Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Sickness of Constant Distraction

Even a cat with cancer will still chase a laser pointer.

I am probably a more horrible person having said that, but having cats and having had a cat with cancer I feel I can speak to this.

We do not have news channels anymore, we have opinion channels. We don't have newspapers anymore, we have opinion papers.

Whatever side you are on, we have a news channel for you and a news paper that conforms to your views. Step right up and be fed news and views which conform to your unique outlook upon the world. We don't inform you, we reinforce what you already think you know.

And we have our social media partners right alongside, each with their own tailored, carefully controlled point of view. What causes outrage there is going to be headlines tomorrow, and what will be in the headlines tomorrow will cause outrage the next day.

So where does the sick cat come in?

Like that laser pointer, each side distracts its audience with carefully chosen fluff stories and things tailor-made to distract and get our minds off of the headline we should honestly be angry about and demand change. Your typical news day, on both sides, goes like this:

First up is the 'breaking news outrage' story meant to get you angry and your blood pressure up a couple dozen points. Some politician said something stupid, or some scandal refuses to go away. The anchors hem and haw and tell you how incredibly awful this thing is, and  you are right there with them demanding blood and thinking 'this will be it'. This is something so bad that something has to be done, and you are probably right, if something was done this issue would probably go away and it would be solved. The world could move on. This something is so awful something needs to be done.

This is the sick cat.

We need to get it to the vet, to get some treatment, and to do something about this poor thing suffering. If something is done now-

And then bam, the news 'changes gears' and does a fluff piece. Something pulled from social media. Some athlete did something stupid. Some celebrity broke the Internet. Some nobody who cares anyways said something stupid on social media, and their social media partners hope you rush online right now to find out what. Here's a video you need to see. Here's something that will brighten your day pulled from a photo-sharing site. Cue the 'aww' sound effect!

The laser pointer.

We are distracted. The outrage is gone. On both sides you see this, they tease you with insane rantings and anger, and then they pull it away. Take your anger, if you still have any, and vent it on social media where nothing gets solved, thank you! At least social media will have your eyes for a while so you can respond to their advertisers, and then you can watch your flavor of news tomorrow to repeat the cycle.

Nothing gets done, the cat never gets taken to the vet, and tomorrow and the next week it is a new outrage followed by a new distraction. Those professing to keep you informed never want the outrage to be resolved, as they want to keep you outraged at a certain level and then pull it back so nothing gets done. Please come back tomorrow to get your view of the world reinforced, some anger fed to you, and no solutions acted upon.

We will even have plenty of paid talking heads that may or may not agree with you, but honestly they neither have the power to do anything or fix anything that we feed to you, day after day. They are just there to get you through the middle of the hour, fill in time, and argue like they have the power to get something but never will.

They are just paid to yell at each other for your entertainment.

Another distraction.

That's it.

We need to get the cat to the vet. I do not care about views and opinions anymore. I don't need anymore distractions. I know how I need to live and what I need to do. It frustrates me our sources of news are so biased and so beholden to the official line of each side. I pick through the news like I pick through garbage, just to find the few bits of truth that are facts and not opinions.

Because sooner or later, that cat will be so sick it won't chase.

I could end it there, but that is a negative ending to this without direction. To be hopeful, turn off shows which push views and opinion. Uninstall the 'news' apps from your phone that push viewpoints and not facts. Never watch those channels. Press those who can act for solutions. Act yourself and do your part for the issues and things in which you believe in. Vote. Make your voice heard. Never let those who would drag your outrage along get you into that addiction cycle of outrage and distraction.

Hold on to the issues in which you believe, and force others to do something.

Let yourself be heard.

Be that person who takes the cat to the vet.

Act.

Don't react.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Dear Internet, Your Internet Sucks

"Consider white-listing the site to help support us."

You know what, I am feeling very progressive and altruistic today, and I love the site and its content, so maybe I will white-list this one and take it off my ad-blocker.

WE HAVE DETECTED A VIRUS! CLICK HERE!

PLEASE DOWNLOAD THIS CRITICAL BROWSER UPDATE NOW.js!

 WINDOWS UPDATE NEEDS PERMISSION TO RUN A CRITICAL FILE!

You know what, fuck this. Fuck ads. Fuck me for trusting your site. Every time I try to help out, I get screwed while random and uncontrolled ad-networks randomly try to deliver malware to my computer.

Ad-revenue is really, really important, and I like to read them every once and a while and check out the things in them I am interested in. Ads serve a valid purpose in life, and they also help pay people for the hard work they put into blogs and review sites. Ads help support the things I do.

But lately?

No. I block ads like I block viruses, because within five minutes of white-listing a site I get attacked by one of their "partners." Just for trying to be nice and help out, you know, a be a part of the ecosystem thing.

Because ads help pay for my time when I write blog posts, and even someone seeing an ad helps support some of the things I do. But now, I am one of the blockers, and it scares me because it means the traditional ad-supported model of delivering free content is breaking down. People won't be able to share as much, the good stuff will be locked up behind paywalls, and the walled gardens of social media become the safe spaces where content is created and shared.

