Archive for category Writing

Scrivener for iOS…almost here!

One of the things that helped me get through my MFA program was a little piece of software called Scrivener. I’ve talked about it before…I won’t bore those that aren’t interested in it. No, this is for those of you that just might be interested to know that the iOS version of the app will be out – NEXT WEEK!

Posted late yesterday [7/13] from their blog:

Apple has approved Scrivener for sale on the iOS App Store, so we can now give an official release date: 20th July. To recap the details:

  • Price: $19.99
  • Release date: 20th July
  • Requirements: any device running iOS 9.0 or above (iPad, iPad Pro, iPhone, iPod Touch)
  • Available in all the same territories as we sell our macOS version on the Mac App Store. (Note that 1.0’s UI is English-only, but we will be adding other languages in a free update.)

Why, yes… I will be watching for it, how could you tell?


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The Infamous Question

If you’ve been anywhere near Facebook for the last couple of weeks, and especially if you have any writer-minded friends (and, really, to be honest, who doesn’t), you’ve likely seen or at least heard referenced a recent interview between George RR Martin & Stephen King. King is on tour for his latest book [End of Watch], and the final question of the conversation is that infamous one about writing speed.

Here’s the full video… the question is asked at about the 50 minute mark.

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Sanderson Lectures

I am on record as being a pro-Writing Excuses person. On more than one occasion I’ve suggested particular episodes to fellow writers/crit partners for something they’ve had trouble with, or just spread the gospel of “you should listen.” Several episodes happened to hit at just the right time while I was completing my MFA that forced me to think about aspects of my thesis as I was moving from finishing my first draft and facing down the revisions. A central part of that comes down to Brandon Sanderson.

Outside of his active writing career, he also teaches a writing class at BYU. Sanderson recently posted this on his website:

Several years back, grad student Scott Ashton asked me if he could record my BYU lectures and post them for an online curriculum as part of a project he was doing. I said yes, and it was never supposed to be “a thing,” not really. It was a student doing a project, and using my lectures as a way to explore online education.

Well, since that time, those lectures (which are collected at Scott’s site, which he called Write About Dragons) have been viewed tens of thousands of times, and become one of the big hallmarks of my web presence, at least as far as writing education goes. I’ve been blown away by the reception to them. At the same time, I’ve been keenly aware that the recording was subpar. This isn’t Scott’s fault—he actually did an excellent job, considering his background. But the lectures are at times difficult to hear, and the filming was handled on a single amateur camera.

For years, I’ve been wanting to do something better. And this year I had my chance. My good friend Earl is a semiprofessional filmmaker, and was looking for a new project. I pitched a better-recorded set of lectures, filmed this year in my class, and he jumped at the idea.

The TL;DR of his post, in case you couldn’t guess from where I ended the copy, is that he has a “newly recorded” set of lectures that will be posted over the next few months. Since I have, in the past, watched several clips and pointed writer friends to the above Dragons site (and with an interest in teaching this stuff, myself), I’m stoked to be able to check these out.

Here’s the first lecture, so you can start checking them out yourself.

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On Using TK

Disclaimer: The central piece of this post is being cribbed from a guest post from Matthew Quirk at Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid site (as filtered through Steven Pressfield’s)… I follow both, and saw the link at Pressfield’s first, but there is additional advice in the Story Grid post that is worth reading.

So, on with the cribbing:

Use TK. This is the essential lubricant of the rough first draft. It’s a habit I learned from working as a reporter, but didn’t realize the novel-writing magic of it until I read this advice from Cory Doctorow. TK is an editing mark that means “to come” and is equivalent to leaving a blank or brackets in the text (It’s TK, not TC, because editorial marks are often misspelled intentionally so as not to confuse them with final copy: editors write graf and hed for paragraph and headline).

Can’t figure out a character’s name? “EvilPoliticianTK.” Need to describe the forest? “He looked out over the SpookyForestDescriptionTK.” Need that perfect emotional-physical beat to break up dialogue? “BeatTK.” Just keep writing. TK a whole chapter if you want. Those blanks are not going to make or break anything big picture. Come back for them once you’ve won a few rounds against the existential terror of “Is this whole book going to work or not?” There’s no sense filling in the details on scenes that you’re going to cut.

