Posts Tagged Video

On Books, from David Blight

I’ve started another YouTube history course, this time jumping from my fascination with pre-1500s history right into the rather more popular fascination of the US Civil War. This time around, the professor is David Blight of Yale, author of several books about slavery, the Civil War, and the experiences of freed slaves after the war. But this isn’t so much a post about history as it is to quote what he says about books early in the lecture series.

Now, I like to do a little ritual at the beginning of every class. If you’ll forgive me, it only takes me about ten seconds. But you know we live in a world where all of us in this room take books for granted. We throw books on the floor, we throw books at people, we load them in and out of our backpacks, we drop them here and drop them there, we lose them, we rip them up, we write all over them — I write all over mine. It’s only a few generations ago when there really weren’t any bookstores to go to. Your great-great-grandparents couldn’t meander a bookstore, to speak of, unless they lived in a special section of a special city. Books are precious things. A lot of them are assigned in this course. There’s short ones, little ones, big ones, syntheses, novels, monographs. Think of a book, just for a moment, and then you can forget this if you want. But think of a book, any book. It’s hard to think of a really bad book this way, but think of a good book, one of your favorite books ever, as like a newborn child, a newborn child brought into the world. A book. Probably a lot more planning and thought and design and construction, at least intellectually, goes into that book than goes into most babies. Books have a cover. They have beginnings, middles and ends. They’re somebody’s dream, they’re somebody’s creation. They never satisfy — just like people — but they’re in some ways the greatest things we have, and sometimes it’s nice to remind ourselves of that, in the places where we take them most for granted.

Professor Blight writes non-fiction. That doesn’t make what he says apply any less to those of us who write fiction. Or for those of us who read.

If you’d like this in the broader context of his lecture, I’ve embedded it below. His thoughts about writing are in and among he thoughts on history, revisionism, and whether the story of the past is more interesting than the interpretation of the past. The above quote starts around 15 minutes in.

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Things I Know I Don’t Know

I went to a university with a wide spread of divisional requirements classes. These included a requirement for two courses of History, Philosophy, or Religion. I picked philosophy and religion.

In high school my social studies course senior year was AP US Government, junior year was AP US History (alternative option was Virginia Government and Virginia History).

All of this is to say that the last time I’ve taken any formal classes in world history was my sophomore year in high school, which ended just over 17 years ago (shut up, I know I’m young and/or old). That was World History II focusing on 1500 to the present. Tack on another year since I received any formal education in something that happened anywhere on the planet before the year 1500, and even that was the standard western civilization approach to history. Babylon, Egypt, Greece, then stay in Europe with maybe a day spent on “oh, yes, and there were things going on in Asia and Africa too, I guess.”

I’m trying to correct this. This is where you will come in.

This is all because I found Crash Course: World History on YouTube. As the name implies, it’s a rapid overview of the world from the Agricultural Revolution through, as of this writing, the Seven Years War. The end goal of the series is 40 episodes of 10 minutes each. 400 minutes of world history. It’s enjoyable as hell, but since it can only scratch the surface, it’s left me wanting more.

Thus far the more has been the BBC podcast series A History of the World in 100 Objects. It was a limited run podcast created in 2010, 100 episodes of 14 minutes each. 1400 minutes of world history. I also have waiting on my iPod an iTunes U course on the Early Middle Ages. 22 episodes with a focus on the years 400-1000, running about 50 minutes an episode. 1100 minutes of world history.

Add it all up, and that’s 2900 minutes. Just over two days if played end-to-end. Perhaps I’ll get to the end of it all and feel that my push for a better understanding of world history has been satiated, but right now I doubt that. So, as I do occasionally, I’m looking for recommendations. Largely, I’m looking for the kind of thing I can put on my iPod. So even though a picture says a thousand words…I’d probably prefer the words. Which makes things a little more complicated. World history isn’t something that people tend to podcast about. Most of the ones I found only ended up producing three or four episodes. Sampling my way through iTunes U has felt hit-and-miss in terms of listenability (hard to listen to a guy with a monotone voice recorded from the back of an echoy lecture hall while driving). YouTube suggestions are also welcome, this did start with a webshow afterall.

