Monday, July 24, 2017

TWIC: at camp, Microsoft Word, grit, balance, planning

I start my This Week In Creativity roundups the day after the previous one is posted. So I am writing this on Tuesday the eighteenth. Between now and the time this is posted I will start work at an ESL and science camp. I really can't say if this will be a shorter post than usual or not.
Encouraging grit and imagination in the classroom. This sounds like the perfect post for me. Actually the Sci-Am link starting this paragraph only describes the videos and idea.  The videos are at Imagination Institute and look to be a version of TED talks.
Using Microsoft Word to write a book? Among book snobs, the idea is nearly revolutionary. The industry standard is probably Scrivener or the like. But Tallulah Lucy defends Word.

My trilogy is currently sitting at 316,078 words, which amounts to 732 Microsoft Word pages. It’s all in a single doc.
I’m not saying that to impress anyone (it still needs to be edited down!). Only because a few people I’ve chatted to seem to think that you need some fancy writing software to write anything of that length. I actually find Word really easy to use, and it’s all because a few years ago I figured out how to structure a document for a novel.
Here’s what I do, and hopefully it can help you too.
1. Navigation Pane
Under “View” on the main menu, check “Navigation Pane”. This is the key to the entire thing. The Navigation Pane allows you to view the document by headings, pages or by search results. The headings is the important thing, as you will be able to navigate directly to each heading by clicking on it.
2. Scrap yard and Marker
The first thing I type is Scrap Yard, the second is Marker. Both of these should be on their own lines and set to Heading 1. You will find Heading 1 under Styles on the Home tab of the main menu. Then they show up in the Navigation Pane. You want to start typing your novel above this.
3. Using headings to structure the novel
Something that I know I vastly underestimated when I started writing was how much time I’d spend skipping back to check stuff. Whether it’s a character name, a piece of dialogue or what the hell happened in That One Scene, I do it at least three times in every writing session.
Now for each section of a story that I write, I will use headings so that I can easily find that part again.
I offer links to various archives and collections of public domain art and such in these posts. As they are public domain, one can snip and mix and match to make new art. For someone with my shaky hands, this is a better option than drawing new stuff. Anyway, the following archive is not public domain, I think, but is another example of barely restrained creativity; 25 or more years of Galaxy Science Fiction Magazine are in Archive dot org.
Balancing work and life, and hustle

And Sergio Pereira on a writing and life balance:
That said, there are moments when I need to breathe. This week, for example, I had one of those flustered, overwhelming feelings. You know, that feeling where you ask yourself what you are doing with your life. It bums you out and you start to think negatively about stuff, which makes matters even worse.
Mental health isn’t a joke. If you’re feeling down, it’s your brain telling you that something is wrong and you need to fix it. Burning out won’t impress anyone and does more damage than good in the long run. Learn to listen to the signs that your mind and body emit and respect that balance is needed. Trust me, sometimes delaying that piece of writing by a week or a month will be worth more than completing it right now.

Should you plan your story ahead or not? Every attempt I have made to writing a book has stumbled to a halt roughly 80~90% in with no clear idea of how to wrap it up. This is true for stories that I had excellent plans for (plans until the end, of course) and for stories I made up from the start with no pre-planning.
The question of whether or not to plan, and how much planning to do, is a particularly weighty one when it comes to novel writing. Because novels are heavily reliant on structure, and because they are such a massive undertaking by any measure, outlining might seem both practical and necessary—a way to make the abyss of the blank page feel a little bit less … well, abyss-like.
But is outlining actually necessary? Of course not.
When it comes to writing a novel, the only thing that is necessary is actually, you know, writing it. How you get there is entirely up to you. But should you outline?
Though advice often comes in the form of absolutes (you must write every day; you must show, not tell; you must kill your darlings), I’m wary of them under any circumstances, and I think they’re especially useless when it comes to process. While not knowing how to proceed is a very common problem, the particular psychological hurdles of starting (let alone finishing) a project are individual. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution.
The tiny bit of wood carvin experience I have informs me that a fairly solid plan is necessary before starting. I can't just whittle your way into an interesting carving. I need a few pictures and diagrams and measurements before blade touches wood.
John Grisham offers writing advice.
Quantity eventually create quality.

Monday, July 17, 2017

TWIC: Worst muse, plot sex, magic, process, notebooks, brainstorming, distraction, cleese, school

The Worst Muse Twitter account isn't active these days, but there is lots of (terrible) advice there.
Writing plot sex

Help transcribe texts on magic for the Chicago Library. C'mon, what could go wrong?
“You don't need a Ph.D to transcribe,” Christopher Fletcher, coordinator of the project and a fellow of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, tells “[The initiative] is a great way to allow the general public to engage with these materials in a way that they probably wouldn't have otherwise.”

