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State of the Writer: January 2014

Welcome to the new year! At this time of year people tend to take stock of what they’ve done, and look ahead to what they would like to do. In 2013 I started a new productivity technique called The Chain. When last I updated, I had that chain up over 80 days. Unfortunately for that particular chain, that’s where it ended. The next day an ice storm brought down our neighbor’s tree, which had us decamped to the in-laws for a few days. Writing at someone else’s house just isn’t something I’m all too comfortable with, so for a few days nothing happened.

But! The Chain has, for the most part, been a massive success. The novel I started with the chain is now just under 60,000 words long with seven chapter left to draft. It has, in fact, been so successfully that I’m leveling up with the new year. Before, a successful day meant writing 500 words, or doing 30 minutes of either editing or outlining. Starting the second, I’ve increased each of those goals by 50%. 750 words, 45 minutes. Additionally, I’m working up a different schedule, at least for the time being. Tuesday through Friday means working on the novel. Weekends are for short stories.

What about Monday? Well, it’s no coincidence that I’m writing this on a Monday. Monday is for sitting down and actually writing some blog entries. At least one, though ideally two or three that I can schedule through the week.

Some other late breaking 2013 news, I landed a short story into an anthology. I’m waiting for the official table of contents to go live to say exactly which one, but I am excited to be in this anthology along with one of my best writing buddies NR Brown. It’s exciting to be sharing page space with another writer I know and respect. Plus, I totally beta read her story and it’s fantastic. That’s all I’m saying for now.

That’s actually the incentive behind designating some short story days. The first short story weekend just passed, and I got back into a story I walked away from awhile ago for reasons I can’t explain, because it’s a plotline I really liked.

So welcome to the New Year. And welcome to a hopefully revitalized Writerly Words.

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So here’s the thing…

…I’m working on topics for my next few World Building Question installments. I’m to a subject I’ve wanted to tackle for a while: maps. I can’t be the only speculative fiction writer who has a giddy obsession with maps, largely out of the dream of one day seeing a map in a book I wrote. I’ve even made a few maps for the novel I’m writing with my wife, just to get a sense of the world we’re creating. I open up novels, see the maps at the beginning, and I’m immediately both jealous of the author and oddly proud.

I think this obsession goes back to the grandfather of all novel maps, the famous and still under copyright so I don’t have a picture of it on this post map of Middle Earth drawn for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I don’t need a picture, you know the one I’m talking about. I don’t know my history of fictional cartography well enough to say that’s the first map that appeared in a speculative fiction novel. In fact, I’d be rather shocked if it was. But I think it’s the map we all think of when it comes to maps in books, and it’s the one we all want to have in ours one day.

Not that there aren’t problems with novel maps. As CVS leader Jen Brinn has said in the past, too many books have maps that feel like an itinerary list. If a feature appears on the map, it’s going to come up in the book. Like anything involving art for books, some maps are better than others. Oddly, unlike covers, it’s the maps that hew too closely to the book that are less fantastic. That map in the front of the book that lets the reader track the characters, but then shows some feature off in the corner that’s a mystery? Those are the real works of fantasy, as they inspire the mind.

Also…I just like maps. Old maps, especially, as they can say as much about the person who drew them and the society they were drawn for as they can anything about geography.

Of course, the problem with maps is they’re an inherently visual subject and this blog…well, look, I can embed pictures, I even do some times, but too many of them and posts start to get cluttered. And a few things I think work best animated. So while I’m working on my research, I’m also working on the best way to present the end products. Which might mean videos. Which might mean they take a damn long time, because I’d be teaching myself how to put videos online from scratch. So be patient. Something is on its way. At the very least I’m looking at the questions “Which Way Is Up?” and “What’s At The Center Of The World?” If they work, I might even go back and make video versions of some of the time series. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

I’m thinking about keeping it simple, creating PowerPoint presentations of my information, recording my narration, and exporting to video. I’ve found all these features in the program, so I know they exist. I’m also, secretly, looking to get some experience in simple video production as it’ll be a nice boost to the ole resume. So if anyone has any experience or advice they’d like to give, I’m all ears. Let me know in the comments…

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Busy Week, Fast Post

First two days of the 15 minute experiment went great.  386 words and 469 words, total of 855 across the two days.  This morning I did what I was worried I’d do.  I went into zombie mode and did my old morning routine where I didn’t write and left home way earlier than I had to.  There are going to be kinks like that along the way, tomorrow it’s back on track with an eye towards at least 400 more words.

