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Tag Archives: writing

7-Dec: 2,001

December 7, 2007 – 10:55 pm

Over the course of this past week I’ve distracted myself by catching up on some of the things I’d neglected in November. Mostly. I have also been considering where the heck I go from here.

I need to take from the rough draft that which is interesting, meaningful, or just plain works. Most of that stuff is what went into the screenplay, so I have that document as a kind of an outline. However, even the screenplay merits caveats. In other words, it’s not complete, it’s got holes. How to address those holes is what I’ve been thinking about, and writing in my journal about, this past week.

Today I worked on two things: First, I just wanted to write two thousand words. Did that. Second, I wanted to set up a subplot by writing a scene where the main character has an argument with a sub-character. I did it. It came out awkward and rough and needs to be kneaded for a while and left to rise, but the fundamentals are there.

My goals for December are:

  • write on the new draft every day
  • adapt the screenplay back to prose
  • consolidate the many into one.

This last point probably sums it up best, because I’ve got material in many places–rough draft, notebooks, screenplay, scraps of paper tacked to the wall–and they all need to be in one document. It’s an ongoing process.

14-Dec: reWrite

December 14, 2007 – 6:40 pm

For a genre story, the protagonist need not really change, though his actions might change the world he lives in. Think: Perry Mason. In a character story, though, like: The Sun Also Rises, it’s the character that changes or affects change, and perhaps as a result of this change he is no longer allowed to participate in his previous world.

I’m building a sequence of events (plot) meant simply to work and be entertaining. Parallel to that, dude struggles (character) to preserve the values he holds dear, until one day he betrays those values and proves that he doesn’t belong there. “He” represents those values; his “world” is the confluence of conflicting values dealt with daily; and “what he does” is sell-out his own values, forcing change. He can change up, or down, or left, or right, but he can’t stay in the same world, because, by his own understanding, he doesn’t belong there anymore.

This is important and relevant, because I hadn’t been working with the element of “what he does.” Instead, I approached it like, “what happens to him.” The first example is of his own action, the second is an outside action. A change brought about by his own action is far more sympathetic than having something happen to him. He changes, earth abides.

All very esoteric and a bunch of baloney if it ain’t manifest in a story.

21-Dec: plothead

December 21, 2007 – 10:31 pm

Some days it seems impossible to write the plot you intended. Other days it takes care of itself. The quality of my first-draft scenes has improved, but I still feel like they’re missing a kind of cohesion that a focused plot brings. I need the plot to be more consistently exciting. And that ain’t chopped liver.

I’m enjoying daily writing.

28-Dec: local scene

December 28, 2007 – 9:22 pm

With the holidays go the schedules, apparently. The novel pace has slowed way down. Rewriting, replotting, it’s all askew right now. To stay in motion I’ve been writing scenes from real life, kind of like still life with words. Not quite accurate to real life, though. Writing these local scenes has kept me writing, but I feel that other story tapping its toe, arms crossed, waiting by the door.

Write read repeat

September 13, 2011 – 1:06 pm

I know what you’re thinking. You want to know what comes after “I wrote a first draft,” don’t you? You’re thinking, Okay, so what’s next?

What’s next is a straight read. Read it through without a pen in my hand. No notes, just reading. The idea is get a bird’s eye view of all the scenes, see how they fit, see where they don’t.

I’m about forty-four percent through it now.

It’s 236 pages, single-sided, 12pt Courier double-spaced w/ 1.25-inch margins on the sides and 1-inch at top & bottom. That’s a lot of pages and it’s only about fifty-thousand words. But don’t you worry my tree huggin’ friends, I haven’t printed it out yet. Instead, I sent it to my kindle©.

Reading it on the kindle© is pretty nice. For one thing I can read a chapter of mine and then read a short story by Lansdale or Chekhov or Miéville, then read a chapter of mine and read a chapter from a novel by Connelly, King, or Miéville. This is not exclusive to the kindle©, of course–you can do this with books–but when I’m out in the backyard the kindle© just makes life easier.

Probably the best / most relevant aspect of reading this draft on the kindle© is that I can just shut up and read it. It’s easy to read w/out taking notes on that thing.

