Sunday, 6 August 2017

Some random NaNo Prep thoughts

I had some thoughts about NaNoWriMo preparation while writing a forum post today, so I've decided to expand them into a blog post. Here goes:

My NaNo Prep strategy is to pretend I'm not going to do it until the last possible minute, then make a snap decision that I'm going to take a break from whatever I'm working on to do something fun. The problem with this is that I got kind of obsessed with the thing I started last NaNo and I'm still working on it, so to follow my usual strategy I'd probably have to go back to the thing this project is a distraction from. Or, I could follow my more recent 'usual strategy' and just keep attacking this project until I finally get to the end.

As far as planning vs. pantsing I'm definitely a pantser, so my preparation for NaNo is pretty simple. I make a list of characters I know are going to be in it, write a brief description of them, write down some rough guidelines for the setting, then try to write down what the opening image is without actually starting the story. If I know anything else e.g. I might be setting out to find a different way to develop an older idea, I write that down as well. I don't bother trying to develop plot points or anything like that, because at this stage it would be a list of things that definitely aren't going to happen rather than a useful guide.

Also, you need a title. It serves several functions for me - an expression of theme, a thing to name folders and story files, and of course a necessary part of signing up for NaNoWriMo. The 'expression of theme' thing is sort of by accident. I choose titles that sort of fit the story I'm expecting to write, but they end up being somehow integral. For example, one time I used the title Placeholder because I had no idea what I'm going to write. One of the major characters turned out to be the prototype/guinea pig for an experiment the bad guys were running, and another one became a scapegoat of a less-bad guy's embezzlement scheme. Or another time I decided I definitely didn't want to write about a necromancer, so I used the joke title Hold the Necrosauce. You'll never guess what the story ended up being about.



 Finally - and this probably sounds either obvious or silly - I don't think you really have to do anything special or different for NaNo. It's more like the distilled essence of the things that already work for you. If you usually plan things thoroughly, you won't suddenly be able to write a fantastic pantsed draft, and if you're usually a pantser it's quite likely you'd end up dumping any planning you attempt. So, I'd say the first step is to figure out what works (and what doesn't work) for you already. Then, figure out how to adapt the 'what works' list to working at NaNo speed and also probably figure out how to avoid falling into the dangerous territory of the 'what doesn't work' list.

So, conclusion:

  1. You will get attached to your NaNo story even if you start it as a distraction 
  2. You need a title. Your choice of title will probably affect the story even if it's just a joke or placeholder.
  3. Make two lists - 'things that work for me' and 'things that don't work for me'. Use the first list to figure out your NaNo strategy.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

The Sparks Project (subtitle: looking for something to set me on fire)

Okay, so I'm struggling with short story ideas and I need to be not struggling. I already know that, and I already have a vague idea about trying to write them in existing universes, but that's not really going to solve the problem. The real problem is that I'm on the wrong side of another divide: the one between 'serious writer' and 'muse dust'. The story ideas I've been coming up with for uni are in the 'serious writer' category, which means I'm coming up with things I think I should be writing rather than things I actually want to write. So, in August I'm trying to change this pattern. I'm basically going to work in a cycle of plan-write-reflect and try to settle into the restrictions so I can start playing with them. I don't know if that makes sense, which means it probably doesn't.

The process I'm following is simple:

1. Think of a title.
2. Plan the story.
3. Write the story.
4. Reflect on the story.
5. Start again at #1 with a new idea.

There are only a few rules. Stories should be between 900 words and 1100 words. I'm also aiming to start a new story every second day, although that's not a rule so much as an ambition. If they take longer or I miss a day for some reason, that's okay. Also, it's a semi-rule that the reflection should be written on a different day to the story itself, because if I try to do it straight away I'll miss the things I'd be able to spot after a bit of time.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

August Goals and Plans

August is the month of goats! Also, the shortest 'Daily Goats' on the Blackwood farm since... probably some time in the late 90s? We have only one mother-to-be this year, due on the 22nd. They're most likely going to be solid black with white markings (British Alpine), but could be solid black (Australian Melaan). I'm going to take as many pictures of them as I can, but given my record I guess I'd better not promise anything will appear here...