Oh, and I wouldn’t say I’m cheap, but I do have a baby on the way so shelling out for things like The Great Courses isn’t quite in the pocketbook, so free is an ideal price point.

Given all that, I put it to you, my readers. Do you have personal experiences with something that might scratch this weird itch I have?

Update: In some searching while putting this post together, I did find Columbia University’s inaugural World History course was filmed and put online at YouTube. If you’re interested in the whole series, that’s the link in the last sentence, but I found this fascinating. It’s the opening course, and the first 45 minutes is a history of world history.


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On the Future of Publishing and Fake English Football

I’ve taken to watching author/professor/humanitarian/professional video game player John Green play FIFA on Youtube, in part because he crafts damn fun narratives for his digital players, and in part because he’ll spend entire games talking about things that have nothing to do with his fake FIFA team.  Such as his views on the future of publishing, why publishing isn’t the music industry, and the problems behind the new Amazon paradigm for bringing books directly from authors to the masses.  His videos are 10-15 minutes long, his thoughts on the future of publishing are nearly 30 minutes, so it’s split into two parts.

Part one, in which he discusses how books are not made by individuals:

Part two, in which he discusses three potential futures for publishing:

Look, it’s no big secret that I’m no fan of the notion that Amazon wants to deconstruct the publishing industry, so I largely agree with John Green.  I like what Amazon is offering.  To an extent.  The new digital ways of distributing writing are fantastic for writers who want to make their back catalogs available, or for authors who are putting out the best material that they can.

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An Invocation for Beginnings

Update:  I see a lot of Google hits coming in looking for “Invocation for Beginnings words.”  Sorry, this post isn’t a transcript, but Ze Frank is now selling a poster with the entire text of the video, which I’m sorely tempted to get.

I’m working on a post, the next in the world building series.  It’s about directions.  But it isn’t ready yet.  So I’m going to pull something out of my back pocket and present Ze Frank‘s “An Invocation for Beginnings.”  Which may as well be called An Invocation for Creation.  This is for you, this is even more for me, words to kick my ass with:

I’m not focusing on beginnings now, but endings.  Chapter 35 is drafted.  Chapter 36 will happen tonight and set up the climax.  Chapter 37 will pull it together.  Chapter 38 is dénouement.  And the Epilogue is an epilogue.  It’s endings, but each has their own little beginning, that point where I sit down and start the chapter.  As writers we’re always beginning something.  A new story, a new chapter, a new outline, a new editing pass.  If we’re not…then are we still writers?


Update:  This has nothing to do with that, but since this isn’t a fully realized post anyway, what the hell?  Someone hit my blog today by asking Google “what were the two reasons that north carolina entered into a period of transition?”  I’m sorry that my blog doesn’t currently include the teacher’s edition of North Carolina: Land of Contrasts from Clairmont Press, but since someone did ask the question, I will entertain answers now.



Story Trailer

Fellow Memory Eater contributor Justin Swapp is working on a series of story trailers for the anthology.  Mine went live today, and includes Carly Sorge’s fantastic artwork for the story, which I’ve previously only shown to select people on my iPod screen.  So I figured I should show it off to everyone:

Before I talk more about book and story trailers, let’s go through all the standard ads.  We still need a lot of support to get The Memory Eater funded.  We’ve had an awesome first week and the 1/3 funding threshold is already in our rear view mirror, but it’s still a long road ahead.  $8 gets you an eBook, $15 gets you the print edition, cheap for either and both help support us.  There are also still four original pieces of story art available for purchase.  The sampler, including the start to my story Home Again, is still live.  There’s also an interview with the editor up.  Go check it all out.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around book trailers.  I’m not going to pretend I know the full history of these videos, I only know my personal history with them.  It’s a history of jealousy and distrust, just as all good stories should be.  Long before I was on the internet, the only book trailers I ever saw were those very few books that got television commercials.  They would be Tom Clancy books and James Patterson books.  Hell, Patterson still shows up regularly, even in commercials that aren’t actually for his books.  I’m not sure where the feelings first came from, but as I got older I rolled my eyes more and more at book commercials.  Something about the kind of books that were being advertised to the much lower common denominator of the television audience.

