Category Archives: Writing

Introducing the Writing Machine

Well, it looks like I’ve been called out. I had been thinking of starting a writers group. You know, an online place where people could come together in the spirit of mutual creative motivation. It’s always easier to keep your word count up if you have 2 or more people expecting your word count every day. But I had a question, what happens when you finish your first draft and you are not creating new material? How do you track your editing if you are not using a word count to track your progress?

So I decided to talk to my favourite self-publishing experts at the Smarter Artist Podcast, and asked them how they would track their editing.

Believe it or not, they answered! We had nice little back-and-forth about how one would do this and they said they would put my question on a future episode. And they did! You an listen to their answer here, but basically, you can use the number of words in the chapter or short story you are editing as your word count. Of course, you can track other factors like time spent, the place you are working in, even the time of day.

When I found this podcast episode, I realized that I had not started the writing group I  mentioned in my email. They did not use my last name, and I could simply disavow the proclamation forever, but I decided if I needed to kick in the ass to do this, this podcast episode would do the job.

So, after messaging all of my writer friends, I started a new group on slack.com. I called it the writing machine because I want to focus on the day-to-day habit of writing. Before all that discussion about prose, structure and character development can happen, I believe that you need to focus on production. You can’t improve a product that’s not there. If you develop the habit of writing every day, it becomes automatic, and so it’s a writing machine.

I always get a little nervous setting up groups like this, but I promised myself that I would learn more about creating communities this year. What better way to learn than by creating one myself? There’s still plenty of room here at the writing machine. If you want to join, send me your email address, and I’ll send you an invite.

The Promised Story

As I promised, here’s the story I’ve been working on all month. I make no excuses for its quality, I reached a few points of “flow” while I was writing it. It was a good exercise, and I’ll probably do it again some time.

Anyway, enjoy!

“Children of Orichon, I bid you welcome to your new home!”

The head master’s robes fluttered in the harsh sea wind. We were all huddled together on the dock, trying to avoid the sick that took at least 10 of our fellows. We had left port in Maradon with 30. Though the chill reached down to my very soul, the air smelled good. It smelled clean. Thanks to Orichon, indeed.

My name is Tuck. It is only one I have. A year ago I lived across the sea in an Saint Rifov’s Orphanage in Maradon, the capital of the Empire. It is a crowded place, teeming with the refugees from the war with the demons in the East. Even in so far in the Empire’s borders, the cities are within the walls of great keeps to protect the people within from the beasts without. Sometimes shanty towns are built on the outside, but they don’t last long.

Saint Rifov’s was forced out of its tenement because the rents were too high. Like the Empire, we found new hope in the colonies to the West, across the sea. The headmaster continued his speech.

“We will be making our way through this new colony of…” He adjusted a pair of spectacles on his nose. “Newlandia. Hm, not very original, is it? You have been assigned to different family farms along our route to the western border. Those who have not been assigned at the end of the journey, however unlikely, will return to the port and await further instructions from the local diocese.”

He wrenched the spectacles from his face. Some of the boys suspected the headmaster had spent some time in the theater. “Take heart, Children of Orichon! This maybe a savage New…Land, but be certain that you are providing a service to the Empire by populating her new colonies. Single file please, take hand in hand, and no talking!”

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Inspirational Speech for Toastmasters Feb. 11, 2011

Madame Chairperson, fellow toastmasters, and honoured guests. I’d like to welcome you all again for joining us during open house. Some of you may be wondering what we’re doing here half past the crack of dawn every Friday. Well, as I’ve said before, if I can give a speech out of one bloodshot eye, I could give one anywhere. But what else are we doing here? The Toastmasters mandate says we’re here to make effective oral communication a worldwide reality.

Now why would we want to do something like that? Sure, it could help you with a career or a best man’s speech, but what does public speaking do really? I’ve only been part of the club since December, but from what I’ve seen, public speaking is the art of creating a moment.

Right you are not just listening to the words coming out of my mouth. You are hearing my voice. You are seeing me gesture. You are seeing the way I stand. You’re also experiencing the sights and sounds of this room and your fellow audience members. This is something that you can’t get from a letter, a phone call, or even a video. It is a moment in time, happening right here, right now.

