Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Sykes describes me perfectly

Author Sam Sykes discussed his feelings about Nanowrimo.  Has he been secretly observing me all this time?
And I feel like NaNoWriMo leads people to believe that it is a straightforward process: begin here, end here, in the span of a month. It isn’t for me (maybe others). 
And I find that a lot of people DO end there. Ideally, and this sometimes happens, NaNoWriMo gives people a taste of work they really like and then they just keep going. But I think a lot of people indulge the same process of doing it only in November and then letting their creative muscle atrophy over the course of a year and do it again.
He nails my criticism of Nano culture:
I’ve mentioned that I’m kind of annoyed with “lol writer” culture: a specific part of our work that leads people to do an awful lot of TALKING about writing and very little writing. To some folk, it’s all about joking about cocktails, making lengthy posts about the “perfect” writing environment, sitting in coffeehouses and whatnot. There’s a lot of talk about the process and not a lot of talk about the craft.
After watching a talk by Nanowrimo founder Chris Baty on writing, I read the comments section - it might have been a chatroom with real time comments, I can't recall.  There was a huge discussion on the perfect 'writer's snack'.  The consensus was frozen, peeled, seedless  grapes.  There wasn't a lot of talk about writing.

My definition of creativity is 'production of novel material'.  I have lots of novel ideas.  I haven't produced all that many.  Or, I have but it's been in the service of other's goals.  My PowerPoint slides for the classes in ESL that I teach are well organized and I do what I can to keep students engaged.  I do excellent work with the textbooks I have been assigned but I have dreams of making my own books, focusing on actions, making and asking questions.  I have handwritten some outlines but nothing has come of them.

Something has come of my creative writing ideas and I have Nanowrimo to thank for that.  My stories are not complete but they are further advanced than they would have been.  Sykes is right, but not entirely.  I am trying out being a writer and learning if this is what I want to do.  My grammar and presentation of ideas has improved and I feel I am a better reader now, knowing a little of what it takes to write.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

TWIC: How I should be titling my posts...

Wordpress and a few other sites run a 'better blogging' article every few months.  I do hope that others read this blog and get something useful from it, but it mostly seems a storehouse for things I find interesting.  SEO isn't that interesting to me and I don't make money from this blog.  Still it is number four on this list, Number five: use at least one image for each post, is one I really need to remember.
Another recurring them is 'routines of famous creative people'.  Here is an example from Business Insider.
A.J. Jacobs: “Force yourself to generate dozens of ideas.”
In an interview for the series How I Write, Jacobs talks about his daily writing routines and dishes out some advice for young writers …
My kids wake me up. I have coffee. I make my kids breakfast, take them to school, then come home and try to write. I fail at that until I force myself to turn off my Internet access so I can get a little shelter from the information storm.
I am a big fan of outlining. I write an outline. Then a slightly more detailed outline. Then another with even more detail. Sentences form, punctuation is added, and eventually it all turns into a book.
I write while walking on a treadmill. I started this practice when I was working on Drop Dead Healthy, and read all these studies about the dangers of the sedentary life. Sitting is alarmingly bad for you. One doctor told me that “sitting is the new smoking.” So I bought a treadmill and put my computer on top of it. It took me about 1,200 miles to write my book. I kind of love it — it keeps me awake, for one thing.
Ani Alexander interviewed Gabriela Pereira.  I think both are writers.  I've kept the tab open for a while so I guess I think it's important.  You know what? This cold that I have that is sucking all my energy away from me is kinda important right now.  If I felt better, maybe I wouldn't be snarky about this:
Quote 1: There are no accidents in writing.
Quote 2: Every word should be in your writing for a reason.
Is it the virus talking or do these kinda contradict each other? Pereira has a book out next spring called DIY MFA.
The Washington Post discusses why America's obsession with STEM is dangerous.
If Americans are united in any conviction these days, it is that we urgently need to shift the country’s education toward the teaching of specific, technical skills. ... and about new initiatives from companies, universities or foundations to expand STEM courses (science, technology, engineering and math) and deemphasize the humanities.
I think Fareed Zakaria has started with some confusion. Engineering definitely fits the description of "specific technical skills" but Science and Math do not. The big difference is that the latter two are ways of looking at the world and fit this description (intended for liberal arts): " A broad general education helps foster critical thinking and creativity. Exposure to a variety of fields produces synergy and cross fertilization." He also describes 'design' as outside of STEM.  I don't understand why he thinks this.