And then what? After I read it, I’ll print out all 236 pages, put the stack of papers on my desk and flip ’em over one at a time as I read the whole blessed thing again, pen in hand, keyboard ready, yellow notepad at my elbow, real books w/in reach.

Allow it – advice to writers

October 3, 2011 – 4:50 pm

Someone recently asked me if I had any advice. He was a creative writing student at PSU. It caught me off guard and I flubbed, I gave him the standard answer: Write as much as you can. I know this answer is lame, generic, and not really helpful, like telling a poor person to work hard. For my sins I could not stop thinking about it.

A better answer came to me after we parted company. It’s been rattling around in my head for a few days so I’ve decided to get it off my chest.

Advice to writers: learn to write a scene.

That’s it. It’s simplicity should tip you off to it’s importance, it’s difficulty, and it’s worth–allow it. These books will help you understand what it means to write a scene.

Burroway, Janet. “Writing Fiction: a guide to narrative craft” HarperCollins, 1996.
Scofield, Sandra. “The Scene Book: a primer for the fiction writer” Penguin, 2007.

There are many other books I could recommend for a variety of topics related to writing, but it’s a slippery slope. Let’s not muddy the waters. Focus on writing a scene, one scene, in scene, one scene at a time.

Where’s that cup of tea?

October 12, 2011 – 11:53 am

As the thesis defense date approaches I’m spending as much time as I can working on my thesis project, the short novel I’m calling THE FANTASTIC MACHINE.

It’s going well, some days. Today is a good day. Yesterday was pretty good. The day before that kind of sucked. What made the day before yesterday difficult was that I had to wrestle with an idea and I couldn’t pin it down. It was a question about a character, who he is and how he would behave in this situation I’d found him in.

To work it out, I wrote about him in a tangential piece, not a short story or an outline, more of a report on the things that shaped him in life, a couple pages of exploration. It worked, I dare say. With that knowledge I set about rewriting his scene by going over the printout with a blue pen and pretty much crossing everything out and writing huge new text and dialogue between the lines and in the margins.

Today I’m typing that up (almost done) and then I’ll move on to the next trouble-spot.

That’s how it goes.

Nolo Contendre

October 18, 2011 – 3:49 pm

There’s a tent city across the street from the Multnomah County Courthouse. A blue tarp hanging from the limbs of a ginkgo biloba tree catches the mid-October sunlight. The sidewalk is colored with chalked slogans and there is hay on the ground beneath the tents. They have an information tent, a first aid tent, a tent where you can get socks, a tent for massages, one for art supplies, and one that’s a library, and dozens more they live in. Both Lownsdale and Chapman squares are filled with Occupy Portland protesters rallying to raise awareness about a system they believe has failed.

I’m in line across the street. The courthouse security screening is slow-going because this woman in line ahead of me is having a hard time of it.

“There’s nothing in my boots.” She walks back through the metal-detector and stands with her hands on her hips, elbows out to her sides, head cocked. “You can’t be serious.”

I get through the checkpoint, eventually, and make my way to room 124A–traffic court. Through the little slit of a window I see a dozen people sitting in pews; each person as far away from the others as they can get. It makes me think of the universe expanding, of galaxies moving away from the center and apart from each other.

Officer Griggs calls my name when I enter the room and we have a huddle. This is the part where we cut a deal.

“Do you want to plead Not Guilty or would you like to work with me to reduce your fine and the class of the violation?”

Griggs is taller than me, but not by much, with a shaved head and sharp blue eyes set close together. He wears full Police gear: bullet-proof vest, stun-gun, real gun, some kind of Han Solo holster strapped to his thigh that I don’t want to be caught showing too much of an interest in.

“I want to work with you,” I say. It feels clandestine.

Griggs says he’ll reduce my ticket from [an alleged speed of] 51 mph to 45 in a 35 zone. This and my good record will drop the fine from $190 to $107 and the violation from 1 to 2. My job is to plead No Contest. Got it. I find a seat in the big empty space at the center of the universe and contemplate nolo contendre.

After an age the judge calls me to stand before him. He says a few words. Griggs says a few words. Then the judge asks me how I plead. “No contest,” I say. “Your honor,” I add, a little too quietly and too late.