Which means we all lose because most social media is one of the most restrictive, regressive, censored, and anti-free speech zones ever created. Want to share a nude photograph, a mature book, or something which is defined as 'adult content'? Good luck with those filters and ever being seen in search. And even better luck running ads or boosting your posts for that 'adult content' that no one wants to see, and in most places will be reported and taken down by lynch-mobs of those easily offended.

So Internet, get your shit together. Ads do not need to run Javascript in my browser. I remember the days when an image and a link were good enough.

Fix this or I keep blocking everything.

I won't see ads, nor will I see things which may interest me. I won't be a part of the paying ecosystem for free content. Because I can't, my security is more important to me than giving my page view a fractional cent to the content creator. I know this will cause sites to close and fold up shop, but so be it. My security is more important to me than ad-supported free content and the things in which I enjoy. I can live without it and get by, trust me.

Maybe I will go back to reading books.

Offline.

And don't ever bug me to white-list your site, and then three minutes later let a partner I know you have no responsibility for deliver malware to me. You do have a responsibility to know who you are dealing with and what ads they are delivering to your visitors.

And especially the ones who trusted you enough to go through all the steps to white-list your site.

Dear Internet, fix your shit. Dear browser companies, fix these malware delivery routes and auto-download functions. Dear OS companies, fix your shit. Dear ad-networks, if you allow malware on your ad-networks, I certainly won't see any of the ads you serve - because I will be blocking them all. Good luck with that business model of attacking your best customers, all of you.

And the part that hurts the most is that the ad-supported system was one I believed in. I bought into the hype. I thought I could support my 'free' content with ad-supported revenue. Well, it is not going to work if ad-blockers are as needed as virus scanners, and everyone blocks everything by default. I am seriously reconsidering this whole 'free content' thing.

And I don't blame people that use ad blockers at all, because I am one of them.

I feel this is really a situation where we all lose.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Turning Tears into Human Rights

I miss the 1980's, I really do. We had cool things like this:
Thank you, Artists Against Apartheid.

For those of you new to this, that is a group of music artists coming together to protest the long-gone and thankfully-buried system of Apartheid, and tell the world they aren't going to play a resort in the 1980's under that regime. Today, South Africa (and Sun City) have changed remarkably for the better, and it is an example of how things can change given positive social activism and groups of people on both sides who want to do the right thing. I like to think the pressure applied by this video, along with the heroic efforts of social activists and progressive politicians who had the courage to stand up and do say "this is wrong" had something to do with this change.

Today's music artists? Frankly, by comparison, they are a bunch of do-nothing, money-grabbing pussies.

We have a situation today which parallels the injustice of Apartheid, the state-sanctioned criminalization and execution of homosexuals and transgendered people. We have seen these hateful forces visit our shores recently, targeting a group of people who choose to express love just for how they wish to love. This isn't just limited to one religion or belief system, as there are many countries which persecute gays for how they wish to express freedom and love. This is a world-wide problem across many countries, religions, and continents.

Where are those who stand up and refuse to play these places? Where are the sanctions? Where are the calls to boycott companies, to limit trade, and to shut down banking with states with anti-homosexual policies? Where are the bills allowing homosexuals persecuted in these countries to apply for asylum here, in the land of the tolerant and free? Where are the open arms? Where is the outrage?

Where?

...

I hear silence.

I see nothing.

I see artists playing in these places. Silent. Taking the money and saying thank you.

Thank you for persecuting homosexuals, and remember to buy my record! Please go on with the executions and imprisonment. Let's do a concert! Where's my check again?

Just like Apartheid, silence equals support. Supporting companies who do business with them means support. Supporting politicians who say and do nothing for years means support.

There are no excuses here.

Your silence is damning.

As a consumer, I have a choice of who I do business with. Companies and artists who support such policies and regimes should be called out. Even if nothing changes, at every time we deal with such places they should be reminded that they are outside the accepted behaviors of the civilized world, and we should demand progress, step by step. Even if we don't get artists and politicians to speak up, the grassroots can shame those who shame us with their support of these policies.

Shame.

Shame on you.

We have forgotten the power of these words.

It starts with us. It always does. We remember those who stood silent for too long while this injustice happened. We remember those who wore our cause on their sleeve just to get a couple votes, and then did nothing when they had real power to make change. We understand, you are powerless, beholden, and afraid. When the time comes, we will not pull that lever and vote for you. When the time comes, we will be a more educated consumer and not buy products which come from these places or companies that do business with them. When the time comes, we shall question why you performed in a place that persecutes people for who they love, and maybe we won't buy that next album of yours.

Your silence signifies your support.

The grassroots will stand up here, and do the right thing. Change is possible. If a hateful system like Apartheid can be replaced with something better which brings equality and fairness to all, I have hope in this world. I have hope in the voices which cry out for justice and equality. I have hope for the people that live in these places to join a more accepting, free, loving, and peaceful world. I feel it is a war that can be won without violence or hatred, without insulting someone else on social media, or one bomb dropped or one bullet fired.

