Friday, May 11, 2012

The End



I spoke about cutting back on extraneous activities on Wednesday, and today is the day I will cut out blogging.  While I have learned much, it simply takes too much time, and it is not something that gives me enough return value.  I find myself using my free time to write blog posts, instead of using it to write fiction (which is my actual goal here).

So this will be the last post I make in quite a while (possibly forever).  It was great getting to know you all.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Choose Carefully


To paraphrase the saying, a jack of all trades is a master at none.  Why is that?  If you spend your time doing a hundred different things, you’ll be fairly decent at all of them, but never a master at any of them.

For example, I read about a world-class chess player (can’t remember his name and it’s not Kasparov), who had only one interest, chess.  He said that he was so crazy about chess that he spent nearly every waking second thinking of it.  In fact, it was so bad that his mother wanted to take him to a mental hospital (apparently she didn’t).  The point is, he is a genius chess player because he spent all his time improving one skill.

So now the question is if we should do the same.  Pick something you want to be a master at and obsess over it and spend no time on anything else.  Personally, I think that might be a bit overboard, but the fact of the matter is that you will be better at something the more time you spend at working with it.

Therefore, if you follow me so far, choose your battles.  Limit your choices and make sure that every minute you spend is spent the way you want.  I’ve often seen people saying that writers should stop watching TV.  I happen to like TV and movies, so I wouldn’t cut it out.  You have to ask yourself, is this thing worth my time?  Do I really want to spend time on this?  (Just remember to give yourself some off-time.)

Pick what you want to get great at and do it.  All the time.  Then a master you will become.

Monday, May 7, 2012

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.

“We read to know that we are not alone.” - C.S. Lewis

Clive Staples Lewis was an Irish writer known for his fiction, including Chronicles of Narnia and the Space Trilogy, as well as non-fiction such as Mere Christianity.  He was a good friend of J. R. R. Tolkien.  He died on 22 November 1963, the same day Aldous Huxley died and President JF Kennedy was assassinated.  Oddly, C. S. Lewis was known to his friends and family as ‘Jack’.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Breakaway - Released!


If you know Michelle Davidson Argyle, you should know that her newest novel,
The Breakaway
has been released.  She has already published Cinders (self-published) and Monarch (Rhemalda Publishing).  Today I host her here for an interview about the newest book release.

This isn’t your first book release, but it is special, because it has been a long time coming.  If I remember correctly, you originally wrote it somewhere in your teenage years.  How does it feel to finally get it out in the world?  Are you happy to see it go?  Or, if I can paraphrase Truman Capote, does it feel like you took it into the backyard and shot it?

Publishing a book always feels like I shot it, which might sound horrible to say, but it’s true! At least for me. It’s such a deeply personal thing, and selling it as a product is a bit unnerving. Attaching a price to anything as personal as a novel is a bit like killing it. But, I will say this … it’s also an amazing experience to get my work out there. The Breakaway is finally out there after 17 years, and I’m very, very relieved and happy!

Obviously, a lot of edits have been made, first by yourself and then by the editing staff at Rhemalda Publishing.  Did you write the whole thing from scratch again?  Did you reference from your original draft or did you write it from memory? (Do you still have your original draft?)

The Breakaway has been rewritten many times, yes. When I first submitted it to Rhemalda Publishing, they rejected it and asked for revisions and to submit it again. So I did, and it final arrived at a really finished state I was proud of. Then, of course, it went through even more edits during the publication process. I have one of my original drafts, but not THE original one, sadly. I wish I had it, but that was a long time ago. I did not reference my first drafts much, actually. I was so familiar with the story already!

How much of the original story is in the book that was released a few days ago?

Some of it is the same, but not much! The basic plot is the same. The ending has changed a few times, and ages of the characters have changed. But the main idea has always remained the same, and a few scenes.

The Breakaway is a very interesting case for me, because it is one of your earliest works that has somehow made a comeback.  A lot of people advise that the first few novel-length things you write are going to be bad, yet yours just got published.  What do you think is the key to redo older works and take out the kinks enough to make them publishable?

Distance. A lot of distance. Years. And several more novels. When I finally came back to the book and could delete thousands and thousands of words without caring, I knew I was ready to rework the novel to a publishable state. It was like hiking out of a fog and finally seeing the book in the sunlight. 

The Breakaway is very special to you.  So now I want to know, did you find it harder to be brutal in the editing with The Breakaway, as opposed to your other books?  Did you give in to less of your editor’s suggestions?

No, editing was never a problem for me after I reached the point I talked about above – finally being able to see it clearly. I had finally reached a point in my writing that I saw my books as fluid projects that made all the difference. Being brutal is not an issue when I’m doing it for the betterment of the story. My editor at Rhemalda was amazing, as well, and really helped polish it up. I accepted almost every single one of her edits.

Last question.  You mentioned on The Innocent Flower that The Breakaway had gotten a lot of mixed reactions, including some people mentioning that they liked Monarch better.  What do you think?  How does The Breakaway measure up to your other books?

Okay, honest, honest truth is that while I feel The Breakaway is well-written, and it is a huge accomplishment for me, it is not my best-written work. That said, I could probably feel that way about any of my published books, but the point of getting published is that it’s finished and it is what it is and to be proud of that. And I am. And when all is said and done, I’d like every new book I write to be better than the last!