Writing-wise, I plan to make August a month of flash fiction. I have to write two stories for assessment and I've been wanting to do a bit of world exploration for some of my big projects, so I have this idea about combining the two things and writing flash set in those worlds. I also have a bit of 'alternate universe' stuff I want to do for two (not quite) abandoned characters to see if I can find a world that accommodates their abilities, and I have two sections of my current major project 'The Nightmare Box' that I want to finish rewriting.

Goals for August:


* Write and polish at least 2 flash stories.
* Always Be Writing - constantly have at least 1 flash story in active planning/writing/editing mode.
* Finish editing/rewriting the two sections of TNB.
* Initial plan for revising two of my totally-not-abandoned projects.
* Read 4 books (3 free choice, 1 nonfiction).
* Blog stuff.
* Complete all assessment tasks for uni (1 essay, 1 quiz, 2 short stories + exegesis, 4 sets of forum posts).

I have no idea what to blog about, so at the moment I'm creating redundant rainbow chickens again by posting the same things here as on my Steve PPT. Anyway, this is my August. Flash fiction, some planning, a bit of rewriting, a lot of assessment-related panic. On with the show.

Hmm... August flash/short fiction challenge for Steve? As long as I'm going to be doing it anyway, I might as well put it up as a challenge. That seems to be my basic philosophy for challenges - if you're doing it anyway, post a set of rules so anyone else who wants to can try the same thing. In this case the rules would be really simple, since the only requirement is to write something that's somewhere around the right length. Or should it be a '1000-word chunk' challenge instead so I don't have to feel like I've failed if I end up with something that's really a part of a novel?

Monday, 10 July 2017

Camp NaNoWriMo Day 10: Writing is going okay. Everything else... not so great.



I had a run-in with Myron the 100kg buck goat on the 3rd and managed to briefly dislocate my right shoulder. Also lots of bruises on my back and a hoof to the right side of my face. So... yeah, this is going to be a problem. I still can't use my right arm much, so I'm staying away from the computer whenever possible and handwriting for Camp NaNo. This is surprisingly successful - I'm actually slightly ahead at the moment - but it means all that time I spent cleaning my typewriter on Day 1 was wasted effort. While I can use the computer keyboard a bit, the typewriter demands too much shoulder movement.

So, doing okay with writing but not really keeping up with blogging, social media or my cabin-mates. I feel weird about that. Am I having a good month or not?

Thought for today: Write the thing you can't resist.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Camp NaNoWriMo Day 1: A bit of a wobble, but a successful start


I didn't start Camp NaNoWriMo at midnight.

This is not in itself odd or noteworthy. Midnight starts are fun and all, but they're not exactly mandatory. In fact, the only reason I'm mentioning it is that I was awake at midnight and I wasn't writing. Not just in a 'I was doing something else' way, either. I was the 'alone at the desk having a bit of a wobble' kind of 'not writing'. It went like this:

Friday June 30, 11:20pm

I can't start from scratch because I don't have time to plan it out. I can't keep going with... well, anything... because I'm so fucking lost with it all that I wouldn't know where to start. So, the only thing left to do is write about the things I can't do. Somehow that tends to mean the metafictional adventures of Siana and Scott, which as the heading implies seemed like a good idea for about two minutes. I could go on some kind of journey of self-discovery or something - hook up with my old imaginary friends and talk about the utter mess I'm making of my writing career, and maybe regather my strength and build up writing muscle for working on new, serious things.

Then a couple of minutes later I was like "How is that going to help? I should just put on my big girl pants and attack a proper project. Metafiction is just a complete waste of time and effort!"

And... the thing is, I just don't know. Would it help? Ideally, it would be a quiet way to get into my own head - really dig into the things I want to do and the reasons why they're not happening. On the other hand... wait, is there another hand? If it just ends up random hijinks with characters, at least I'm writing something.