It just requires one word, no, to be said again and again. It requires our money not to be spent with supporters of these policies. It requires representatives who do more than just talk.

But it starts with one person saying, "I have a choice."

And that person is you.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Fly Away Dove, Fly Away

Love is what makes it so hard.

But it also makes it so special.

It is hard letting go of the things we love. The things which bring us happiness. The things which have become a part of us. The shock of them leaving us tears our hearts out, and it makes us pause.

It makes us face our own mortality.

No matter how great, how central, or even if something which we bring into our lives sits on the periphery yet is still loved - it is a part of us.

And when we lose a part of us?

It hurts.

It takes away something we thought certain, thought we would have forever, and something which we always took for granted. Things we love shall always be here, right?

Right?

And the silence of that certain answer in the negative gives us a chill.

The things we love will always go away.

For that is what makes them so special.

And they shall always be a part of us. Forever until our passings.

U shall always be a part of ME.

This world shall always be a more beautiful place because of U.

Goodbye, my Prince.

Fly away, dove.

Fly away.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Stop Writing for Yourself?

From the following article, check it out:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/comic-riffs/wp/2016/03/21/donald-trump-will-win-in-a-landslide-the-mind-behind-dilbert-explains-why/
“This was a trick I learned from Bil Keane,” the late creator of “Family Circus,” Adams tells Comic Riffs. “He basically taught me to stop writing for myself, which I realized I had been doing — writing a comic that I wanted to read.”
This is a fascinating article from Scott Adams on the Trump phenomenon, and I would like to keep politics out of this discussion and instead focus on the above quote and Adams' pivot from writing "something for himself" to "writing for an audience" and then him finding success.

It is an amazing quote, and also a deeply disheartening one as well.

It is also one that seems plainly obvious.

To find success, must we abandon what we love? I would feel this is the truth, as 'commercial writing' for established genres and groups of readers walks a well-trodden and used path - it is easy to find readers in green pastures. But there is a deeper question here, even if we choose to write for an established genre, must we give up the things we like to write for the formulas and standard conventions of a genre?

It is deeper than holding your finger to the wind and saying, "Oh, this seems popular, now I will write YA books!" It is saying, "My thoughts are less important than the standard conventions of the genre."

In essence, Adams may be making that argument. He writes Dilbert to address the woes and hard life of office drudgery, and those struggles have deep meaning to his comic's readers. He brings a new perspective to the struggle, it is certain, and also a unique brand of irony and humor. Also, in a three-panel comic there isn't much room for expression, so he has to boil a joke down to the essence, but the feeling seems to be still there.

He starts with a premise and best tries to express the irony of that state.

He is not trying to come up with characters with diverse backstories and histories, all of his characters are stereotypes to deliver the painfully obvious punchline. If I wrote a similar comic for myself, I would fill it full of interesting stories, plots, and other elements that would give me great joy to follow along with - with me being an insider and knowing the meanings and punch-lines ahead of time, of course. Re-reading my masterpiece would give me great joy, because I could marvel at my ingenious nature and creativity.

But that doesn't appeal to a wider audience. Most people just don't get it.

If you write about the familiar, you are instantly more accessible.

If you write for yourself, you are shrinking your audience to yourself.

There is still wiggle room here to be individualistic, I suppose. Adams' humor is a unique brand, and he can setup and deliver a joke in the space the size of a credit card. That takes a lot of skill, and yet it still feels like his humor is unique, identifiable, and individualistic. I suppose when you do write for an audience, what you bring to the table is a unique way of looking at the material and expressing yourself within these limits. The required pieces must still be present, the genre conventions, the feeling, and the tone - but your way of expressing them is what makes you special.

It is an interesting statement and strategy for producing creative works, not to "write for yourself" yet still produce something that is individualistic and unique, with a  perspective and voice that appeals to the established fans of the genre, as in this case, office humor.

It is also an interesting statement in the practice of "writing for yourself" and setting expectations for that practice. We all think we are geniuses, yet many times, the world doesn't seem to think so at all. Our brilliance only shines when we illuminate something with it; and in this case, Adams' brilliance shined when he turned his spotlight of humor on the world of cubicle politics and office life.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Those Things

Those things you do.

Life, wandering through it, thinking about plans, having none, and moving on.

Those things.

Wondering. Working hard. Not working hard. The pointless existence of meandering, all while listening to everyone and no one at the same time. Wondering why. Living in that state.

Setbacks. Things to do. Concern, worry, and anxious moments for no real reason at all.

Those things.

It is all right, yet it is not. It is just the procedure and march of things we don't want to do that we fear. It is less a fear than a something we want to reject and walk away from. How life has gotten too complex, and how things never turned out quite the way we wanted.

Yet in those moments we find ourselves, lost yet found, restless yet comfortable, and where we want to be in a place we never chose to. Watching the slow spin of a world out of control, yet not caring about any of it.

And tomorrow, more of those things to do.

Those things which we do, the bare minimum needed to progress through life, one day after the other.

Anticipated, yet expected. Hated but we shall happily do them again and again.

Until an unexpected moment interrupts us.