I think The Breakaway is a fantastic accomplishment for me and my career, and I am so happy to have it out there and to a place that I am happy and content with it. Even more, I’m very excited that others can read it now!

Okay, I lied, here is the final question.  I know Bonded is coming out somewhere in 2013 and that you’re working on something new, currently named, A Curse So Deep.  What can you tell us about your new book?

Bonded will be published November 1, 2012. Yay! So a little sooner than 2013. I’d like my next novel, A Curse So Deep, to be published in 2013, so I’m trying to finish it as fast as I possibly can in a timely manner. Hah! It’s the story of a girl cursed with beauty—for as soon as someone falls in love with her, the beauty fades and she transforms into a monster. I’m afraid to explain more since I’m not very far into the book yet, but I am very excited about it! It’s historical, set in the late 17th century in America and Scotland. Lots of research and lots of fun!

I’ve been looking forward to Bonded, so it’s great news about the earlier release(though I’ll be waiting for the paperback)!


And there you have it.  Thanks to Michelle for visiting.  It’s been a pleasure.

---
 
Book Description: 
When Naomi Jensen is kidnapped, it takes her parents two days to realize she’s missing. Escape isn’t high on her list of priorities when all she has to return to is an abusive boyfriend and parents who never paid much attention to her. For the first time in her life she’s part of a family—even if it is a family of criminals. But she’s still a captive. In a desperate attempt to regain some control in her life, Naomi embarks on a dangerous plan to make one of her kidnappers think she’s falling in love with him. The plan works too well, and when faced with the chance to escape, Naomi isn’t sure she wants to take it.





---

Michelle lives and writes in Utah, surrounded by the Rocky Mountains. She loves the seasons, but late summer and early fall are her favourites. She adores chocolate, sushi, and lots of ethnic food, and loves to read and write books in whatever time she can grab between her sword-wielding husband and energetic daughter. She believes a simple life is the best life.

You can find Michelle on her blog,  http://theinnocentflower.blogspot.com.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Pick the Extreme


I read somewhere (I think maybe David Baboulene’s The Story Book) that when you think of an idea, don’t stop, rather think again and try to come up with something more original.  I.e. the first thought will probably be a cliché or boring idea, so take it a bit further to get to a better one.

But I want to take it a step further and say that you should always look for the extreme.  Never settle for the middle or the safe.  Pick the craziest idea you can come up with and run with it, no matter how ludicrous it feels.

Think about it, if Bram Stoker had thought that crazy blood-sucking baby-eating creatures of the night were too ludicrous, where would we be?  If George A. Romero had thought zombies were too weird to put in a film, where would we be?  And finally, if Mary Shelley had decided to stick with something normal, there would be no Frankenstein(‘s monster).

The point is, everything seems crazy until you get used to it.  In fact, you will think your own things are crazier than other people will think your things are.

So go on and pick the weirdest, craziest idea in your head.  Pick the extreme and go with it.  You’ll be happy to see where it leads, or at least you’ll be in for a hell of a ride.

Monday, April 30, 2012

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 like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.” - Dr Seuss

Hopefully, you know a bit about Dr Seuss.  His full (real) name is Theodor Seuss Geisel.  He was a writer, poet and cartoonist.  He is especially known for his children’s books, including The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas!.  He also worked as an artist for advertising campaigns and as a political cartoonist.  Some of the images from these works later found their way into his children’s books.    

Friday, April 27, 2012

What Resistance Means


Wednesday I talked about losing your will to write.  On a slightly related note, today I want to touch upon the subject of (seemingly) perpetual loss of will.

A lot of people have a seemingly natural affinity for writing, in which they can’t wait to get in front of the computer (or paper) to write again.  Others have to tear the words from their guts.  What does this mean?  Does it mean that some writers are doing what they’re not supposed to be doing?

I have found that there are two causes of this internal resistance to doing things.

One, you are doing something that you don’t like or are not good at.  Sometimes this can be because you’re trying to prove something or make someone happy or proud or impressed.  You attempt to convince yourself that you do like it, but your head knows differently.

Two, you are doing something that you really want to do and succeed in.  If something is very important to you, your mind will try to protect you from possible failure and subsequent emotional torture.  If you never attempt to succeed, you will never fail.  Not a very good plan, I’d say.

Some people have pushed past the resistance of the second cause and now it comes easy to them.  Maybe some of them just have a hardier personality.

The important part here is that before you give up, look again, and see if you can’t maybe push through the barrier that is blocking the way to your success.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Getting Your Mojo Back


You know the time when your muse (or whatever kind of inspiration you have to keep you going) seems to have gone for a perpetual holiday?  When going to write feels like going to the dentist?

If you’re feeling this change, fear not, for one of these solutions might get you your mojo back.

1) First and most important, read.  If you haven’t had the chance to read anything lately, grab a book of your favourite author and get to it.  Or, if you have been reading, but nothing that excites you (Jane Austen in my case), try shaking it up and grabbing an old favourite from the shelf.

2) Next, it might be a problem related to what you’re writing.  Try writing something else.  Say you’re busy with a novel and you’ve had an idea for a short story for a while now, get busy doing that, at least until you’re back on track.  Alternatively, try something new with your current project.  It might be that you’re bored with the current scene or chapter, and you know what they say, if you’re not interested in what you’re writing, no one else will be either.  Change something and go on.