Yes, I was a snotty little brat at points in my life.  Perhaps still am.

Do I begrudge James Patterson of his success?  No.  Do I wish I had it for myself?  Absolutely.  Even if that meant feeling like I was selling my soul and engaging in the kinds of writerly activities that I’ve rolled my eyes at in the past?  You better fucking believe it.

But I don’t, and so I still roll my eyes whenever I see James Patterson threatening to kill of a character from a series of books I don’t read if I don’t read the new one.  Or using words like “unputdownable.”  Which appeared in two different commercials, so I suspect he’s trolling us.  Which I can begrudgingly respect him for.

I’m not sure when I first saw a book trailer on YouTube.  I do know it was recent, because I think the book trailer for last year’s Phoenix Rising was the first I actually sat down and watched in its entirety.  When I first came across these trailers, I lumped them in with the Patterson and Clancy commercials, and dismissed them as a whole.  However, there’s one very big element to the commercials that set them apart from the trailers.

How many authors can you name that get commercials?  Beyond the ones I already have in this post.  It’s not something that happens for a huge, vast, overwhelming majority of writers.  Seriously, the number of writers who get television commercials is a rounding error away from 0%.  It’s just an avenue of advertising not open for even the biggest name writers, and certainly not for those who are relative unknowns in the field.

I’m going to stop right there, because you all see where this is going.  This is me waxing on about how the internet democratizes communication, allowing individuals to reach out to individuals in a way never before possible.  Yes.  That’s exactly what I’m saying, and I know it’s not any kind of grand revelation.  Hell, this entire blog is one fledgling writer reaching out to people that he wouldn’t have any way of reaching out to before the internet.

So instead, as someone who has viewed a couple of book trailers now, some thoughts I’ve had.

  1. Use all the resources available to you.  If all you have is a program that lets you put up some simple animations with some clip art, do it.  If you have friends with any kind of film making experience who owe you favors, cash them in.  The better it looks, the more likely someone is going to stick with it long enough to see the publication date, or share it with friends.
  2. Remember it represents you.  Check the spelling, check the grammar, take some time to edit it and make it something you can be proud of, and something that will represent you positively.
  3. Get it out there.  Youtube isn’t going to send the link out for you.  Yes, the internet blah blah democratization blah blah.  It hasn’t gone THAT far.  Get the word out there.  Zero views does no one any good.
  4. Don’t spam.  I’m trying to be good about this myself during the Kickstarter campaign, and I certainly hope people will say something if I’m going too far (this is not only permission to do so, but an actual request).  I’m limiting myself to a tweet a day and a blog post a week, where the blog post has to use the Kickstarter to segue into another topic.  Diminishing returns are a real thing.  You’re talking to largely the same audience each time.  I have personally hit that unfollow button on the writer who keeps posting the same blog post or video four or five times a day every single day.

Get out there.  Self promote.  It’s the power of the internet.

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Convince Me

I was listening to This American Life, curious about the rare retraction they’ve issued surrounding Mike Daisey’s semi-fictionalized portrayal of a trip he made to Apple manufacturing plants in China.  This is not about that.  This is about a song that played at the very end.  It’s perhaps damning of Mr. Daisey, but the lyrics spoke to me at a different level.  The song is by Val Emmich with harmonies by Allie Moss, and it’s called Convince Me:

It’s not necessarily a song about writing the fantastic.  But it applies.  We are asking our audiences to join us on rides through the wonderful and bizarre, all these things that are so vastly different from life around them.  Whether that’s riding dragons, visiting Mars, pasts that never were, or futures that may not be, one thing stands firm in all of it:  “If you really do believe these ridiculous things / Come on convince me.”

That’s all.

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Give Me Structure!

I’ve read Blake Snyder.  He says that a movie is a story told in three acts.  Of course the second act is twice as long and broken into two halves, so the three act structure is really four acts. I’ve read elsewhere that three acts is right for any story, though the second act should be the longest and be broken into three acts itself, so the three act structure is really five acts.  I’ve now heard Dan Wells talk, at least on YouTube, and describe a seven point outline for every successful story.

