NaNoWriMo 2016

I plan to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. I’ve got 4 separate projects I could conceivably work on during this period. None of them are just blank screens. I feel like this is a pretty good situation to be in. What if I were in the situation of not having a project at the ready? What would I do? Honestly, I don’t know. Usually, I start a project with a single concept, maybe a sentence or a few words. Deep Space Help Desk was a concept that I’d been kicking around for a while without much luck. Then an overheard conversation at work, jostled my mind into the right place for it, and things started coming together. For Wine Bottles and Broomsticks, I had a single phrase that I built a story around. The other two WIPs, one I’m calling The Dark Queen of Darkness, and the other Thittlebod or Penelope H. Adventure (That one doesn’t have much of a name yet), these both came from something much less tangible. 

In the latter two cases described above, I started with characters. I love it when a viable story starts out this way. Immediately compelling characters offer that illusive hook that writers so often talk about. Not only that, it gives me a non-flat character right away, as my wife will tell you, I struggle with character. When a character jumps off the page with what, as a writer, feels like a bit too much force, that’s the sweet spot. The only thing to be done is to observe the world through their eyes. I particularly enjoy characters who are either completely hopeless at what they do and really don’t belong wherever it is they happen to be, or they’re full experts, but in either case are inexplicably surrounded by nonsense. I love walking the character through the nonsense because it makes the dialogue much more interesting and gives me a lot of freedom with respect to what other characters say and do. Not to mention, as a writer, I can add twists that make little sense, because the main character will be quite as confused as the reader. This is excellent. If the main character is saying “Wait. What the hell just happened?” At the same moment this occurs to the reader,  the reader is on the side of the protagonist and much more likely to follow along with whatever is going on.

I think if I were starting fresh, with no real sense of where I was heading with NaNo, I think I’d start with a character and a vague sense of setting. I’d let the character’s motivations determine the plot. After all, the plot is just a series of events that prevent the MC from getting what they want and the process by which that MC overcomes the obstacles and changes as a result. Anyhow, now I’m off to pound away on my non-NaNo project before I have to switch gears. Good luck to all the NaNo participants out there!

Existential crisis of a writer

At the Alaska Writer’s Guild annual conference, I heard a lot of things. So many of those things stuck with me as really good and legitimately helpful advice. I will go on about that quite a bit over the next few weeks in part because I’m still digesting what I heard and writing it out like this helps me to understand it. That said, one of the things that hit me, and is still hitting me, is this question:

Why do we write?

If you’d asked me that question before last week, I’d have selected one of the following clichés:

– Because I love doing it, and I want to keep doing it,

– Because I want to be a professional writer when I grow up,

– Because it legitimizes my wearing of socks and sandals in a way nothing else can.

Okay, I made that last one up, that’s being a programmer. Being a programmer does that. So the real answer, and one I’m embarrassed to say someone had to tell me, is that we write to be read. Wow. Okay. That distills it down to the very heart of the matter, doesn’t it? I think that ought to be enough for me to just carry on and keep writing. After all, it’s not exactly an earth shattering revelation. Yet, it still nags me, because I can’t get past the second why. This is the why that hangs out with a but just at the end of the to be read.

Why? It’s the ultimate existential question isn’t it? You can why anything to death. I keep wanting to come back round to the why I do this, but here’s the kicker, it’s not about me at all. If I make it about me, then I’m missing the point. I’d like to think what I write is humorous. Perhaps not outright funny, but silly in a slightly better than slapstick way. Attempting to be humorous adds something to my work for sure. When I started doing that, the quality of my writing increased dramatically. Even I like it better and I’m extremely hard on myself. I’ve even gotten a few compliments, and compliments feel good. For me, the best compliment is “I’m really enjoying this.” I’m not really looking for anything more than that. There it is again, that me thing, but that’s why I do it, we’re talking the second why, not the first one.

To get back to the first ‘why’ in ‘why do we write’, it’s a two way street isn’t it? I get satisfaction from hearing the words “I’m enjoying this.” and the reader has clearly gotten something from it. They’ve gotten what I was hoping they would get out of it. The problem here is that it’s all too easy to focus exclusively on the ‘me’ portion of the equation and not the reader portion. I’m not saying it’s all about working out exactly what an audience wants to see, because quite often they don’t know what they want, that’s why creative people exist, to make up the new things that people didn’t know they wanted until they have it in front of them.