What the Hell does this mean?
One final reason to value a liberal education lies in its roots. For most of human history, all education was skills-based. Hunters, farmers and warriors taught their young to hunt, farm and fight. But about 2,500 years ago, that changed in Greece, which began to experiment with a new form of government: democracy.
Science people can't understand democracy?  I would say scientific training is what allows people to test political claims and improves democracy.
As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi found, science enriches art but art doesn't empower science.

I think Zakaria has a point about Engineering and over specialization in education. The majors at my university are ridiculously specific and I wonder what will happen to the students in my Bodyguard class - seriously, that's an actual major my university offers.
The CBC short story Prize is available to be won.  Entries are due by Nov 1.  You might have to be Canadian.  I'm using my sick-card to justify not having read the information at the link.
Misbehavior In School Pays Off For Some Students. I don't know if this relates to creativity at all but it might.  Certainly, previous research on teachers showed the most creative ones typically made trouble.
when we recognize that misbehavior in the classroom can be reflective of two very different non-cognitive skills—externalizing and internalizing behaviors—a much more nuanced story emerges. Both of these characteristics are associated with lower schooling attainment. However, whereas internalizing behaviors, like being unforthcoming, depressive or withdrawn, predict lower earnings, externalizing behaviors, such as aggression, predict higher earnings. In other words, the externalizing factor lowers schooling attainment, but appears to have value in the labor market. This finding calls into question the role of schooling in identifying and cultivating skills that are productive.
David Malki retweeted something from Farooq Butt that I like.  I hope the embedding works.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Hernandez's first draft completion notice

Ivan Hernandez, half of the third greatest Game of Thrones podcast (I can't keep up the joke - the frikkin best GoT podcast), has tweeted his completion of a first draft to a book. This isn't that big  a news item, but he included a screen shot of his word count and it included surprisingly specific data. Click to enlarge:

I wonder what tool he is using that specifies which character set it counts.  It doesn't mention Arabic, Japanese or Cyrillic, but Chinese and Korean are mentioned.

My novel from last year's Nanowrimo included three named Chinese characters and one named Korean but was written entirely in English. The many Russians, Nepalese and Kazakhs all have their names written in English so I have many Russian character but the word count would ignore them.  Not racism, cultural blindness, I think.


It seems this video on Facebook can be linked to, but I don't see how to embed it here.  The woodcarver, Mudana, does his rough work with a hatchet, holding the chunk of wood near his feet.

The bravery in the title however does not refer to the proximity of the sharp, fast-moving ax-head and his feet, but in the confidence in his work.

As a novice carver, I take only the tiniest chunks and scrapings from my work, terrified not that I will lose an appendage, but that I will make a irreversible error and remove a piece I need.  Training has given Mudana confidence.

But, as a writer, I can be brave and type stuff I'm not sure works.  Typed errors are far less likely to remove a finger and are far easier to repair.

Time to be brave and pound out some words, and 50,000 more in November.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


Chuck Wendig discusses the financial situation of authors and how to survive the peaks and valleys of irregular paychecks:
Chuck Wendig discussed what authors make.
To go from peak to peak, you do what you can do.
What you can do is write the best book you can write.
That is, of course, nowhere near enough to save you or survive — bad books can do well, and good books die on the vine all the fucking time. Luck is a factor. You can lean into luck, but you can’t manufacture it. (Put differently: it’s easier to summon lightning than to create it.)
So, you not only write the best book you can write, but — you write as much as you care to write. How do I do this thing that I do? How do I personally survive the financial aspect of the writing life? I do it by writing a whole goddamn lot. That softens the valleys and lengthens the peaks because I keep a steadily rolling series of advances, royalties, and D&A payouts. Plus, I ameliorate all that with self-publishing money — that money comprises maybe 25% of my total annual income, but it comes faster and with monthly regularity. Ah, but here’s the rub –
Some traditional publishers have non-competes, which makes it harder to publish across multiple publishers and, if they’re being really rough on you, harder to publish self-pub work, too.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

How to draw a map

Jonathan Roberts, who made the Game of Thrones maps - for the book, I believe not the TV series - has a tutorial up on how he does it.  Here is the finished project - shrank a little - if you want the full size, follow the link.

Via Boingboing.

Monday, September 21, 2015

How much detail is enough?

I thought I had recently discussed under- and over-explaining but if I did, I cannot easily find it.  A post from two years ago at helpingwritersbecomeauthors looked into the subject and someone (Added later:  That someone is Writer's Edit on Twitter) mentioned it on Twitter recently.

The author of the piece mentions two common reasons for under- or over- explaining; the author knowing too much or too little about the subject and imagining the audience is in a similar position.  I feel she didn't go into a problem I have with style or awkwardness in shoehorning the material in.  I might hold back on detail that I think should be there simply because my characters wouldn't discuss or think about such things. When the author and the character know the subject well and there is no naive individual to explain things to, what can you do?