In that moment you’ve created, something wonderful happens. Things change. Suddenly your idea for a little weekend side business becomes a real commercial venture. Suddenly a rag-tag sports team you coach becomes a true cohesive unit. Suddenly the friends and family at your wedding realize just how much your new wife means to you.

At Toastmasters, we are not just filling space behind a podium. We are bringing ideas to people. When many people focus on an idea at the same time it creates a moment. And in the very moment, the world changes.

Naturally Speaking

I’ve been playing around Dragon NaturallySpeaking, this voice recognition software I picked up for Boxing Day. It works surprisingly well, even though I’m driving my wife crazy by saying “scratch that” every time it makes a mistake. It’s a lot like training a dog. Very intuitive, but it needs constant attention to make sure that it follows your commands directly. Also, like a dog, I find I have to train myself to work with it. If I want this thing to write what I say, I now have to speak my thoughts as they form in my head. It’s an adjustment for me. I’ve gone through life fully convinced that if I say the first thing that pops into my head all the time, I’d soon end up in a ditch with a sharpened Star Wars action figure jammed into my side (Don’t ask). I think that because I find it so difficult to dictate to a computer, perhaps I should keep doing it. Good ideas are useless if they just take up space in your head. If I can practice expressing them quickly and clearly, I might be able to put a few of them to good use.

In Search of New Sci-fi

So after paying my library fines last week, I swore to myself that I was going to take out one, and only one book that day. Hopefully a light, entertaining jaunt that I could get through in a few days. Perhaps it was part of a series so I could enjoy those characters that I fell in love with again and again. Oh, and it had to have spaceships.

I decided to go with “The Shadow of Saganami” by David Weber. It’s actually the first novel in a spin-off series of the Honor Harrington Saga, which I remembered from the snazzy cover art I’ve seen grace the shelves of the bookshops from time to time. The novels star a female starship captain name Honor Harrington who spends most of her time kicking ass for an anachronistic constitutional monarchy out among the stars. While the novel didn’t directly star Ms. Harrington, it promised more of the same. A space opera full of shady political deals and massive starship battles. It seemed perfect. I took it home, cracked it open, and got to the beginning of chapter two before closing it again for good.

I realize that this might not be a fair review of the novel. After all, the book was meant for long-time fans of the series who were familiar with the universe, the terminology, and the characters. However, I didn’t get too far before I found that reading the rest of the book would just be a chore. The straight-laced characters seemed to have little to distinguish them outside the pips on their uniforms. I have a friends and relatives in the military, and in an industry where there is a culture of funny story battles, you’d think there would be more interesting ways to introduce a military officer character rather than having her checking over her dorm to see if she forgot anything. The dialogue was written in the same stilted American dialect that every major science-fiction universe has used since Larry Niven’s “Known Space” novels in the 1970’s. They also do that thing where they stop using contractions and use larger words to signify that they’re being sarcastic. They’ll say something like, “I am sorry I cannot acquiesce to your superior demands, O so-called viceroy of the surrounding sector and its principalities”. It makes me want to put my head through drywall.

So, back it goes to the library. My cousin recommended Neal Stephenson’s latest, so I think I’ll give it a shot. The problem is, I know why this series is a New York Times bestseller. The descriptions of the space battles are grand and detailed. If there is ever a TV show or movie from the Honor Harrington universe, I’d probably watch it (if only because David Weber wants Claudia Christian from Babylon 5 to play the title character). However, there was such an ennui in the tone of the book, like everything I was watching through the text had been done before. I find this is a problem with most science fiction after the 1980’s. As hard sci-fi concepts like computers and space travel become commonplace, writers put less effort into describing those things with the wonder and mystery that they used to. This is why I read older novels from authors like Heinlein and Niven. The novels still read like they are fantastic, even though the technology in them becomes dated by our standards. It’s important to remember that in science fiction, technology is more than just a way to get from plot point A to mcguffin B. They are symbols of humankind’s hopes and dreams.