3) Take a break.  Give yourself a week or two in which you do no writing whatsoever.  Maybe deadlines, family crises or world apocalypse is getting you down.  Sort out everything and recover, then go back and see if your mojo has returned.

Monday, April 23, 2012

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.

"There are days when the result is so bad that no fewer than five revisions are required. In contrast, when I'm greatly inspired, only four revisions are needed." - John Kenneth Galbraith

Galbraith was a Canadian-American economist.  He wrote a few books on economic topics and they were bestsellers.  He served under Presidents Kennedy, Truman, Roosevelt and Johnson.  He received a Medal of Freedom and a Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contributions to economics.

Friday, April 20, 2012

How to be a Good Listener

Do you want to be a good listener?  Well, for starters, stop talking.  That much is obvious, I hope.  However, being a good listener is more than just hearing.

First, don’t be that guy who keeps taking over the story or correcting the other person with minor details.  In fact, try not to interrupt at all.  You can add your comments later.

Second, encourage the speaker to continue by nodding and saying things like ‘okay’, ‘I see’ and so on.  However, please don’t say it continuously.  Use sparingly, or it will sound like you’re not listening.  Also, encourage further explanation by asking for confirmation of certain things or questions about small things (but no aggressive questions).

Lastly, listen to what the person is saying and actually take it into consideration.  A lot of times, especially if the speaker is taking a side we disagree with, we tend to write off any information they’re saying out of prejudice.  In other words, listen to what the guy is saying and try to see it from his point of view before you compare it to your own views.

These three things are important even though they seem quite fundamental.  Sometimes you might have to interrupt to correct a huge error, especially if the speaker is already being aggressive (be it against you or someone else).  If you want to be a good listener, all you have to do is listen.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Reader/Writer Mastermind

Copyright Nintendo
If you’ve ever heard of barbershop quartets, you might know the effect known as ringing chord.  It is a so-called fifth voice that is created by the effect of the four voices singing in harmony.  Though this is a fascinating concept by itself, in this case I use it only as a comparison.

Like four voices creating an additional one, two minds create another, third mind.  This is also known by the word “mastermind”.  By brainstorming and discussing ideas, two or more people gain more understanding and/or meaning than the sum of their parts.  In this respect they ‘create’ a third mind that they all have access to.

Now, to get to my point, reading a book is kind of a long distance mastermind.  How, you ask?  Well, though the writer and reader can’t discuss the ideas (well, they could, but the fact is that they don’t), the former shoots ideas at the latter and the latter then attaches meaning to it.  In other words, the two create a bigger meaning for ideas and concepts than each could do on their own.  There’s a quote from Neil Gaiman that I have to find quickly.  Here it is:

"If you are pointing out one of the things a story is about, then you are very probably right; if you are pointing out the only thing a story is about you are very probably wrong - even if you're the author." - Neil Gaiman

The very fact is that there are a great number of meaning anyone can attach to any story.  Both the writer and the readers attach meaning according to their own experiences, thus each will be somewhat unique.

But every reader’s meaning would have been impossible without the writer’s contribution.  So in actual fact, the writer and reader are working together (long distance) to create a meaning that none of them could have created without the other.

Monday, April 16, 2012

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.

"Style may be defined as the proper words in the proper places." - Jonathan Swift

Swift was an eighteenth century Anglo-Irish writer.  He is known for works such as Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal.  A lot of his books were published under the pseudonyms Lemuel Gulliver, Isaac Bickerstaff and M.B. Drapier.  He was also the Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Ultraviolet Sight

Source

The spectrum of light that we and most mammals can see is called visible light.  There is, however, one mammal that can perceive more than that.  They can see ultraviolet light.

The animal in question is a reindeer.  Because of the snow they must spend so much of their time in, they seem to have developed the ability to see the ultraviolet light that reflects off the snow (and cause the effect known as snow blindness in humans).  Not only does this prevent them from being blinded, but they also use it to spot things other animals would miss.  For example, urine and fur of other animals appear as black on an ultraviolet camera, thereby highlighting it against the background.

Snow blindness is caused because the human eye is not equipped to deal with UV light.  So when an overdose of it does occur, the cornea and lens take the damage and causes the (mostly) temporary effect.

However, reindeer seem to somehow prevent the damage to the eyes that humans would take.  And if they can somehow stop it, perhaps we can replicate it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Balancing

From GameSpy.  Copyright Ubisoft.

Life is a scale that hangs in balance.  For everything in life, there is an extreme left and an extreme right.  Don’t take in too much starch, don’t take in too little starch.  Don’t focus too much on work (and thus neglect your family), don’t focus too much on your family (and neglect your work, leading to financial troubles).  Don’t spend all your time alone, don’t spend all your time with other people.

The list goes on, but you get the idea.  Everything is on a scale and we’re battling to get the balance just right.  The same goes for writing.

I could talk about balancing planning too much and planning too little, but what I’d rather touch is writing too much and writing too little.

You’d think there isn’t such a thing as writing too much, but there is.  And with all these ratios, the amount of weight needed per side to get it into balance differs for each person.

The main point is, don’t neglect life in order to write.  Find an equal balance.  Stephen King says in On Writing, “Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.”  Henry David Thoreau said, “How can you sit down to write until you have stood up to live?”