I’ll try to pop up a post this weekend.  It’s a hectic two weeks of my schedule, and my time for internet futzing is at nearly zero.

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An Experiment

Something unusual and entirely unexpected has happened in my neck of the woods.  A long-term road improvement project had the effect of actually improving a road.  I’m sure this is some massive bureaucratic oversight that will be corrected in the coming months, but for the time being, eliminating a pointless bottleneck on my morning commute has shaved fifteen minutes off my drive every morning.  No kidding, one bottleneck, fifteen minutes.

What this means is fifteen minutes of my day that I don’t know what to do with.  Yes, I know this is a good problem to have.  This morning I played a stupid zombie infection Flash game, which was nicely mind-numbing, but doesn’t feel like a legitimate use of that time.  I could set my alarm to go off fifteen minutes later, but fifteen minutes of extra sleep doesn’t seem worth it, especially because I’m sure I’d end up reading fifteen minutes longer each night figuring it balances.

So I’m going to try something really crazy.

I’m going to try writing during those fifteen minutes.

I’ve seen a lot of writers with day jobs suggest morning writing when trying to eek out bits of the day to wordsmith.  Some who go so far as waking up at 5am to pound out a few thousand words.  I’m not sure I’m going to go quite that crazy, but if I could get in a regular habit of five hundred words each workday before hopping in the car and joining the rat race each day, that’s 2500 words a week, and roughly 100,000 words over the course of a year, even if I took every day of leave I earn.  That’s three or four novellas, or a novel, or 20 long short stories, 100 flash pieces, or more likely some combination of those.  Assuming I can actually get my act together and do it.

That’s the rub.  Actually doing it.  Mornings are rough on my brain, and a big part of the experiment won’t be whether I can pound out 500 words before work, but whether those words will be of a quality worth keeping.  That’s why I’m going to focus on rough drafts in the morning, getting down broad ideas, things that can be polished later in the day when my brain is more fully awake and capable of perhaps figuring out why I wrote “larble poop whee” that morning.

If things go poorly and the words I’m writing down aren’t worth keeping, I’ll likely discontinue the experiment.  But not any sooner than two months down the road.  I’m not going to give up just because I have a rough first week, that’s no way to approach any job, least of all writing.  It’s going to take awhile to get one more routine into my brain each morning.

If things go well, I’ll keep going and have a lot of rough drafts that will need editing.

If things go brilliantly, I might try an even crazier experiment and even get up a little earlier and see what I can do with half an hour of writing time each morning.

I’ll be tracking my progress next week on Twitter, starting Tuesday (THREE DAY WEEKEND!).  As always, I find baring my plans and progress create an odd sense of obligation, even if none of you have ever held me to it in the past.

ON AN UNRELATED NOTE

Nostalgia is a funny thing.  The word itself, I mean.  During the Civil War the definition was closer to what we would today call PTSD.  Anyway, I’ve been looking for a word for years that I swear I heard defined once, but have never found again.  It translated loosely to “nostalgia about an idealized past the feeler didn’t experience.”  In the mainstream it would be used to define a typical American attitude towards the 1950s as a time of no evils.  It’s the kind of word that I assumed would be German, but I’ve not found it if it is.

And yes, I realize this could be a definition of nostalgia itself, but I swear I once heard this word.

UPDATE:  My wife has passed along the word Sehnsucht, which fits the criterion of being a German word and describing a form of nostalgia.  It’s about 95% of the word I remember, which likely means it’s the word I heard and I don’t quite remember the definition correctly.  Still, I’ll leave the question up in case anyone has a more likely suspect.  A little further from the definition is the Portuguese word Saudade, which I am certain isn’t the word I heard.

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Technical Difficulties

I was going to make a blog post today.  Then this happened.

Maybe tomorrow.

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A Note On Yesterday

Statistics say a few people did visit this site yesterday just to find that it joined the internet-wide blackout protest against the SOPA and PIPA legislation working their way through the US House and Senate.  First, I’d like to say a few words on my decision to join the protest, then a few words on why I’m against this legislation.  Words I probably should have said on Tuesday.