From last year's Nanowrimo entry:
At breakfast, servings of Dahl-bat on thick ceramic, Kasher met Gore, the secretary.  "Good morning.  How's your breakfast?" he asked.
Rather more reserved out of his superior's eye, Gore was still polite.  "It'll do.  I'd prefer eggs and bacon." - Or perhaps not so polite.

How is Gore possibly being rude?  A partial explanation below.
not yet.
Okay.  another excerpt, one that comes before the one above:
"The men were talking about that.  The Sir asked for an appropriate meal tonight to make you comfortable.  What's it like, being Jewish?"
Taken aback, but a lifelong educator, he responded with his own question, "Well, where are you from?  You are, uh, dressed like the Mountain Gorkas" and not much cleaner, really, "but you seems a little pale."
"I grew up in India, in Lucknow but my parents, I am told, were European."
Kasher felt some warning signs and didn't press for details. "Then you have seen the castes.  In many ways, Jews are untouchables.  We might be needed but are seldom welcome.  But many of us are well educated and can be useful."
So, discussing eating bacon with a Jew.  Possibly slightly rude.  Does it matter that the two excerpts are 23 paragraphs apart?  Is Kasher's concern obvious or still obvious?

Am I overly concerned about this? Is my description of Jewish life so far off that you now think I'm anti-Semitic?

More often in my story, I show a character making a decision, then a few paragraphs later offer at least some of the explanation.

I find that Nanowrimo sometimes encourages extra detail and explanation when one is having trouble deciding where to go next.  Word count is word count and unnecessary words still qualify.

Added later:
This evening I was listening to a few songs on Youtube and two stood out for me.  The first is one of the best known songs in the world, "You're so vain" by Carly Simon.  Wiki details here.

Apropos of this post, why Saratoga?  Why go to Nova Scotia?  These details add to the mystery and continue to this day to fuel a search for the Vain one.  We have since learned that the apricot scarf belonged to Nick Delbanco but others are also described.

Later, I listened to the far less known Cinderella (trying not to scream) by Doug and the Slugs, one of the last recordings they made.  The song starts with what I consider typical couple-broken-up lyrics:
"When we first met, there was the sound of music and the streets were all paved with gold. And fact and fiction began to collide and the love letters all turned cold."
Followed by this very specific detail.:
"She sits in the window of a haunted house where the walls are all painted green."
Why green?  She's trying not to scream which makes me think of she might be in an asylum, are such walls green?  Suddenly, I wonder if there is more import to the gold streets.
My high opinion of Doug Bennett is a minority one and perhaps all the lyrics were used only for the way they fit and not keys to a specific location....

I'm rambling.  both songs seem to have an ideal amount of detail, enough to set you wondering.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Who can participate in Nanowrimo?

I made a poster for use as our Facebook group photo: Busan Nanowrimo.  It's meant to be silly and I just didn't want an empty space where an image should be.  It was fun making it but I forgot to add citations for where I found each little photo in the image.

Here are those citations.

baby at computer
 woman at computer
monk writing

Bengal finches 1
Bengal Finches 2

One of Charlotte's webs.

Octopus and ink

secretary bird

dog and pee

pig 'four legs good"

elephant painting

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Why do I participate in Nanowrimo and what do I want from it?

The great success of Nanowrimo, I think, is in how it turns a solitary activity into a social one.  Ironically, as a Municipal Liaison, part of my job in the chatrooms is to briefly talk to other writers and send them away to write more.

I like how it has finally motivated me to write almost as much I want to.  I have 'completed' two novels in Nanowrimo.  The quotes are there because completion means 50,000+ words and my stories, the first one in particular, approach great battles that will decide the fate of many and... the contest was over.  I wonder how they end.

I haven't truly finished a first draft yet but the writing, the solving of problems for my characters, has been fun.

The research is interesting, too.  As a wood carver, when I decided to carve a blue heron, I sketched out spindly legs, a lump of a body, and an 's' shaped pipe - swollen at one end- for the head.  As soon as my knife hit the wood, I realized I didn't know what shape to make.  After looking at many heron pictures, showing the neck from several angles and how the feet attached to the legs and most importantly the difference in body between an ostrich and a heron, I was able to complete the carving.  My knowledge of the subject was more superficial than I had imagined.  With my writing, I have deliberately kept my stories more fantastical so precise descriptions of time periods, clothing and such could be faked or excused.  I have looked at a lot of maps to see if people really can walk from one point to another in an hour - strangely, this is what bothers me when it is incorrect.