And those things we reviled, we miss. That drudgery, those chores, that way of life.

We miss them because they were the unwelcome normal we had become accustomed to.

And for all of our dislike of that routine, it is the very thing we miss.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Hope

Let it renew inside you.

Let it flow forth like crystal-clear water in a spring.

Let it gently guide you down the river of life.

It is something which you must bring into your heart, hope, and with it sustain and nurture your very being. It shall be like blood to you, this hope, and it shall carry every breath you make to every fiber of your being. Hope shall be that which gives you the energy to live.

To love what you do.

To be the best you are.

It is difficult at times, finding this power. It seems to elude us like the passing of a stray breeze, we feel it at random moments, yet we are unable to capture it and harness its power. We seek to feel it again, ever waiting in one place for this gentle force to push on us again.

But I have found a way we can turn hope on at will, to instantly find the power of the wind, to feel it against our skin, and to bring this wondrous energy back into our lives.

On a still day, the only way to feel the wind is to put one foot in front of another and walk.

In the still moments of your life, the only way to feel hope is to move forward and live.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Feeding the Beast

I can't believe how incredibly popular I am!

Because I hate the same thing you do.

Let me repost whoever or whatever it is, him or her, and join the crowd. Look at all my newfound popularity! Look at how I am being lauded as insightful and great because I reaffirm someone else's anger and bias.

It feels good to feed into all this hatred, doesn't it? Insanely so.

Of course I want to be witty! Of course I want people to praise me for piling on! I want to provide a new and insightful angle for people to channel their negativity with, because it unlocks another negative attack upon the thing which they were told to dislike by someone else! I give them new attacks which to repeat to others upon the thing which we all dislike.

Can't you see how smart I am? How great of a thinker I am?

Oh, what is it that I hate, you ask?

You tell me.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

New Phases

In some small way I am moving on. There is this restless feeling that blows in like a spring storm, and you can almost feel it before it comes, even before it looms over the horizon. Change is coming.

Change I make, and one you could too.

Things from the day to day will stay the same, but I am ready for that new phase in life. I am ready. My reviews, my books, my blogs, my writing my everything else will stay the same. My sites and social media shall stay the same. It is all here, and all the same. The series I am working on shall be finished.

In my own time, and when the words which shall be true come to me.

Though, that wind blows. The leaves rustle, and the branches bend in the gusts which portend a new beginning is just about here. The air takes on that tangible feeling, that feeling of something larger shaping the course of your life, that electric potential of something wondrous and great hanging in the air.

And you feel it.

It is there.

Do nothing, and watch it slip away.

Do something, and like a dandelion seed your bristles shall catch the wind and you shall be off on a new adventure, a new direction, and a new and marvelous journey with so many sights to see. High above the lands you shall fly, with an infinite canvas of beauty spilling out beneath your feet as you spin higher and higher.

You shall see things you never imagined you would see.

You shall gain perspectives you never thought possible.

You shall be thrilled at the danger of it all, and by the excitement. Adventure does not come without risks, yet the risk is what makes overcoming these challenges all the more exhilarating.

This shall be a new beginning, here, now.

As the dirt sails away from between your fingers, you note the direction of the wind, and its strength. You feel the heavy nature of the air, and the pent-up energy.

It is almost electric.

You can feel the new burst of life and incredible times coming on. It is almost as if an echo of these times has reached you before the words were spoken, a precursor to the greatness you shall achieve in these coming moments.

It is here, almost now.

The moment.

The time for a change, and a new phase to your life. When you shall actually live. When you shall actually breathe a fresh breath of air again.

It comes, and do not wait to spread your wings and fly.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

...but Look at Me Now

It's unlikely any of us is going to put $20 in a slot machine or a lottery ticket and instantly make it.

But to wish for that, or to have it happen, is almost a disservice to how great you really are.

You don't remember much after making it, but before? Your stories of the struggles, waking up day after day and wondering, all the hardships you faced - these are the tales of legends. They will be the stories you tell people, over and over again, about how hard it was and how everything was stacked against you, yet you hung in there.

You kept trying.

You believed.

When everyone was doubting you, when the entire Internet seemed aligned against you, and you could get no breaks at all, these will be the hardships you fondly remember and set the scene for your success story.

The world has to be against you in this moment, for this is your stage in which those who hear your tale will hear, their mouths agape in awe at how bad you had it back then. Revel in this moment. Soak it in. Laugh at how hard life is right now, because this shall be your Mordor, your Death Star, your world against you and all odds saying any mortal person would have failed. You will want the world as completely against you as you can manage, and even then, you shall laugh and say...

"Bring it on."

This is your moment. These are your tough times. You will look back at this day and smile, becuase that sometime in the future, you will be able to say, "I beat it."

You won.

You survived.

And you just did not survive, you thrived. You fought for every spare moment and used those times between to follow your dream. You put in extra work when the rest of us would have lied down and slept, or turned on the television and zoned out. But you didn't. You put in the work. You self-educated yourself. You didn't have the money to buy yourself privilege or advantage, and you had nothing. You had to scratch and claw at every spare moment of time and apply yourself. You studied. You learned. You held down a job. You suffered through the misery of life, every damn day. You put up with the BS and the phone calls, the bad days at work, sickness, and adversity. Family. Tragedy. Sadness. Depression.

