Monthly Archives: January 2014

Discipline allows magic

30 January 2014

Discipline allows magic. To be a writer is to be the very best of assassins. You do not sit down and write every day to force the Muse to show up. You get into the habit of writing every day so that when she shows up, you have the maximum chance of catching her, bashing her on the head, and squeezing every last drop out of that bitch.

Lili St. Crow

From Desk Job to Nomad Photographer

30 January 2014

This is about an indie photographer, not an indie writer.

However, PG found it interesting and the visuals are way better than you’ll find on any author’s blog. You will have to click through to see the photos, however.

From Topaz Labs:

In 2011 Anne McKinnell resigned from her day job, sold her belongings and traded the comforts of the American Dream lifestyle to become a nomad photographer. Having ventured all over the North American territory, McKinnell has shared some of her story.

. . . .

Being a nomadic photographer means that I travel all the time, constantly moving from one place to the next. I made a decision to change my life in the spring of 2011 as I wanted a happier, more fulfilling life that is full of adventure. Now I live in an RV and drive around North America, photographing beautiful places. I spent the first year on a trip traveling clockwise around the perimeter of the USA, along with the Atlantic provinces in Canada.  After that I spent a few months back in BC and since then I’ve been a snowbird spending six months exploring BC and six months in the USA.  Since I am Canadian, I am only allowed in the USA for six months of each year (the first year I had to get a special visa to stay longer).

. . . .

When I travel, my plans include only a general direction or area based on the weather. When you’re towing an RV you have to consider the road conditions and freezing water pipes, so I try to stay where it is warm and sunny. Since it’s winter, I’ll be spending the next couple of months in southern California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and maybe Texas.  I like to visit the national parks, so I try to see as many of them as I can plus any other interesting places in between.

. . . .

Photography is the tool I use to be a happier person. When I first became involved with photography twenty years ago, I frequently photographed the darker side of life such as poverty and injustices because that is where I was in my life. I was in university, studying politics, writing for the student newspaper, and fighting to raise awareness about everything that is wrong with the world. I gave up photography for a long time while I built my career in software development and when I took it up again it was to help me become happier by focusing on the good things in the world.

By nature I see the negative things all the time, and I wanted to change that. I had no idea that photography would change my life so much. Because of it, I am always looking for the good and beautiful things in the world, instead of focusing on the bad things. Photography constantly helps me change this negative part of myself so I can be the person I want to be and live the life I want to live. Now when I go to a place I am looking for beauty and because I am looking, I find it.

Link to the rest at Topaz Labs

The Older Mind May Just Be a Fuller Mind

30 January 2014

From The New York Times:

People of a certain age (and we know who we are) don’t spend much leisure time reviewing the research into cognitive performance and aging. The story is grim, for one thing: Memory’s speed and accuracy begin to slip around age 25 and keep on slipping.

The story is familiar, too, for anyone who is over 50 and, having finally learned to live fully in the moment, discovers it’s a senior moment. The finding that the brain slows with age is one of the strongest in all of psychology.

. . . .

Since educated older people generally know more words than younger people, simply by virtue of having been around longer, the experiment simulates what an older brain has to do to retrieve a word. And when the researchers incorporated that difference into the models, the aging “deficits” largely disappeared.

. . . .

In fact, the new study is not likely to overturn 100 years of research, cognitive scientists say. Neuroscientists have some reason to believe that neural processing speed, like many reflexes, slows over the years; anatomical studies suggest that the brain also undergoes subtle structural changes that could affect memory.

Still, the new report will very likely add to a growing skepticism about how steep age-related decline really is.

. . . .

Dr. Ramscar and his colleagues applied leading learning models to an estimated pool of words and phrases that an educated 70-year-old would have seen, and another pool suitable for an educated 20-year-old. Their model accounted for more than 75 percent of the difference in scores between older and younger adults on items in a paired-associate test, he said.

That is to say, the larger the library you have in your head, the longer it usually takes to find a particular word (or pair).

Scientists who study thinking and memory often make a broad distinction between “fluid” and “crystallized” intelligence. The former includes short-term memory, like holding a phone number in mind, analytical reasoning, and the ability to tune out distractions, like ambient conversation. The latter is accumulated knowledge, vocabulary and expertise.

“In essence, what Ramscar’s group is arguing is that an increase in crystallized intelligence can account for a decrease in fluid intelligence,” said Zach Hambrick, a psychologist at Michigan State University.

. . . .

For the time being, this new digital-era challenge to “cognitive decline” can serve as a ready-made explanation for blank moments, whether senior or otherwise.

It’s not that you’re slow. It’s that you know so much.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Writers: We Don’t Want What We Should (And Want What We Shouldn’t)

30 January 2014

From author Michael Bunker:

The boom in self-publishing has created an army of author-publishers, and it has fundamentally altered the economic and literary landscape in the publishing world.  Top indie authors are busy storming the ramparts of Bestseller lists and in some genres Indie titles are capturing many (if not most) of the top slots in sales rankings, reader ratings, industry buzz, and customer recognition. But as in most areas of entertainment and the arts, world-shaking success in self-publishing is both coveted and rare.

Whenever there is a sea-change in the culture, often those who are in the midst of that change find themselves operating in a new world with minds and desires trained and trapped in the old one. People find themselves torn between the desires and longings they’ve been taught to have, and their maybe irrational desire to see every vestige of the old order – even the things that really need to remain – torn down or burned to the ground.

. . . .

