Tag Archives: blogging

It’s Turtles All The Way Down

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Have you ever had only 20 minutes to write a blog post, and you realize you have nothing really to say that particular day, but it’s been a couple of days since you’ve said anything so you just write whatever comes to you? It’s important to check in every once in a while and let people know you’re still out there and to give a gentle reminder and plug for the various books you may have written, even some of the older ones people might have forgotten about but that are totally still worth buying. You can’t tackle anything too ambitious, with a lot of pictures or thought. We’ve all got a couple of blog posts floating around in our heads that we’d love to do if we ever sat down and had an 1.5 hours to format them and make a really good argument, but today isn’t going to be that day.

Then, just when you’ve started writing your twenty minute post, you realize that what you really want to write about is the thought process behind writing a twenty minute post. Maybe you want to get people to try to relate to who you are as a writer at that particular moment, or to offer some tip for people dealing with this situation. Sure it feels a bit meta to be blogging about blogging, but that’s only a couple of layers removed and you might really have something valuable to offer. We all have to figure out how to create quality content on a deadline, and being in the middle of an actual crisis may give you a special insight into how to help others get out of it.

Thinking about how to deal with writing a twenty minute post gets you to thinking about the best ways to give writing advice. Should you only be talking about the things you’re dealing with at a particular moment or should you write more reflective posts on the tips you’ve discovered after years of learning? Writing about what you’re dealing with at the moment can be a good way to choose topics, but it might not be the best way to offer any real insight. After all, you might just be guessing how to get yourself out of a situation without any real idea if that solution would even work. Perhaps you should write a blog post about the best ways and times to give writing advice. So we’re writing a blog post about writing an advice blog post on how to write a blog post in twenty minutes while trying to write the post in twenty minutes.

But we can go one layer deeper. We haven’t even begun to deal with the existential question of why writers write, and what’s the difference between a writer and an author. Are bloggers writers in the same sense as people who write books? If the majority of the writing you actually do is just nonsense falling out of your head without being applied to your current work, can you call yourself a writer? Sure words are magically appearing in front of you as you play the keyboard like a piano, or a well … keyboard, and that might be writing. But is it good?

Oh, I almost forgot. We could wonder if writing about how to give advice to writers is actually art, and whether such writing is considered professional or amateur. It could all be a meta-meta exercise designed to kill time and give the illusion of creating something interesting, when in fact we’ve been up our own butt for some time now.

Ooops … time’s up!

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Motivational Malaise

When you’re writing, you’re writing.

Seems simple enough, but here’s what it boils down to for me.

Some people blog in place of working on their current “work in progress”. There are times where we think of writing as a finite energy that can only be applied to certain things. If I wrote a blog post today, then I didn’t write 500 words for my book. Writing in this model is like socializing for introverts. I may enjoy doing it, but I need a recharge and I’m only up for so much of it.

As I’m getting older I’m becoming a much more introverted person, so I understand this idea pretty well. And sometimes I act like it with my writing, assuming that I need the same recharge period if I’ve done a burst of creative output that I would need after going to a party with a lot of people I don’t know.

But I actually believe writing breaks the conservation of energy principle.

Time is a finite resource, creativity isn’t.

I have more to write about when I’ve been writing. Basically, this makes sense. One of the main topics of this blog is writing about writing and often thoughts for blog posts come from something I’ve been working on recently, a problem I’ve encountered, a new method I’m trying out. Other topics are fed much more by reading or listening to the radio, particularly the technology posts, but the desire to write them comes from … well … writing.

This isn’t about the spark of an idea, it’s about the motivational energy it takes to turn that spark into something on paper. I’ve thought a lot about this energy as habit, as discipline, and that’s not incorrect. But I think it still misses the point. When you write consistently, you can reach a point where you are typing faster than even modern computers can keep up with, where you just want to keep going even if it means you’re going to be late. Where it feels like you don’t have enough time to get it all down, where you are literally itching to work on something and it distracts your mind from everything else.

This is writing in the extroverted model. Spending time with other people energizes you. Writing energizes you. And not writing is draining, something you have to break through, a barrier you have to knock down.

I’ve been feeling … well … blah the last couple of weeks. Nothing’s been wrong physically, and I’m not significantly more or less busy than life always is. I just haven’t felt like writing and I let that be enough of a reason not to do it. This happens from time to time, often after spending a lot of effort on writing. I tell myself it’s because I’m tired, but I’m not really. I have the same ideas I want to write down, the opinions, the scenes from books that won’t leave my head. I’m just not in the mood to translate them into words.