At times, the hardest times were just inside your head, and you realized that.

You fought back. You worked your ass off. You not only did well at work, you got home and sat right down to work on your dream. Through all the distractions. Through all the daily this and that. Through being so tired you wondered how you would go on. Through constant and endless distractions. You pushed them aside.

You learned how great being focused felt.

You suffered too, even after you began living your dream. You were ruthlessly criticized. Bullied. Called out for stupid mistakes. Ravaged. Your dreams were called stupid. You were told to quit. To just get the message. To hang it up.

What you did was trash. Garbage. It could never compare to anything even a mediocre person could do. You had your dreams trashed in a heartbeat by callous and thoughtless words.

And if you needed to cry, you did.

But that next day, you picked yourself up. You opened up that book. You created a new project. You sat down to learn from your mistakes. You toughened up. You admitted you weren't perfect. You started something new. You got better the next time. You put your dreams and hopes into this new work that-

-was knocked down just as easy as the first.

You can't make money doing what you love. Who are you to even try? Here's one star, if you even got a review, just out of sympathy. It seems you didn't get the message the first time, so I shall tell you again. Quit while your ahead. Don't waste your time.

Those hurtful words. Those lashes. Those things which rip out your soul.

You need to wear those scars with pride. You need to adorn them with your war-paint because you shall be on that battlefield again one day, wearing those scars, and keeping doing what you love doing because you know some day it shall happen. You will take those words, repeat them to yourself, and smile. For those words are your validation. Those words are your hard times. You will "be there" someday and tell people those same exact words. Those words that someone tried to tear you down with, that you were a talent-less hack, that you knew nothing, that you released sloppy work (and maybe you did), and you just outright sucked.

"But look at me now," shall be the words which follow those.

"But look at me now."

So you need to remember those hurtful words, because you shall show them all some day. You will shine, and they will have just have those same, old, worthless words. Those hurtful words shall be the stones under your feet. You shall use them to stack up on each other to reach that next step. You need them, because that is what makes you strong.

Denying them the victory.

The rest? A lot of hard work. More than you can imagine. Days you won't ever be inspired and wonder if it is all worth it. More work. More feeling stupid. More learning. More putting time in. More things which you create that languish in obscurity. More throwing time and money into a black hole. More feeling hopeless. More applying yourself. More starting something new. More trying again. More just keeping doing what you are doing.

Love helps at this point. If you don't love what you do, it shall be twice as hard.

Reaching out. Helping others. Being a part of something. Helping others helps you, because you understand how the world works just a little more. Exposing yourself to inspiration. Reading. Studying. More hard work. More the next project. Taking time for yourself. Rest. Getting back into it. Doing the things in life that are required of you but not your dream.

And waking up the next day to start it all over again.

Because you want to be there some day.

To have "made it."

And you want your story to be good.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Vampy Black Project: Organization


One thing I love about Scrivener 2 is the ability to cut up a chapter into subsections, group those together, and move them around. We ran into an issue at the end of Darthaniel's Vampy Black Project, which I am working on him with, where the end of the book did not feel like it flowed as well as we would have liked. There was nothing wrong with the text, it just seemed like the tension and drama could be increased and we just couldn't place our finger on it.

Last night I tried mixing things up. I split chapters up and combined them in a logical fashion where the action in each built upon each other. We had a structure where we had start-to-stop chapters, where a situation would begin and resolve all in the same chapter. They were great for blocking out what happened, but when they were placed together, they didn't flow together naturally, and I got the feeling I spent too much time away from one character while we read the next.

I don't like it when you get the feeling you need to skim to get back to the character you really care about, and that is what I felt was happening. Even though, yes, everything was great in the individual chapters, in the order they were, I just did not get that sense of urgency and equal importance.

So I cut the few ending chapters we were working on apart into logical chunks, and reshuffled them.

It worked very well. The same text was broken apart at logical breakpoints and pauses in the action, and then worked back together so the end of the book starts working very well as an interlaced, real-time story. Each chapter still has a single point-of-view, but the chapters flip characters rapidly as the end of the book draws towards a crescendo, and you get this sense of tension that I felt was lacking how the work was organized before.

You just don't get that organizational ability in other programs and traditional word processors, which is why I just love Scrivener so much for writing and these final editing phases. I can block out a rough draft anywhere, and preferably on a distraction free device, but when it comes time to layer, check, and craft structure - Scrivener is the place to go. Although I have written books in Scrivener from draft to release, and it does that well too.

So the next time you feel something isn't working right it may not be the story at fault, it could just be organization, flow, and presentation. If you cut things up, reshuffle paragraphs, and change the flow you just may see something you hadn't before. You may discover that the problematic feeling you had was just how things were ordered instead of the words themselves.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Yes, Anyone Can Do It

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/what-makes-a-photographer-when-everyone-is-taking-pictures/

This.