I have, on several occasions, stated that I do not get into politics or religion on this blog, in my Twitter statuses, or over on Google+.  However, there are some subjects that, while political in nature, I believe actually transcend politics.  One of these is censorship, which I’ve spoken out against on several occasions in this blog.  So while the battle lines being drawn in the House and Senate look partisan, my opposition to the bill has nothing to do with my personal politics, and everything to do with my anticensorship stance.  That’s half of why I joined in.  The other half is why I thought my little blog with its 20-30 viewers a day made any damn difference in the grand scheme of things.  I don’t pretend for a moment that someone learned about SOPA or PIPA for the first time by following the link I had on my blackout page yesterday.  Joining the protest was more about volume and solidarity.  The potential enforcement breadth for these bills is vast and could hit both big sites like Wikipedia and comparatively microscopic sites like mine.

Actually, in the end, it could hit a site like mine much harder, because I wouldn’t have the necessary legal fund to mount any sort of appeal to the decision, I’d probably just have to take my lumps and be gone from the web.

So why, exactly, do I oppose the bill?  I’ve seen some efforts made to paint anti-SOPA activists as pro-piracy.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  As a creator of Intellectual Property, I want to see that property protected.  However the bills as written do nothing to actually protect anyone from piracy, all they’ll do is make the internet harder for the law-abiding citizen to use while stemming none of the illegal activity that happens.  Whether this is because the bill authors are ignorant to the workings of the internet, or through a specific maliciousness, I could only offer opinions.  Why won’t it work?  Well, let’s create a tortured analogy, because I like creating those.  And since this is a blog about writing, let’s use a book as an analogy.

Let’s, in fact, use a massive and hypothetical dictionary as our analogy.  This dictionary contains every word and, bizarrely for a dictionary, has an index in the back.  This is necessary because the words in the dictionary are actually presented in largely an apparently random order based on which language they came from and when they became words, so you need a way to figure out which page and column each word is in.

That page and column number is equivalent to an IP address.  You may have seen those, they’re four sets of numbers separated by dots that usually look something like 127.0.0.1.  Every website on the internet has an IP address, and if the website is so configured you can directly access it with that IP address.  But they’re hard to remember, so websites instead are given nice friendly URLs, like dlthurston.com.  The index in the analogy is a DNS server, a layer of the internet that translates the URL into the correct IP address so that a site can be accessed.

Back to the analogy.  You’re looking through this dictionary and you see that the word “fuck” is in it.  You decide that the word is offensive and that no one should be able to see that word.  So you go to the index and you white it out.  But here’s the problem.  The word is still fully defined in the dictionary, it’s just been removed from the index.  Anyone who knew where to find it will still be able to find it.  This is what SOPA does, it demands that DNS servers remove the URL/IP linking to sites that are offering copyrighted materials.

But it does more than that.  This dictionary is in a bigger library.  Someone who knew where to find the word “fuck” in the dictionary decides to go to another book entirely and scribble in the margins where to find the word.  You discover that, so what do you do?  Well, an effective approach would be to figure out who the vandal was, but the approach that SOPA takes is to blame the author and publisher of the book, even if they had absolutely no control over margin scribbles.

So what can be done by the publishers and authors?  Well, they can seal their books, not allowing any interaction.  They could just not publish them to begin with.

In the end, it’s a completely ineffective approach to a legitimate problem, and one that will cause any number of unintended and extremely negative repercussions.  It is far worse than the status quo.  Fortunately SOPA is dead, but only for the time being.  While yesterday’s internet protest was super effective and the bill did lose not just support but cosponsors, the remaining sponsors and authors are still promising to bring it back and try again.  The primary weapons against these bills must be education and vigilance, because in the end this is the internet we’re talking about.  Perhaps one of the most important inventions in the history of man for bringing people and ideas closer together.  It isn’t always pretty, but burning it down out of spite is not the way to go.

Edited 3:33 pm:  TED talks.  Seriously, TED talks are fantastic.  Not having a regularly scheduled TED and wanting to get a talk about SOPA and PIPA up, they invited Clay Shirky to explain the problems with PIPA and SOPA, all in a much more scholarly tone, and even with a better analogy than the one above.