Well, that’s just silly. Time to get back to work.

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The Schedule

I’m so sorry for the lack of posts last week. It’s been a hectic time with work picking up and three trips in the last week. I added a new state to my list (Texas) though I can’t say I’m much of a fan of Dallas traffic or the DFW airport. This trip has taught me I need a damn GPS. And before you ask, no, I can’t use my smart-phone because I don’t have one (got asked this at least five times when I said I got lost). Thanks again to the little-red haired girl for her help.

I did see one of the best weddings ever (<5 min). It actually included a reference to The Princess Bride (Mawidge), and to Spaceballs. That’s right, they literally did “the short version”.

Do You?
Yes.
Do You?
Yes.
Fine you're married.

There were also burritos at the reception. Good times.

There will be a new chapter of The Sky Below Thursday April 30th. I’m working diligently on Chapter 7 and hope this will be something you’ll enjoy. The day before we’ll have a little summary of each character’s stories so-far since it’ll have been about a month since Chapter 6. This probably means The Sky Below will bleed into January 2016, but so be it.

What I did manage to do a lot of these last couple of weeks was reading. So as a special “treat”, I’m going to be posting my reviews of everything in my queue of “read not reviewed”. This is probably about 15 books so we’ll see how many we actually get to.

Ben Trube, Writer’s normal schedule will hopefully resume next week. If you guys have any tech questions for Trube on Tech Tuesdays, please contact me using the form or in the comments below.

And if you’re a fan of Buffy, take the time to read Brian’s fan-fic The Witch and the Dragon. Superb.

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Writing the same scene differently

So here’s the thing. I’m writing a disaster novella. It has four characters each of whom get individual scenes. Chapter 1 introduced everybody, Chapter 2 showed two of the characters in the immediate aftermath of a crisis, and Chapter 3 will show two more. Essentially, the four scenes that comprise Chapters 2 and 3 are the same. A character realizes something has happened, comes to grips with it, and deals with some of the immediate aftermath in their surroundings.

I want to keep the reader hooked, to make these narratives feel individual and not redundant, even if they are treading some of the same ground. And I don’t want to skip a character moment of realization just because I’ve already written a couple of them. Everybody reacts to a situation differently, and if I’m doing my job of creating unique characters then I could have each of these people doing the exact same thing and the scenes would still come out different.

Terminology becomes a factor in my scenario. For starters, I’m still working out exactly what I should call the surface beneath the character’s feet. Is it the ceiling because that’s what it was a few minutes ago or is it the floor because that’s what it is now? Can we have such an animal as floor ceilings and ceiling floors? Probably the approach I’ve taken organically (i.e. typical seat of the pants technique) is to let each individual character think of the thing beneath their feet as the floor or the ceiling depending on what makes them comfortable.

It helps that I’ve thrown the characters into different kinds of physical locations, and given them different personalities and goals. These things alone can make scenes unique. And one thing that is already becoming apparent as I continue to plot and structure this book is that pairings matter. Even though these characters are largely independant of each other for now (and may remain so for the vast majority of the book), they need to interact in thematic ways. Sometimes the sharing is more overt (one character’s sister is with one of the other main characters at the time of the crisis), and sometimes it’s just a shared object, or a phrase, or a joke.

So you make things different by applying different variables, and you tie them together thematically by sharing elements. That way instead of just repeating yourself, you build on what has come before.

One other potential way to deal with this problem (though one I have not chosen to apply yet) is different timelines or non-linear timelines. If this was a book I was assured you could all read in one sitting, then I might play with the structure a little more, but as it is I want people to be able to follow individual character narratives from week to week, and not get to lost or forget who someone is after a month. But I may have moments where something happens explicitly to one character that is only implied in another (if that character has nothing to offer in the real-time reaction).

Every writing project gives unique problems to solve. Already figuring out how to keep a narrative thread going while tossing the ball to four different characters is a challenge, but one I am enjoying thoroughly. You guys will have to be the judge of whether I just keep repeating myself, or whether I have something new to say.

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Is posting fiction to your blog a bad idea?

In my internet searching for places to put links to The Sky Below*, I came across this post pretty near the top, Should you post your fiction on your blog? It’s a few years old, but it still has a lot to say about our current media landscape.

Justine Musk’s argument boils down to three points:

  • Even though it’s free, reading anything online is an “opportunity cost” for the reader (when they were reading you they could have been reading someone else).
  • People go online to be distracted, entertained, amused or to learn something practical.
  • People might like your fiction, but it won’t get shared.