I pay the fine on my way out of the courthouse. Across the street I wander around in the tent cities: Lownsdale and Chapman. Protesters are waking up, some are doing dishes, some are talking to the press. In the ginkgo trees overhead, quivering autumn leaves change from green to legal-pad yellow, the fruit is not yet ripe.

Major Milestone

October 26, 2011 – 5:33 pm

Yesterday, 25-October, I hand-delivered the thesis to each of my committee members. Woot!Woot! Major milestone achieved!

As long time readers of this blog know, I’ve been working on the thesis project, THE FANTASTIC MACHINE, for a while. Over the summer I wrote a long, wandering, and inconclusive draft. Turns out, I didn’t like what I ended up with, which was a bummer, because I had spent months working on it.

Actually, full-disclosure here, I was splitting my time between reading, writing and working on the yard. I admit, I spent a lot of time getting the backyard into a finished condition, which was a lot of fun. But like the grasshopper who never put anything into his 401(k), I found myself at the end of July without a finished thesis.

I needed a new plan.

I started with the PSU Graduate Candidate Deadlines and worked my way back from there: I’d submit my thesis in mid-October; I’d spend n-days revising it before submission; if I finished the first draft on 1-Sept, then I’d have n=45days(approx) for revision. So my deadline became 1-Sept for a new first draft.

I spent that last weekend in July picking apart the early draft and building a new outline. We had to miss the final summer performance of Trek in the Park, but I came up with an outline that I liked and I even wrote up the first couple thousand words–off to a good start.

It seemed like a good idea to track my progress in a blog, so I set that up. I did it partly because it’s fun to share info with folks, but also because there’s a special kind of self-motivation you can only get from the panopticon.

The first rough draft came out pretty fast, got it finished on 26-August. As it happens, the end of that draft did not fully match the beginning of that draft–some ideas had evolved along the way. I finished an “alignment revision” two weeks later on 10-September. Once I had something I could rely on, I was ready to jump into the first real improvements to the text.

Between 10-September and 24-October I rewrote the thesis, again. I threw out one or two chapters and replaced a few more, but mostly I smoothed out what was there. This was like another alignment revision in that there were some changes made to the text.

And that’s the version I handed off to my adjudicators. Frankly, it could use another two rounds of writing. The reason for that is pretty simple: through this process I’ve become more familiar with the characters and that lets me write more accurately about the ways in which they grow and change over time.

However, I’ll take a short break from working on it until the Thesis Defense, on 4-November. After that, I’ll dive back in. I guess I won’t be calling it the Thesis Project after that, though.

In the meantime I’ve got to prepare for my defense by writing a few essays and doing lots of paperwork. Feels like a good time to clean the house!

How to make an epub / mobi file

October 31, 2011 – 2:18 pm

You want to convert your Word Doc to an Epub or Mobi file with a table of contents and chapter breaks for easy eReader navigation & readability. No problem.

      Short Answer
  1. In your word document:
      set doc title & chapter titles to “Header 1” & save as *.html
  2. In Calibre:
      Calibre>Convert books>Look & Feel>Remove spacing between paragraphs
      Calibre>Convert books>Table of Contents>Level 1 TOC (XPath expression)://h:h1
      Long Answer

You must format your word document and save as html. Then use Calibre to convert the html document to epub and/or mobi and tell it that everything formatted as “Header 1” deserves to be in the auto-generated table of contents. I’ll explain.

      Formatting your document

You can use LibreOffice, OpenOffice, or Word, it’s all the same. I’m running Windows 7, OpenOffice 3.3, Calibre 0.8.24, but this information is generic. If you open a new “Word” doc and type out some text, then what you see is the default unformatted style. It might look like this:

style: default

Notice that the above document has a main title at the top of the first page and what we might call a chapter title (in all caps.) Highlight your main title, select “Format>Styles and Formatting” or the equivalent option for changing a “style” in your client, then select from the list of style options: “Heading 1” as shown here:

style: Header 1

Repeat this step for every chapter title and save your document as *.html with the “Save As” option. The trickiest part of formatting your document is finding the “Heading 1” style option for your particular word processor. After you’ve saved as html, then you upload it into Calibre.