Writing is an odd practice, for it feeds off the other activities in life.  If you make your life’s work chess, you can concentrate solely on chess every day (but you should, of course, balance out chess with relaxing and family etc.), but with writing, you need other experiences to write.  You have to live before you can write about living.

Monday, April 9, 2012

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.

"In going where you have to go, and doing what you have to do, and seeing what you have to see, you dull and blunt the instrument you write with. But I would rather have it bent and dulled and know I had to put it on the grindstone again and hammer it into shape and put a whetstone to it, and know that I had something to write about, than to have it bright and shining and nothing to say, or smooth and well oiled in the closet, but unused." - Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway is a fairly known writer, having published classics like The Old man and the Sea and For Whom the Bell Tolls.  He is also known for his drinking (and apparently he frequently embarked on “alcoholic sprees” with James Joyce).  His writing style is very heavily ice-berg based, meaning that very little is said explicitly, but a lot is going on under the surface.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

What Motivates You?

Source

Writers are mostly self-employed (excluding journalists and the like), so self-motivation can be a problem.  There are a number of theories on the motivation in the workplace, but I’m going to look at the cognitive-choice theory.

According to this theory, there are three factors which affect motivation in work.  Here they are:

Valence
This is the value of the outcome that the particular activity will give.  If you work at a diner for a salary, the outcome is money in your hands.  If you’re a paramedic, the outcome can be saving people’s lives.  Every person attaches different values to different things (i.e. money can be very important for one fellow, but not at all important for another).

Instrumentality
This is the possibility that the activity will lead to more desired outcomes.  So if you’re a waiter at the diner, and you see that the manager is getting old, being a waiter as an additional outcome of giving you further beneficial outcomes (i.e. getting more money, working less).  Or, if you’re an accountant, working as a clerk gives you experience which could open doors for you later, i.e. more desired outcomes springing from the first (in addition to your salary).

Expectancy
This is how attainable the outcome is.  If you’re a freelance writer and a magazine offers you a lot of money to write a 8000 word article on a subject you’ve never heard of in two days, the attainability of the lot of money falls, and so does your motivation to accept the offer.  If you are offered a job as an announcer and public speaking scares you, then it is not very attainable.

These three factors form a combined measurement of motivation.  I.e. if the valence, instrumentality and the expectancy is high, you’ll go for it.  If all of them are low, probably not.  But when they have different values, say working on an oil rig, which gives you a lot of money but doesn’t have a lot of possibilities for future desired outcomes, each person will decide differently.  Everyone assigns different values to different things.  If the valence is high enough, some people might go for it even though the other two are close to naught.

When writing and having to motivate yourself, it might be helpful to look at these three things and ask yourself which is lacking (and then maybe you can push it up a bit).  

Monday, April 2, 2012

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.

"Justice to my readers compels me to admit that I write because I have nothing to do; justice to myself induces me to add that I will cease to write the moment I have nothing to say." - Charles Caleb Colton

Colton was an English writer, as well as a cleric.  In 1828, he left the church, and was believed to be running from creditors.  He spent some time in the US, then settled in Paris, France, where he accumulated and subsequently lost a fortune, both through means of gambling.  His literary work included collections of aphorisms (much of which is still used in quotation books today) and Lacon, or Many Things in Few Words, addressed to those who think..

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Consequences of Fear

Copyright Square-Enix

Fear is, if I can paraphrase Roosevelt here, something to be feared.  Fear kicks in when our body thinks we are in danger, resulting in a switch to a heightened mode in which small motor functions are decreased and bigger motor functions are increased.  The implications?

1)  If you are facing down a bear, you will probably not be able to tie your own shoelaces (even if you could normally), not fit the key in the lock or fold an origami crane.  Why?  That is fairly obvious.  It’s not really important at that point.

2)  If a guy is pointing an AK-47 at you, you will probably be able to run a lot faster than you normally would have, as well as react faster and lift heavier objects.  Why?  Because these actions are necessary for your survival.

3)  When you’re in danger, your sense of pain will mostly disappear, meaning that you won’t notice if you injure yourself (as was the case with a man who clenched his jaw so hard that he broke a few teeth without realising it).  Why?  Because pain is the body’s way of telling you to stop what you’re doing, as it could be doing you harm.  So in a situation where your life is in immediate danger, possibly doing you harm takes second boat.

Interestingly, the normal fight or flight reaction has recently gotten a new addition, freeze.  This happens when the threat is not immediate, therefore your body hopes to avoid it entirely.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

3 Ways to Integrate Writing with Your Life

Copyright Nintendo

Sometimes life and writing clashes and you find yourself having to give up something you love doing to make some time.  However, this is not necessarily needed.  Here are three ways to integrate writing into a busy life:

1)  Write for short times
When you have a gap of five minutes, write.  Take the opportunity to write a paragraph or two while the spaghetti is cooking.
In the same breath, I should mention that it is good to have longer stretches as well, because getting into the ‘zone’, as they say, requires about twenty minutes of uninterrupted writing.  Even so, every few minutes will help you get down the words before they slip your mind.

2)  Make notes
Make (either mental or physical) notes on what happens to you.  Write down the complicated emotion you’re feeling or a snippet of dialogue that you found interesting.  Pick out little details during the course of your everyday life and make note of them.  That way, you’re constantly writing without actually writing.  (These notes will come in handy later when you write.)