It is weird how much of my elementary school grammar and punctuation rules I have forgotten and relearned for Nanowrimo.  Does the terminal punctuation mark belong inside the quotes or outside?  Depending on your nationality, yes it does.  For the US.

This year, I am writing a sequel to my 'Himalayan Steampunk' story and in doing so, I will need to set parameters for how the earlier book must finish.  I'm hoping this will encourage me to actually do.  And, this time, I will write an ending to my story; time to put in the calendar for Nov 20~25.

What do I want as an aspiring artist?  In my dreams, and I am aware of how far from reality they are - ah, somewhat aware - I imagine ten thousand to hundreds of thousands buying my book, or each book.  I'm working out how to move back to Canada and what I can do to support my family there and writing is something I - potentially - am good at.

NPR reminds me of the reality in What counts as book success might surprise you.  As an aside, this is a very link-baity title for NPR.  And I wasn't surprised.
Even so, he [Washington Post literary critic Ron Charles] was dismayed when he saw a story about the sales figures for the novels long-listed for the Man Booker. The list included The Green Road by Irish author Anne Enright, who's won the award before. 
"When I saw that Anne Enright — [who] I think of as giant in literary fiction, beloved around the world — could only sell 9,000 copies in the U.K. I was shocked, that's really low," he says.
Nigerian writer Chigozie Obioma's debut novel, The Fishermen, sold just under 3,000 copies, which Charles says is not too bad. 
"For an unknown writer?" he says. "Twenty-eight years old, no presence on social media. We're not talking Mindy Kaling, here. He's not sending his tweets to millions every day. Three thousand's not bad." 
So what is a good sales figure for any book? 
"A sensational sale would be about 25,000 copies," says literary agent Jane Dystel. "Even 15,000 would be a strong enough sale to get the publisher's attention for the author for a second book." 
But if that second book doesn't sell, says Dystel, odds are you won't get another chance. And that brings us to the Authors Guild survey. Just over 1,400 full- and part-time writers took part in the survey, the Guild's first since 2009. There has been a 30 percent decline in author income since then and more than half of the respondents earned less than $11,670 (the 2014 federal poverty level) from their writing related income.
There is more to the article and I have excerpted enough.  Go read it, but maybe have a shot of booze ready to ease the pain.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

First stage of planning something? reach for the paper. Also, Busan Writing Group and Good Professing

Apple has a fancy new iPad Pro that the firm hopes will be favoured by designers.  And yet, most designers start with paper in their design process.
I've heard good things about Slack. They love it at 99% invisible.

For my more-limited organizational work, I too go to paper and a coloured Sharpie or disposable fountain pen.

Via Wired which led to these survey results.
The Busan Writing Group will join us in Nanowrimo this year and their first book has been published.

Finally, a PDF on How to be a good professor.
The word 'creative' pops up at least once but I've included it mostly so I remember to reread it and consider my own work.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

TWIC: Sci Am, writing, libraries, surveillance and more

I have read Scientific American on and off since 1986 and love the history of the magazine.  I buy individual issues now and then but mostly depend on the free content my newsreader picks up.  I notice that sometimes Sci Am will repost content from a few years previous once in a while and I have started making a blog post on content that seems really familiar, only to look back and see I wrote about already.  I don't know if this article is new or not but anytime you hear about Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi  you should expect the report is a few years old.  I see he is still active but also eighty years old. With that caveat, here is an excerpt:
Here are eight ways of describing creative people that take into account their paradoxical nature and process.
Creative People Are...
Mindful Daydreamers
They are master observers of human nature-- and they use much of that material for their creative work-- but they are also able to turn inward and let their minds wander and imagine new worlds.
Imaginatively Gritty
They are intensely gritty, determined, and good at persevering against obstacles, particularly for imaginative worlds they are motivated and inspired to make a reality.
Passionately Introverted
For things they care deeply about, they have a lot of passion but they can sometimes come across as introverted when engaged in their activity because they are in flow focusing intensely and ignoring outside stimulation. Similarly, creative people can seem very extraverted during a performance because they are fully engaged with their passion, while offstage they came seem quite introverted.
Sci-Am also has examples of 'almost brilliant inventions' reported on during their 165 year history.  From that link, I clicked on two other links to find the actual slideshow. One image from 1865:

I have become a fan of the steampunk genre of fantasy these days and these attempts at patents are therefore doubly enjoyable.
What should you leave out, or allow to remain implicit in your writing?  Scientific research writing requires that every step, every idea by clearly stated and connected to recognized work.  In other situations, it may be beneficial to leave appropriate sized gaps that the reader must fill in.  These could be descriptive detail allowing the reader to add familiar images or imagine him/her-self in the story.  Or a gap in a chain of logic that the reader needs to think through to reach the same conclusion.  The challenge becomes making that gap the proper size. looks at the process:
This week, I came across an insightful piece about writing in The New Yorkerby writer John McPhee, who shares stories about his life as a staff writer and teacher of non-fiction writing but he also helpfully narrows his piece to the art of “omission.” What to leave out. The dictate of the Green # (see articlefor reference). Not just for publishing reasons (we need more space so get cutting) but also, for the sake of the reader engagement and involvement. Parse your story down and let the reader build it up.
The link to McPhee includes this excerpt:
Writing is selection. Just to start a piece of writing you have to choose one word and only one from more than a million in the language. Now keep going. What is your next word? Your next sentence, paragraph, section, chapter? Your next ball of fact. You select what goes in and you decide what stays out. At base you have only one criterion: If something interests you, it goes in—if not, it stays out. That’s a crude way to assess things, but it’s all you’ve got. Forget market research. Never market-research your writing. Write on subjects in which you have enough interest on your own to see you through all the stops, starts, hesitations, and other impediments along the way.
Nanowrimo is coming!

The Kitty Chandler Tweet should include the stereotyped image of a detective looking for links on a bulletin board full of clues.
Many people get their books online. what should libraries do now?  One thing is to promote the privacy of citizens.  One library offered TOR nodes - a means to disguise or hide where the person is online - and the Department of Homeland Security has asked them to shut down.  I don't know precisely how this relates to the subject of this blog, but I love libraries and I like this attempt for them to stay relevant.  My son has enjoyed LEGO hour at the Penetanguishene library and I hope we will always have good reason to visit.  And that people can legally maintain anonymity online.
What would you add to a cctv surveillance sign? The images below are from the first page of a search for "cctv warning":
One man is fighting back against the suspicion-mongering these signs encourage with these additions:

I would add the following:
"Apt 602 man, quit picking your nose [and scraping it off with the railing]"
"Apt 103 man, why do you take the elevator to 50_ when the husbands in those apartments living there have left for work?"
"Think of the Children!"
Top scientists and the arts:
The image is from Price Economics. From the article:
The paper’s authors also compared these values to the rates of artistic or crafty hobbies among the U.S. general population. The “average scientist” as measured by the Sigma Xi survey wasn’t any more likely than the general population to have an artistic or crafty hobby. But they were much more likely to be a musician or a photographer than the general population, and also less likely to be writers, visual artists, or performance or theater artists.
Artists get a lot of practice letting their mind “wander.” And some of the great scientists of history employed techniques very similar to those used by the world’s greatest artists. Charles Darwin had a particular favorite meditative walk, and Benjamin Franklin gained his best insights in the bath.
Via Marginal Revolution

Friday, September 4, 2015

Nanowrimo's coming up!

For Busan and the surrounding province of Gyeongsangnam, I am a co-ML or municipal Liaison for Nanowrimo this year.  This is exciting news and I am now working on reading through the materials to be an informed volunteer.

Last year, Busan didn't have an ML and now we have two.  There are also two in Seoul and at least one in 'Elsewhere'.  The Seoul ML last year did a great job and has offered a lot of advice to me already.

One thing she was good at was getting us to focus on our writing while in the chatroom.  It being a place for chatting, I occasionally tried to learn about my fellow writers after my own quota was met. The ML entertained a few minutes of discussion, then urged us into another 'word sprint'.  The word sprint is a race to get as many words into your story in a set time -usually twenty minutes.

On the one had, contests with prizes are bad for creative output but on the other hand, not for quantity output.  The emphasis on speed reduces self-editing and is a core feature of brainstorming as well as our writing event. Typos should be ignored as best as possible. The typos I made in 2014 were mostly understandable with one big exception and it was an unusual typo.
This was his fifth dive on the grounds and the best one yet, no matter what the plates contained  He was not a particularly ** man but the cold was as good a timekeeper as the candles that Oldham carefully observed above.
I think I wanted 'sensitive' and that will do, but I skipped the entire word while typing.  I'm sure I skipped several prepositions and mentally added them when I reread the story months later, but this one jarred me into confusion.

In slightly related news, I was listening to Mur Lafferty's I Should Be Writing podcast and heard the word Rejectomancy.  Ah, it's related because she does a daily podcast during Nanowrimo.  The word refers to efforts to understand why your book or story wasn't accepted for publication by  publisher.  It could also refer to guessing why your job application wasn't accepted.  What does, "Not what we are currently looking for" mean?  Mur offered some advice but the magical thinking implied in the word is well-deserved.