      Converting with Calibre

Download and install Calibre. Open it and you’ll see something like this:

Calibre

Begin with the big red “Add books” button in the upper left and select the html version of the document you just saved. Once loaded into Calibre, hit the “Edit metadata” button and enter the title as it should be, this is the title you’ll see listed when you load it onto your ereader.

Calibre: Edit Metadata

Now hit “OK” to exit back to the main screen and hit “Convert books,” this is where the action is.

The “Convert books” window pops up. In the upper right corner of this screen find the “Output format” menu, select MOBI or EPUB. You can’t do both at once, but you can do one then come back and do the other.

Calibre: Convert

The left side menu has several items, but you’ll only need “Look & Feel” and “Table of Contents.” In “Look & Feel” select “Remove spacing between paragraphs.”

Calibre: Look & Feel

In “Table of Contents” select the wizard button to the right of “Level 1 TOC (XPath expression):”, in the new window that pops up, open the drop down menu labeled “Match HTML tags with tag name:” and from that list select “h1” then hit “OK.” You’ll now see “//h:h1” listed in the Level 1 TOC field.

Calibre: Table of Contents

Hit “OK” and Calibre will immediately begin converting.

Conversion should take a few seconds. If you converted to MOBI the first time, then hit the “Convert books” button again and select EPUB to convert to that format. Then you’ll want to hit the big “Save to disk” button. Actually, saving is a bit unorthodox and worth a mention.

Calibre: Save

What you’re saving is actually a directory (author’s name) with a set of files (all their works.) Because off this, you’ll want to save all your Calibre conversions into a super-directory called “authors” or some such. If you embiggen the picture above you’ll see our location is

    Documents>My Documents>My eBooks>authors

This is where you want to be, with the “Folder” field at the bottom of the window blank when you press the “Select Directory” button. It’s kind of weird, because it feels like you are not actually selecting a directory. But what happens is that Calibre will search this directory for the author’s name and either save to that author’s directory if it’s already been created, or create it if it’s not yet there. Sounds confusing, but I promise you this is a very cool feature.

Play with it and you’ll see what I mean.

You’ve formatted your document and saved as *.html. You’ve used Calibre to convert it to an epub and/or mobi file. Now you just need to email that file to your ereader account, or manually upload it, or use your preferred method to get that file onto your ereader, and you’re done.

For the record, I will not provide any technical help or answer any tech questions regarding the above information, so please do not ask. I’ve put it all out there, that’s all I know. If you have questions regarding information not covered above, then I recommend searching on Google and asking in forums. Good luck.


UPDATE 2012-03-19: Python script to read your ebook directories

Over time I’ve cobbled together a Python script to keep my library straight. In its current version the script will (create, display, print, save) a list of all my ebook authors and titles. While taking a break from the word mines this afternoon, I figured I’d share this gem with you. Savvy hackers can port this Python code to their preferred language and OS; as is it’s a Windows-Python script.

After following directions at how to make an epub file, your directory structure should resemble this…
…\My eBooks\
…\My eBooks\_authors\
…\My eBooks\_authors\authorName\
…\My eBooks\_authors\authorName\bookTitle\
…\My eBooks\_authors\authorName\bookTitle\bookTitle.epub
…\My eBooks\_authors\authorName\bookTitle\bookTitle.mobi

With Python installed at “C:\Python\” (note: for users with 64-bit systems, the 32-bit version of all software is recommended,) copy-n-paste the following code into a text file, name it “_updateBookList.py” (or whatever.py) and save it to your _tools directory…
…\My eBooks\
…\My eBooks\_tools\
…\My eBooks\_tools\_updateBookList.py
Double click your *.py file to get started.