The three manuscripts now available online reflect the varied and complex ways that magic fit into the broader religious landscape of a shifting and modernizing West. The 17th-century Book of Magical Charms contains instructions on a range of magical practices—“from speaking with spirits to cheating at dice,” according to the Transcribing Faith website—but also includes Latin prayers and litanies that align with mainstream religious practices. An untitled document known as the “commonplace book” explores strange and fantastical occurrences, along with religious and moral questions. Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits by Increase Mather, a Puritan minister and president of Harvard who presided over the Salem Witch Trials, expresses a righteous condemnation of witchcraft.
The Real Creative Process Here are the five steps offered at the link. I snipped most of the explanations so if you want more, follow the link:
1 Preparation
Preparation involves forming a question about our project and immersing ourselves in the search for answers. We decide we want to create something and set out to learn how. It doesn’t just involve pre-work for the project itself; it encompasses everything we’ve ever done or felt.
2 Incubation
Our subconscious processes what we learned in the first stage and assembles it more easily and cleverly than our conscious mind ever could.
3 Illumination
This is the part everyone thinks happens automatically, and pretty much never does. Occasionally, after some Incubation (which could be weeks, months, or the amount of time it takes to have a shower), our muse will deliver a nice little package for us.
4 Verification
More often, though, verification is the part where we discover our ideas still need work. If we’re not careful to be very gentle with ourselves at this stage, it can feel like the creative equivalent of waking up hungover next to the person we brought home from the bar, who, in the cold morning, looks more like a melted candle than the thing we took to bed.
5 Elaboration
Elaboration is where we renew our commitment and run through steps 1-4 again and again until we end up with something we can love.
Although I’ve written the process as if it always goes in order, Csikszentmihalyi reminds us “that the five stages, in reality, are not exclusive but typically overlap and recur several times before the process is completed.
More on Feynman and notebooks.
A list of rules for brainstorming. These three stand out for me (follow the link for the rest and a video):
3. Build on the ideas of others
4. Stay focused on the topic
5. One conversation at a time
I think these specific rules work for a group brainstorming session but seem to step on the general rule against editing. Perhaps the video explains things.
Being busy is killing our ability to think creatively. There is a quote within a quote below - the nested quote is in italics
Little good comes from being distracted yet we seem incapable of focusing our attention. Among many qualities that suffer, recent research shows creativity takes a hit when you’re constantly busy. Being able to switch between focus and daydreaming is an important skill that’s reduced by insufferable business.8 As Stanford’s Emma Seppälä writes:

The idea is to balance linear thinking—which requires intense focus—with creative thinking, which is borne out of idleness. Switching between the two modes seems to be the optimal way to do good, inventive work.
This reminds me of John Cleese saying that he needed 15 minutes to get into a project and any distraction, even a short one, required the same 15 minutes warm up.
Hmmm. I can't find that quote but naturally there is a lot of interesting Cleese has said. Here are a few places to look. One. Two. Three.
I remember forty years ago we were about to put up panelling or wallpaper in a room and the evening before, dad brought out pencils and, well, stuff - it was forty years ago, the details are hazy - and we decorated the walls with our art before they were covered over and hidden.
The same thing was done on a larger scale at a school about to undergo renovations.

Their Facebook page with many images of the art.


Monday, July 10, 2017

TWIC: Journaling, self-publishing, fantastic travel, online long reads, Garfield, writing advice, contest, sewing

First it's important to understand a huge body of scientific research shows that old fashioned journaling -- nothing fancier than dumping your thoughts onto the page -- can be hugely positive for mental health This suggests that basically any way you find to get your thoughts down on paper is probably going to help you calm your mind and get stuff done, though no specific studies have yet been done on bullet journaling (so this is al just informed speculation).
That being said, this more graphical form of journaling might provide unique benefits, several experts believe. Neuroscientist and author Daniel Levitin, for instance, suggests that one of the system's advantages is that it works like an external memory extension.
"The conscious mind can attend to about three things at once. Try to juggle any more than that and you're going to lose some brain power," he tells Davis. A bullet journal might be helping its fans get past that inherent mental limitation.
It might also help shut down a psychological phenomenon known as the Zeigarnik Effect, which states that it's easier to remember uncompleted tasks than completed ones. When an undone task keeps intruding into your thoughts, simply planning out when you'll complete it can help clear it out of your mind, research shows. That's why you often write a to-do list, feel better, and then simply lose it. It's also why bullet journals may be so soothing for some, according to psychologist EJ Masicampo.