I’m not convinced how different these all are.

First up, some viewing.  For those not aware of the Dan Wells seven point story structure (which he admits to stealing from the Star Trek RPG), there’s a talk in five parts on YouTube.  I’m going to embed Part One, the rest should show up as suggested videos at the end.  Please note, the production elements are not mine:

To provide some recap, he breaks the plots of several movies, novels, and even the short story The Tell-Tale Heart down into seven points that the story has to hit:

  1. Hook
  2. Plot Turn 1
  3. Pinch 1
  4. Midpoint
  5. Pinch 2
  6. Plot Turn 2
  7. Resolution

There’s a great symmetry to the structure, the story mirrors itself around the midpoint, framed at either end by an opposing hook and resolution.  If the resolution is falling in love, the hook is two strangers.  If the resolution is solving a murder, the hook is the murder happening.  If the resolution is someone fulfilling their role as a hero, the hook is the person as a regular schlub.  Plot Turn 1 is the conflict being introduced, Plot Turn 2 is the last piece the character needs.  As Dan Wells puts it “the power is in you!”.  The Pinches surround the midpoint, they apply pressure.  The first may introduce a villain, the second may strip away a mentor.  The midpoint is the center of the whole thing, it is the mirror, and it’s where the character moves from being reactive to being proactive.

This is great, this is awesome, and he does a fantastic job breaking down the seven points of multiple lengths and genres of stories, but where the lecture really kicks some ass and is in Part 4/5 starting around the 7 minute mark where he applies this seven point structure to each of the four main plots of The Matrix: Neo defeating the Agents, Neo becoming The One (he defeats the agents by becoming The One, but they are slightly different plots), Neo and Trinity falling in love, and Cypher betraying the crew of the ship.  This is where I’m going to jump shift to where I originally know Dan Wells from: the Writing Excuses podcast.

In their October 2nd, 2011 episode, the Writing Excuses crew talked to Lou Anders about the Hollywood Formula.  Give it a listen, it’s only 20 minutes long (though that’s now 70 total minutes of material I’ve assigned this post).  While largely talking about the three act structure, the podcast also talks about the increased emotional impact of scenes where multiple things happen at the same time.  Looking at the seven point structure, it’s taking points from more than one plot line (though one plot’s Pinch can be another’s Turn) and putting them together in a scene.  The capture of Morpheus, the second pinch in one plot, happens simultaneously with the resolution of the betrayal plot.  At the end of the movie, the three Neo plotlines all have resolutions nearly on top of each other.  That’s why, while the lobby scene is all whizbang cool, the two actual emotional scenes in the movie are that midpoint betrayal and the big final fight with Agent Smith.  They’re designed as big scenes where stuff happens.

Alright, so look, this is all awesome, but why am I talking about it?

Two reasons.  First is because while this presents itself as a broader interpretation of the plotting of a novel, it’s really just another approach.  If we’re going to look at the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet compared to the Dan Wells Seven Points, I can directly line them up (though I suspect others could line them differently):

  1. The Hook is The Opening Image
  2. Plot Turn 1 is the Catalyst
  3. Pinch 1 is the Break Into 2
  4. Both agree on The Midpoint
  5. Pinch 2 is the All is Lost moment
  6. Plot Turn 2 is the Break Into 3
  7. The Resolution is The Final Image

Where does that put the finale?  Between Plot Turn 2, where the hero realizes he has what he needs to defeat the villain, and the resolution where the villain is defeated.

So it’s largely all the same structuring, whether you want to talk about three, four, or five acts, or seven points.  But what got me excited about the usefulness of the seven point structure versus the Beat Sheet is the presentations of subplots.  Blake Snyder does make room for a B-plot in the Beat Sheet, but the seven point system allows the writer to break down any number of subplots into their seven points, and use that all through their outline.  Which is probably more useful than the Beat Sheet when it comes to novels.  Let’s face it, the Beat Sheet is great, and it can inform someone writing for the page, but it’s for a specific purpose.

