Writing About Writing

The Writing Challenge

Everything was to be finished no later than Monday the 7th of July. I woke up at 0800 on Sunday the 6th. About 6000 words still to post, though many of them already written. I was on-call that weekend and expected to spend half the day doing my job. Between calls, I scribbled furiously. My time divided, roughly equally, between working on the challenge and getting some coding done for a separate deadline. The end of my shift came and went and I was still writing and coding. Dinner was inhaled over the course of a 25 minute break. Midnight came and went. At 0430 I decided I was done for the moment. The coding was complete enough and the writing was, more or less, done. Though rough and unedited.

It was too late (well, early) to go to bed. So I relaxed a little and then headed off to work for the day. I spent my train rides napping and my lunch break editing. Got home and quickly edited some more whilst scoffing down a meal before my weekly gaming night (two rounds of DotA 2. We lost both. By a lot). We played from 1900 through to about 2100. I dove straight back into editing after that and ended up re-writing a considerable portion of the terribly named and woefully written “A Breakfast Lecture”. It got to 2330 and I realised that there was no chance I was both out of time and just making things worse in my sleep-deprived state. So, I hit publish and passed out on my bed.

I’ll call that a victory.

Learning About Writing

I learnt a lot about my writing in the past few months. Much of it came from writing, editing, getting feedback, and writing some more. Even more came from reading Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s a fantastic book, with personal anecdotes and stories woven around device. It’s more conversation than instruction manual and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I didn’t agree with every piece of advice he gave – and he basically tells you not to, the book is full of “this worked for me, but it might not be your style. And there’s nothing wrong with that.” – but it sure as hell got me thinking a lot more about writing and in ways that I’d never really considered before. Also, some of his stories are sufficiently poignant and well-written that it’s worth the read even if you aren’t a budding writing.

One of his major pieces of advice is:

Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right — as right as you can, anyway — it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it.

I’d started to come to realise this myself as a result of the writing challenge, but his section on this topic helped me put what I was thinking into words that made sense. I did a lot of things whilst writing the parts of the Longest Eulogy that you see here that I didn’t really want to do. Worse, I didn’t do a bunch of things that I wanted to do. I was always aware that the piece I was working on had to be posted in more-or-less the form it was currently in. I took less risks, I forced things to happen faster than they should’ve. The shooting probably should’ve been on the second or third date at least, but I didn’t have the time (or skill) to write a few dates and keep people’s interests. Ideally, I’d just have written those dates and then fixed any boring parts during editing. But after discounting major social functions, I basically needed to post a piece a week and so I always felt compelled to just write something that can be posted straight away. Which is why Dedorak’s Lands ended up on the list, even though from a world-building perspective it would’ve been much better to leave for quite some time. But it was a standalone piece and thus both easier to write and less of a hassle if I fucked it up.

I think having the challenge also sucked a lot of the fun out of writing. It became like a uni assignment and I procrastinated a lot more than I had been when writing for myself – and a lot more than I have been now that the challenge is over.

Having learnt this valuable lesson, I will not be posting any more of the Longest Eulogy on here until the first draft is done. I’ve not decided yet if I’ll edit it piece-by-piece, posting as I go, or if I’ll edit and re-write the entire thing and then post a draft e-book version for those who are interested.

Winner, winner, steak dinner!

A number of people were helpful. Sewnerd mentioned on more than one occasion that she enjoyed reading my stories (and I do always like my ego being boosted). My main drinking buddy served as a sounding board one Friday night when I was pre-occupied with some plot points when we were supposed to be getting drunk. My sister had some insight into romance stories (though I’m less and less convinced that that’s what I’m writing) – as well as a list of books she thinks I should read. My frequent running partner listened to my world building ideas and asked insightful questions. My oldest friend, and frequent world building collaborator, also listened to me ramble a lot, provided some great insight, and helped winnow down lists of names.

The most helpful person though was the one person who consistently read my work – even being crazy enough to apologise for not getting to it fast enough. She provided feedback on a number of occasions and, at times, in great detail. She gave me lists of books to read that could show me how to or how not to do some of the things I wanted to do – and brought some of them over from interstate for me. She was always encouraging but never pulled her punches when criticising or, at least, it never seemed she did – maybe I’m actually even more terrible than I imagine :P

For all her troubles, she gets a steak dinner from me. Which should go rather nicely with the one she got from helping me with my first challenge. Many, many thanks Hannah.

The Longest Eulogy IV – A Breakfast Lecture

I’m counting this as two pieces. It’s just over 2450 words. I could spend twenty minutes chopping it in half and posting two separate things. Which would just be done to satisfy the challenge and would read terribly because there aren’t really two parts here. So, let’s just say that I did that… :P

So, 5 posts counting as 6 – the Longest Eulogy parts II – Truth in the Light (~3000 words), III – Enter, Stage Left (~1800), and IV – A Breakfast Lecture(~2450), plus the Bullies and the Bullied (~1750) and Dedorak’s Land (~1600) brings me up to a total for the May/June challenge of just over 10,000 words, which was the aim.

I learnt a lot. And I’ll post about that later this week. I haven’t slept properly since Sunday morning sometime – though I did have a nap in the mid-afternoon. My point is I am tired and wish to go the fuck to bed.

One last important note about the below piece. I wrote most of it today and it has had only the most cursory of edits. I also cheated in the long, lecture part. It’s pure exposition down there, which is bad form. And I imagine hard to read unless you’re like me and enjoy RPG source books… My intent for that section as always been to have MacGregor give the lecture whilst her and Sylvie were doing something else. So, I wrote the lecture planning to go back through it and flesh it out with a bit of action between each couple of lines from MacGregor. But, I hit 2400 words and I’m exhausted and I suspect my writing is terrible as a result. So, I figured I’d leave that for the next review. Anyway, I’m rambling and starting to get into topics I want to cover in a separate post-challenge piece. Good night all.