I would tend to agree with all of these in one fashion or another, even though my actions tend to fly in the face of them. I’m certainly a member of the tl;dr community (too long, didn’t read for those unfamiliar, which I wasn’t a year ago). Even my friend Brian (whose fiction I love and demand from him on a frequent basis) has written a few stories that I haven’t gotten around to reading (I’ll probably copy them off his website and make an ebook for myself to actually get that done, sorry guy).

I go online, particularly to Facebook, to be amused. I get a few technical and industry newsletters to be informed, along with NPR and interesting links on Facebook. I did subscribe to Jo Eberhardt’s newsletter, and will hopefully get her story read before the next one comes out, but otherwise I don’t read a lot of fiction online.

So why am I trying it?

Well, here’s what I’m trying to do a little differently (which may work or not). I’m definitely turned off by blogs whose SOLE purpose is fiction. Part of the author, writer, reader community is to find out more about each other, our writing process, and the things we’re interested in. So even though fiction is awesome and very intriguing, it’s not the only thing I want to read. Hence, why new chapters are coming out every other Thursday. Hopefully frequent enough for you to follow, but not inundating. I’m actually writing more each week than I have in previous years of the blog (five days a week as opposed to three or four), so you’re definitely not losing content in service of a new narrative.

And I’m trying to deliver chapters, not snippets, with the idea that this may be tl;dr. I’ve done a couple of one week stories (one that did pretty well, and another not so much) where I delivered 600-800 words a day. I sometimes think that’s okay, but it can also be damn frustrating. Probably that length works best for flash fiction that isn’t intended to be longer, but for something like a novella you need a little heft.

My idea to combat tl;dr is to get you to download the book and read it on your own terms. I do my longer form reading at a different time than my online reading. And since I’m a guy who sometimes has my Kindle read to me, I like eBook formats beyond just PDF.

The book being written here is not the only fiction I’m writing. I have a novel I intend to sell commercially later this year, and one of these days I may actually try to sell short fiction. But I firmly believe that part of this modern author thing is trying every avenue for success, be it traditional publishing, self-publishing, Kindle Scout, or giving your book away. We’re all going to be hybrids, and that’s okay. Experimentation breeds creativity, new stories to tell, and new ways to tell them.

And lastly, not everything is about shares. Sometimes we need to serve the people who are already here, and who’ve been with us since the beginning. I like to make this community happy first and foremost. If they like what they see and pass it on, great. Blogging has taught me that what seems to get picked up can be random. Sometimes it’s our best work, and sometimes it’s just the work that got noticed. So rather than worrying, I just write who I am and what I want to write about and hope you’ll come on by.

—————

*  The serial novella appearing on this blog and the Internet Archive every other Thursday including this upcoming Thursday.

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Should I use chapter titles?

The very first novel I ever completed had a title for every chapter. Digging through my old Word Perfect 6 documents (which OpenOffice really didn’t like, my book was not 7000+ pages with a bunch of numbers and symbols), I thought I’d share them with you (bear in mind this book was started in 1999 and finished in 2003):

  • Chapter 1 – The Proposal (solid)
  • Chapter 2 – The Problem (got a theme going)
  • Chapter 3 – Winning is half the battle (changing it up, nice)
  • Chapter 4 – What’s a ship without a crew? (good question)
  • Chapter 5 – Testing Phase (back to two words, good choice)
  • Chapter 6 – Sim-Central (don’t know what this really means, but I think they were using a simulator?)
  • Chapter 7 – Picking up the pieces (A little on the nose, but apparently they broke the simulator)
  • Chapter 8 – Cellular Christmas (wait … what?)
  • Chapter 9 – Scarecrow’s Dilemma (if he only had a … wait for it …)
  • Chapter 10 – Sarah Walker (Oh, now we’re using the name of a person, and remember Chuck hadn’t aired yet)
  • Chapter 11 – Unfinished Business (simple but back to solid)
  • Chapter 12 – Pre-launch Jitters (don’t you just hate those?)
  • Chapter 13 – Ready To Go (Okay so we’re ready now, right?)
  • Chapter 14 – Unto the breach (That doesn’t sound good)
  • Chapter 15 – Rapid Ascent (Wait, we were supposed to launch two chapters ago!)
  • Chapter 16 – Anticipated Arrival (We were expected?)
  • Chapter 17 – Crimson Sun Revisited (When did we visit it before? Answer, in the prologue which was titled ‘Galateia’ and not ‘Crimson Sun’, though Crimson Sun was involved. Anyway, moving on.)
  • Chapter 18 – Camping out under the stars (sounds nice)
  • Chapter 19 – Licking their wounds (maybe not)
  • Chapter 20 – Running the Gauntlet (originally misspelled Guantlet)
  • Chapter 21 – Awakened Spirits (meh)
  • Chapter 22 – Recovered Data (back to the theme I see)
  • Chapter 23 – Ghosts of Past and Future Days (seriously?)
  • Chapter 24 – Harkenings of Atlantis (is Harkenings a word? WordPress doesn’t think so.)
  • Chapter 25 – The Emerald City (Wizard of Oz?)
  • Chapter 26 – Behind the Curtain (Definitely Wizard of Oz, late in the game decision to go with this theme)
  • Chapter 27 – At long last (indeed)
  • Chapter 28 – Casual Conversation (eh)
  • Chapter 29 – The Greater Mysteries (getting profound)
  • Chapter 30 – For the future (inspiring)
  • Epilogue – Return Journey (There and back again)

