Friday, December 30, 2011

The End (Of the Year)


It’s nearly the end of the year.  I began this blog somewhere along the lines of one year ago, back when I had no clue what I was doing (now I have a twinkle of a clue, but it keeps hiding behind the freezer).

I cannot believe how many things I’ve learned during this time.  Here is a little list of the most important things (regarding writing):

1)  I don’t need a publisher to approve my work.  I defended against this point furiously until I finally came to the realisation that I was wrong.  A publisher is a business and they are in the business of repeating past success and can therefore not be trusted to approve the validity of a new work that stretches borders.  I learned to write for more for myself (though you never really write only for yourself) and less for the publishers.

2)  I’ve been struggling along in the lines of describing things too much and too little, but I finally found a perfect middle in which things make sense for me.  Describe only what is different.

3)  Revision was always an oddly-shaped cloud hanging over me.  This year I’ve finally figured out the point.  Revising isn’t about fixing little mistakes.  It’s about finding the things you want said and saying it.  Putting in motivation and changing things until they work.  Revising is about finding your true story.  After realising this, I could finally figure out the meaning behind ‘the first draft is always crappy’.  Characters and motivations can be added and removed at will.  Nothing is set in stone.

4)  Writing and living goes hand in hand.  What you write comes from experiences, so you can’t just sit in a room with a notebook.  You must live and experience the world to be able to describe it to others who sit in a room with a book.

5)  Writing is not about money.  This should seem obvious, but at the beginning of the year, the notion that I could become stinking rich was very ripe in my head.  Not a “I’m definitely going to be rich!” notion, but a “Maybe I’ll write a best-seller and become rich”.  But somewhere along the line, I realised that writing for a living will probably (almost certainly) be a life of poverty and scraping just enough money to make the rent of a sloppy apartment in a bad neighbourhood and maybe even a day job.  And I don’t care.  I accept that and I embrace that.  I will write for next to nothing, but I will do what I love for the rest of my life.

Finally, and most importantly, 6) There are no rules.  Every single best-selling author has other advice.  Follow your gut and hope for the best.

That’s all.  Happy new year to all of you.

By the way, my most popular post by far is my explanation of how binary works.  Guess I disappointed (or educated) quite a few people who were looking for computer-y information.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas and Some Fiction


It’s almost Christmas.

I probably won’t post Friday, and maybe a few days next week too, but chances are that I’ll resume my posting before the end of the month.

Meanwhile, I need to write my story for the Lit Lab’s Variations on a Theme.  Only 10 days to go before the deadline.

Since I have no big post today, here is an awesome Christmas-themed story for you to read.  The Gift of the Magi by O.Henry.

Merry Christmas, all.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Quotation of the Week

Every week, I’ll put up a quotation related to writing or creation and tell you a little bit about the person who said it.  I’ll try to vary the speakers as much as possible.

"“The cat sat on the mat is not a story. The cat sat on the other cat’s mat is a story.” - John le Carré

John le Carré is a British writer of spy novels.  He was born as David John Moore Cornwell and started writing under the pseudonym while working for the British intelligence services MI5 and MI6.  He was ranked as one of the “50 greatest British writers since 1945” by The Times in 2008.  His third novel is the famous The Spy Who Came in from the Cold which became an international bestseller and was later adapted into a movie. (Wikipedia)

(Quote via @TheBookDoctors)

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Automated Learning has You


One of these days, we might have automated learning on our doorsteps.  Imagine just plugging in the Spanish module and learning a new language in a few hours.

Boston University and ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Japan are working on a way to improve visual tasks through use of an fMRI.  The idea is to induce brain activity that is the same as known state and thereby carrying over proficiency.

In other words, the visual cortex of a human brain is able to learn through perception.  They use decoded fMRI neurofeedback to let certain areas of the brain activate so that it matches the activation pattern on a specific area of interest.  Repeating the activation patterns was shown to increase the visual performance.

What’s interesting is that the subjects didn’t even have to be aware of what they were learning.

Currently the method only seems to work with visual perceptual learning, but the future might hold ways to teach motor skills victims of accidents, or automated learning.

While this is both bright and shiny, the potential problems with it are great.  Think about it.  It will allow anyone to learn anything without any effort at all.  So for one thing, people will all be same.  And another thing to think about is the problem with learning something without working hard.  Just getting a skill without any work will make you use it irresponsibly.  The hard work and persistence it takes to learn a skill is in itself training for you to use it responsibly.  Just think of what would happen if anyone could learn how to build a hydrogen bomb in an hour.  Or how to shoot properly with a gun.  The instant-gratification age has already broken down the sense of responsibility in people.  Instant skills could make it even worse.