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Some announcements

I was working on today’s post in my head starting about 8:15pm last night, halfway through a fantastic Simpsons episode (a phrase I never again expected to apply to a new episode).  However, the episode doesn’t go live on Hulu until a week from today and I wanted to link to it, so that will have to wait.  Needless to say, if you’re a writer and Tivoed it out of curiosity to see Gaiman…it will not disappoint.

So instead I thought I’d make a couple of announcements that I’ve been holding off on, but feel this is the right time for them.

DL Cruise 2012.  It’s become the thing to do the last few years, offering a cruise special for friends and fans.  I was considering offering one in 2012, with nightly flash fiction marathons and plenty of absinthe at the bars.  Then I realized two important things.  First is that I dislike cruises and what I saw of the cruise industry in general from the one I was on.  Second is that I likely lack the cache to even sell out a stateroom.  Therefore there will not be a DL Cruise is 2012.  Really, I probably shouldn’t have even brought it up.

Anthology.  I’d also like to announce that I will not be doing an anthology.  Oh sure, the thought has crossed my mind, as I’m sure it crosses the minds of most writers.  I know this first hand because I have three writers I follow on Twitter who announced anthologies within days of each other.  However I can’t read stories nearly fast enough to keep up with a slush pile, I can’t edit well enough to send stories back, and I’m not confrontational enough to reject writers who have put their babies into my hands.  It would have been an anthology of science fiction set on Venus, but it won’t, because there isn’t going to be one.

Huh.  This announcement thing isn’t quite going like I’d intended.

Nickajack.  Started, and it feels so good to be back into long form fiction again.  It’s a different process than I’ve done in the past, as this work will be a collaboration between myself and my wife.  We’ve worked together on a few simple spec scripts before, but never on anything quite so long and detailed as a novel.  The first chapter is drafted and in her hands, which reminds me of one thing: I hate the part of collaboration where I’m done with what I can do and have passed it off.  There’s this weird switch in my head that starts coming up with all sorts of new ideas just as soon as I’ve promised not to put anything new into a project.  But that’s good.  I’m taking notes on all of them, and Chapter Two should be a hell of a lot of fun to write.

One other bit of unrelated.  The favorite bit of tech that I created in my very first crack at noveling was a special purpose analytical engine called The Barkeep.  It was programmed by punch cards using codes to state a type of liquor and a quantity.  It wouldn’t always get the drink right, especially as the bottles had to be reloaded by hand, but was only meant to be a flight of fancy from the bar owner.  So I was delighted when I saw this today:

The video is a little dark, but it’s a simple bartending system run by an Android phone and using a scale it can zeroize to mix pre-programmed drinks.  It lacks a lot of the panache of the Barkeep, but it still made me happy to see.  And makes me wonder if there might be room for the Barkeep in either Nickajack or one of its hopeful followups.

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This Weekend in DC

Great weekend for genre writers and fans in and around the DC area.

Tonight, Sir Terry Pratchett is going to do a talk at the National Press Club to promote his new book Snuff.  I’ve previously attended one author event at the Press Club when Neil Gaiman game through town promoting the anniversary edition of American Gods.  They put on a good event, especially in how they handle questions, which are solicited from the audience and screened before being handed to the author.  Sadly, there will not be a signing, but rather a “stamping,” as Sir Terry is no longer capable of sitting and signing hundreds of books at one go.  Makes me glad I got to see him at the National Book Festival a few years ago to get our copy of Good Omens signed.  Tickets are still available through the Press Club website.

This weekend is also Capclave!  For anyone who writes or reads genre fiction in the DC area, this is a can’t miss event.  There isn’t a cosplay element, instead it’s just a fantastically focused convention that has a very heavy focus on the craft.  I’m constantly impressed by how well run Capclave is.  I’ve been to Big Three conventions that weren’t nearly as well organized as the typical Capclave.  Registration is now limited to on-site.  $60 for the weekend, or if you want to do an à la carte day they break down to $20, $35, and $10 for tonight, tomorrow, and Sunday.