And from Quora, where I am spending way too much time: Is journaling a creative necessity?
An editor's opinion on self-publishing
The Problem
The self-publishing industry includes very few quality barriers, an unfortunate shortcoming that leads to infamous works like E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey. And, because self-published authors are obliged to format, promote, and design both the covers and images for their own works, publishing becomes so cost-intensive that many quality authors simply can’t afford it. “Those authors work in a vacuum,” Logan says, “with very little outside support.”
In short, the self-published market has become so flooded with mediocre texts that most people have come to view all self-published texts as inferior.
Travelogues, real vs fantastic.
If there’s one thing that reading these books so closely together drove home, it’s how fantastical travelogues emphasize the pleasures and wonders and marvels of the journey, while actual, real travelogues emphasize how annoying and awful travel can be. Real travelogues will include at least some ranting, while fantastical ones often emphasize the amazing and wonderful nature of the places visited.
This pattern may not be universal, but it does seem to hold when I think over things I’ve read in the past—from travel writings by Mary Wollstonecraft and Isabella Bird Bishop to fantastical stories of travel by authors like Jonathan Swift and Marco Polo’s Travels (significant portions of which it’s believed are retellings of others’ stories). There are exceptions, of course, like Peter Mayne’s jolly and amusing A Year in Marrakesh (discussed here), but I think the pattern overall holds… probably for good reason. Visiting a foreign place involves the actual discomfort and dislocation of travel; fantasy, the spectacle and splendor without the trouble.

Design and reader follow through in online long reads. A long twitter thread on the attempts of website owners to promote their content at the expense of driving people away from reading their content.


How Jim Davis got his start (I do not see a way to link to the specific comic. Look for July 6, 2017) (This image has been cropped greatly and shrunk slightly. To see more follow the link and search).

The What Should We Draw podcast looks fun, too.
A list of 38 books to help you write. The first four:
  • On Writing by Stephen King (2012) – This is a definite favourite between writers as King gives a low-down on how the basics of writing actually work. I’m not a huge fan of the tone he uses in this one but I can’t deny this is gives any writer understanding of the basic skill set
  • Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne LaMott (1980) – This was another firm favourite and timeless classic, although I’ve never read it, a lot of the authors talking about this said how much it had helped them and opened their eyes.
  • Writing the Breakout Novel by Dondald Maass (2002)- Claimed to be brilliant, this book has made it pretty far up my list as Maass gives an all round guide for published and unpublished authors alike. 
  • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg (2005) – This combines Zen meditation with the form of writing as been nominated by several of our authors who also went on to nominate another of her books that we’ll come to later on.
Murakami's advice for young writers
Remember that scene in Steven Spielberg’s film E.T. where E.T. assembles a transmitting device from the junk he pulls out of his garage? There’s an umbrella, a floor lamp, pots and pans, a record player─it’s been a long time since I saw the movie, so I can’t recall everything, but he manages to throw all those household items together in such a way that the contraption works well enough to communicate with his home planet thousands of light years away. I got a big kick out of that scene when I saw it in a movie theater, but it strikes me now that putting together a good novel is much the same thing. The key component is not the quality of the materials─what’s needed is magic. If that magic is present, the most basic daily matters and the plainest language can be turned into a device of surprising sophistication.
First and foremost, though, is what’s packed away in your garage. Magic can’t work if your garage is empty. You’ve got to stash away a lot of junk to use if and when E.T. comes calling!
A new risk to air travel, time travel to 2037.
XPrize and ANA present a series of short stories "of the passengers from Flight 008, imagined by the world’s top science fiction storytellers, as they discover a future transformed by exponential technologies."
The book has stories from many top writers, but there is also a contest!
XPrize and ANA present a series of short stories "of the passengers from Flight 008, imagined by the world’s top science fiction storytellers, as they discover a future transformed by exponential technologies."
Tyler Cowan's writing routine.
What’s your process for editing your own work?
I repeatedly edit it many times, at least ten. I just keep on doing it, until I can’t think of further improvements. I can’t say that is a process in any formal sense, simply a recognition that the “process” to date hasn’t worked very well and so it must continue. I don’t pretend this is efficient.
How do you finish out a day of writing? Do you have a process, or is it just that you know you’ve hit a natural stopping point?
I try to finish out early, so my mind is clear for reading, meetings, other kinds of decisions, whatever I need to do. I can’t write for anything close to a full day, it involves too much concentration.
How much of a day for you is spent in research versus writing, or are you doing both at the same time?
Both at the same time, but it depends what stage the project is at. In the earliest stages, the proportion of research is much higher. After a while, it simply ends up being a process of editing out mistakes and infelicities. Then I will go and restudy or reread the key materials I used.
This plot needs work! Here is the work that needs to be done.
I realised, about 37,000 words in, that I was quickly loosing track of my characters and their goals were getting fuzzy. I didn’t know where the novel was going.

I wasn’t prepared to throw out the whole thing and start again, because I think I have some good work in there and I’m not prepared to give up those words. Not yet.