If you were ever wondering about that question 'what makes you special' as an artist or writer it is this. Let me quote:
There are a lot of things that make a good photograph. You have to think about texture and gesture and composition, and all the things that painting has in it. Technology doesn’t change the way photography is. It just — it makes it available to more people, which means there’s going to be much, much more really terrible pictures taken or pictures that are totally dependent on subject, which is all, all right.

If you were there when the Hindenburg caught on fire, and you took a picture of it, that’s a great photograph. But you’re not a great photographer, because you can’t repeat that in everyday things.

What a great photographer does is, they are consistently able to make something in a style that’s personal to themselves. My pictures don’t depend on extreme sharpness. They depend on the composition and on the subject and on the way I see it.
Let me paraphrase this as a writer. There are a lot of things that make a great book, plot, voice, and pacing - just like a photograph or a painting, there are essential and universal qualities to a piece of writing where we can say, yes, this is a great book.

Technology does not change the nature of books or great writing, it just means the technology to write books is available to everyone, which means a truly staggering number of terrible books shall be written - but that is all right, and perfectly fine.

Everybody is free to try, and everybody starts somewhere. Show me a great writer and I will show you someone who started out by writing terrible books. There is nothing wrong with this.

Let's get to the central and most powerful idea, although those two preceding ones are great in their own rights. The fact there are pictures totally dependent on subject. Mr. Van Sickle gives the example of the Hindenburg, if you were there at that moment and captured that, then yes, that is a great photograph since you were the one who captured this first, or were the only person who did so at that moment in time.

Let's look at famous books, such as Fifty Shades of Grey, The Hunger Games, or even Harry Potter. Those were the firsts, and they created genres of writing which are like the "subjects" our photographer friend speaks of. Endless books covering these same subjects came out after these books were released, and most all of the books copying the first books in these genres seek to endlessly copy the subject matter of the original hit books.

What makes you special is not the subject matter.

Think about that.

Anyone can write a Fifty Shades knock off. Anyone. Just like anyone can point a camera at the Eiffel Tower and take a great photograph. Isn't that a great and worthy piece of art, just by the nature of its subject? But yet, billions of lousy pictures of the Eiffel Tower exist from the dawn of photography all the way to today, and for as far in the future as you can see. So what is the difference? I think Mr. Van Sickle says it best:
Your ability to consistently make something in a style personal to yourself.
That. It is not your subject matter that matters. It depends on the way you see things. It depends on how you express things. You ever wonder why these books come out, first in a subject, and then they do so well and everyone criticizes the writing or the tone and it is universally panned yet it does incredible sales? Why?

It is that picture of the Hindenburg. It is being at the right moment at the right time. Your skill as a photographer matters less than being at the right moment at the right time with the camera loaded or the book ready to go and pressing that button. Everyone and everything else after this magical moment shall be copying you. That is the power of the singualar moment and being able to recognize it.

But we are never guaranteed being the first, or being somewhere at a moment where the mere presence of being there or having the right book at the right time. So what makes us, as artists, special? What makes people come back to us, time and time again? It is not that we can repeat others, because everybody can do this. The technology makes it trivial.

What makes people come back to us is a vision, an ability to take any piece of subject matter and transform it into "a style personal to yourself" and share it with the world. If people react to that style, you connect. People come back. They seek not just one book of yours, but all of them. It takes something deep inside, an ability to look at something in this world and turn it into a unique creation where your personal style shines through.

Your personal style and ability to see and transform your thoughts into words is so much more important than your subject matter.

Technical skill matters. You can't go around writing books full of errors or taking photographs out of focus. You need to be able to deliver what's inside your head.

There is nothing more important than these two facts.

Subject matter is a secondary concern to an artist. To a commercial writer where you are doing genre fiction, of course, it is a primary concern.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Distraction Free Writing

It sounds like an impossible dream, right? Distraction free writing? How much would you pay for not having notifications pop up, take you out of the moment, pull you like a siren into Facebook, and before you know it, four hours is gone and you are feeling like an idiot for having wasted so much time. To me, it is worth spending some time looking into and putting money into, because distractions whittle away at my productive writing time, and in a way, distractions cost me money.

It is ironic modern operation systems such as the Mac and Windows platforms struggle to make your digital life easier by automating notifications, you know the top-right stacked menu on the Mac or bottom-right chat-bubble icon on Windows that slides out the right-side notifications window. Hey look, all my Twitter and Facebook notifications are right here! It's amazing stuff, and also an absolute productivity killer. Facebook, web games, real games, notifications, news flashes, beeps, boops, slide-out ding-dings, and all sorts of other "hey look at me!" widgets constantly fight for our attention.

Could you imagine having all these notifications turned on during watching a movie? How could you enjoy it? The same thing goes with writing. I want to lose myself. I don't want a window behind a window peeking pout at me like some attention-starved child. I don't want a constant stream of...

...wait, okay, I am back, sorry about that, Facebook notification, someone posted a reply to my post. Where was I?

Oh, apologies for that, so here are some of the popular alternatives to writing on a PC or Mac that I have found, along with some of the ones I have used to write my books. Note, some of these are very hipster, out of date, and strange devices, so you have been warned.