3)  Extend your day
Depending on whether you’re a night or morning person, add a few minutes to your day by going to sleep a bit later or getting up a bit earlier (writing before you go to sleep is a good way to let your subconscious work things out, and writing in the morning normally allows for clearer thinking).  I’m talking about ten to twenty minutes here, nothing that will mess up your routine too much.

Monday, March 26, 2012

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.

"One forges one's style on the terrible anvil of daily deadlines." - Emile Zola

Émile Zola was a French writer, born on the 2nd of April 1840, who was important in the literary school of naturalism.  Naturalism is a movement that moved around the axis of realism.  The stories of this type often included the dark aspects of life and the characters’ personalities are much affected by their environments.  He was also involved in the political liberalisation of France as well as the exoneration of a falsely accused officer.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Finish What You Start

Source

How often do you give up on a project when it’s 75-99% done?  Me, very often.  There are a number of reasons for this fear of finishing.

Very often, it has to do with fear that the quality isn’t going to be what you want it to be.  Other times, you might be afraid of feedback or criticism.  Truman Capote, a short story writer said, “Finishing a book is just like you took a child out in the back yard and shot it.”

Interestingly enough, most of these fears don’t show themselves overtly.  In fact, most of the times, there will be another excuse that your mind makes as to why you are stopping.  I.e. the story is stupid, not interesting any more etc.

So what can you do?

Write.  Just keep going.  If you can’t, get someone to report to so that you will feel obliged to continue.  Once the draft is done, all will be better and you can edit it into oblivion.

Just write.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

From Head to Paper

Copyright Konami.  Source

Someone (a hobbyist composer) recently said to me that it is extremely difficult for him to get the song he has in his head onto the computer or the piano.  That got me thinking about the same problem I have.

It seems all creatives have a problem of interference or distortion on the path from the brain to the paper/canvas/computer etc., wherein the result is not exactly the way they imagined it.

So the question is, how do we minimise the effects of this interference?  Let me give you an analogy.

If a sculptor or wood whittler starts out, the first thing they do is find a piece of stone/wood that is roughly the shape of the thing they want.  After that, they go a little more detailed and then a little more, until they finally have the thing they want.

With writing, revision is the key to minimising interference.  Every time you redo the piece, it will be closer to what you imagined.  Though, I suspect, it will never be exactly as you wanted it.  It’s like the tortoise/hare philosophical problem.  If the tortoise is in front of the hare, the hare can never catch up.  Why?  Because to reach the tortoise, he first has to cover half the distance to it.  After he did that, he has to cover half the rest of the distance and so on and so on, resulting in an ever decreasing distance, but an ever present amount that can be halved.

The point is, your work will probably never be as good as you want it to be, but repeated revision will minimise the problems.

Monday, March 19, 2012

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.

‎‎"Having imagination, it takes you an hour to write a paragraph that, if you were unimaginative, would take you only a minute. Or you might not write the paragraph at all." - Franklin P. Adams

Franklin Pierce Adams was a columnist for newspapers like New York Evening Mail and New York Post.  He was best known for The Conning Tower, his newspaper column.  He also wrote some light verse and often included parodies in his columns.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Dream On

Thomas Harris, author of the Hannibal Lecter novels, said this: “I'm doing one of three things: I'm writing. I'm staring out the window. Or I'm writhing on the floor.”

Source
Apparently, staring out the window can be very useful.  A study at the University of British Columbia found that the parts of our brains associated with complex problem solving become active when we daydream.

So the point is that daydreaming might very well be a function of the brain that allows us to concentrate on matters that are more important, rather than focussing on the task at hand.

Daydreaming also count as part of the spontaneous path (as opposed to the deliberate path), thus the time in which we leave our brains to create new connections.  The spontaneous path is normally active when we do tasks that require little attention or that is mostly automated, such as sharpening pencils and showering.  Daydreaming, I would assume, comes in when a task is seen as unimportant or unchallenging, therefore our brains switch to concentrate on a more important subject, perhaps leading to an overflowing cup.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Tasting Words and Hearing Colours


Synaesthesia.  Some of you might recognise the word from high school English classes.  It is a poetic device that combines senses, such as ‘cold music’ or ‘loud shirt’.  But it also refers to a neurological condition in which one concept is involuntarily associated with another.

A common form of this is associating numbers with colours.  For example, a lot of synesthetes see the number five as inherently red.  So when it is another colour, it seems weird.

Another type of synaesthesia connects visual movement with sound.  These people here certain sounds when they see visual motion or flicker.

Other types include seeing colours when hearing sound (particularly music) and personification in which letters and numbers are associated with personalities.  Another quite interesting form is tasting words, wherein words leave a taste in the mouth of the synethete.

Apparently, five per cent of the population will see red when seeing a five or hear a C-sharp when seeing blue.  But the number is higher among artists, ranging at about 25%.

Is synaesthesia a trait of a creative?  Not necessarily, but there does seem to be quite a number of creative with it.  Me, I just see a 5 when I see a 5.

More info is available here, here and everywhere on the internet.

Monday, March 12, 2012

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.

