Category Archives: Writing

Thoughts on the process of writing

Being Creative: Writing with Music

It should not be a surprise to anyone that music and writing are often closely linked. While some people can write in absolute silence, I generally benefit from music to help block out the world.

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The trick is in finding the right music. Something that stirs the creative mind, something which matches the mood of the work, and most importantly of all, something which isn’t overly distracting.

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NaNoWriMo To Go

NaNoWriMo Day 3I’m taking a stab at NaNoWriMo this year. Writing a novel in a month certainly sounds like a challenging task, especially as I’m perpetually busy.

One of the most common pieces of advice I’ve read is to take every possible moment to write. The whole point of NaNoWriMo is not just to drive aspiring authors insane, but to foster the habits of daily writing.

What tools can help an author on the go? Software like Scrivener is great if you’re sitting down at a desk, but it’s not as helpful when you’re on the go.

My challenges in time management mean that I need to be able to write anywhere, at a moments notice. Lugging around a laptop just isn’t going to cut it. Even carting around an iPad isn’t going to give me the flexibility I need.

I’ve already started writing my novel on the iPhone. It’s a compact device I always have with me, and it’s possible to type one-handed. I’m impressed with the autocorrect behavior, even when typing one-handed.

While typing speed may not be as fast as with a full-sized keyboard, the main point is that you can write when you otherwise wouldn’t be able to. You can fill in those otherwise dead spaces, and actually write.

The recent advances in cloud computing allow the work to be saved online, which both provides backups as well as the ability to resume writing on a different device when the opportunity arises. For example, this post was composed on the iPhone to this point, where I switched to writing it on the iPad with an attached bluetooth keyboard. Before published my post, I did a final edit on the desktop in a browser.

If the primary block to writing is finding the time, consider using a mobile platform. A common saying in writing is “butt in chair, hands on keyboard”, but that doesn’t really serve the mobile writer very well. To fill in those smaller blocks of time throughout the day, I’ve found that I need a solution that doesn’t involve sitting in a particular spot.

As a tool, I’m using the Elements text editor on iOS, by Second Gear software, which has Dropbox support. It has a folder structure, which allows me to group files together, and separate the work by chapter, or as supplemental notes. Also important is the easy info button which provides the important word counts. Because it’s plain text being stored in Dropbox, it’s easy to do any later edits on the desktop.

The Quest for Excellence

Now that my daughter has turned three, she’s moved up to the next level in gymnastics. Instead of having myself out on the floor spotting her in a class of younger kids, she’s now out on the floor with a group of older kids and a coach. The difference has been spectacular. As the youngest kid, she has suddenly become motivated to try harder, to follow instructions, and generally behave more responsibly than when she was the oldest. Where a month ago she was afraid to let go of my hands while walking on the balance beam, for three weeks straight she has walked solo, without a hitch.

Gymnastics, like many other sports, encourages participants to excel, not just through self improvement and positive reinforcement, but also through the examples set by more experienced gymnasts. Before her sessions, my daughter watches the teenaged gymnasts practicing their backflips on the floor. “That’s cool!” she exclaims.

This same quest for excellence can be seen in the technical fields. With the recent launch of Google+, many authors have begun writers hangouts, where they can talk shop and write together. More traditional writers groups, such as the East Block Irregulars, continually challenge each other to write great fiction. The results can be seen by the number of nominations the writers in the group have received recently. The trick with writers groups is to properly match the skill levels of all the members. Just as it wouldn’t make sense to pair a three year old with a thirteen year old at gymnastics, a beginning writer such as myself would slow down an experienced group such as the Irregulars.

Even without participating in one of these groups, the wider writers community still provides support and encouragement. Attending local conventions provides inspiration and a sense of belonging.

Of course, nothing helps quite as much as the practice of writing words down. This too is an area where accountability with other writers can help. Some authors can seem to write two thousand words in a day. I’m not anywhere near that point in my writing career. I’ve got enough other things on the go right now that I’m happy with a few hundred words a day. Right now, I just think it’s cool to see how many words the writers I look up to can write in a day. Someday, maybe I can reach that same level of excellence.

Writing With a Baby

With an infant, tablet computers like the iPad are great. They provide casual use of the internet from an extremely portable position. The thing is, they still aren’t that great for content creation. The adage of “butt in chair, hands on keyboard” is difficult to do without a keyboard.

It’s even more interesting when there’s a three year old around as well. It’s very difficult to find the time or energy to find some time to sit down and crank out any writing.

The trick appears to have a chair where you can partially recline at your desk, with the keyboard within reach, and have your infant on your chest, snuggled up against your shoulder. There isn’t much mobility available, make sure the mouse is within reach.

In the reclined position, the monitor is likely further away than usual. Increasing font sizes, or remembering the hot key combinations to increase zoom levels would be a good idea. On the Mac, pressing control while scrolling your mouse wheel will zoom the screen in.

Inevitably, you’ll end up shifting slightly, disturbing the peaceful rest of the little furnace on your chest. If you’re lucky, this will be momentary. Other times, it’s game over, and your writing will be left in stasis, until your eventual return. Over the past month and a half, I’ve had a number of half-finished posts which seem to take forever to complete.