AplhaSmart Neo and AlphaSmart 3000 

Pictured above, these devices have ceased manufacturing, so people are buying up four or five at a time just to keep them around for the next ten or twenty years. I couldn't imagine doing that, but I can see the appeal. These are really basic devices where you can only see a one or a couple lines at a time on a primitive LCD screen. Where you are is where you are at, and you cannot see a full page of text, so this would be an ideal device for stream-of-consciousness writing. They were popular back in the 2000's for journalists and on-the-go types, and they transfer files via USB so you can get your work off.

I have never used one and I do admit that I see the appeal of these. I like the idea of just seeing the last line and focusing on that moment, and I could see how limiting your view could be a huge productivity boost. These things do not do anything else but provide a keyboard and last line view, so they would feel great for banging out that first draft.

My problem with these is longevity and file security. I would be very hesitant to put 50,000 words of a document on this device and have it be the only copy in the world, if it breaks or fries its brains, you are out of a lot of work. I really like automated backups and cloud saves, so if you used one of these you would have to adopt a backup policy of taking your work off via USB after a work session. it doesn't feel ideal to me, and I would love to have a cloud-enabled version of one of these.

The price is right at $20-50, but I don't like the "if it breaks you are out of a device forever" feeling. I want to be able to replace my tools, and I don't want to have to horde inventory of these devices to maintain a preferred work environment.

Hemingwrite

Check this out, a modern e-ink recreation of a typewriter with cloud-enabled backups. It's called the Hemingwrite. and the Kickstarter campaign completed last year, and they say they are close to shipping manufactured units this year (this month in January 2016, in fact).

I feel in love with this thing when I saw it, but at around $500 I instantly had second thoughts. That is quite a bit for a dedicated device, but I can see the appeal. I would love a screen that adjusts and also a cover for the device, since I can't see this staying nice for too long with a naked top exposed to my bag and daily life.

The could-enabled sync and and re-sync back to the device is wonderful, and I love the workflow they built into this device. I also am in love with the quirky typewriter-like design, it just seems silly and kitschy but it has an appeal I just can't put my finger on. Any device that gets me into writer mode and makes me want to type is a winner in my book.

The e-ink screen is also wonderful. I would love typing on something that doesn't glow, and even though the refresh rate isn't millisecond perfect, writing on a paper-like e-ink surface would be so cool and reduce eye strain.

When writing is all I do, maybe I shall take the plunge. I can't see spending that much on a dedicated writing machine, and we are also in a super early stage for this device. I would want to wait for reviews, if they are orgasmic and super positive, I would jump in and buy. If not, I would want to wait for a version 2.0. Still, this is one worth watching.

Recycled Netbooks (Ubuntu Linux)

Let's go DIY for a moment. Take an old netbook, install Ubuntu on it, setup a cloud sync via Dropbox, and set LibreOffice to a dark green-on-black color scheme and go fullscreen. I did an entire 30,000 word book on one of these in a day and it held up wonderfully.

I am not really worried about the world running out of Netbooks, most of these were built like tanks, and you can pick them up (or take them off people's hands) for very little cost. They still make them today, so if you wanted one new you could go that route.

The cons? You have a web-browser and apps, so you need to be mindful about distracting yourself into an unproductive state. Multitasking is the direct enemy of productivity, and it is a state where you think you are getting a lot done, but in actuality you are just sucking at everything you do. The good part about a netbook is the processor and small screen on these things really can't do anything well, especially anything beyond basic browsing, so you are just left with writing and editing. Seriously, these things are worse at web browsing than a smartphone, so there is a built-in punishment factor if you choose to br-br-br-owse Fa-Fa-ce-ce-bo-oo-ook all day.

I also highly recommend cloud sync with these devices. They are still old, and you don't want to wake up, turn the device on, and have it give up the goat on your 50,000 word manuscript. Document security and backups should be a priority for you should you choose to use something more than  couple years old, because you don't want to be that writer on Facebook saying "I just lost all my work" because of a hardware issue. You don't want to be on Facebook period if you are writing, but that is the point of this article.

I will also place recycled Ubuntu Netbooks in the hipster category of devices, because they do lend a bit of street cred to you. You have to be savvy enough to install Linux on the device without a CD-ROM, be able to setup a distribution (it's not hard), get it configured, and learn the system (not hard, again). Once you are done, you have a very hip DIY project computer that you recycled from contributing to e-waste (super hip and cool and progressive), and that has security updates and a modern OS. Cover it with hipster stickers if you want, the more the better. If you continue to use Windows XP on these devices you will be a lamer and not a cool hipster, and also putting yourself and your work at risk.

Chromebooks

I like Chromebooks. Even after Windows 10, I like Chromebooks. I like not having PC gaming and avoiding all sorts of Windows and Mac distractions flying at you. With distraction-free apps like Calmly Writer, you can setup your Chromebook to be a single screen, dark-screen, super productive writing device with nothing else but you, a keyboard, and your text. Distraction-free writing apps exist on Mac and PC too, so it is worth checking them out should you want to go that route, but we know the PC and Mac are full of distractions, so we don't want to go that way unless we really need to.