The decision basically comes down to 'panicflailrunaroundtheroomwavingmyarmsandnotwriting' or 'try the metafic thing'. I can set constraints, like that maybe I'll only try it for the first week, or like I'll stick to the 500 word thing as a target rather than a minimum, but really...

Saturday July 1, midnight

I can't do this. I'm too scared. Too broken. I. Cannot. Do. This.

So scared. So... I don't know how to explain it. I'm just sitting here trying to put anything at all on the page because I'm so scared there's nothing real in here. I feel defeated. The WIP list will never be conquered, the assessments will never be done, nothing will ever just turn out fine. I want to burn, but I just sit here cold and useless, and I don't know what to do about it.

Two things, Siana: first, switch off the computer. Second, get off the uncomfortable chair and find a spot where your body doesn't hurt so much.

Saturday July 1, 12:30am (transcribed from notebook)

Think about the actual, real, significant problems. Not the ones I'm absorbing and labelling myself with from the web or books. Just the real things that are stopping me.

So, why not the metafic? Not just 'it's not serious or productive'. The real reason.

Because my heart is elsewhere.

Yeah? Where?

In the Nightmare Box with my little necromancer.

So, why not work on that?

I don't know what happens next... and that's silly, because what's this 'next'? If I don't have an immediate idea for what happens next in the riverside training, what about all the other bits that belong in there? Crows and phones, dust and bones, ice and stones...

The thing is, I know that pattern of thought, and once I started writing it down I recognised the pattern and was able to realise that I needed to get myself comfortable and ask that one important question: where is my heart right now?

(Side note: as long as the answer is 'somewhere inside that lump of pain I call an upper back and ribcage', it's a fair bet that no work is going to get done. Ditto if a similar question about my writerly brain gets 'behind eyes that can't focus on something backlit'.)

So, today I cleaned probably something like 40 years of sticky stuff out of my typewriter, tidied my office, and didn't even start the computer until about 11:30pm when I was ready to update my wordcount. Using my now ridiculously soft-touch typewriter, I wrote 1032 words of the story I've been working on since the start of April, which I may or may not be lost in. If I just keep writing, though, I'll probably find my way out.

Also, I got this in my email after updating my wordcount!


Final thought: I don't have to know the whole story right now. It's enough to just keep following my heart.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Sort of a book review: Writing From Start to Finish by Kate Grenville

I've started reading Writing From Start To Finish by Kate Grenville, and it's the first 'how to write' book that's ever even remotely clicked with me so now I'm going to bore everyone who reads this thread by talking about it.

The book follows the entire writing process from initially deciding to write something all the way to giving it the final polish. It focuses on short stories and essays, but also explains how the same process can be applied to any kind of writing. Unusually for a writing book, it doesn't start with planning. Or at least, not the plotting/outlining type of planning. Instead, the fiction-writing section starts with the idea of giving yourself an assignment. For example, "Write a novel about a necromancer, using the theme 'serenade of self-destruction'" would be a description of the 'assignment' for my current main writing project. Then you use the directions and constraints of the assignment as the first steps into generating piles of ideas and information - just sort of wild brainstorming at this stage using various combinations of mind-maps, lists, research, and freewriting. Then once you've generated enough ideas, you sort them into piles depending on how useful they are or how well they fit into the assignment.

Then you start constructing the outline, long after I would have expected to be told to do it.

The thing is, looking at a lot of my 'chaos drafts' I can sort of see that they're right back at that early step of generating ideas and information. The next step isn't for it to magically come together as a complete novel draft - it's sorting all the bits and pieces into what really fits the original 'assignment' and what doesn't. Even then, the outlining stage is constructed on the basis that you'll be adding and changing ideas the whole way through it, and the drafting stage is practically inviting me to write in whatever order I want. Overall, the book is the closest thing I've found to a reference for the writing style I've found myself adopting.

Overall, this book is easy to read and the process it describes is easy to follow, but also easy to adapt if you're someone like me who already has a few established quirks. It's going to be extremely helpful for the coming Camp NaNo month. I only wish I'd bought it a bit earlier so I had more time to get myself sorted out.

