Monday, June 20, 2016

How do you make it stop?

I hope the person asking this is healthy and not suffering from mental illness. The title, below, is the link to the Quora post where one other (at the time of writing this) has posted as well.

Brian Dean
Brian Deanstudied creativiti for 7 years and counting - some day I'll have it figured out
1 View

I have the opposite problem. My final paragraph directly responds to the question but I ramble a bit getting there.
I have trouble with the motivation to write. I want to but ‘wanting’ doesn’t put me in the seat, tapping the keys. During NaNoWriMo (an international writing festival) I get motivated enough to really write. The urge to write and the ideas needed flow the entire time.
Yes, I have trouble sleeping. Yes, I keep a notepad by my bed and that eases the pressure a little. I don’t entirely like it. I feel pressured. The ideas distract me. but I am grateful because I feel I am doing something.
This pressure is identical, by the way, to the stress and nonstop internal dialog I experienced as a competitive swimmer at a big swim meet. I went to sleep in the hotel room thinking about swimming and woke up three times thinking I was late for the competition or that I had already swam it. I would finally wake up near the proper time thinking about nothing but swimming. I suspect I was selfishly focused and my parents were tolerant.
Entrepreneurs talk about the long hours they put in and how they feel exhausted…and great! I have a bit of that feeling as the work is mine and I am creating something meaningful.
I’m a lazy man who is lucky to have a satisfactory job but it is difficult to make myself write. I am too comfortable so when I am a little discomforted by many new ideas, I make the most of it.
There are people who legitimately could be diagnosed as obsessive and I hope such people can find peace.
For the rest of us, I find a notepad beside the bed and a few minutes at the end of the day writing or mind-mapping my ideas for the next day and beyond relaxed me. That way, I don’t worry that I will forget them. And I am grateful for the pressure and, well, colour, in a life that is a little too gray sometimes.

TWIC: Contest, doing art, todo lists, heck, lots of comics, and Wheaton

This is the 200th anniversary of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Chabot, Creative Non-fiction Magazine and NaNoWriMo present a pair of contests in the classic book's honour. The deadline for a fiction entry is July 31, while the deadline for a non-fiction entry is March 20, 2017.
My writing can be clunky sometimes.  Maybe this is a warning to me that the ridiculous errors, even of simple word choice, can knock a person out of a stream-of-reading into simply looking at a group of words. This sentence removed me from enjoying the content and put me in the position of critiquing it.
"People of all ages in the study did some art for 45 minutes."
Did some art.

The rest of the article isn't much better, or perhaps the publishing of contradictory results, which should be applauded, isn't as exciting as uniformly positive or negative results.
I am a big fan of Wondermark. I am not entirely sure Malki's comic fits the content of this blog, but it does fit my need to organize and motivate myself to do creative work. Excerpted and shrunk, as usual.  To see the full, and full size, comic, follow the link.
Happy Father's Day from Incidental Comics. Again, an excerpt:
Man, I hope this post is making as much sense as it ever does.  I had a Mecklenburger with supper and my head is spinning a little.  Good stuff.