But it would be freakin’ cool.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Cause to Create

Source. Copyright Atlus

Why do writers write, painters paint and sculptors sculpt (etc.)?

I’m going to take writing as an example here (apply different terms for different professions).

Why does a writer spend months (if not years) writing a 60k word book and perfecting every sentence and word until it reads as smoothly as a licked popsicle and sparkles like a piece of metal which is also sparkly?

Certainly not for the pay.  If that is the reason, a lot of people are going to be disappointed and/or starving.  The chances of you being a big success (I mean J.K. Rowling success) is virtually zero.  Only a small amount of people make huge success.  Ergo, money cannot be the motivation unless there are no sharp tools in the shed.

The same logic applies to fame, so it’s not that either.  What other reason could there be?

A lot of writers say that they have a compulsion to write.  They become fidgety when they don’t.  Carlos Fuentes once said that you write in order to stall death, like Scheherazade told stories.  Others do it because they have no other way to communicate what they want to.

But that still does not answer the question.  It is all too specific.  There must be a universal reason that pools all the writers together that makes them sweat blood and ink to create something that will have gained them no visible benefit.

Art originated as a way to convey a truth in an entertaining manner.  But after that?  Past necessity?  What drives artists to create things?

We write for the same reason we read.  We want to solve the unsolved puzzle, see what is unseen, find meaning in every situation.  Art lets us see inside all the cracks which are hidden in reality.  And the creators have the best seat.

But still that does not answer our question entirely.  There is more to creating something than to simply see it yourself.  A writer wants the story to be read.  No matter what they say, writers cannot only write for themselves.

In the end, art is about communication.  Why do we tell jokes?  Why do we share an interesting titbit of information?  To bond with whomever we’re telling it to.  To let them be as interested/amused as we were.  The same with stories.  You share a story to entertain others.  To gain their approval.

When we break it down to the basic principles, we write because we want to make other people happy (a pretty common human behaviour).

If we take this in conjunction with our other reason, I think we have a good answer.  Why do we write?  Why do we create?

Because we want to entertain other people by letting them see how we solved the puzzle so that the findings can amaze them as much as it amazed us.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Quotation of the Week

Every week, I’ll put up a quotation related to writing or creation and tell you a little bit about the person who said it.  I’ll try to vary the speakers as much as possible.

"I try to leave out the parts that people skip." ~Elmore Leonard

Leonard is an American writer of novels and screenplays.  He started off by writing Westerns in the 1950s, but later branched into suspense and crime novels.  He has been noted for his excellent dialogue and realistic writing.  Apparently he also tweaks his grammar a bit for the purpose of speeding his story along.  Some of his best known works are Hombre, Out of Sight and Get Shorty.  A few of his short stories have been made into films as well as a TV series (these include 3:10 to Yuma and Justified). (Wikipedia)

(Quote via @RobCornellBooks)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Paperback vs Hardcover

Copyright Square Enix

In my collection of books (which isn’t very big, but I’m working on it), I only have one hardcover book.  And this isn’t by accident.

From what I can tell (correct me if I’m wrong), hardcovers are usually released first for a year or so after which the paperback follows.  Apparently this is to promote the author since a new book will be out soon.  Or something of the sort.

When I look for books, I look for paperbacks.  This means that I will often have to wait around a year to get a newly released book because it came out in hardcover first.  This is somewhat annoying, but it beats the alternative.

Hardcover books, for me, are extremely bulky and clumsy.  They’re heavy to hold and hard to handle with only one hand (which I do often with books I read) and they’re generally bigger which also adds to the previous two points.

Now I haven’t really had a lot of books for very long (gasp, I know) since I was a heavy library goer, but it seems (and logically follows) that paperbacks wear down quicker than hardcovers and thus will not last nearly as long.  While I’ll cling to the belief that proper care (and very little rereading) will keep them in good condition, that is a significant advantage the hardcovers have.

But even so, I prefer comfortableness over long-lasting-ness and I’ll be in the paperback camp for a long while yet.

I want to know, which do you prefer, paperback or hardcover?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Planting Peanuts

One day (I’m thinking almost a year ago), a person took upon himself the responsibility of growing a plant.  There happens to be some raw peanuts lying around, so he decides that he will plant them and speedily proceeds to the internet for some research on how he should go about this.

