Sunday, August 26, 2012

Into the Future...

...time keeps on flowing?

First question: Why is time--as an effect--so damn interesting? Seriously, I can barely write a story these days without twisting the narrative backward, forward, sideways, or all three. I'm not stuck on Time Travel (the Subject) so much, but on the way our perception of events changes our emotional reaction.

For instance...

Adam is at home preparing dinner. He struggles, because he only has one arm. He's lost the other one. At some point, he becomes frustrated and nearly breaks down in tears. It is clear that this is a recent loss.

If you have any humanity whatsoever, you feel at least a little sympathetic towards Adam.

Flashback to the event that cost him his arm. It turns out that he lost it saving kittens from space pirates. Now he is not only sympathetic, he's a hero. Yay!

Flashback further. He actually used to be a space pirate, and it's his fault the kittens were kidnapped. Now he's a flawed hero, who has overcome his background.

One last flashback, furthest still. He is at a meeting with a super-secret spy person, who tells him that if he can engineer the kidnapping and rescue of a certain special litter of kittens, he will not only be handsomely rewarded, he will be instrumental in enhancing the status of the spy's government during an upcoming series of trade negotiations.

Unfortunately, we also learn (during this conversation) that the spy's culture considers one-armed people to be unwholesome, marked by the dark gods, and less than dirt, socially.

So, we now know that he is not a hero, but a greedy fool who deserves his comeuppance. The End.

I've written a number of stories that jump back and forth in time for exactly this sort of effect. I've also written three that follow this template exactly, jumping backwards in discreet chunks. It seems likely that I'll write many more.

Second question: Is this sort of time-jumping 'cheating'? In other words, since this requires the withholding of character knowledge regarding the past from the reader, am I creating a false mystery? In two of the three inverted chronology stories I've used some maguffin or other to keep the MC from having any memories of their past, partly to avoid this issue. In one, I just, erm... ignored the issue.

In more normal stories, a flashback almost always feels like cheating (if it reveals crucial info, which flashbacks always should) unless there is no better, more logical place to detail the events of the flashback. Preferably before any big decisions involving the knowledge imparted in the flashback are made. Before-the-fact should happen--you guessed it--before-the-act. The writer gets a pass from the reader in this sort of situation only.

Last question: How about a sideways sort of story where stuff down the timestream is affecting stuff up the timestream (like the movie Butterfly Effect and its ilk)? How about a parallel narrative, where two simultaneous timestreams affect each other? (Nope, I don't know how that works exactly, either. Sound cool though, huh?)

Not a question, but: I'm so tempted to go back and figure out a way to write this entire post in reverse. Except that would take way to long and would likely only annoy you. So, instead, I'm going to just pretend that we are now at the beginning, instead of at the end. Do be sure to let me now how this makes you feel.

Hello, welcome to today's post, in which we talk about the twisty nature of timey-wimey and the even twistier nature of reader expectations and emotional responses.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Keep the Fingers Flowing

Fun fact of the day: As of this post, I have done a few more than 100 blogs posts. Compared to most serious blogs (like the ones that post several times a week, if not many times a day), this is peanuts, I know. But for dilettante little old me it's an accomplishment. Whee!

Moving on: I've been doing a lot more nonfiction writing lately. Much of it (life-logging, blogging) I let drop off at the beginning of the year. I've not only ramped back up, I'm doing even more than I was before. I'm also writing more idea-bank stuff, more ultra short children's stories, and doing more paper journaling. I've also been writing a decent (not amazing, but acceptable) amount of 'serious' fiction.

One of the reasons I stopped doing so much of the nonfiction stuff was because I thought the time spent on it would be better spent on writing more fiction. Seems reasonable enough, right? Wrong-o. I found that I not only didn't use the time to write more fiction, I actually wrote less. And what I wrote wasn't as inspired.

Parkinson's law - Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

I think my results are a kind of weird variation of this. By writing, writing, always writing, I'm greasing the skids. It doesn't matter whether I'm putting down journal entries or grocery lists, as long as I'm putting down words. The effect of keeping my mind engaged with and focused on language is better, more effective fiction.