But I just buried the important word in that last paragraph: “outline.”  In the past I’ve dabbled at being a discovery writer, which is fantastic for some but has gotten me into trouble.  So as I’ve been learning to outline (really, it’s a hybrid outline/discovery system) I’ve been looking for different ways to approach an outline.  The act structure was fine, but this is fantastic, because it allows each character’s arc to be broken into pieces at the same time as the main plotline of the book.

That’s my exact plan.  But not yet.  Instead, I’ve suggest to my wife we use it as one of our revision tools.  Right now we’re too far into the first draft to stop and try to figure out structure breakdowns, but when we hit editing I hope breaking the story into five seven-point diagrams (main plot, and each character’s arc) and seeing where the points line up, it will show where the story as a whole is weak, and where individual character arcs are weak.  Which, hopefully, will result in a stronger story after the second draft.  In that way, this is a tool not just for the outline writer, but for the discovery writer looking towards a second draft.  Make sure the major points are hit in each plot, and work in where they could hit better when revising.  Stacking points from multiple plotlines increases the emotion of a scene (though certainly not every scene needs, or even should, have elements of multiple plotlines).  Resolve them as closely as possible.

And keep an eye and ear out for structuring tools.  You may, as I have, find one you’ve never heard of that entirely changes how you approach your process.

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Yesterday I posted an article about how much I love numbers, and how that leads to my obsession over word counts.  That push to hit the next milestone in any of three to five simultaneous counts I’m keeping.  There was a word I didn’t use in that post, because it’s a word that I know is controversial in some circles.  However, someone on Twitter immediately called my obsession for what it was.


For those unfamiliar with the word, it describes taking the tenants of games, especially modern video games, and applying them to aspects of everyday life.  What bits of games?  Achievement badges, experience points, even leveling up.  All have been successfully applied outside the traditional gaming realm.  One of the earliest examples I’m aware of was a website called Chore Wars, which offered people the ability to gain experience points for doing everyday chores.  People leveled up and directly competed against each other just for doing those mundane everyday tasks that need to be done.  It’s been applied to exercise, specifically when Pokémon came out with a version bundled with a pedometer, encouraging children to stick the pedometer in a dryer go for a walk if they wanted to evolve their pocket monsters.  It’s been applied to driving, in my example of the Prius graphs yesterday (very low-key gamification for the extremely math motivated) and newer hybrid cars that will include a Tamagotchi-like digital plant to represent how ecologically its owner is driving.

In all of these cases there is a direct benefit to the activity.  Doing chores results in a cleaner house.  Exercise results in a healthier you.  Driving ecologically results in a better environment.  What makes these examples all gamification is the secondary reward, the actual motivation.  The experience points, the evolved Pokémon, the happy little digital plant.  These are not the primary positive benefit of the activity, but they are the ultimate motivator.

This isn’t quite the classic carrot on a stick.  Gamification is not your mother looking at you and saying “eat your vegetables or you won’t get any dessert.”  Ultimately that doesn’t make us want to eat our vegetables, we aren’t motivated to continue eating vegetables.  We just eat them the one time to get some ice cream, then the same dance starts the next day.  The result of gamification is not an excuse to do a task for a promised reward, it’s to specifically turn those tasks into games with internal rewards.  The distinction may seem blurry between those two, but it is there.  It might take someone a little better versed in gamification to explain, but it comes down to small, incremental rewards rather than a single big reward.

If I could explain it better, I’d have a far more lucrative career as a gamification consultant, which is now a legitimate business venture.  It has applications in education.  It had applications in business.  It’s the new hip fad motivational tool.  And it’s powerful, because it’s directed at motivating a generation of children and young adults who have grown up playing video games.  Who haven’t stopped playing video games.  A generation accustomed to game-style motivation.