In any case, this is something for me to ponder and think about as I work through the difficult process of getting enough pre-orders to publish Wine Bottles and Broomsticks on Inkshares, and moving forward too into other projects that will need to find the readers that need them.

Writer’s improvement hell – Tools #3 (Backups and document sharing)

I should be working on Wine Bottles and Broomsticks, or blogging about the development of that project – which I think is a hell of a lot better than anything I’ve tried yet. Possibly, I should be blogging about the fact that I just left a workplace that I happen to like a lot for a new adventure (this was emotional for me and has rather consumed me for a few days now).

Instead, I’m going to muse on backups and document sharing. This rant will be a lot shorter than the other two in the set. If you’ve read tools #1 and tools #2, you’ll know my writing setup consists of an Ubuntu Linux laptop and a MacMini desktop that I rarely get to use because reasons. I’m mostly using LibreOffice and Scrivener. A big mash-up right? How can I possibly keep all that straight, and more importantly how am I going to move documents back and forth – e-mail?

Another question that filters in here is how to I keep my work safe? What if my computer is stolen, or thrown into the duck pond? OR the geese eat it!

There are options – to deal with both of these concerns, actually. Most of which aren’t ideal with Linux.

The two categories are the cloud, and something else.

The cloud options consist of things like dropbox. If you’re like me, you think that the cloud is just another way for very large corporations to suck money out of you without providing you something you couldn’t have done just as well on your own. That said, there is some comfort in knowing that if your house burns down tomorrow, all of your writing work will be spared. If not going with a cloud option, for backups and what-not, there are a couple of choices.

The first choice in home-backups would be thumb-drives. In fact, this was my primary backup system for some time. They’re easy, portable, and cheap. However, they’re also not the most stable medium in the world. If you don’t spend enough money on one, you are looking at a potentially high failure rate. Imagine that your thumb-drive containing all of your work fails. Well, that would truly stink. There’s nothing more irritating than a failed thumb-drive. Imagine if your thumb-drive is bad AND your hard-drive fails, or worse, you’ve forgotten to backup your work in a few weeks and your computer spontaneously bursts into flames. It’s pretty unlikely so I expect this is a pretty good choice for backups. After all, they’re back ups, not primary storage. However, for me, that’s only half the story. What if I want access to my stuff from multiple places and I don’t want to have to try and work out version control on a thumb drive?

Next possible option is to get one of those fancy routers with a USB port that you can plug a portable hard drive into. This would kill 2 birds. I get portability AND a certain amount of backup, excepting for a couple of issues. The first is that I’ve got to fight Linux to make it work. Fortunately, I’m a reasonably smart guy and can probably make it work, plus Ubuntu has a fairly robust community. Problem solved right? No. Now I don’t have remote access to my files, and the portable hard drive connected to my router is the primary storage for my files, meaning that I still don’t have a back-up. This still leaves thumb-drives, which I’m ALWAYS forgetting to use anyhow.

Alright, let’s consider ‘cloud’ solutions. To be clear I do not like the ‘cloud’ it’s a word that IT managers use when they’re too stupid to implement their own, more effective and cheaper solutions. Don’t argue with me on this one, it’s a position I won’t budget from unless clear evidence can be produced to the contrary. HOWEVER, for certain applications, it has an appeal. First off, let’s discuss problems. One being security. How do I know that if I dump my files on to some cloud service that they’ll be secure? In general, you can’t. This is the reason I won’t use Dropbox. Another problem? Cost. Many of these services have monthly fees associated with them. Yet another is constant network access. So why consider it then? Because there are a few services out there that have encryption so intense that if you lose your password, don’t expect to ever see your files again (something I generally approve of), second, if you set it up right, you won’t need remote access, you’ll have copies on your local computer. The remote cloud stuff is just a backup. So, we just achieved two benefits. This is good. As for cost? Well, there are services that will back-up a certain amount for free, and for someone like me, the free amount is enough.

So, in spite of my deep-seated prejudices against ‘the cloud’, I’ve found a cloud-based service that works just fine. To date, I haven’t experienced any problems with it. Is this the best solution? Probably not. The best might be to develop my own back-up service that goes to a locally hosted RAID array. Yes I could do this, but it would cost a lot and take a lot of time. As a result, I’m sticking with my setup for now. Am I going to recommend what you should use? That would be an emphatic no. You have to do what makes you comfortable and works for you. Same as all of the other tools.


photo credit: IMG_0561 via photopin (license)