toggle code: _updateBookList.py

# _updateBookList.py by Nat Weinham; free to share or use for any purpose.
#
# /My eBooks/_tools/_updateBookList.py
# This script creates an "ebook authors & titles" list
# -a- create list
# -b- view list in newly created text file
# -c- send list directly to printer

import os, time, win32api, win32print               #import packages
nowTime = time.asctime(time.localtime(time.time())) #set time
ebooks = [str()]                                    #create string array
ebooks = [[s for s in x] for x in ebooks]           #define 2d array range
#"ebooks" array looks like: [[author, title, title],[next author, title]]
autFile = "_authors.txt"                            #set file name
a = 0                                               #count authors
t = 0                                               #count titles

def makeList():                     #loop through ebook dir & count dirs
    global a                            #count authors
    global t                            #count titles
    path = '../authors/'                #set path to ebooks (adjust as needed)
    i = 0                                  
    for dirName in os.listdir(path):    #for every author...
        ebooks.append([dirName.upper()])    #append new author
        i=i+1                               #increment array
        a=a+1                               #count authors
        for root, dirs, files in os.walk(path+dirName):
            for d in dirs:              #for every title...
                ebooks[i].append(d.title()) #append new title
                t=t+1                       #count titles

def writeList():                    #write author/title list to file
    file = open(autFile,"w")
    file.write('                                         '+nowTime+'\n')
    file.write('total authors '+str(a)+'\ntotal titles  '+str(t)+'\n\n')
    g = 0               #each 'g' contains one author & all his titles
    while g < len(ebooks):          #while there are authors...
        f = 0           #'f' iterates through items in the 'g' data set
        while f < len(ebooks[g]):   #loop through their titles.
            if f < 1:   #item f=0 is author name
                file.write(ebooks[g][f].upper()+'\n')         #write author
            else:       #items f>0 are titles
                file.write('     '+ebooks[g][f].title()+'\n') #write title
            f = f+1     #increment to next title
        g = g+1         #increment to next author/title data set
    file.close()

def viewList():
    os.startfile(autFile)

def printList(f):                  
    open (f,"r")
    win32api.ShellExecute (0,"print",f,'/d:"%s"' % win32print.GetDefaultPrinter(),".",0)

###########################################################################
makeList()                  #loop through directory & count items
writeList()                 #write author / title list to txt file
###########################################################################

p = raw_input(
    '\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\n'+
    '\n '+nowTime+'\n\n'+
    ' ebook list created in file \''+autFile+'\'\n\n'+
    ' view list   (v+enter)\n'+
    ' print list  (p+enter)\n'+
    ' to exit hit (enter)\n\n'+
    ' authors: '+str(a)+'\n'+
    ' titles:  '+str(t)+'\n\n'+
    '\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\n'+
    '')
if p.upper()=='P':
    printList(autFile)
elif p.upper()=='V':
    viewList();
elif p.upper()=='':
    exit()

In a nutshell, this code surfs your specified directory, builds a list of the contents, saves the list to a text file which you can view or print.


NaNoWriMo

November 1, 2011 – 10:35 am

Huzzah! ‘Tis November once more and that means the return of National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo. For those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is an online phenom. It’s kind of a contest but you’re only competing against yourself. It’s more like an event. It’s free and their website is a kind of officiant. Participants attempt to write a 50k word novel in the month of November.

I’ve done it three times and though I’ve produced 50k word documents, the material I ended up with was rough and unfocused. But I will tell you this: NaNoWriMo is a great way to train yourself to write everyday. If writing everyday is not something you’re in the habit of doing but you’ve always wanted to give it a try, then NaNoWriMo is a great opportunity.

Here is a good math-model to follow: 50k words ÷ 25 days = 2000 words per day. Regardless of the month, you should try to hit 2000 new words every day. When you live this, the question becomes, what do I write about? I can’t help you there, but I can tell you this: think in terms of scenes. Write scenes. That’s how you build stories.

I’m not taking on NaNoWriMo this year. As it turns out, I’ve got my hands full with a writing project already–my thesis novel. After the thesis committee talks it over with me on this upcoming Friday I’ll spend the next two weeks working it over, cleaning up the sentences, polishing what’s there without making substantial changes, because, at this stage, substantial changes are not allowed. So while I’ve got to make sure it looks good for the archives, I’m also moving forward with overall improvement to the story.

In its current form it is a story told almost exclusively from one character’s point of view. Technically it’s a third-person narrative limited to one character and not that one character’s first-person point of view, but conversationally that’s the same as saying “one character’s point of view.” The thing is, our main character does not have direct access to all the things that happen in this story. But a small collective of ancillary characters could fill in the blanks for the reader. They could show us through direct experience what happened at that one place while our main character was elsewhere. These side stories could then be added into the novel as extra chapters, see?