"One of the things we feel after reading a great work is 'I have got out.' Or from another point of view, 'I have got in'; pierced the shell of some other monad and discovered what it is like inside ... In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in a Greek poem, I see with a thousand eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do." - C.S.Lewis

Clive Staples Lewis was an Irish writer known for his fiction, including Chronicles of Narnia and the Space Trilogy, as well as non-fiction such as Mere Christianity.  He was a good friend of J. R. R. Tolkien.  He died on 22 November 1963, the same day Aldous Huxley died and President JF Kennedy was assassinated.  Oddly, C. S. Lewis was known to his friends and family as ‘Jack’.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Schooling

What are schools teaching children?  Useful skills?  Important knowledge?  Maybe.
Copyright Capcom

Peter Gray, a research professor of Psychology at Boston College, mentions that school is not as useful as one may think.  As Peter Gray mentions, school is a place where children are forced to learn things.

First, forcing people to learn will – in most cases – make them associate learning with something bad.  Then they will supposedly spend a long time avoiding learning.  But apparently most people grow out of this frame of mind.

Second, children are principally, through use of tests with correct and incorrect answers, to figure out what the teacher wants them to say and then say it, as opposed to critical thinking and understanding the subject thoroughly.

This is just a very quick look at this, for more info, read the Psychology Today article here.

Now take a moment and consider that.  Now, imagine a world without any schooling whatsoever.

Maybe after a few years, people will start to realise that they have to learn something or the human race will die out, but at first, in this age, I imagine that not a lot of things will get done.

Within in this paradox we live.  Schooling inhibits critical thinking and discourages learning, while no schooling would certainly lead to disaster and increased levels of worker-class people (thus slowing down technological development).

To combat this, a lot of teachers try to introduce critical thinking into their lessons and stimulate discussion, though it’s not always possible.

Meanwhile, Fairhaven School has another approach:  Let the children do whateverthey want.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Writing Habit

Copyright Nintendo

If you haven’t been writing enough and you think that it’s time to cultivate a writing habit, you should get started right away.  To change a habit, get a habit or improve something, you need 4 things.  Clear goals, feedback, reward and a start.  The same applies to writing.

Clear Goals
Know what you want to achieve.  If you want to pull a Stephen King and write 2000 words a day, do so.  If you want to make room for emergencies and busy days, set up a word count for the week.  Or you could write for a set time every day.  But make sure your goal is measurable, i.e. amount of words, amount of time.  Don’t just think that you will write every day.

Feedback
With this, I don’t mean people telling you if your writing is any good, I mean that you need feedback on the completion of your goals.  If you have a word count limit for day, get a word processor that can count your words.  Or if you have a time limit, get an alarm clock.  If your goal longer, such as words a week, set up a table or spreadsheet in which you calculate your total.

Reward
You can give yourself a reward every time you finish a goal (like watching TV after you finished your daily words), but with this, I’m specifically referring to the end-goal.  I.e. the reason why you’re doing this.  You need to ask yourself, why are you spending hours every day to write down things that you thought up?  Once you have that answer and it’s satisfactory, it will motivate you to come back every day.

Start
The key to forming a habit is to get started.  If you just keep planning and never start, you’ll never get anywhere.  So if you want to start a habit, start now.  If you don’t, you’ll just keep putting it off until never.  Go.  Start.  Now.

If you have these four ingredients in order, it shouldn’t be too long before you’ve gotten into a habit.

If you’re having trouble getting started, you might want to review your goals and make them easier.  Going from 0 to 2000 words a day is pretty tricky.  If you’re still having trouble, make the goal so easy that you cannot possibly come up with an excuse to skip it.  Make it, write for two minutes.  Still too hard?  Take a lesson from Zen Habits and make it 20 seconds.

Once you have the habit, you will get closer and closer to your reward.  And when you reach it, it’ll be worth it (if it’s even reachable…).

Monday, March 5, 2012

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.

"Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught." - Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde was a 19th century Irish writer and poet.  He was especially known for his plays, such as The Importance of Being Ernest and wrote only one novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray.  He was arrested for gross indecency with other men and was sent to prison with hard labour for two years.  After his release, Wilde moved to France.  There he died at the age of forty-six.

Friday, March 2, 2012

A Core Concept of Psychology

Psychology is a huge subject with a lot of different fields of study (like social psychology, personality psychology etc.).  However, there is a basic concept that is relatively easy and can help a lot in your psycho-analysis of people.
Source

People leak.

People, in most cases, reveal their thoughts by doing things they are sometimes not even aware of.  Say, lying.  People who lie often touch their ears, nose or mouth after or during a lie.  Mostly, they aren’t even aware that they’re doing it.  You can also get an idea of the person’s state of mind and feeling of social hierarchy by what he or she is doing.  If you feel threatened, you will make yourself smaller by holding your limbs closer to your body.  Also, you’ll likely lower your chin or raise your shoulders and put objects between you and your supposed opponent (even something as small as a glass).  You are doing this to protect yourself if the situation comes to a fight (even if it is a situation which would never go there, your body still reacts in this way to a perceived “danger”).
If you’re feeling superior, you will be relaxed (i.e. leaning back, with relaxed shoulders and loose muscles etc.) and likely you will expose your throat to show that you are not afraid.

There is a whole range of studies on this very subject, including micro-expressions and other body language things.  However, the main point to remember is that minor behaviour is very often key clues in what a person is thinking.  Look especially at the eyes, the face and the extremities (i.e. feet and hands).  You can figure out what a person is thinking not by what you know, but by what he's telling you.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Benefits of Being a Writer

Source

Every job has its perks, like free food, a nice view, or the opportunity to drive nice cars.  Being a writer is generally a lonely and hard job, but there are numerous benefits that are often overlooked.  Here are some of them:

1) Staring out the window is part of the job description.
There might be some people who would object to this, but it’s true in the strictest sense.