A side-note: I'm at the point with my fiction where I truly believe I have the potential to make my living as a writer. Getting from part-time to full-time is the big trick, though. Financially, I mean. Given a few months to a year of uninterrupted writing, I think I would do just fine. It's getting that time that's difficult.

So how do I do that? How do I make enough writing at the level I'm at to enable myself to get to the next level? I don't know. I wish I did. In the meantime I'll just keep plugging away, when and where I can, scrabbling for traction.

Ending on a high-note: And I'll keep reminding myself how lucky I am to have any free time at all. Plenty of folks have far less than me. I'm well-rested, well-fed, and well-loved. Nobody is shooting at me; I'm healthy and whole; I don't spend every minute figuring out how to make it to the next minute.

So yeah. It's pretty awesome to have the chance to write, and maybe one day the chance to write full-time. Thanks, Universe.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Speedy McSpeederson

I just hit the go button on the sport timer (built into my Sansa Clip Zip). I am going for another speed blog.  How very exciting, hmmm..?

First things first: What is a speed blog? Answer: A post done as fast as possible, start to finish. Caveat--without looking at the keyboard and/or preparation (lworking from an earlier draft or recording, or planning out the topic, etc.)

Question numero dos: Why do a speed blog? Answer: Because I want to practice touch-typing, because I like to force myself to think on my feet, and because It makes an interesting subject. Which brings us to the following point.

I'm interested in working on the mechanical aspects of writing because the long-term benefits are substantial. I think of stories and ideas far faster than I can get them on paper. Once on paper, getting them to where they are well-written and interesting is a further time-sink. And I--like everyone--am working with a finite amount of time.

My current working model assumes another twenty years of productive writing. If lucky I may get thirty or forty, but I'll stick with what I feel confident about (barring accident or illness). When I push, I produce about 500 to 1,000 words an hour. Editing/revisions double that time. So call it 500 finished words.

My goal is to spend four hours a day on new fiction (when I go full-time, at the moment I only get an hour on average). This adds up to 730,000 yearly (4 x 365 x 500). Weekends and vacations will likely take a chunk out of that total, but it's good enough for today's purposes.

It does no good if those words are all poopy, so I need to get it right the first time as much as possible. I need to edit and revise efficiently. In order to reach these goals (moving targets, really), I need to not just write, but practice as I write. I try to improve some aspect of my craft every time I sit down, by consistently and deliberately targeting a skill or technique.

And writing speed, while not particularly relevant to overall quality, is a skill. More apropos, writing fast and well is a learnable skill. The faster I get a handle on it and the better I get at it, the longer I will be able to reap the benefits. For instance:

What if I increase my writing speed by a mere ten words an hour? 4 x 365 x 510 = 744600.  14,600 extra a year, about 3 short stories worth. Over twenty years that's  292,000. Three more novels (or one doorstop). All from a 2% gain in speed.

Or how about blogging? How much time do I spend every week on my posts? If I could cut it by five or ten percent, or more, how much time would I save? (Time I could spend getting in a little more writing.)

Assuming quality stays consistent--or even better, improves--a modest gain in writing speed on the mechanical side of things will pay huge dividends down the line.

I want a career, not a story or a book or to say the one thing I want to say. I want to be at this for a long time, to leave behind a body of work that is as vast and deep as possible. That's why I'm speed-blogging.

I am a razor; I hone myself.

Final note: 31:56.5. Thirty-one minutes, fifty-six and a half seconds. Not bad, huh? (Add another eleven minutes or so for editing.) 617 words. ~800 WPH (words per hour). Wheeee!!!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Typecast the First - Olympia SM4

(You will probably want to click on the jpeg below to open it in a separate tab or window and make it much bigger. Lesson learned. Next typecast will be a much narrower column.)

Note: I know I promised mucho Red Pen of Dream-Slaying (TM). Unfortunately, the pictures I took of the typecast came out really, really blue-tinted, for some reason. So I had to desaturated to make the best one legible. Sorry. Yes, I am fully aware that scanning the page would be far more efficient. Except I don't have a scanner. I doubt I'll get one just to support this goofiness, but you never know.