The biggest bit of excitement about Capclave this year was very quietly announced via an update to their online schedule.  What was previously being called a “surprise guest” panel tomorrow at 1pm has now been renamed “Talk With Terry” as Sir Terry will apparently be stopping by for a few hours.  I’ve been joking with friends for weeks that he might stop by the convention since he was in town anyway, but at no point did I expect him to do so.  Having tickets for tonight’s event at the Press Club it now means I get chances to see Sir Terry on consecutive days, which really has me geeking out.

So track me down at either.  I’ll be the guy who is shockingly shy considering his rampant online logorrhea.

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Administrata

Topic the first: Fortnightcaps.

I’ve enjoyed doing the Fortnightcaps for the last few months, and I still intend to continue them through the end of the year.  However, after much deliberation, I’ve decided that the project will not continue into 2012.  This decision comes for a variety of reasons.  First, the project was intended to get my brain working on a twice a week basis, coming up with a story idea and bringing it to quick completion.  I still contend this is a great exercise for writers, but it’s an exercise that I’m now doing twice most weeks thanks to Five Minute Fiction and Hump Day Challenge.

That’s a reason, but it’s not really the reason.  Since I already did some pulling back of the curtain on Friday when showing my pageview stats, I’m going to talk a little more about my site views.  Fortnightcaps by far account for the worst traffic that I get on this blog.  According to my bitly stats, the last five links that I put up for Fortnightcap stories got 0, 0, 1, 1, and 1 hits.  Now, this website isn’t primarily a vehicle for generating hits, or else I’d be doing all the stupid SEO stuff that my spam comments are always talking about.  But when we’re talking about any kind of creative output, there’s the necessity to keep in mind the viewing audience.  Anything story I put on this blog has its first publication rights used up, making it harder to potentially turn around and put out to anthologies, magazines, or any other publication venue.  If I’m burning the rights on stories and then having no one actually read them, then I ultimately feel like I’m doing a long term disservice to myself.

So while this blog isn’t primarily a hit generating site, I still have to keep hits in mind when I do something like burn story rights on here.  I’ll probably keep a similar project going on in 2012, just not on the blog.  I’d like to thank anyone who has read and enjoyed the Fortnightcaps thus far, and hope you will enjoy the few months left in the project.

Topic the second: #flashathon

I like to mention this occasionally to keep it in people’s minds, and will probably do it more and more as the date arrives.  I’ve not talked about it in awhile because I haven’t really had news to share.  I am starting to put feelers out to bring in “guest inspiration” from other writers and blogs.  We’re getting closer and closer to the date, as you can see in the countdown on the right hand side of this blog.  1 month, 10 days as of this morning.

For those who might be new, or haven’t seen me talk about it before, the #flashathon is going to be a flash fiction marathon hosted on this blog October 22nd.  It will consist of 12 hourly posts, each of which will provide some sort of optional story inspiration (probably in the form of a word or phrase).  Participants in the #flashathon are then encouraged to write a flash fiction piece either using that inspiration or inspiration of their own.  The goal is 12 stories in 12 hours.  Or however many hours you can/want to participate in.

More details can be found in the Flashathon tab at the top of every page.

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Project Limbo

I find myself in a place I’ve not been for awhile: complete project limbo.  I’ve got stories out to anthologies, another out to my writers group, but I don’t really want to get back to Capsule until I’ve got all five straightened up so I can single focus.  I’m not sure how much that’s a problem, feeling some sort of need to single focus while working on my novel.  I’ll probably find out the first time I get a rejection letter after getting back to Capsule and need to figure out where that short story will go next.

I’m filling the time by taking the first few steps towards the Fortnightcap collection I talked about on Friday.  I’m pulling the stories together and putting them into a single Scrivener file to give me a centralized location for polishing and editing.  Might even do some cleaning on one or two this week if the evenings give me no other obvious writing activities.   It’s odd seeing them all together in one place, especially when looking at the word count and realizing that they come to a total of just over 6000 words.  That’s not so odd since they’re all firmly in the flash fiction range, but it does have me wanting to bulk some of them up, especially so more of what I take to calling the “tone pieces” like They Came.

I went into the Fortnightcap project thinking of the stories as “disposable” bits of fiction, which really was a horrible thing to call them.  It’ll be fun giving them some more life, and approaching the second half of the 2011 Fortnightcaps with that slight bit more determination in mind.  Still would love to know what people might want out of the Fortnightcap collection, currently all the ideas are purely my own.

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