The great part about Chromebooks is that they are replaceable, cheap, good quality, and cloud-sync all the time. The bad part is that 90% of your distractions are still available to you, and you have a modern and fast computer to access them with. This is where a little-bit of self control comes into play. You need to put your writing app front and center, and not turn the thing into a distraction and app-filled mess. Yes, you could have this level of self-control on a PC or Mac and save yourself some money, but in my experience, you rarely do.

I feel there is such a thing as a primary workstation filled with all the necessary distractions of life, your games, your social media, your email, and those things we choose to wall off and make our productive spaces. To me, my Chromebook is my walled-off creative space and a place I can get some great work done. It is not my PC, it does not have the functions of a PC, and it is just here for writing. I made that choice and I stick with it, despite all of the distractions available to me.

It is not a very hipster solution, admittedly. But the world will never run out of Chromebooks, and if yours breaks, replacing it will be an easier thing. I like their inexpensive and replaceable nature, and also they are secure enough where if I lose mine or it gets stolen, for the most part I can forget about it and move on with life. A $1,500 laptop does not travel well because you are worried all the time about the damn thing. With something cheap and replaceable, I can enjoy life a lot more. That may qualify for a couple hipster points, living within your means and not being overly consumerist.

Dell makes some drool-worthy business class Chromebooks in 11 and 13 inches that make me fall in love with the concept all over again. Yes, they are more expensive and have full HD screens and i3 processors, so they kind of nullify the whole cheap and replaceable points. As a primary business machine I would seriously consider one if I were not so tied to Scrivener for final editing and e-book creation.

In Summary

There are a lot of options out there for distraction-free writing, and even apps for Macs and PCs that can do the job quite well given a little self-discipline. For me, I find maintaining a distraction-free environment difficult on a main workstation. I don't feel modern OS'es are well setup to provide 'distraction free' modes, and they by their nature encourage productivity-destroying multitasking. Modern PCs are wonders that do anything and everything well, and sometimes just having those options presented to us all at once paralyzes us with too much choice.

To have a device that I purposefully limit, either through design or the choice of how I use it, is important to me. I find it increases my productivity, and it encourages me to write. The machine becomes my 'creative space' where I do one thing, and I do it well. For some, they choose to use primitive devices to get the job done, and if that works for them, great! For me, I like to be a bit more practical with an eye on freedom and file integrity and security. I rarely work without offsite backups of anything, since I value my time and want to protect my investments of it in my work.

Distraction free writing is an interesting topic because in a way it is so personal. What works for you is what works, and it likely isn't the same for everybody. Some of us could probably use a distraction free app on our workstation and it gets the job done, while others could just put Word in full-screen mode and happily type away. For others, we like creative spaces that are isolated from the rest of our lives. We like the quirky and the hipster devices, because we realize that inspiration can com from external factors, and yes, even the device on which we choose to write. If it makes you a better writer, go for it. There are a lot of feelings involved and not necessarily logic, so you can't really apply some sort of hard-and-fast rule to what works for you.

Writing is art, and the artist's choice of tools matters in both technical and subjective ways. it is that subjective part that fascinates me, because part of me feels what I write on matters in a way. There is a focus there, and also an inspiration that I want to capture and kindle. It seems silly, like it is just feelings and soft fluffy stuff; but at least for me, how I do things and where I write them matters. Yes, I can write anything anywhere, but at times I love the odd and quirky, and the removal from the ordinary workflow and everyday distractions inspires me to greater creative moments.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Vampy Black: Work Continues...

I am still working on Darthaniel's book, editing and revising a couple areas where I am sure he would appreciate the extra work. This is currently at 43,000 words and a fun mix of techy-spy-fiction and paranormal vampire urban fiction. I am in love with the characters and situations here, and the dialog is to die for, just so well laid out and it sounds great. It is one of those books where you don't have to do much with the dialog and it sings to the ears.

Of course, I am putting some work in some parts, and slowing things down in several places to increase tension and savor those moments. I like slowing things down where they need to be slowed down, and getting into all the small things, observations, and actions that seem trivial but actually have a huge impact. There is a balance here between flow and detail, but I am used to writing suspense, tension, and action from my other two series, so I have a good eye for these sorts of scenes.

You can't ever disarm things to start either. Things have to be dangerous. The character shouldn't really have a certain way out. You have to feel as if you are stepping out onto the ice with the character as the reader, and things just get worse and worse. You can't start an action scene by telling people, "things will be okay." Darthaniel gets that, and I love going through his scenes and upping the ante on the danger and tension. It just makes for a great page-flipping experience where you can't wait to see what happens next.

So work continues, and I am hoping to get this editing project done and getting back to work on one of my series or junk-drawer of stalled projects, such as my SCL Project which is hovering between humor and erotic romance. I need to take a look at that one soon and make a decision of where I want it to go, and then forge ahead. For now, I am in editoress mode, and making Darhaniel's book the best I can make it to be.