Also, I'm to lazy to delete, rotate, and reupload photo #2. Just turn your head sideways :) That's the analog solution.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Triple Take

To begin with, this post is actually an experiment in workflow. Because I enjoyed the process of writing the Armadillocon Challenge Story in longhand and then typing out a second draft, I wanted to try the same thing for a blog post, just to see how it felt.

It's important to try different things, even if they may not always turn out to be improvements, just for the learning involved. New perspectives and all that.

The problem is that I'm writing this post at work, while driving. So: cue the voice recorder.

I'm doing something a bit convoluted, in the interests of exploration. I'm writing this post first on voice recorder, then I'm going to transcribe it longhand, then I'll type it on the computer. Phew.

This means three drafts, essentially. In order to keep the process transparent--and to explore putting photos up on my blog--I will include pics of the handwritten second draft.

Podcasting is a pain for me at the moment, so you won't get the audio first draft. I suspect the 2nd draft, and third for that matter, will be substantially different, so it might be interesting for comparison, but I doubt there will be much interest in listening to me drone on. (Note from further down the timestream: The drafts are all very different. Also, I say umm... a whole lot and repeat phrases like blog post way too much. You don't want to hear the audio, trust me.)

So that's the big idea. The rational is that a blog post is the smallest chunk of writing worth doing this with. A tweet would be silly and fiction, even flash, would represent to large a chunk of time. If I enjoy working this way I will try a short story next. If not, no worries, I haven't lost much writing time. (Time traveler note the second: I don't like transcribing by hand. I do like having a hard copy to work from. See final thought for the next experiment's parameters.)

On to the main topic: As mentioned last time, I wrote a complete short at 'dillocon this weekend. I wasn't sure I was up to the challenge, to be frank, and was quite proud of myself for completing it. I've now finished the second draft of 'Apeshifters', transcribing the text from legal pad to computer document. I made substantial changes as I went. I had a blast all the way through.

I still have a bit of revising to do, mostly line edits, but the story is mostly done now. It turned out to be a pulpish adventure, heavy on the weird. It has my kind of humor. I like to think of it as rollicking.

As glad as I am to have a complete story, especially given the drought I've been in lately, the biggest value here is the lessons learned. I've gotten back in touch with why I write in the first place. The one-word answer: fun.

Putting my worlds, characters, ideas, and events down on paper is a good time. Regardless of merits. It can be a terrible story, but it's mine and I love it all the same. And the thing is: completion is the first step on the path from awful to sublime.

I've been prejudging my ideas, and that's been killing my writing. The habit reared its ugly head after last year's 'dillocon, and has persisted until now. I'm glad to kick it.

The truth is, it's very rare for a story to start out good, for an idea to come to me whole cloth and be worth pursuing. By trying to only focus on good ideas, of which I get precious few, I've been neglecting all the terrible ideas that can grow into beautiful swans if I only let them.

My work evolves as I put it down. A few pages can make a world of difference to a story. I can't know how far an idea might carry me until I've finished putting it down, all of it, every last bit.

Because handwriting leaves little leeway for editing, and because I gave myself a deadline and was under the gun, I managed to bypass the critical voice entirely. I wrote a breezy, fun first draft. The second draft tightened up a ton of things, developed the ideas, and was also great fun. Absolutely marvelous to be working like this again.

I'm so stoked.

Verdict: Pad and paper + blasting through first draft = super way to get a story of to the races. I've written more this week than I have in a long while. In fact, the Armadillocon Handwritten Story Challenge was such a success that I went to my local big box and bought a twelve pack of legal pads and a twenty-four pack of jr. legal pads :)

Final thought: Having the story in front of me, in hard copy, makes editing/redrafting so much easier and more fluent. I'm going to try pushing myself through my next computer-typed story the same as this last one, then printing a hard-copy and redrafting from that. Basically mimicking the process I used on 'Apeshifters'.

I'll let you know how that goes.

As promised, pics of handwritten 2nd draft below. Which makes this officially my first pencast. As noted, the text is substantially different, although the ideas and flow are similar.