2) If you zone out during a conversation, you have a valid excuse.
“Are you listening to me?”
“Oh, uh, sorry, I was working.”

3) You’re a good liar.
Maybe not always a benefit, but studies have shown that creative people lie more often and much better.

4) Verbal battles are easily won.
You have a bigger vocabulary and a way with words.  Who can really beat you?  You’re basically bringing a bazooka to a twig fight in most cases.
“That’s story’s about as likely as Twinkie-trees blowing with the artic wind in Kentucky.”

5) If there’s someone you don’t like, you can make him a redshirt in your story.
There are actual legal repercussions for basing characters on people though, so make it recognisable only to you.

6) If the real world gets too much, you can just think up another one.
Hamlet said, “To be, or not to be.”  But he forgot to add, “or to be somewhere else”.

Monday, February 27, 2012

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 blame myself for not often enough seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary. Somewhere in his journals, Dostoyevsky remarks that a writer can begin anywhere, at the most commonplace thing, scratch around in it long enough, pry and dig away long enough, and lo!, soon he will hit upon the marvellous." - Saul Bellow

Bellow, a Canadian-born Jewish American, was awarded the Pulitzer, Nobel Prize for Literature and the National Medal of Arts for his literature.  His best-known works include Henderson the Rain King, Seize the Day, and Ravelstein.  He often quoted and referenced to Marcel Proust and Henry James in his work.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The If Sentence

Source

If you have done any programming whatsoever, you should have the basic knowledge of the if sentence, possibly the single most important command that a computer possesses.  If you don’t know it, fear not, for I am here to enlighten you.

First, some theory.  The basis of AI is essentially if sentences (okay, it’s not nearly that simple, but it’s an important building block).  If this situation happens, react in this manner.  Therefore, knowing the if sentence will enable basic AI.

The basic syntax for an if sentence is : if <the condition> = <the result> then <command>

Now, an example.  Say you’re writing in Quick Basic (the only language I know deeply).  You are told to write a program in which a name and password is checked, a basic version would be this (everything after //s is comments by me and would not be read by the program):

Print “Please input your name and then your password:” //this puts the text in the quotes on the screen
input name$  //This is simply a command that prompts the user to type something and then records the letters in the variable name$
input password$ //same as above
if name$ = “Jake” and password$ = “ender” then print “You gave the correct name and password!”  // this checks whether the variable name$ contains the text “Jake” and if at the same time password$ contains “ender”.  When both these are true, the command print “…” is performed.

And that’s that!

There are more advanced things like “else” and nested ifs, but that’s for later.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

3 Ways to Harness Your Power as a Writer

As a writer, you have a power that few other people have.  You are a controller of minds and emotion.  Here are three ways in which you can harness that power:
Copyright Nintendo.  Source

Make your readers cry
Livia Blackburne did an awesome post about this a while back.  In short, you need familiarity with the character for whom is to be cried.  You’ll be hard-pressed to get readers to cry on page one.  First, the reader must learn to care for the character and then to make them cry.  Check out the post for details.

A way to harness this is by changing the chronological order of your story.  Don’t start with the death of a loved one.  Start after the death and reveal bits of information until you crescendo with the big emotional death scene.  (Better yet, read Livia’s post)

Make your readers miss appointments
Donald Maass says that the thing that keeps people turning the pages is tension.  That’s what makes them forget to walk the dog and miss appointments.  As horrible as that sounds, that’s exactly what you want to happen.

A way to harness the tension is by posing knowledge gaps.  The gap drives people crazy if they care about the subject.  So reel them in and then leave them hanging to keep them turning the pages.  Don’t let them have all the answers until they get to “The End”.

Make your readers think
A good book, like a good movie, stays in your mind for a long time after you’ve finished it.  You’ll know what I mean if you can remember the thrum in your head as thoughts about the book or movie was flying around in your brain.  No matter how insignificant the thoughts may seem, they grabbed you and that means that the writer did something right.

Things that are relevant to you are always noted first and remembered best, so the way to make your readers think is by making use of universal themes.  Emotion is always a winner.  E.g. Brothers reunited after a long struggle, or on the other side of the spectrum, the horror that isolation makes a person do.  Also, leaving the reader with a question will make use of the knowledge gap and leave them thinking, e.g. should there be limits to where science goes?, or does that madness lurk in everyone’s mind?


Strangely enough, making people degenerate socially, cry and endlessly obsess does not put you in their bad books, but rather entices them more.  Why is that?  That’s another topic entirely.

Monday, February 20, 2012

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.

"There are no dull subjects. There are only dull writers." - H.L. Mencken

Mencken, born and deceased in Baltimore, Maryland, was a German American writer, journalist, critic and scholar.  He is regarded as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, earning him the nickname “Sage of Baltimore”.  Mencken was also the man behind the bathtub hoax, in which a fictitious history of the bathtub was printed in New York Evening Mail in 1917. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Trolley Problem

Copyright Nintendo
There is a school of thought called ethics, which deals in moral standards and such of human beings.  Within this basis, there is a thought experiment called the Trolley Problem.  Herewith the experiment from Wikipedia:

Suppose that a judge or magistrate is faced with rioters demanding that a culprit be found for a certain crime and threatening otherwise to take their own bloody revenge on a particular section of the community. The real culprit being unknown, the judge sees himself as able to prevent the bloodshed only by framing some innocent person and having him executed. Beside this example is placed another in which a pilot whose aeroplane is about to crash is deciding whether to steer from a more to a less inhabited area. To make the parallel as close as possible it may rather be supposed that he is the driver of a runaway tram which he can only steer from one narrow track on to another; five men are working on one track and one man on the other; anyone on the track he enters is bound to be killed. In the case of the riots the mob have five hostages, so that in both the exchange is supposed to be one man's life for the lives of five.