When I come back to them, it is sometimes difficult to piece through the half-connected thoughts on the screen. Other times, I’m just too tired to think through them coherently. I’m reasonably certain that this post is going to come across as a stream of consciousness. The trick is to let the words flow.

Some advantages of writing with a baby on your shoulder is that you’re likely to be left alone. After all, you’re making sure the baby isn’t crying. (Note well: this advice does not apply to three year olds. They’re even more likely to want to interrupt if you’re trying to write and hold a baby at the same time). Disturbing your peace is likely to wake the baby. There is some common advice, “don’t wake a sleeping baby”. Use this to your advantage.

And keep the words flowing. Seriously, the slight tapping of the keys gives a gentle rocking motion to your body, and to the small bundle you’re supporting. With a proper writing cadence, this can be relaxing. Or maybe that’s just my overtired eyes closing on me.

Hush! The little one awakes…

Writing Resumed

I haven’t been posting for the last few weeks. Originally, I was taking a break so I could focus on writing essays due on consecutive days. That excuse only covers a brief interval of time. Like writing of any kind, its easy to say that you’ll take “just another day off”. A week can easily snowball into two weeks.

This post is my attempt to get back into the swing of things, and start writing again. Not much of a post today, but I should have more up later this week.

Convergence Culture and Fan Fiction

So I’ve been reading Henry Jenkins’ book Convergence Culture, which talks a great deal about new forms of interaction with media. One chapter, Why Heather Can Write: Media Literacy and the Harry Potter Wars caused me a bit of trouble. This chapter practically evangelizes fan fiction as a legitimate form of writing, with the strong implication that it can and will lead to commercial writing contracts.

I somewhat understand where Jenkins is going with this. It’s exploring areas of a franchise which are otherwise left alone by the original author. Fan fiction allows the audience to participate, to deepen their connection to the works in question.

Let’s talk early web media. Back in 1997, a 10 minute short film called Troops effectively accomplished what Jenkins is discussing in this chapter. The  film has Imperial Stormtroopers from Star Wars out on a domestic disturbance call at the Lars farm seen in A New Hope.

Vader and Stormtroopers at Ad Astra

To my knowledge, Troops really started the whole short films launched on the internet. While fan movies had been made in the past, they were not shared as extensively, and did not have the same capacity for collective enjoyment.

Troops was embraced by the fan community, and was even recognized by Lucasfilm with the Pioneer Award at the 2002 Star Wars Fan Film Awards. Since directing the film, Kevin Rubio has been working as a freelance writer, and has even written an episode of the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated TV series.

Is film more receptive to fan participation? Perhaps George Lucas is more receptive to this type of collective intelligence? Lucas did have the foresight to maintain the merchandising rights to Star Wars, so this may be part of his goals for a larger media empire.

There is an ever-growing Star Wars fans who own their own Stormtrooper costumes, such as the above photo which I took at the 2009 Ad-Astra science fiction convention. The 501st Legion epitomizes many of the convergence tactics that Jenkins discusses, and makes numerous appearances at fan conventions, as well as charitable events. From what I can gather, they have a relatively good relationship with Lucasfilm’s Fan Relations department.

The 501st testimonal page includes a quote from Steve Sansweet, Lucasfilm Content Manager and Head of Fan Relations saying that “e consider the members of the 501st part of the extended Lucasfilm family. They have fun and share a sense of community, while at the same time bringing joy to a lot of people.”

How does this fit in with novel and short story writing? Copyright law is in general fairly unambiguous, in that fan fiction firmly crosses that invisible line that marks out a publisher’s rights. While some franchises, such as the Harry Potter universe have a thriving fan community, under the implicit approval of Rowling, most publishers and the authors they represent actively discourage fan fiction. The above link notes that Anne Rice, Anne McCaffrey and Raymond Feist have in the past asked fanfiction.net to remove derivative works.

How then should fan fiction be judged? Is it a valid attempt at engaging with an author’s world, or is it something which has the potential to damage audience perception of a work?

Two Months In

So, I’m two months into my regular posting schedule to my blog. So far, I haven’t really been able to build up any kind of appreciable buffer. I have a couple of posts in progress, but they don’t really fit the vision I have for this blog.

I also haven’t been able to transition from writing blog entries into writing my fiction. There just isn’t time right now to do everything I had hoped to. Since I’m approaching the end of the school term, the assignments are going to start piling up again shortly.

I’m therefore planning on changing my schedule to a Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule. This should give me more time to properly craft my posts. I shouldn’t feel as rushed as I do currently, with some of my writing. My posts will likely be longer. I might also add more shiny pictures. Everybody likes shiny pictures. I’m also likely going to start a second, separate blog for the other posts. It’s kind of a niche project, very much unrelated to what I’m doing here. It would have at most a weekly posting schedule.

Over the past two months, I have proven to myself that I can write each day. I plan to keep that up, I just want to be a little more polished.