Dan Piraro uses the same excuse or opinion of math that my ilk use to describe artistic ability. Image is shrunk; see full size one - and many more- at the link.
I have a love/hate relationship with math. I hated it in school because I was never particularly good at it––except for Geometry, which I could visualize––but I’m fascinated by the majesty and magic of it. I saw a NOVA episode recently called “The Great Math Mystery” and it blew my mind. I often wish I could get really deep into high-level math but I think it’s a genetic skill like being a good artist. My brain just won’t do math beyond what the average 12-year-old learns. Attempts to force it to have resulted in tears.
Ferrelas replied in the comments:
Regarding your comment about being a great artist/math being a genetic ability, I think you are wrong. I think the reason that most peole aren’t more productive in those respective fields is that they’ve simply convinced themselves that they can’t do it. The human brain is a highly configurable peice of hardware with an innate ability for both visual and numerical processing, it would be crazy to assume that the average person couldn’t become at least reasonably adept in either field.
With math, I think the problem lies a lot with how we teach it, it’s jsut too boring and abstract for anyone to get a good amount of training in it, without being insane, like me.
With art, I think it’s the notion that it takes talent to become good at it.
And Piraro responded:
I’m not sure about math but I know that a person cannot be taught to be a great artist without a great amount of natural ability. You can practice and fine tune what you have but you cannot teach superior skills. As with superior athletes, the vast majority is a natural gift.
I trust Dan Piraro, but I just find his claim contradicts so much of what I have been told. This blog is about learning to be creative, not necessarily about being an artist.  Still, what has kept me going in my study and exploration is the idea that I could learn this stuff.  Piraro says I have to be born with the ability.  Man, I wish I hadn't had that beer before typing this.
For my own peace of mind, I think he is saying that hand-eye coordination and the ability to visualize things are somewhat or largely innate.  People without these advantages can still learn to make art but they may need to go the route of Dinosaur Comics which has used the same image but different text for years.
Wil Wheaton is having trouble motivating himself to get to work. On the plus side, he found a trove of jazz on the Internet Archive. I don't know anything about jazz but maybe there is interesting stuff here. Anyway, Wheaton lays out his problem and where he thinks a solution lies:
Oh, I had this realization: I’m creatively starving. So I know what the source of my anxiety is, and I know why I feel unhappy and frustrated. Now I just have to figure out what the thing to do is. Part of that incessant background hum is knowing that I can do almost anything, if I just do the fucking work, so I don’t know where to start.
But I have an idea … of sorts. So that’s a start.
That old blank page; you could put anything on it so now you're afraid to put anything on it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Writing contests: for kids and for travel writing

My Writers Bureau has two contests for this summer.

An International Short Story contest for children. An excerpt from the rules:
The theme of the short story is your choice.
Kids World Fun
First prize – $75, certificate, and publication on the website
Second prize-$50, certificate, and publication on the website
Third prize-$25, certificate, and publication on the website
31st August 2016
» The contest is open to young people all over the world.
» Entry is free.
» The story has to be written in English.
» The theme of the short story is your choice.
» Drawings, photos, or any other graphics are not allowed.
» Only one entry is accepted per person.
» The contest will be in three categories:
a. Sub-junior (7-9 years)
b. Junior (10-12 years)
c. Senior (13-16 years)
» The required length of the story is as follows:
a. Sub-junior – 300-500 words
b. Junior – 500-700 words
c. Senior- 700 -1000 words
And a Travel Writing Award. An excerpt from the rules:
Independence: Where do you find freedom?
We said go travel
1st Prize – $500 usd
2nd Prize – $250 usd
3rd Prize – $150 usd
2 honorable mentions: $50 usd
July 4th, 2016.
» Publication is dependent on proper use of English language and grammar, appropriateness of theme topic, and being family friendly (G rated).
» If your post is written in a language other than English, please also send an English translation.
» Travelers of all ages and from all countries are encouraged to participate.
»°Each individual may send up to 5 entries that are 500-800 words with 1 photo.
» Your article must be an original and previously unpublished piece. All posts, which meet the requirements, will be published on this site, Void where prohibited.
» Winners will be selected by our judges and We Said Go Travel Team. Cash prizes will be paid through PayPal in United States Dollars. All winning entries will be promoted on We Said Go Travel.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

TWIC: Thought Leader, a lot of Kottke and Boingboing

How to be a thought leader. This is a spoof of TED talks form CBC's This is That. The link will take you to a CBC site where you can watch the four minute video and find an incredible number of ways to share it - but not on Blogger so far as I could see. Chinese Baidu was covered, though.
Pat Kelly vividly remembers when he first knew he was a "thought leader":

"In 2005, I met another 'thought leader' and I asked him how he became a 'thought leader' and he said 'I don't know.' It was then that I knew I could be one too."
Ah, just visit Kottke's blog.  I mean, you probably do already; you're one of the hundred's of thousands who check it out every day...Uh, thanks for visiting my 4th rater.
Anyway, LegoLand's Model Workshop.
They have a custom CAD program for making Lego structures (and people and animals) which can show MRI-like slices for whatever thing they're working on for ease of construction.
I have had trouble clicking the mouse at the right place to pick up and set down blocks at the website but that probably comes with time.

Kottke is full of video essays, and here is one about video essays.

Kottke on Grammar Rodeo and 'which' vs 'that'. I have this usage down but should probably check out other posts.