There are a few variations (ranging from pushing a villain in front of the trolley to stop it and having the one person be your own mother), but they are all based off this one.

What makes this so interesting is that it is a dilemma in total.  There is no right answer.  Either you kill one person or you kill five people.  Regardless, you kill someone.

So the question is, do you choose the lesser of two evils, or do you stand back and watch it happen.  Someone said once, all that is needed for the world to end up in chaos (or evil, or something of the sort) is for good men to stand by and do nothing.

There is a movie called Unthinkable that deals with another dilemma called the ticking time bomb.  In the thought experiment, a hypothetic terrorist has planted a bomb which will kill thousands of people and he has been captured.  The question is, can he be tortured so that thousands of lives can be spared?  I.e. can you commit evil to prevent greater evil?

In the movie,

SPOILERS HERE

the specialist interrogator eventually calls in the terrorist’s small children and threatens to torture them in order to get the location of the bomb.  In the end, the FBI agent calls the torture off, even though the possibility of a last bomb is probable.  Thus, she chooses to avoid committing an evil to prevent a greater evil.

SPOILERS END

In this moral dilemma, what would you do?  No matter how many times I think about it, I don’t know how to solve the trolley problem, because I can’t sacrifice the one person.  What is the right answer?  Is there one?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

When Want to Becomes Have to

Copyright Square-Enix.  Source

Pressure makes diamonds, or so the saying goes.  But here is an interesting fact: pressure also leads to declining performance.

Let me give you a scenario which is applicable to me and might be applicable to you.  Let’s say I have no job and rent that needs to be paid.  I have no skills (other than writing fiction) and/or contacts and can get no job.  I decide that I can sell short stories for a living.  What happens to my stories?  They never get written or they are crap.  What happens to my motivation?  It declines steadily until I dread the return to the empty screen.

Writing is supposed to be fun.  Not all the time, but it should at least have the capacity to excite you from time to time.  If this is not the case, one of two things is happening.

One, you don’t like writing.  Two, you’re putting too much pressure on yourself.  Pressure you can’t handle.

If your next day’s meal depends on how good your story is, it is likely that it’ll break away some of the allure of writing.  This is a hard subject to accurately determine, since each person’s level of stress-handling is different, but the fact remains.  If you have to, you have less inclination to want to.

When you do this for a living, how do you counterbalance that problem?  You drop the importance scale a bit.  Stephen King says that if getting your kid to baseball practice is just as important as finishing your draft, there’s a lot less pressure.  Make sure you find time to write, but don’t make it so important that you can’t fit anything else in.

You need a bit of pressure and challenge (say, a wordcount for the week), but when I want to becomes I have to, there is a problem you should look at.

Monday, February 13, 2012

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.

"We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand." C. Day-Lewis


Cecil Day-Lewis (aka Nicholas Blake when he wrote mysteries) was an Irish poet.  He wrote 22 novels under his pen name and published more than nine poetry collections.  His children include an actor, Daniel Day-Lewis, and a television chef, Tamasin Day-Lewis.  Another of his children, Sean Day-Lewis, wrote his autobiography, C. Day-Lewis: An English Literary Life.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Reading Frames

Herewith a small excerpt from The Book Thief’s The Standover Man.

All my life,
I’ve been scared of
of men standing over me.

If all went as planned, you did not spot anything strange.  Now, read it out loud.  You’ll immediately spot the error.  (There is a chance you’ll just see it from the start, but eh, you get the drift.)

Source


This is a method that works extremely well.  The mind works in wondrous ways when reading, if you haven’t noticed already.  A while back, I made a post about the speed of reading which included three ways in which the human mind reads.  I think the whole language method is applicable here.  Or maybe it is something else entirely.

Back in the day when I programmed in QBasic, the animated sprites I made for my games consisted out of maybe three frames.  For argument’s sake, let’s say it was a guy swinging a sword.  The animation frames would go a little something like this : |  /  _   (First a vertical line, then a diagonal and then a flat one, each representing a different position of the sword.)
When show all three after each other, I get an animation that looks like the swinging of a sword, even though the eye works at a lot more than 3 (maybe six) frames a second.  As you (should) know, the mind fills in the blanks and makes it a smooth transition.

I think the same works with reading too.  When the mind sees two “of”s after each other, it realises the typo and presents you with the correct sentence instead of the one with the error.  But when you read aloud, you read each word separately (Phonics or Holistic word recognition) and then you spot the mistake.

So in conclusion, when you finish the final draft of your story, read it out loud to catch all the errors.

Side Note : Somewhere today I read aloud.  The sentence was “one at a time” but I somehow changed it to “one by one”.  The two have a similar meaning, so maybe it was my mind that replaced the slightly harder to say sentence with the easier synonym…