That’s my amateur attempt at a brief history and explanation of gamification.  I’m certain any number of people could point out where I’m wrong.  If you want a more thorough (and I’m talking hour-long) explanation, I offer up Gabe Zichermann who covered the subject in-depth as a Google Tech Talk:

Gamify Your Writing

What I described yesterday, motivation from word count milestones?  That’s a low-key form of gamification as well.  As are the status bars that some writers employ on their websites.  Every graph and chart available on the Nanowrimo website, from status bars to graphs showing current pace and estimated completion date?  All of that, every last bit of it, is gamification.  Oh, not intentionally so.  Writers were tracking their word counts well before gamification was a word, and Nanowrimo predates the first use of the word by several years.  But both still fall into the realm of gamification as it’s been defined over the last five years.  It’s about creating a secondary motivational tool above and beyond the apparent primary motivation.  It’s about driving someone forward not by the eventual goal of a completed story or novel, but instead driving them incrementally forward with the promise of hitting a multiple of 5000, or keeping the estimated completion date ahead of November 30th.  In a small way, the entire conceit of Nanowrimo is about gamification of the novel writing process.

Anything like gamification that has its proponents is going to have its detractors as well.  It comes out every year in some of the critiques of Nanowrimo.  And it comes out in the non-writing world via critiques that gamification oversimplifies or trivializes significant real-life interactions, critiques that gamification is simply a rebranding of existing techniques and practices, and critiques that children have far too much interaction with video game mechanics just from playing those games and it shouldn’t be encouraged at a larger scale within society.  If we’re talking the rebranding critique, in many cases it’s absolutely true.  The word was invented in some small part to describe what people were observing in some fields in an attempt to apply it to other fields.  As for the other criticisms, I ask what the harm is.  In the end, gamification with regards to writing isn’t about whether it’s harmful to the practitioner from some external reference, but whether it’s useful to the practitioner from their own perspective.

Gamification is, at its heart, a motivational tool.  And as with any motivational tool there are individuals who will be moved by it, and individuals that won’t.  From my post yesterday gushing over my love of word counts broken down on the session, day, scene, chapter, and novel level, I suspect it’s already well established which camp I fall into when it comes to the gamification of writing.  So perhaps that explains my inability to find fault with it.  Your susceptibility to its motivational powers is largely tied to how much you’ve gamed.  My general experience has writers as more likely to be gamers than the general public, whether that’s video games or the ultimate origins of many of these tools: pen-and-paper RPGs.  Though my observations are far from being a scientific study on the matter.

Well now, this has turned into rather more of an essay than I anticipated going into it, so a summary is daunting.  Especially since the real wrap up is the observation that gamification is a powerfully motivating tool for those who are motivated by gamification.  It has its detractors, but if it’s working for you and getting you to write, then don’t listen to them.  Write.  That’s what writers do.  Count your words.  And remember that motivation doesn’t need to come from the end game, it can come at any point along the way.

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Writing Like Lisa

I waited until today to talk about last week’s Simpsons because Hulu waited until today to put it online.  Here you go (also at the bottom of this post).  It’s required viewing.  It’s the first episode in perhaps a decade I can call “classic” and features a guest spot by Neil Gaiman that goes down as one of the best uses of a guest star the show has had.  It’s also one of the better presentations I’ve seen of the trials and tribulations of becoming a writer.

I just hope we put in enough Steampunk.  Whatever that is.

Not the story line about Homer putting together a dark cabal to write a young adult fantasy novel.  Instead, it’s the plot line of Lisa deciding she’s going to start writing, but not quite knowing how to start writing.  She sorts her music collection to find the right writing songs, she plays “just two more” games of online Boggle, she heads out to a coffee shop (gotta set up the Wifi, just in case you need to research!), she stacks pencils, she watches cat videos, and she even gets into window washing.  All of this is flirting with Procrastination, which can be especially enticing to the new writer, someone like Lisa who just can’t get down to putting that first word on the page.  Those first few words are the hardest.

Can you believe that publishers would lie to their readers just to make an easy million bucks?

I’m part of a group of writers call the Cat Vacuuming Society.  The name comes from the very art of procrastination itself, the moment where you realize that you wouldn’t have to pick up so much cat hair off the furniture if you just cut out the middle man and started vacuuming the cats.  They’re those little tasks that we invent when we want to write, but we don’t want to write.  And they can be fantastically productive tasks.  Doing the dishes.  Cleaning the house.  Everything becomes a fun activity if the alternative is to sit down and actually work on the story.

