Working fast and slow

ZZ13E26145

Maria Popova blogged about a book called Reading Like a Writer – by the aptly named Francine Prose – that looks at the importance of reading for writers.

This quote made me stop and think hard:

With so much reading ahead of you, the temptation might be to speed up. But in fact it’s essential to slow down and read every word. Because one important thing that can be learned by reading slowly is the seemingly obvious but oddly underappreciated fact that language is the medium we use in much the same way a composer uses notes, the way a painter uses paint. . . . it’s surprising how easily we lose sight of the fact that words are the raw material out of which literature is crafted.

(more…)

Scrivener was created out of authorly procrastination

ZZ7764A2C4

Scrivener is the tool I wish I’d used to write Me and My Web Shadow, and it is almost certainly the tool I’ll use to write my next book (it’s already lightened the load on creating some e-books for clients over the last year).

If you don’t know it, Scrivener is a kind of heavy-lifting manuscript editor, a Photoshop of the written word.

Anyway, this video interview with its creator, Keith Blount, made me smile when he admits that Scrivener was created as a result of his not being able to find a writing tool that did what he wanted when trying to write a novel. (more…)

For authors: Managing your reputation online: links & resources

I’m writing an article for the Writers & Artists Yearbook about how to manage online reputation. I’ve compiled some of the links I think are useful in a Storify story (below).

Let me know if there’s anything you think I should add. Will credit suggestions in the updated Storify story and be linking to it from the article…


Glinner vs. Doctorow: Notes from The Story – Pt 1

* * Update: Audio for this talk is now available free at Storythings * *

201102221833.jpg

Image: by Paolabililty ©2011 (as Cory Tweeted: “t

his pic PERFECTLY captures what it’s like to interview

@glinner

on stage”)

The Story 2011 was exactly like the inaugural event a year ago. It was like the day just continued from where it left off – and for anyone who had been before, that was exactly what they wanted.

The Story is the brainchild of art, TV and tech Renaissance man, Matt Locke. He curates it unashamedly as “the conference I want to attend”, and it brings together a collection of storytellers from every medium and persuasion, from scientists to sculptors, live action role players to documentary makers.

For 2011, let’s start near the end… with the conversation between Graham Linehan, who wrote two of my favourite TV shows Father Ted and The IT Crowd, and Cory Doctorow, spec-fic author and co-editor of one the most popular blogs in the world.

In geeky circles, this was such an exciting pairing, I’m surprised there wasn’t some kind of Twitter singularity…

Star power aside, there were some brilliant insights into the writing methods of two very different writers.

Graham Linehan’s Method for Writing Sit-Coms

Graham starts from the producer of Father Ted’s maxim, that every sit-com episode needs two or three memorable set-pieces, e.g. Dougal on a Milk Float in a spoof of Speed…

  • He spends six months of constructive procrastination – he calls it “systematised goofing off” gathering ideas while mainly surfing the web.
  • Everytime he gets an inspiration it goes on a card. Cards are colour coded by characters.
  • An example would be a YouTube video he saw of a child crawling into an amusement arcade machine where a claw grabs the prizes – that became a set-piece in The IT Crowd where Moss dives into one after an iPhone…
  • When he has about 100 cards, it is time to begin…
  • The cards are laid out on the floor and he begins to string set pieces into episodes, about ten per episode (presumably they get thinned out).
  • Once he has the stack of set pieces per episode he has ” a good place to start”

 

Graham Linehan on collaborative writing online

Graham was clear that crowdsourcing and writing didn’t mix well, or at least they didn’t sit easily with him. He mentioned issues around taking advantage of people, reward, keeping conversation on topic and the risk that people feeling that their ideas had been “stolen”.

Incidentally, his prize bit of advice for writers starting out was not to be so worried about people taking their ideas – it is them themselves that will be what is valued by producers etc. That’s great advice for all sorts of creators – ideas are cheap, it is who carries them through and how they do it that makes all the difference.

There’s no tool that makes this easy, says Graham, having spent a fair bit of his “systematised goofing off” trying anything suitable out. So he uses Basecamp. He’s also thinking about experimenting with Beluga, which allows Twitter-like conversations in smaller groups.

He and about eight writers collaborated on the last season of The IT Crowd, using all sorts of things to spark off ideas, such as posting photos from awkwardfamilypetphotos.com and asking: How would Roy and Moss find themselves in this situation?

201102201807.jpg

Cory Doctorow on blogging and writing

Whether he meant it this way or not, Cory’s approach to blogging was lovely, and I know I will be referring others to it as a useful approach to the format/platform in future:

  • Blog about why something is interesting in five sentences.
  • By doing that you are creating a searchable database.
  • If it is interesting, people will annotate it with comments.
  • After a while, there are enough posts and emerging themes that the case for a long-form piece of writing becomes clear.