My November is going to be a lot of rewrites to the thesis, polishing what’s there, strengthening the themes by improving the scenes, and all of it comes back to one good sentence after another. But I’ll also write these side stories and see how they contribute to the novel. And of course, I’m almost done with those essays.

Dear Correspondent

January 25, 2012 – 2:37 pm

Late last year I got it into my head to send out holiday cards to everyone on my dad’s side of the family. I had never done this before and indeed it’s been a running gag that we have not been able to get everyone’s addresses into one address book document. I wasn’t even sure how many people were in the family. So I looked into it. I scoured emails, dug up an old family tree my grandfather had compiled, put together a spreadsheet and started a new email thread and with everyone’s help we had it completed by Christmas. I sent everyone a card and felt good about myself for a week or two. The New Year came and went and I was still riding the high of having just communicated with everyone, so I made it my resolution to write one letter every month in 2012.

Back in the days before email I was a letter writer. The surprise and the anticipation of receiving a letter by post has always appealed to me, because a letter is intimate. It arrives at your home and waits for you to read it in the comfort of your favorite chair. It is patient. Communication in letters is not immediate, it was sent some time ago and should you wish to reply then your letter will arrive some days hence. That sense of time adds value to your shared experience as if both of you are participating in something together.

Thank You cards are nice, so are little notes that say Thinking of You–they serve a purpose, they make a statement, they are one-way streets. A letter is a story, a narrative with an invitation to reciprocate.

Today I wrote my first letter of the year. All month I’ve been telling myself to get on it, but one thing or another had yet to be decided: who do I write to first? What do I say? How weird is it going to be if someone suddenly gets a letter from me out of the blue? And shouldn’t a letter be different somehow than an email? “Hey dude, how you doing? We should totally email sometime. Later!” What’s the point of that? So clearly I had some wrinkles to iron out.

There were about a dozen candidates for the first recipient. I ruled out the idea of writing to all of them, because I figured that would subvert my goal by threatening to make each letter too similar to the one before it. So I decided to let Math solve the problem for me. I used a handy-dandy random number generator to pick a number between 1 and n-1, and then I found the corresponding entry in my address book, and voila!

I opened the letter admitting that I wanted to revive the ancient art of letter writing before the U.S. Post Office went out of business, and then I jumped right in. This first letter was short, one side of a rather small page. Short and sweet. It was over too soon, so I wrote four thank-you notes and sent those out today as well. I’m looking forward to writing my next letter and I’m even considering writing a letter a day in February.

Check your mail box. You might be on my list.

The Letter and The Spirit

February 11, 2012 – 12:01 am

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, but this past December–a month that falls, coincidentally, right before New Year’s–I resolved to write more letters to family and friends. I figured I’d write a letter a week but the first three weeks of January passed by without any letters. I wrote a letter in the forth week, and then I happened to find out about Mary Robinette Kowal‘s mission to write a letter a day in February. I thought, How hard could it be? and I decided to give it a try. I wrote about getting started here.

Since then, I’ve found it no trouble to send out a correspondence every day. Technical preparations include a favorite pen, fancy paper and envelopes, a whole bunch of Forever Stamps from the USPS, an up-to-date address book, and a rubber stamp to personalize the envelope. I have included a comment in the letters regarding my resolve to write more letters, because I assume it would be kind of strange to receive a letter out of the blue. But that comment, or caveat, is the only bit of news the letters have had in common. I haven’t written more than two letters in a day, and I’m learning that one letter is best, because I want each letter to be unique.

It’s the little things that make a letter good. A few paragraphs that detail a recent event make a good letter. If no recent events have occurred, then you can write about that. But in the absence of personal details you end up with a note, not a letter. The Thank You note is an easy thing to send: “Hey, just wanted to say thanks for a lovely evening. It was so nice meeting your gold fish. Cheers!” This basic format can be expanded, but just because it’s longer doesn’t mean it’s a letter.

A good letter will share something with the correspondent, something more than accolades. The funny thing is, letters have become so special, so precious, that we feel a bit silly writing a letter for no particular reason. If you feel this way, don’t worry. Share details, the little things are exactly what makes a letter enjoyable.