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.