What did I do? I read.
Step One
I started with a revision of the Heroes Journey, the 12-step structure of mythical stories that just about every novel I can name adheres to. The official definition, from the link above, is:

The Hero’s Journey is a pattern of narrative identified by the American scholar Joseph Campbell that appears in drama, storytelling, myth, religious ritual, and psychological development. It describes the typical adventure of the archetype known as The Hero, the person who goes out and achieves great deeds on behalf of the group, tribe, or civilization.
I got out some colorful pencils and sketched it out for myself: [image removed - follow link to see it, and a whole lot more, including four more steps.]

80,000+ sewing patterns online. I don't sew but this might also be interesting to see how fashion and style has changed.
McCall's, Butterick, Simplicity. If you were into sewing, or simply spent time as a child rummaging through patterns with your mother at the fabric store, these names will bring on a wave of nostalgia. And now, thanks to a fantastic online collection of vintage sewing patterns, it's time to dust off your sewing machine.
The Vintage Patterns Wiki boasts more than 83,500 patterns that are at least 25 years old, which makes for a fascinating look back at fashion history. As a collaborative effort, the database is constantly being updated and organized, with any newly uploaded patterns dating prior to 1992. Just click on the cover and browse the list of pattern vendors who have the look.
From Quora: How do I write a long blog article? As others noted, writing new material of whatever length is appropriate seems a better goal than 'long'.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Incheon Animals: Spider and Spiderwasp

This set of images are of an act of parasitism. I disturbed the process and I do not know if the spider recovered or died. Spider Wasps paralyze spiders and place a larva inside the spider, which then eats its way out of the spider.
I do not know the species of either the spider or the wasp. I will have English guides for Korean arachnids and wasps later this summer.
The images are not disturbing but the concept is so they are 'under the fold'.

Monday, July 3, 2017

TWIC: Seattle, comics, paddington, firefox, dreams

The art of Seattle. My friend M Heilman spent a fews days in Seattle and it seems she found the best art outside of the museum. Here are two of her images that I have shrunk greatly - follow the link for more and fullsize.

Comics Writer Jason Arron
Michael Bond, author of Paddington Bear stories, has passed away. I had some learning difficulties in elementary school and read Paddington with the therapist, Ruth Tinkiss, so many years ago.
Is Firefox better than Chrome? Not all that creativity-related but consider it another PSA from Surprises Aplenty!
Science and creative writing
Scientists may even beat creative writers at their own game due to a "killer work ethic" and the lack of a so-called publication angst, Irish writer and novelist Aifric Campbell wrote.
"It was the interdisciplinary challenge that intrigued me, but I’ll admit to being (skeptical) about the students’ writing potential. So I was delighted to be proved wrong: their writing is easily as good – and often better – than that of creative writing students I have taught elsewhere, including at the University of East Anglia. And my external assessors – also writers who teach and hold PhDs from UEA – agree," she said in an article posted on UK's The Guardian.
A Distraction-free text editor.My favorite on the Mac is Ommwriter but the PC version has problems. An excerpt from the review:
Write!1 describes itself as a distraction-free text editor. It enters the market in an interesting way: the Mac offerings here are numerous, varied, and excellent. Offerings on Windows are fewer and further between, and in my experience of much lower quality. Distraction-free text editors outside the world of programming text editors barely exist at all on Linux, as far as I can tell.2 Write! is cross-platform, targeting all three of these. And that, as we’ll see, is the story of this particular app — for good and for ill.
The Good
First, the good: the app seems to perform relatively well. Text entry, even on a fairly large document, is smooth and quick. (I imported the text of this ~7200-word paper to test it and it didn’t stutter a bit.) Especially given the time I’m going to spend on the not-so-good below, I want to take a moment to applaud the developers for getting that right.
Goldberg guide to writing Two of six points:
4. Remember that the blank page is nothing to be scared of. Remind yourself of this often. Every day, in fact. One day you might even believe it.
5. Write thousands of words of pretentious bilge. Fill a forest-worth of notebooks with future embarrassment. Fail again and again. At some point, fail better.
Narrating dreams and other stories. A nearly five minute video that explains the problems and solutions to storytelling.
The reason other people's dreams are boring is because most people are bad at telling stories. This video from The School of Life offers suggestions on how to narrate your dreams (or tell any kind of story, factual or fictional) without boring your audience.
We naively assume that enthusiasm and authenticity can be enough...
This charming though ultimately lonely egocentricity can best be seen in children who are the worst storytellers... 
rules for successful storytelling
1 We must understand a story at least five times as well when its to be shared in company.
2 Keeping a story brief takes far more effort than letting it expand.
3 We need to simplify. The downfall of almost all anecdotes is an accumulation of incidental detail untethered to the logic of the story.
4 Factual events: dates, times, actions are always less interesting, though far easier to remember than feelings. Yet it is the feelings that invariably contain the kernel of what will intrique other people.