Some hours later, he gathers some courage and plops two peanuts into a pot.  From there, he waters the patch of ground for a week or two and finally his patience pays off.  A small green tuft of plant appeared.  In fact, two!

As they grow, he notices that one is stronger than the other, so he dismisses the weaker one (though it still gets water since it’s in the same pot).  Some weeks later, the stronger plant halts in its growth while the weaker one shoots past it.

The originally weaker plant makes one very long stem that eventually grows outside the pot and smears up against the window for more sunlight.

After a while, he decides that the plants aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing, so he takes them out and plants a new peanut.  He reads somewhere that the peanut should not get water for the first few days (to make it hardier), so he leaves it.  After a while, he starts giving it water, but even after two weeks, nothing comes out, so he goes back to the growing board.

Finally, the person plants another peanut.  This one he makes sure does not dry out too much and does not get too much water.  In fact, he thinks he does everything correctly.  A plant sprouts and it grows in multiple shoots.  The person is happy with the result and lets it grow for a month or two.  The plant splays out over the pot and a part of the window sill, nothing like the pictures on the internet, but he braves on, hoping it will eventually right itself.

This is a peanut plant. (Source)

This is my (if you haven’t guessed, I am the unnamed person in the above story) peanut plant.

It doesn’t seem to be even the same species.  In fact, my guess is that it’s a weed of some kind.  Regardless, it is green and it owes its life to me.

This above scenario is often true of my writing as well as my gardening.  I start off with enthusiasm and plant my story.  As it grows, certain parts of the plot seem like they’re important, but then somewhere along the line another part takes the spotlight.  And then, even if it grows, it seems empty, so I start it over.  This one doesn’t even get past the planning phase.

Finally, I begin the story again.  It begins great with complexity and a lot of good things, but by the time I get to the end, it isn’t anything like I envisioned it to be.

A lot of times (in fact, most of the time) people who create can’t replicate the things in their head accurately in reality.  It is always better in the envisioning phase.

But even so, you have a story and it works.  It flows and you’re happy with it, even though it’s not exactly what you wanted.  Maybe you can fix it with some heavy editing, or maybe not.  Regardless, you’re proud, because you made it, and it grows.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Quotation of the Week

Every week, I’ll put up a quotation related to writing or creation and tell you a little bit about the person who said it.  I’ll try to vary the speakers as much as possible.

"You see things as they are and ask, 'Why?' I dream things as they never were and ask, 'Why not?'" - George Bernard Shaw

Shaw was an Irish playwright as well as a socialist.  He wrote speeches and brochures for the Fabian society in an attempt to further their causes (i.e. equal rights for men and women and helping the working classes get out from under abuse).  His great passion was for drama (though he wrote a few novels and short stories) and he is best known for Pygmalion which he adapted for screen later and after that was made into a movie, My Fair Lady.  Shaw is the only person to have won both the Nobel prize for Literature and an Oscar. (Wikipedia)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Read Speed


I am a pretty slow reader.  But what determines the speed at which I read?

Science Daily posted this article in 2007 in which they discuss the different factors that affect reading speed.  I’ll do a quick breakdown for you.

1) Phonics
With this, you recognise words by decoding them letter by letter.  In other words, it’s the combination of letters that allow you to recognise it.

2) Holistic Word Recognition
With this, you recognise words by their shape.  Basically, your mind will already start recognising the word “and” just by the flat and then up shape it has.  (I’m guessing that most people will then confirm their suspicion, unconsciously, by turning to phonics.)

3) Whole Language
This one lets you know the meaning of a word by the sentence’s context.  As far as I understand, this means that you can guess a word in a sentence by relying on the rest of the words in it.  I’m thinking it works much the same way as figuring out the meaning of a word you don’t know.  The rest of the sentence (as well as the bigger context) gives you a hint at what word/meaning it is.  (You’d probably go back to a lower order method to confirm again.)

These three factors affect how fast you read.  Interestingly enough, they work separate from each other.  Each makes contributions to the overall speed on its own.

With the little that I know of speed-reading, I would guess that the higher up the order you go, the faster you read.  With speed reading, you often skip words because you already know what they are (i.e. “and”, “then”, etc.).  It works basically the same as Whole Language.  Also, when you recognise a word by its shape, you have no need to read it.  You know what it is and move on.

You lose speed when you read every word, but unless you have a very good database of words in your head so that you can recognise words without error, you’ll probably make some mistakes if you read at a complete Whole Language level (which is probably not entirely possible).