I bought it from Booktopia, but I assume it's available from all the usual retailers.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Of Dark Backgrounds and Blue-Light Filters, a rant


Me: *adds "Don't recommend f.lux" to a post requesting dark themes*
Everyone: *recommends a whole bunch of things that are basically f.lux*
Me: *goes on a Twitter rant*

Rather than just embedding the tweets, I'm going to try to expand them a bit. So, I guess here's the second draft of my rant.

The first thing I have to say is this: If your software has light-background areas that can't be changed, it's not suitable for people who need dark backgrounds. This usually means toolbar and menu backgrounds, but there are some applications where the main text area can't be changed. If someone has changed to a dark-background theme, they did it for a reason and it's highly unlikely that the reason will just evaporate because you (the developer) told them your application needed to be used in light background/dark text.

There's also a sub-type of the background colour issue where the program will accept the dark background of an OS (operating system) dark or high contrast theme, but only at the cost of reduced functionality. Some elements might disappear or not display correctly, and in a lot of cases there are entire features that disappear. As an example of this, try setting a high contrast theme in Windows and then opening a spreadsheet that has cell background colours. Guess what you're going to see. I'll give you a clue: what colour did your high contrast theme set as 'background'? I mean, seriously. If changing to a dark/high contrast theme removes functionality, it's also not good enough.

These are serious issues for people with certain eye conditions. I'm photophobic and migrainey (I know there's probably a word for that...), and looking at light-background computer screen content is immediately painful and then migraine-triggering. I cope online by using a selection of Firefox add-ons to force dark backgrounds, and I choose my desktop applications for their ability to conform to my desired colour scheme.

Telling me to change to an orange/red background via a blue-light filter isn't going to cut it. I've tried them. Regardless, whenever I (or anyone else I've seen who posts about photophobia/migraines) asks for solutions, it's the same answer. "Just get... [blue-light filter that worked for me]". Well, no. Bright red or yellow light is very nearly as bad for me. When I say 'dark' I mean black or dark grey. (Actually, my very favourite background colour is #060A08, with text of #78B97E. You wanted to know that, right? PS: if you're on my blog, you're probably looking at those colours right now.)

Now, this isn't a universal problem, or one of scale. Although many big-name projects have major problems with backgrounds (including a couple of popular fiction-writing programs and just about every kind of spreadsheet program), the other end of the scale can actually be better. There are projects with only one or two developers who do a great job of either having really simple theming or letting the OS decide the appearance of the window. Some of my favourite programs that handle this nicely are FocusWriter and CherryTree — both, as far as I know, single-developer projects. My most-used program, Zim Desktop Wiki, has a couple of issues on Windows, but at least I can choose whatever theme I like from the GTK2 archive.
For your visual pleasure, my beautiful Zim Desktop Wiki, with GTK2 theme. It's called 'Darkmint' by the way.
So, the open source community can manage to write software I can use. From what I've seen browsing the code, it may actually be EASIER. Many (most?) programming languages have features to allow the OS to style the window. To get around them, you have to hard-code stuff. That means building the colours and images right into the program itself, which is both tedious and annoying, to say nothing of how hard it is to change anything later on. If you have any web-development experience, that's like using tables and inline styling when you could have had divs and a separate CSS file.

Yep, I make the best comparisons.

Anyway, what the programming bit means is that if you're in charge of one of those unfriendly-to-photophobes software projects, you're doing it wrong. If you'd used the built-in features for making programs conform to the OS theme, you could have saved work, made your code easier to maintain AND made it easier for people like me to use your software. From where I'm sitting,that seems like it should be a good idea, not a bad one.

Okay, now that I've turned a few Tweets into an 800+ word blog post, that's definitely enough of a rant. If the software companies are right, nobody cares much about this and I'm wasting my time writing about it, but... I mean, you have to start somewhere, right?

Here's the bottom line:

Software companies, do your own damn work! Don't just try to out-source it to blue-light filters. Dark backgrounds are needed, so please start allowing for them. As I said earlier, it might even make your job easier.