small-scale operators with a lot of anti-American chauvinism, I can’t really see much of the actual production experience in it at all.
Generally, then, I’d say it’s an interesting coda, but not one which really explains much about what actually happened to turn The Starlost from a good idea into the mess it became.
The wonderful people at my university have made up a “Which Game of Thrones Leader Are You?” quiz to promote my book Management Lessons in Game of Thrones! Go on, take it– we don’t send any data back to evil corporations!
Here’s where I’m going to be at Worldcon! If you’ll be there, please come to any of these– especially my “Table Talk”, where I’ll dish behind-the-scenes info on Management Lessons from Game of Thrones.
My article on Badger Books is now up at Galactic Journey, where I’m now a regular staffer rather than a guest blogger! Badger Books, and their main writer Lionel Fanthorpe, are a great example of the sort of things I love to watch/read so you don’t have to: completely awful, and yet with a certain idiosyncratic joy that shines through even the worst novels. Check them out.
This is the BSFA Award shortlisted management textbook you never knew you wanted, but now you know you have to have it. The hardback has a scary academic price tag, but the paperback has a nice friendly RRP of £20/$30 or equivalent.