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Dedorak’s Land: Eturttarp uq etoanuk

And now for something totally different. Weighing in at around 1600 words, this piece is set in the Fractured Earth universe though it’s very out of place compared to what I’ve released up until now. That’s kind of deliberate. One of the things I want to do with Fractured Earth is have a world where a lot of different stories can be told. Not all need to be serious.

This is the creation myth of a group of people from a world quite unlike our own. Occasionally they find there way here and interesting things happen. That’ll be the topic of a later story.

Like everything I’m posting this week, it’s much rougher than I would like. Given more time, I would probably cut 25% of it and completely rewrite another 70%. Oh well…

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The Longest Eulogy III: Enter, Stage Left

Just shy of 1800 words, it’s a shame I can’t count this as a post-and-a-half and that I couldn’t find a remotely decent way to split it down the middle, add a few hundred words and have two posts.

This piece picks up where Truth in the Light left off. It’s rougher than I’d like, but less rough than I originally expected. You can expect at least two more pieces in the next few hours. Hopefully three. I guess we’ll see.

And, yes, I know the title is awful. I haven’t slept in nearly 36 hours. It’s the best I can manage.

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Language and an Extension

On My Writing

Technically, a bunch of pieces are due tomorrow to meet the second of the three challenges I set myself. Illness in the past couple of weeks means that isn’t going to happen, so I’m giving myself until the morning of the 7th of July to finish up. Ideally, I’d give myself a free weekend to write (which is what I lost to a nastly cold. Grumble, grumble). However, I’ve got to work the weekend support shift next weekend. I considered giving myself a longer extension, but I have major social events each weekend after that through to the end of June. So, that seems like a bad plan. Instead, I’m going to release slightly rougher work than I really want to.

Hopefully, you should see some pieces going up during the week. I’ve actually got about 6000 words written at the moment and just in desperate need of some editing. I guess we’ll see what happens

On Language in General

I’ve been learning some of the basics of linguistics of late and have discovered that I have been a wrong, bad person for the last 15 or 20 years. A prescriptivist approach to language – where you tell people they can’t do shit because that’s not how we used to do it – is bull-malarkey. Language is whatever people use and what is mutually understood defines a dialect. The fact that so many people do use literally as an intensifier means that it is an intensifier. That’s how language works. It’s the whole idea behind it. What makes things even worse is that the highly educated and the less educated often speak different dialects (some linguists seem to prefer the term sociolect, which I think is cool but don’t know enough about to use confidently). Which basically means that we’re bullying people for speaking a language that isn’t quite the same as ours. Shame on us.

Stephen Fry covers a similar topic in a much better way (and with a much more impressive use of language than I possess):

Cutting out the sugar

Lately I’ve noticed that I spend a lot of times doing things that don’t benefit me and that I don’t actually get any entertainment out of. I’m talking about social media, some tv shows, and most games I play. I do many of these things not because they’re fun, productive, or educational, but because they’re in front of me and my brain wants some sort of instant satisfaction. Twelve seconds later it will be completely unsatisfied again.

Today, that changes.

The TL;DR of the changes:

  • Facebook – Effectively, I’m no longer on facebook.
  • Twitter – I’m no longer on twitter.
  • Reddit – Tinker with subscriptions, no mobile access anymore
  • Google Hangouts / Chat – No noticeable changes
  • Gaming / Steam / Origin – I’ll be online a lot less, but probably just as up for social games

Below the fold is a more detailed discussion that I recommend only for those that are truly curious as to some of my reasoning:

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Writing, Sleeping, and Potato Peel Pies.

The May Challenge

Well, we’re notably into June now, so I should probably mention that I was successful in getting up at 0600 throughout May. The most helpful person in doing that was my good friend, Hannah. It’s her fault I was writing haikus at 6 in the morning. So, anyone who had the misfortune of reading should direct their ire at her. For her part in this, she gets a steak dinner later this year. Special mentions also need to go out to Chris and Richard for listening to me rant about sleeping patterns and poking me on twitter from time-to-time.

On the Writing Challenge

I’ve written some more, but it looks like it’s going to come down to the wire as to whether or not I manage to get all six pieces finished by the end of this month. Hopefully, I manage to get a few thousand words written this long weekend.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

I don’t know what to write about this book. I just finished it a couple of minutes ago, reading it in basically one sitting from the middle of this afternoon to now. It was amazing. I cannot recommend this book enough to anyone who loves reading. The characters were so amazingly lifelike, especially for a book that doesn’t even make it to 250 pages. I loved, I laughed, I cried, I dreamt, and I hoped.

Put down whatever you’re doing. Cancel your plans for the rest of the day. Find a copy of this book and read it now.

I don’t want to gush too much, the book isn’t perfect. It has some flaws. The letters are, at times, too similarly voiced for the characters they’re supposedly written by. The plot is very straightforward, which I would often see as a flaw but it seems to work for this story. My biggest criticism is slightly spoilerish so stop reading now. Or don’t and know that I found the conclusion somewhat hurried and a little too neatly wrapped up. There are other things I could criticise, but they’re a little too spoilerish and I didn’t find actually find them to be an issue – I just feel that they should have been. Weird how our brains work, no?

Many thanks must go to the friend who recommended it. Amusingly, it’s the same person who recommended Fingersmith to me – which, as you may recall, I really didn’t enjoy.