Disclaimer the Second: I read the same advice from Doctorow, just from his essay collection Context instead.

That second point, actually, is what prompted this post… As my MFA mentors and crit partners can attest, I fully endorse this idea. If the idea is to get the story down, get through a first draft, this can be very useful.

I use it as reminders for flavor ([TK – add more about wound/colors]), or as a scenic placeholder for moments that need to happen, but I haven’t quite figured out how the sequence will play out ([TK – adventures happen in cave until emerging on the other side of the mountain]). Or, if there’s a detail that I’ve already established but don’t remember in the moment? [TK – Guy’s name from chapter One].

That, by the way, is how I use it [TK – (note)]. Yes, it might throw of some word count estimates, but most of the time those notes get replaced with longer passages that any disparity washes out. The brackets help the note stand out more prominently in hardcopy, and the “TK” instances are easy to move through using the “Find” feature.


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A few months ago, back in the fall, I stumbled across a product called a “Traveler’s Notebook.” I was impressed by both the simplicity and versatility of the design. As a writer, it definitely piqued my interest, especially checking the all-important “highly portable” box in the list of desirable qualities. (I’m currently running with a 9×6″ spiral notebook for the longhand draft of pages for the current WIP, and use slightly smaller journals for notes & world-building for other projects, but that could mean carrying multiple volumes at any given time… which can get…unwieldy, especially if working on more than one project.)

But I was reluctant to order one, wanting to make sure it would be something that I could commit to using. It’s a writer thing, I think… there’s an “ooh, shiny” factor to cool loking journals and notebooks, but I have plenty on my shelf that need to be filled before I can justify adding more. So, instead of getting the set-up, I picked up a few of the refills a month ago, hoping to give them a test run for future blog posting. They are, sadly, still in their packaging.

In the meantime, here’s a Youtube review that helped me understand the “system,” yet appealed to the minimalist sensibilities that I’m trying to foster.

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Penmonkey’s Creed (from Wendig)

Because, Wendig. Context, the originating post touches on fear vs writing the story you want to write (no matter how weird). Seriously, it’s worth reading.

I’ll admit, while reading the post, I kept thinking of the snippet of his night talk that I caught last June (at the Seton Hill residency), where he advised “Care less.” Live – write – for yourself, for the moment, not for things beyond your control…at least, while getting the story down. (DO consider them during revision.)

The Penmonkey’s Creed

This is my book. There are none like it, because this one is mine.

My book is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.

My book, without me, is useless. Without my book, I am useless. I must write my tale true. I must shoot straighter than my fear who is trying to kill me. I must kill my fear before my fear kills my story.

My book and I know that what counts is not what others have done, what sales we make, what tweets I have twotted. We know that it is my heart that counts. 

My book is a living document, because it is my life. I will learn it as it is my kin. I will learn its weaknesses, its strengths, its characters and plots and themes. I will put my heartsblood into the book and it will put its heartsblood into me as we become part of each other.

Before the Muse that I have shackled to the radiator in my office, I swear this creed. My book and I are the representatives of who I am. We are the masters of our fear. We are the ink-stained fools who press our fingerprints into the page for all to see. We are story and story-teller, one and the same. We are the gods of this place.

So be it, until victory is mine and I have finished my shit — fuck yeah and amen.

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Quick Book Notes

So, I’m a little late to discover Any Weir’s The Martian – finally tipped over to experiencing it after seeing the movie trailer, even though it had been on my radar for a couple of years.

Then there’s Earnest Cline’s Armada (just out a couple of weeks ago), similar in vein to his first book Ready Player One (which I also was slow to experience, just because of the depth of my TBR stack).

I tell you that, to say this:

Holy fucking shitballs! If you are any kind of SF person, it is my opinion that these works need to be consumed. Period. End of discussion. (Disclaimer: I listened to the audiobooks for both Martian & Armada. For both, there were points I laughed out loud by phrase turns, sarcasm and shots of gallows humor. I also couldn’t wait to get back to the stories…)

 Armada novel cover.jpg The Martian 2014.jpg

Okay, deep breath. Let’s readdress that, and unpack it for context.