Kottke on the creativity of Neanderthals.

A map blog from Nat Geo....via Kottke.
And away from K... to Boingboing, man, really hitting the obvious sites tonight!

Minecraft for schools.
Minecraft: Education Edition is almost identical to standard Minecraft, but it includes a handful of features designed for the classroom. A couple smaller features were announced in January — like an in-game camera for taking screenshots — and some more substantial ones are being announced today. That includes adding in-game chalkboards that can display large blocks of text and letting teachers place characters that'll say things when a student walks up to them.
Not about creativity exactly, but a good place to set a story: China will build an undersea research centre 3km down.
I think some creative liberties were taken in lighting the image; 3km down is a pretty dark place. This image is shrunk; to see it at full size, follow the link.

The lighting doesn't seem realistic to me, but neither does the mushroom shape or lights. At 3km down, the wall are going to be pretty damn thick and any place that has windows will need equal pressure inside and out; 300 atmospheres pressure!
Can you take pictures in public in Europe?  You can if you act now!
Some EU countries' copyright laws allow rightsholders to make claims against street photographers who capture potentially copyrighted works, from the facades of buildings to public art. The EU's plan to harmonize a "right of panorama" (previously) would protect those who document the public world and upload our images to public places, from social media to Wikipedia to news-sites.
This right of panorama is currently under attack.
What do the people who make a hit movie get paid?
A remarkable set of instructions for photographing fireflies.

There is a watermark on the photo.  It leads to bugdreams.
Sci Am looks at intro- and extroverts and the benefits of relaxations.
...can creativity really be trained?
In one of the biggest reviews on this topic, Ginamarie Scott and colleagues assessed the effectiveness of 156 training programs and found that 11 forms of training did have some value. The techniques that were particularly effective were those that targeted the cognitive processes underlying creativity, such as idea generation. Likewise, two other studies [see here and here] found that training ideational skills had a positive impact on creative thinking, both alone and in a group brainstorming context.
Another form of creativity training that has shown some positive effects is "relaxation training", which includes exercises such as stretching and breathing. Relaxation training appears to increase creativity by reducing anxiety and freeing the mind from negative thinking. This form of training is related to mindfulness meditation.
...(big ellipsis)...
while ideational-skills training benefited extraverts more than introverts, relaxation training benefited introverts more than extraverts.
Finally leaving the expressways of the Internet, here is an educator's blog post with a list of apps and tips for learners to make fun videos.
Three tips from the list.
Time each activity- use a timer to keep students on task and get them to flow to each process.
I recommend for an initial project 2 to 3 minutes for brainstorming with a storyboard; 10 to 15 minutes to plan, record, edit, and get the video to you; and about 15 minutes to show the videos at the end. Click here for a short video of me doing this with learners in Croatia.
Have students work with a storyboard to plan their video productions. It will help them decide if they need props, videos, etc. Click here for a free storyboard template to copy/edit.
Three apps from the list of 20:
  • Thinglink– create videos and virtual reality lessons with links to information.
  • Wideo– Create videos with uploaded images, animations, and add audio.
  • ZimmerTwins– Make a cartoon featuring the Zimmer twins, type in the dialogue, choose a background scene, and create a fun movie.
Many more, heavy on Apple apps.
What is the Voynich manuscript actually describing? The manuscript or book was found in 1912 and consists of colour drawings and some sort of text but no one has decoded or translated it.  The link is to an archive of the book. This image, page 16v (verso?), has been shrunk.  To see it full size, follow the link above.
Randal Munroe took a stab at figuring it out.
...Whoa.  I just lost half an hour wandering through those images (from the Voynich link, not Munroe's, although if you are new to xkcd comics, there are worse ways to spend 30 minutes.)
Added later: Boingboing's Futility Closet has a podcast episode on the Voynich manuscript.

Friday, June 10, 2016

writer's workshop on New Hampshire Public Radio

I just listened to Joe Hill give some advice on New Hampshire Public Radio.  I admire, among other things, his discipline in choosing a pseudonym and sticking to it for several years without much success, all the time knowing that if anyone knew he was Stephen King's son, he could succeed on his father's merits.
He mentioned that he writes his first draft longhand and that means that since he is typing for the first time when he starts his second draft that he is not so wed to ideas or story-lines. Choosing not to type them is a lot easier than deleting ones already typed, I imagine.

