First Page of Random Thoughts

1. Stochastic Thoughts

I used the word stochastic on the main Stuff page to describe the "stochastic thoughts and inconsequential ramblings" you might find in this section, so lets begin with that word.

Etymology of stochastic

From Ancient Greek stokhastikos, from stokhazomai, (aim at a target, guess), from stokhos, (an aim, a guess).

  1. Random, randomly determined, relating to stochastics.

1970, J. G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition: "In the evening, while she bathed, waiting for him to enter the bathroom as she powdered her body, he crouched over the blueprints spread between the sofas in the lounge, calculating a stochastic analysis of the Pentagon car park."

2006, Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day, Vintage 2007, p. 854: "Self-slaughter, as Hamlet always says, was certainly in the cards, unless one had been out here long enough to have contemplated the will of God, observed the stochastic whimsy of the day, learned when and when not to whisper "Insh'allah,” and understood how, as one perhaps might never have in England, to await, to depend upon, the ineluctable departure of what was most dear."

In other words, there's no set pattern to these pages, it's just random chance as to what thought bubbles to the surface and gets listed here. At any rate, I hope you find them interesting

(For the record, parts of the above were taken directly from the Wiktionary entry for the word stochastic. I wanted to be sure no one would accuse me of pulling a Rand Paul.)

2. Cacaoethes Scribendi

It's a Latin phrase, meaning an insatiable desire to write. Cacoethes can be translated as either a bad habit or a malignant disease.

The phrase originally comes from a line in Juvenal's Satires, "Tenet insanabile multos scribendi cacoethes," which translates as something like "the incurable desire for writing affects many."

Speaking of desires, the Latin phrase for a "Streetcar Named Desire" (according to Google Translate), would be a "Streetcar Nomine Desiderium" (What? No streetcars in ancient Rome?).

Cacoethes Scribendi is also a poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes. Guess what it's about!

So, can one really be a professional writer without cacoethes scribendi, without the feeling of needing to write? I find I go through long stretches where the desire to write is very strong, but I also go through periods where modern distractions pull me in a dozen different directions.

"Lack of focus is the novel killer." Michael Sirois, 2012.

3. Hard Facts for First Novelists - Seriously?

I ran across a Canadian website the other day which offered a scenario for what would happen during the process of writing a novel, "from inspiration to final royalty cheque."

You can read the whole chronology here, but here are the first few paragraphs of it. Quotations from the scenario are in italics.


"October 13, 2006:
You get a brilliant idea for a novel and begin writing at the rate of 1,000 words a day (about four double-spaced manuscript pages)."

This is absolutely do-able. I often write sections of first drafts at that rate or much higher.

"January 13, 2007:
You complete a novel of 90,000 words (about 350 typed pages)."

Three months to write 90,000 words. Again, very much within the realm of possibility, but by "complete a novel" surely he means just the first draft of a novel, right?

"January 14-21, 2007:
After careful proofreading, you mail ms. to a Toronto publisher on January 21."

A week to proofread the manuscript and mail it off? This is the part that's the punch line to the joke, right? I'm not saying it can't be done, but proofreading is not fixing the substantial problems that will inevitably occur when writing a first draft. To continue with the fairy tale, by February 1st, a senior editor has decided to publish it. Most publishing companies won't even look at unsolicited novels. If it doesn't come from an agent, the senior editor - or even the junior editor - will never read it.


This was created as a class assignment for a college in Vancouver (wonderful city, BTW). Maybe the instructor's intent was to lull his class into thinking anything was possible, to give them hope for their future careers. And, to be fair, he does paint a bleak picture of potential earnings for this first novel, but paints it as a stepping stone to future earnings from other novels.

But, seriously? What happened to "writing is rewriting?" I'm looking at sections of my novels that I've proofread, then edited for clarity, then polished the language, and I'm still finding things that keep them from being ready to publish.

Excerpts were from Write a Novel (, a resource created by Crawford Kilian, Communications Instructor at Capilano College, North Vancouver BC. © Crawford Kilian, 2006.

4. Rules For Writing

Robert Heinlein's rules appeared in an essay "On the Writing of Speculative Fiction (1947)." The publishing industry has changed a great deal, but the thought behind most of these are still perfectly valid.

Heinlein's Rules for Writing

  1. You must write.
  2. You must finish what you write.
  3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
  4. You must put the work on the market.
  5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.

I also have a set of rules for writing, gleaned from here and there. Sometimes I wish I followed them more often.

Michael's Rules of Writing

  1. Write crappy first drafts.
  2. Words don't bleed. Cut them.
  3. Write now, edit later.
  4. There are NO mistakes, only creative opportunities.
  5. Don't think. Just write.
  6. Rules? There are rules?

You can get a Rules of Writing t-shirt (or mug or mousepad, or lots of other items). Click on the t-shirt below.

Rules of Writing t-shirt

5. On Getting Started

John Steinbeck had agreed to be interviewed for the Paris Review in 1969 by Nathaniel Benchley (son of Robert Benchley and father of Peter Benchley - there are some writing genes in that family). When the time came, he was, unfortunately, too sick to be interviewed. The magazine published a collection of quotes and selections from Steinbeck's writings and memoirs instead. Here is what he had to say about "getting started."

It is usual that the moment you write for publication -- I mean one of course -- one stiffens in exactly the same way one does when one is being photographed. The simplest way to overcome this is to write it to someone, like me. Write it as a letter aimed at one person. This removes the vague terror of addressing the large and faceless audience and it also, you will find, will give a sense of freedom and a lack of self-consciousness.

Now let me give you the benefit of my experience in facing 400 pages of blank stock — the appalling stuff that must be filled. I know that no one really wants the benefit of anyone's experience which is probably why it is so freely offered. But the following are some of the things I have had to do to keep from going nuts.

1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.

2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.

3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn't exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person — a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.

4. If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it — bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn't belong there.

5. Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.

6. If you are using dialogue — say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.

Go back to the Random Thoughts index page,

or, go on to Random Thoughts page #2.