There was also an interlude called ‘En Route’.

Here’s the problem. Obviously some of these are just dippy, darlings that even I wouldn’t recognize today. Some are straightforward and simple, others are bland and shapeless. Some make up words, some appropriate Moody Blues phrases, and some are too unspeakably clever.

This is why I don’t write chapter titles, and why my tendency has been for one or two word book titles. I’ve read a few books where the title really adds something to the chapter, but I’ve yet to write one. I do think that if you’re going to do it, you should make some conscious thoughts as to a consistent theme. It’s probably okay to break it once and a while, but only if you have a reason to do so. And “Ghosts Of Past and Future Days” is not such a reason.

I like titling parts of a book, as these can almost fell like mini-novellas, and those deserve a title. But beyond that, probably not. Hell, I have a hard enough time thinking of a title for each blog post.

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Setting outrageously big writing goals

Here’s something it’s taken me a while to figure out, if my goal is to write less, I write less. If my goal is to write more, somehow I find a way to make it happen.

I’ve spent a lot of the last couple of months feeling burned out. Part of that was the 90,000 word book I had to write for work (a programmer’s guide) or at least so I thought. It can feel like there is a finite amount of writing energy, of creativity, at any one time. And yet I still have stories and ideas bursting to get out, things I want to discuss on the blog, and experiments that hopefully help me to grow as a writer.

It was feeling difficult to wake up and have the motivation to write every morning, and so if I couldn’t manage that, I wouldn’t write at all that day, even when I had better energy around my lunch break. Some of this is distraction, sickness, the cold of winter and video games. I do believe that writing can sometimes ebb and flow, but only as much as we let it.

I’m probably taking too much on at a time. I’m committing to write five times a week on the blog (plus posts for Going Deeper). I’m writing a serial novella, editing a current novel, considering how to revise another novel, and thinking of another to get started in rough draft. And I’m thinking about at least another two non-fiction projects that I’ll be trying to get some work done on this year.

And the funny thing is I’ve never felt more energized. Sure it felt rusty at first. It can feel a little depressing to take an hour to write a 300 word review, but once you get everything turned over, once you get the motor running, everything flows as easily as it used to. Part of this isn’t just writing. I’m kicking up the amount I read too, whether it’s interesting articles online, or books from NetGalley, or yes, even comic books. I still need a way to reset at the end of the day like before, I can just choose to do it in a way that doesn’t suck up hours of my life and thought processes.

We write what we are doing. If we’re sitting around letting the snow get us down, and piling on another blanket, we may be cozy, but we’re not working. Again I’m not saying it’s bad to rest. Maybe I did need a rest, and I just have the kind of personality that circles back in on itself and kicks me around for not being more productive. Case in point, when I was first starting to write posts again, it felt like I wasn’t getting as much done as I should, and I was kicking myself for not working much these last couple of months.

Screw that noise, if you’ll pardon the expression. It’s never helpful to dwell on work you haven’t done, just be excited about the work you are doing. Admittedly some of this is the high of the natural reset caused by the new year, but if it is, then I can pair down to what’s working and keep going from there. But I do feel passionately about writing a lot of projects at the same time, if nothing else to always make use of the part of me that is feeling fresh. If I work the same thing for too long I get tired and I put it down, and then it feels rusty to get back into it. But if I always have something to turn my mind to and get it going in a different direction, then I still feel like I’m making progress and can come back to the other work with a fresh perspective.

I also like getting myself into holes by committing to you guys, whether its the number or type of posts each week, or whether its proposing a project I may or may not really have time for, but want to try and want to get you guys excited about so I can feel the pressure to write the next installment 🙂

So here’s to a year of frantic writing. Maybe I’ll do a NaNo this year too 🙂

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