His most difficult lesson, and the most obvious, and the least appreciated or accepted, is that no piece of advice is magic, no words from a mentor will write your story for you.  He didn't offer to make the special King Tea that makes stories pour out while you sleep, but instead insisted we type them word by individual word. Just like he does.

I see that this is a podcast.  The webpage is here and look for 10 minute writer's workshop on whatever pod-catcher you use.

For me, blogging is a place for first draft ideas. I feel embarrassment when I see the mistakes I made - in almost every single frickin' post -but in the larger sense, in ideas and flow, I am willing to relax my standards.  I sometimes write a blog post to see where my ideas take me, what I really know instead of think I might remember.  An example of that can be found on another blog of mine, surprisesaplenty, where I work out how I feel about criminal action and consequences for police officers.  it really isn't relevant to this blog, but if you are interested, well, there it is.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

TWIC: Zelazny, Kay and Myers and talent

Ted Krulik interviewed Roger Zelazny, one of my favorite authors, several times over the course of a week.  He has put some excerpts and discussion from those interviews up on Tor. Here is one where they talk about writing.
I asked him: Which is easier to write, fantasy or science fiction? He sat comfortably back in his easy chair in the lower level of his home and gave the following answer:

I find fantasy easier to write. If I’m going to write science fiction, I spend a lot more time thinking up justifications. I can write fantasy without thinking as much. I like to balance things out: a certain amount of fantasy and a certain amount of science fiction.
In a sense, fantasy is a freer play of the imagination. You can achieve exactly the situation you want with less groundwork, less of a need to fill-in all of the background.
For science fiction, I would use a lot of sources to set up, for instance, what a being from another planet would be like.
I suppose if I wanted to create an alien being in fantasy, the creature could be a golem created by, say, four sorcerers. I wouldn’t have to go into a long explanation as to the nature of the creature.
I asked Roger what a typical writing day was for him. This is what he told me:

When I’m beginning work on a book, I’m happy to write something every day. It doesn’t matter how much. At the half-way point, I’m usually turning out about 1500 words a day. I tend to write a little more slowly, but the copy I produce doesn’t require much work once it’s finished.
When things do begin to go very well with a book and I’m getting near the end, I’ll write in the evenings and at any odd moment during the day. I move faster as I get nearer the end, so that I produce large amounts of copy in a day’s time. I may turn out three or four thousand words a day. There’s a point where it just begins to flow, usually in the latter stages of the book.
I had been working on a project with another science fiction writer in New Mexico, George R. R. Martin. George gave me some papers on the project to look over. Shannon [Roger’s daughter, age six at the time] came over while I was working and asked me what I was looking at. I said, “These are some ideas George has given me.”
Sometime later, a local newspaper reporter asked Shannon if she knew where I got my ideas. She answered, “George R. R. Martin gives them to him.”
Guy Gavriel Kay on nearly fictional places:
So, on the eve of a new book’s release, as that journey from Senj to Senjan [Senj is or was real place in Dalmatia, while the location in his book is named Senjen]  leads to Children of Earth and Sky, it seems proper to address the ‘why’ of such a journey. Why isn’t the book set in a ‘real’ place, in our own Europe? Why do I have Seressa instead of Venice and Batiara for Italy? Why a rebel leader named Skandir, instead of Albania’s great Skanderbeg, who inspired my character?
There are a multiplicity of reasons by now. But here’s a caveat: be skeptical when writers present intuitive processes as thought-out planning. This was an evolution for me, not a strategic concept. I discovered what I was doing, and why it worked for me. I didn’t lay it out in advance.
Follow the link to see what he thinks in hindsight his strategy was.
Is PZ Myers planning on writing erotica?
No, but he has read a little of the intricacies of the field. "At least I have the satisfaction of knowing that becoming a biologist through years of training, negotiating a dicey job market, and putting in 10 hour days 6-7 days a week wasn’t actually as stupid a decision as I thought."
Some takeaways from his research:

Johnson says there is indeed such a thing as dinosaur porn—apparently a genre created to evade Amazon’s ban on bestiality, which only applies to living species—but it doesn’t have a lot of readers.
Retailers are happy to throw erotica writers under the bus by claiming to have not known what content was being uploaded to their storefronts,” Skyes said. “I never know if the next insane email I wake up to is going to be the one that means yesterday was my last day of writing for a living.”
"You're so talented."
This image has been shrunk and cropped.  Ironically this is the punchline and the set up is the relevant part.
"I have made it a hobby to investigate the stories of such prodigies," Ericsson writes, "and I can report with confidence that I have never found a convincing case for anyone developing extraordinary abilities without intense, extended practice."
Because the word "practice" is a big tent capable of hiding habits both good and bad, I spoke with Ericsson, who is on the faculty at Florida State University, about what he considers the path to mastering a craft, whether playing tennis or trombone. He calls it "deliberate practice."
The most optimal way to improve your performance is to find a teacher who has been teaching other people to reach the level of performance that you want to attain. This basically means that teacher will be able to tell you the most effective ways to improve. A good teacher will also be able to find suitable units of improvement, so you don't push yourself more than you can do.
Just start out, 15 or 20 minutes [a day]. Especially if you have a mentor and, ideally, a teacher.
The book I am writing involves the British in Italy in 1830, not long after Lord Byron was there. Many events take place in Venice. I have been wondering if I should include or name drop him in the story.
Wikipedia on Byron.
Open Letters Monthly on Byron.
Archive dot org
Timeless Italy on Byron and swimming. How can I not link?
English History.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Muses

In Our Time on BBC radio recently looked at The Muses. It was online on May 19 and BBC sometimes deletes or locks away their content after some time has passed. The link above probably has a time limit.

I realized that although I had heard of Erato, I didn't know much about these mythical fonts of creativity. Some research - not all that much was needed after Melvin and his Crew discussed the subject, led to details and images.
Calliope is normally the patroness of writers, although there are several that carry a book or scroll symbol.
Urania is the patroness of astronomy, although today, this field is considered to have expanded to include all of science.  Ah considered by those who care about such stuff. At some point in this post, I'm going to have to discuss what value I think the muses have.

I enjoy this description given at Greekmyths-greekmythology. The language is just enough off to make me think this is second language writing and to emphasize the dreamlike or non rational quality of the subject matter. They" were similar to everything." Uh, okay.
According to the Greek Myths, God Zeus bewildered the young woman Mnemosyne and slept with her for nine consecutive nights. The result of their encounter was the Nine Muses, who were similar to everything.
Μnemosyne gave the babies to Nymph Eufime and God Apollo. When they grew up they showed their tendency to the arts, taught by God Apollo himself.
They were not interested in anything of the regular human everyday life and they wanted to dedicate their lives to the Arts. Apollo brought them to the big and beautiful Mount Elikonas, where the older Temple of Zeus used to be. Ever since, the Muses supported and encouraged creation, enhancing imagination and inspiration of the artists.
Muses and Arts
According to the Greek Mythology, two Muses invented theory and practice in learning, three Muses invented the musical vibrations in Lyre, four Muses invented the four known dialects in the language – Attica, Ionian, Aeolian and Dorian – and five muses the five human senses. Seven muses invented the seven chords of the lyre, the seven celestial zones, the seven planets and the seven vocals of the Greek Alphabet.
Ancient History Encyclopedia has an article about the Muses by Mark Cartwright who I think is one of the speakers in the In Our Time podcast.
Alright.  Why do I care?  I am a man trained in science and a dedicated skeptic so I am not planning any sacrifices or offerings.  I think I am fascinated by the Muses in precisely the same way I am fascinated by creativity.  They, or it, are magical, even today.  Poorly understood and maddening.

Even now, we mostly understand why people have creative insight only when they are in laboratory conditions.  For example, the 1931 swinging ropes experiment. A researcher would bring subjects into a room with two hanging ropes, then ask the subjects to hold them both or tie them together.  But the ropes were too far apart to simply hold one and walk to the other.  If subjects appeared stuck or if a set amount of time had passed, the researcher would bump into a rope *accidentally* and the subject would quickly figure out the solution - swing one rope, then walk to the other rope, approach the swinging rope and wait for it to swing into reach.  But when subjects were questioned on what led them to inspiration,  they didn't know, or they told stories that were themselves quite creative.  The timing however showed the real causation.