 

: : Graham talked about the episode of The IT Crowd with the courtroom drama. In that there is a joke about malapropisms – one character talks about “a damp squid” while another talks about putting women on a pedal-stool. Maybe he was being slyly self-referential referential then when he was talking about “hyper-bowl“? Regardless, it tickled me. “We all have our blind spots, Jen…” (BTW – this how to pronounce “hyperbole” video is hilarious in itself (and yes, I appreciate I am writing an invitation to pedants to pick over my pronunciation, grammar etc, but that’s life on the web…).

 

: : Aside: Mostly these days I will take notes into an Outliner app on phone or Mac, or straight into Curio, but something about The Story made me want to take analogue, ink-based notes, so I grabbed notebook on my way out. When I opened it I realised it was the same one I used to take notes at The Story 2010. If I get the time (unlikely) I may even go back and put soem of those onto my blog as well.

 

Writing, running, pain and finding the perfect space

Writing is hell. That’s why writers spend so much time trying to find ways to make it slightly less helliish.

For instance, I gained a new impossible dream today – to have a writing studio like this one…

Private Library from A Space In Time on Vimeo. Via Open Culture

Funnily enough this incredibly expensive writing environment reminded me of a £4.99 one that I started using recently (thanks to a tip-off from my Dad) the Writer app for the iPad. It really is very lovely, basically because it removes all distractions from the screen and lets you get into your scribely flow… well worth a try.

I’m also reacquainting myself with Ecto, the Mac blog editor. Lovely. It is as close as I can get to Live Writer. (Please Microsoft, do a Mac version, I would even buy Office to get it. Seriously.)

The value of these editors is tat they remove fiddly bits from trying to write a blog post. They make it quicker, so you’re not mucking around with uploading images or trying to figure out with your knuckle-scraping understanding of HTML why the text is appearing without paragraph breaks, bullet points or with question marks in odd places (all issues for me using the otherwise lovely Canvas theme on my WordPress blog these past few weeks).

What you need for writing are tools and spaces (physical or just emotional, states of of mind) that let your mind go free and the words to come quickly.

Writing is torture. As one of my favourite crime writers Lawrence Block says in his book about writing Telling Lies for Fun and Profit (and I’ve heard this so many times, in different ways, from other writers) writing is, very often, incredibly hard, almost painful. No one writes on a Sunday just for pleasure, he says, unlike painters or musicians where even the amateurish practice of the craft can be an end all of its own. Writers must persevere, must prevail, if they are to create anything at all.

I think that writing my book last year actually took a long time to recover from. I don’t think my blogging has ever been the same since. It brought upon me some species of trauma.

That’s one of the reasons that What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami is one of the most useful books to read if you writing things of any length (beyond, say 10,000 words). Writing is like long distance running, he says: lonely, you compete mainly against yourself, against your deep desire to give up and do something less uncomfortable.

There are many moments of course when you hit that elation, that flow, that Hunter S Thompson is quoted about in The Proud Highway: “I haven’t found a drug yet that can get you anywhere near as high as sitting at a desk writing.

Acutally, when I was searching for that exact quote I found that Hunter S Thompson also said: “Writing is the flip side of sex – it’s only good when it’s over.

But still, it’s like running. Sometimes when you are training, on a long run, you get the runner’s high after 15 minutes of slogging through the rain. It’s hard to justify the rest of the misery sometimes, just for those moments though, you have to have a clear iea of a bigger goal, and more than that just a lot of bloody minded drive to make yourself get out the door in the morning to run. Get up to your desk and start creating prose instead of wandering through the web or your social networks.

Writing is hell. But I can’t stay away.ZZ3C117589.jpg

Normal service will return in the Autumn

OK, I’ve been a bad blogger.

It’s been an odd month or so, and may stay odd for some time. It’s been hard enough blogging more or less holding down a full-time-plus-any-other-waking-time-you-might-have-lying-around job. Not to mention my family and a new addiction to mountain biking.

mtb

But most of all, I’m the final phase of finishing my first book, my first book that will decimate several physical trees as part of the publication process that is.

printing-press

So if you’re still l visiting / checking your feed, I’m sorry. I will be blogging again properly once I’ve finished the manuscript. Meantime, I am going to publish a feed of my Delicious bookmarks here. I know some people don’t like that, but I am very active there and I sometimes think of the notes as mini blog-posts.

See you soon, I hope…