Cheeseburgers.  French fries.  I’m all over that, pal!

If you don’t want to do something badly enough, there will always be an excuse to not do it.  Honestly, my first piece of advice to a budding writer who is experiencing crippling fits of procrastination is to ask: are you sure you actually want to be a writer?  Because this initial hurdle may go away, but it doesn’t really get easier.  Once you get over the blank page problem, new challenges start.  Researching.  Outlining.  Finishing.  Editing.  Cat vacuuming rears its ugly head with all of them, but they’re all necessary steps along the line.  Then there’s submission.  Rejection.  Heartbreak.  What makes it all worth it?  Acceptance.  It does exist, it is out there, and it’s the end goal of most writers.

Augh!  Writing is the hardest thing ever!

So you still want to be a writer, but you’re still looking at the blank page.  You’ve got fresh coffee out of the pot you just washed and the beans that you finally tracked down after going to three stores, two bodegas, and Colombia because everything had to be just right.  So how to actually start?  I’d heard rumors when I was first starting of people who had wonderfully fleshed out ideas before they ever sat down to write.  Beginnings, middles, and endings all flowed through their heads, sorted themselves nicely, and the book nearly wrote itself.  There may be a few of these novelist savants out there, but most people aren’t.  Oh, you might have a rough idea for a start, a rough idea for a stop and no idea how to get from point A to point B, but when you’re staring down your first piece of written fiction, the best advice I can give is to just start writing.

You can’t write if you don’t know what the competition’s up to.

What?  What kind of crappy-ass advice is that?  The way to stop procrastinating and start writing is to…start writing?  It is, it really is.  There’s no magic trick, none that I’ve discovered on my own, none that I’ve found online, for getting that story started other than starting it.  What you really need in the end is to grant yourself the permission to not be perfect.  I don’t even tend to consider my first pass through a novel or a story as the first draft.  It’s the rough draft.  And I call it that for a very clear reason: it’s rough.  It’s going to change.  A lot!  Chapters might drop out, the story might start in a completely different place.  My own blank page fear came out of a notion that the opening line had to be perfect, but it doesn’t.  Not at first.  That will come later.  You have permission to mess up, to not start in the right place, to be a hack, to suck.  Why?  Because those are things that can be fixed.  Not having written, however, that can’t be fixed without writing.  I know at least one fellow writer who doesn’t even get to the starting place of her novel until she’s written for 10,000 words.  That’s extreme, but that’s her process.  It works for her.  It focuses her thought, lets her fiddle around with world building, and when she finally does hit that starting point she’s off to the races.

Your name could be on a book in 10 minutes.
Do I have to do any writing?

So there it is.  My big stupid secret for getting away from procrastination and starting the damn story.  It sounds simple, but it took me a hell of a long time to figure it out.  It’s also one of the reasons that I stand behind Nanowrimo as a powerful tool for a new writer, as it provides a support group and deadline, both of which can be damn powerful tools when it comes to getting over not just the initial hurdle of that first blank page, but any other hurdles that come along.  Yes yes, I just suggested Nanowrimo as a tool on the 28th of November, far too late to get into the game.  But you don’t have to wait until next year.  There’s always little competitions going on, flash fiction contests, alternate Nano months.  There’s no right or wrong time to start writing.

No.  There is a wrong time.  “Never.”  Never is the wrong time.

British Fonzie is right.

One or two actually observations on the episode itself.  I love when television talks about writing, because it falls into the “write what you know” category.  I talked about this when I posted Castle’s advice for overcoming failure a few months back.  Writers on shows have been there, they’ve dealt with starting, struggling, and breaking in.  So whenever a show talks about writing, gives advice about writing, it feels very much like a few tips being given from the writing staff to anyone out there still working at it.

Kansas City?  Kansas City.

At the beginning, Lisa is shocked to find out one of her favorite genre writers is actually a puppeteer, and expresses doubt that anyone could be both.  Oh, Lisa, Lisa, Lisa.

Oh, and Team Schmuul forever.

And the most brilliant part is…I don’t even know how to read!

Oh hey, Hulu allows for embedding.  Sorry if you’re reading this a month later:

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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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