Is creativity only understandable in situations where researchers have staged a problem? Could asking the Muses for help offer any benefit?  Urania, please help me study and understand!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Someday never comes

Maybe today I'll write.  I have the time, just like I did yesterday and the day before.
Fred Clark at Patheos Slacktivist might as well have been discussing writing while discussing Untold Millions are still Untold:
This was a song about the importance of evangelism, which was a major theme in our church. Not evangelism itself, mind you, but the importance of it. We believed, fervently, in the importance of evangelism, and we demonstrated this belief by gathering regularly for sermons on the topic of the importance of evangelism, and to sing songs like the one above reaffirming our commitment to the idea that evangelism is really quite important. (To be fair, I’ve experienced something similar in mainline Protestant circles where the importance of justice is a major theme.)
This preoccupation with the importance of evangelism produced a constant state of guilt and anxiety which, in turn, occasionally prompted us to actually attempt the thing itself.
Clark has written two books and you can read an excerpt from one and find links to both here.
Yeah, I'll finish my book someday.

TWIC: opinions, beta reading, Best Advice, bought or licensed?, map making, street photography and hiphop music

Perhaps my opinion of my work is not indicative of whether it will be successful.  Well, that's the case for these authors and artists.
One of the most acclaimed episodes of the original [Star Trek] series is "The City On The Edge Of Forever," which is about the Enterprise crew stumbling upon a gateway to the past, where they encounter a woman whom Kirk falls in love with, only to discover that she's destined to die, and that preventing her death would somehow cause the Nazis to take over the world. Basically, it's Ashton Kutcher's The Butterfly Effect, only replacing one self-important egomaniacal douchebag with another. The episode won the Writers Guild Award for sci-fi legend Harlan Ellison, who hated it so much that he wrote a goddamn book about how many pounds of shit he'd like to lay upon it.
What does a beta reader do? Excerpts from four points on the list are below - the list at the link has eight points:
1. Ask for ground rules at the beginning. I’ve had authors ask me to “beta read” and what they really wanted was for me to proofread their already pre-edited version of their work in progress. On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve had another author give me a questionnaire to fill out.
2. This is not just a free book for you! Yes, you get to read the book, and you aren’t paying for it, but the author is looking for assistance with their book, in whatever capacity they need.

3. Be honest. You are not helping the author by only giving them all the things you loved about it. If you don’t like something, tell them.
4. Give it the appropriate amount of time. I can read a book, with all my other things (day job, 2nd job, blog, etc) in about two days. With a beta read, I like to have at least a week.
Malki at Wondermark shares his discussion of the value of beta readers. The full comic is at the link; here is an excerpt:

On a swimming blog, I found the best advice, not just for swimmers, but everyone:

Be the hardest worker and the one having the most fun

Readers buy books made of paper but typically license ebooks.  Publishers pay different royalties to authors when their books are bought or licensed. Well, they're supposed to.  Apparently licensing royalties are higher than sales royalties and now some authors are suing publishers for the difference they feel they are owed.
When you sign a publishing deal, the contract spells out different royalty rates for different kinds of commercial activity; you get so much every time a copy is sold, and significantly more from every licensing deal for the book.
When you buy an ebook, it, too, comes with a contract, a long, boring EULA, that inevitably says, "You have not bought this book" (because otherwise you'd have the right to sell it or give it away), and "You have merely licensed this book," meaning that you have to abide by the terms set out on the accompanying "license agreement."

In 2012, Eminem and Universal settled a lawsuit over this very issue, with Universal agreeing to pay Eminem the licensing rate on the digital music sales it made to customers who also got a "license agreement" with their purchase.
Custom make or colour maps at mapchart.  Via Boingboing, which has an example.
Street photography tips.
#8 Take a break and post a shot or two on instagram so you don't bleed the feed later.
No idea what that means but the other tips seemed valuable.
I've linked to archives before so here is one of Hiphop mixed tapes. Well, mixed artist collections, I guess. The previous links to images hosted by museums were pretty wide open so far as terms of use were concerned. I am not sure if these files should only be listened to or if they can be used as background or harvested for samples.