The obvious: I am substantially inside the target audience for both works. For Armada, I’m also a returning reader (from RPO), and like Cline grew up in the 80’s, so I had experienced most of the gaming/music/pop culture references myself.

The not-so-obvious: This is the point where context really matters in the formation of my opinion, but context here is a non-linear thing. I am a writer, and have been studying craft closely for a couple of years (remember that MFA thing?). Part of that has been other sources of information – writer’s blogs, the Writing Excuses podcast. Lots of Writing Excuses. This year, they are running the season as a Master Class format, with a specific strategy for the season’s episodes, with each month being themed (instead of different, sometimes random, episodes). Recently, there has been a lot of talk in the episodes about middles, of try-fail cycles, “yes, but” and “no and” complications (the overly simplistic explanation: “yes, thing worked, but the something else happened that makes the situation somehow worse” or “no, thing did not work, and the situation has gotten worse”).

There was also some discussion in the Facebook group for my MFA program about “making plans.” [I can’t find the original at the moment, but the basic question someone asked: “What do you think about someone talking about their plans, before actually doing them?” The general consensus: Only to provide context for when the plans break down during implementation.]

All of that stuff was informing my listening experience, and since I was only passively experiencing the events of the story (as opposed to having to physically read the words in the increasingly minute chunks of time that having the kids under age 3 affords) – so I was able to get through more story at once while in that headspace.

Martian was all about “Here’s my plan” followed by “Well, that didn’t work, but here’s what did.” Not to mention tons of examples of “how things can get worse for the protagonist” (as if, SPOILER: Being left behind, presumed dead, on MARS, wasn’t bad enough). Similarly, I was able to see most of the escalations (both subtle and not-so-much), in Armada.

But even while being able to see behind the curtain, I was still engaged in the story. That is the key thing… And as a writer, both of them had things I intend to steal use as examples for some of my own projects.

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Dan Wells on Story Structure (a re-share)

Part of my regular weekly routine is to listen to the latest Writing Excuses episode. Some time ago, there was mention of a 7-Point Structure talk that Dan gave at a conference. At the time, I was tied up in other things, and still trying to figure out my own process (still am, to a degree, but that’s another discussion). A few weeks ago, one of my fellow SHU folks shared a link to video of the talk on Facebook, so I watched it. Logically, I can see what he’s talking about (and have read about similar structures other places), but it’s still something I’m working to incorporate.

(it’s a 5 video playlist, and I’m listing it here for others, but also for my future reference.)


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The Story Grid

I’ve mentioned before that one of the blogs I periodically follow is that of Steven Pressfield (Legend of Bagger Vance), especially for his “Writing Wednesday” posts.

His business partner and editor, Shawn Coyne also has periodic articles on the site, but a few months ago, he kicked off somethign new: The Story Grid. It developed as a companion (advance?) site for a craft book he is working on.

I’ve been following his site since its launch, and his approach “sharing my analytical method to edit stories of every genre” resonates with my nature.Sure,there are echoes of other craft/process worksthat I have read, but there are some new insights, or ways of thinking, that I have gotten from hissite as well.

For example, this post, where he talks about “The Universal Appeal of the Thriller” (note: that’s where my thesis novel would be catagorized). In that post, he suggests Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Albert Zuckerman. One of the things that I appreciated about the text was the inclusion (and discussion) of multiple, evolving, outlines for a Ken Follett novel. That post came at the right time, for me, as I’ve started trying to figure out an outlining process that works for me and my new (post-graduate, 3-kids under 3) schedule.

Or this one, where he talks about the Numbers of assembling a draft – again, hitting as I try to figure out my schedule.

Good stuff. Check it out.

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Emotional Milestones of a Novel (a share)

So, I’ve mentioned my affinity for Chuck Wendig’s writing advice – equal parts humor, practical advice, searing reality check, and liberal doses of profanity. This is a recent thing he posted…

And considering I recently “finished” my first novel on the way to the MFA, I can say this is a pretty accurate thing. Click the image above to see his original post, where he goes into further detail about each of the points.

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