Posted in Challenges and Contests, Coffee and Conversation, Just for Fun!, Life Writing, NaNoWrimo, Writers' Resources

Coffee and Conversation: Sometimes, You Just Gotta Na-Know, Y’Know?

Grab a cuppa and a comfy seat, and let’s chat a while! It’s time for Coffee and Conversation!

When I was six, my family was driving on a highway late at night. Streaks of headlights and taillights painted the dark. For the first time, I realized that each car held people living lives as important to them as mine was to me.

I wanted to know what those lives were, and to share my own..

In high school, nearly 30 years ago, I had an assignment that asked me to describe the career we’d like to eventually have, and how we thought the advent of home computers might change the nature of that career.

I chose writing, and posited that the computer wouldn’t do much to change the 1987 current reality of writing. Sure, I reasoned, it might be easier to print using a keyboard and screen where I could fix typos without whiteout, and not have many many trees killed for my art, but computers couldn’t do the writing, because they didn’t have human experiences. They’d never be more the a sidenote to my writing – sort of a fancier, more efficient version of the Smith-Corona electric typewriter I received for graduation.

I didn’t know, then, what computers would come to be, in the next decade or two. I didn’t know about the Internet; Facebook and Google and Netflix and Amazon and blogging simply didn’t exist. Twitter was just a sound made by gaggles of little girls…or a flock of birds.

I didn’t know that the computer would become both a writing resource, and an outlet. I had no clue whatsoever what computers could be, and how vastly important a tool they would become for my writing life (not to mention life in general).

What do I mean?

Well, take absinthe, for example. My personal experience with the wormwood-infused alcohol is non-existent – well, OK, I know a person or two who’ve tried it; and I’ve seen a bottle of it, and been offered a sample, which I refused.

Green Muse” -Albert Maignan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

For myself, that’s enough. But I’m a writer, and, during November’s National Novel Writing Month, I had a character who tries absinthe in an attempt to deal with “larger issues” – he’s a telepath who needs to make and maintain contact with someone on an unknown planet, and he’s used pschychoactive substances in the past to achieve that contact. Absinthe turns out to be an excellent catalyst, for that purpose, but his growing passion for it wreaks havoc on his life…

So I needed to know something about absinthe, and this magical window whisked me away and led me down a trail where I learned :

  • the composition of absinthe
  • the chemical aspects of wormwood
  • the ritual of preparation
  • (and why, scientifically, it matters)
  • the history of the drink
  • the language used in relation to it
  • art featuring absinthe
  • rumor, propaganda, and facts
  • the effects of absinthe
  • famous people who favored absinthe;
  • and those lovely spoons…

By SDC (Copied from the English Wikipedia.) [see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons
From the research, my story evolved. My character not only has his life turned upside down by absinthe- it becomes the moving force propelling him through a good deal of the story, and a symbol of those “larger issues” he was dealing with. It provides sensory detail and imagery that feed the story, and led this character – and others – down paths I never suspected they’d take (and I planned this story). The spoons he and others choose for the ritual become symbols for who they are, or who they see themselves as. The process of preparation becomes an analogy for what’s happening in this character’s life, and within him, through the story…the changes and challenges he undergoes.

Without the Internet, I might have been able to come up with some information on absinthe- but it wouldn’t have been instantly available, to be explored in the moment of inspiration. It would have been rigid and limited – static. It wouldn’t have shifted with my explorations, accommodating the shifts my imagination made along the way. I wouldn’t have been able to adjust the research with a new click, save the relevant pages electronically, and navigate smoothly from one site to the next. So my story would have been either more vague, or less organic, than it will be.

And what I looked at was only the tip of that iceberg…I can learn far more, just as easily, if I need or want to. And not just about absinthe – about nearly any subject I can think of.

No, the Internet won’t write my story for me – but it does give me the resources to be a better writer, in an endlessly customizable way.

So, to my former English teacher, I offer this hindsight 20/20 update. While it’s true that computers aren’t doing my writing, they have changed just about every aspect of my writing life…in ways I couldn’t even imagine, back in 1987.

And I’m very happy about that!

How about you? If you’ve been around long enough to remember the pre-Internet world, in what ways is your life different, now? If you’ve always had Internet access, can you imagine what life would be without it? I’ll pour the beverages (absinthe, anyone?), and listen….chime right in!

By Eric Litton (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (, via Wikimedia Commons


I am myself. I own my life, and live with three other people who own theirs. My intention is to do only those things that bring me joy, and to give myself wholly to those things I do. Writing has been my passion throughout my life, and this will become the home for my writing life...because it brings me great joy!

8 thoughts on “Coffee and Conversation: Sometimes, You Just Gotta Na-Know, Y’Know?

  1. It’s strange to think back on my earlier life and how different it was before the Internet. Who knew that it would morph into what it is today. 😉

    1. I so know what you mean! It amazes me, what it’s become, and the power the Internet gives us. On Saturday, I needed to know how someone would die, if they overdosed on opium. Now, I have absolutely NO personal experience in this department, and it wasn’t during library hours (I often write best in the overnight hours).

      With the internet and about 25 minutes of research, I knew enough to make the hours that led to the character’s death, and the overdose itself, believable, even to someone ‘in the know”. Not only that, but the knowing shaped the scene, and made it deeper, and I won’r need to go back and change significant parts of it later.

      And I can talk to you, in a matter of minutes, in print, from across the country….that really is cool!

      1. It really is pretty amazing. My boyfriend loves researching actors lives so we will be in the middle of a movie and I’ll look over and see him on his phone looking them up on Google or whatever. It can be overwhelming though. There is almost too much information sometimes!

        The thing that’s really amazing, though, is the connection with people you might not have otherwise “met” and/or talking with and seeing my daughter even though she’s over 2000 miles away.

        1. I know what you mean about the overabundance of information; sometimes I choose not to find out all the things, just so that I can keep an air of mystery in my life…

          It’s all about blending it in a way that works with my life.

          And I am so with you on the connections.=)

  2. As a former English teacher, I especially appreciate this hearkening-back. I also have to point out that absinthe makes the heart grown fonder. 😄 and yes, as a a writer I can attest to the power of. Wing able to reach out to total strangers to ask for advice or get research help. A-mazing.

    1. If it’s possible to groan and laugh at the same time, that’s the sound I made when I read your absinthe pun!

      It’s quite fascinating, this drink. I don’t have an affinity for either anise or fennel, so I don’t know if I’ll ever try it myself, but it is intriguing..and the impact on my character’s life…wow!

  3. I’ve not written fiction since the internet became a part of daily life, so your example of “absinthe,” as an element of your novel, was fascinating. For me, the internet has made it easier to write non-fiction; checking facts is so much faster, although my mother called me yesterday to tell me as kindly as she could that she had caught two errors in two of my recent posts (I was also grateful). The internet can be overwhelming to a writer, though: I am are aware of so many other writers and of my own insignificance. The internet is humbling.

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