Now, a whole new dynamic is in play. In a marketplace awash with products, authors have to focus on finding a way to get noticed. They have to learn to focus on things that are often foreign to the artist… Discoverability, Marketing and Promotion, Branding – things business marketing majors in the big houses used to handle.  All of these things are now the job of the author-publisher, and frankly most authors suck at this part of the job. It’s hard work.  It takes a whole different skill set.  And every author doesn’t think the same.  Some writers think that if they write a brilliant book, perfectly edited, and packaged just right, it will sell on its own (possible, but not probable.) Other writers leave off taking the time to learn their craft and improve, thinking that the product isn’t the main thing, and marketing and promotion will take up the slack where quality is lacking.  Some don’t even know the difference.  Sometimes this leads the author to pine for the old days when the writer would (as Hemingway said) sit at the typewriter and open his or her veins to produce a book, then photocopy dozens of copies to be stuck in envelopes and sent to strangers who may or may not look at it sometime in the following year.  Authors hate the slushpile, but often they hate hard work and responsibility even more.

. . . .

They want to be published more than they want to be read.  They want fame more than they want to sell books.  Some become professional submitters, not publishing on their own because of their hope that one day one of the gatekeepers is going to like and accept their work. Wanting so bad to be published, that they never publish. This despite the very real likelihood that by seeking the traditional route they would almost certainly – if they ever did get a publishing contract – sell fewer books and reach fewer readers than they ever would have if they’d self-published. Before you balk at that, think about it. Most writers are never going to be mainstream pubbed anyway.  Never. Just like I’m never going to play in the NBA, and neither is my son. So even selling a handful of books through self-publishing is more than they would ever sell any other way.  And despite the cherry-picking and whistling through the graveyard that goes on in most of these discussions, I believe it is far easier and more prevalent for a good writer to make a living wage being an indie only or hybrid published author, than it is for them to do so through mainstream publishing alone.  The millionaires and paupers on both sides like to throw away the middle and argue over the top or bottom few percent on either side of the fence, but when it comes to the ability of a virtually unknown author to make enough money to live and work and provide for a family by writing alone, I am certain that there are more Indies and Hybrids accomplishing this than there are mainstream pubbed authors.  According to most of the information I’ve read, and the dozens of authors to whom I’ve spoken, the “average” mainstream pubbed advance is $5,000 (and set to decrease, it seems.)  And many of these authors sign contracts with non-compete clauses that limit them to publishing one – on rare occasions two – books a year. The average mainstream published book, I’m told, actually sells (not how many are printed, but how many actually sell) a little over 6,000 copies in its lifetime. A staggeringly low amount when you consider what a lot of Indies – Indies most people have never heard of – are selling in a single month or a year.

. . . .

But no matter how bad it is (and how dreadfully bad it is still going to get,) authors still want it like oxygen – that validation from the industry.  With all the facts in hand, many of them would rather sell fewer books, engage fewer readers, and make less money if only it means that the scribes will wink at them and let them in to the nicest parties.  Publishing is not unique in hosting this bizarre phenomenon.

Link to the rest at Michael Bunker and thanks to Liana for the tip.

Everything I Know About Storytelling I Learned from Star Wars

30 January 2014

From Double Barrel:

The original Star Wars trilogy is the primary cultural touchstone for an entire generation. Like a billion other people my age, I’ve seen them enough that I pretty much know every frame of all three movies. Because of its familiarity, its simplicity, and its specific brilliance, Star Wars has excellent lessons to teach those of us who like to write and draw stories.

. . . .

Lesson 2: Make the Fantastic Familiar

One of the things that Star Wars did that was new to viewers was that it presented fantastical ships and wondrous places and then had its characters move about and around them as if they were completely ordinary. Luke Skywalker’s landspeeder, a fast, sleek hovercraft that anyone even now — much less in the 70s — would drool over, is sold, presumably for scrap metal, without a second thought. The Millenium Falcon, one of coolest, most iconic spaceships in all pop culture, when revealed for the first time, gets the following comment (say it with me now): “What a piece of junk!” To the characters, a landspeeder is a pickup truck, the Falcon is a rusty old 18-wheeler, and a city of robots, monsters, clone soldiers, and weirdos is no more than “a wretched hive of scum and villainy.”

Beyond that sort of atmospheric dressing, what made Star Wars stand out was that these situations that the characters found themselves in, as fantastic as they were, are familiar to us. Even here, on Earth, we can sympathize with the boy on the moisture farm who has to stay another season instead of do something interesting like join the rebellion. We can recognize the type of cocksure wise guy who spends all his time fixing up his old ride, hanging out with a hirsute buddy, and thinking he’s smarter than everyone else. The things we find familiar in these alien worlds allow us to think that the events that we’re seeing are more than just thrilling and strange, they’re important. They impact us, because they’re disrupting something that we understand. We have a stake in this story.

. . . .

Lesson 4: String Together Great Scenes, Each with a Definable Goal, in a 3-Act Structure

I think I was actually an adult before I really looked at the logical progression of events in the Star Wars movies, as in: who wanted what, in what order did things happen, and why. Part of it was because I had seen it as a child and didn’t care about that kind of stuff then, but the other part was that Star Wars never delivers a scene just to move the story along. There is always a definable goal that the characters have to accomplish: escape, find runaway droid, hire a pilot, rescue the princess, turn off the tractor beam, blow up the Death Star, etc. Each scene is entertaining, each scene has a sub-goal that serves the greater purpose of the plot, and each scene makes sure you know everything you need to know to enjoy it. When Luke, et al. get to the Death Star, we’re not wondering about what the rest of the rebellion is doing. We’re not worried about anything other than finding out what’s on this station and rescuing the princess.

. . . .

Because Star Wars takes hardly any risks whatsoever with its structure, it comes across as a very familiar story to us, despite the fact that what we remember are the brand-new, never-before-seen effects, aliens, and worlds. The familiarity means that we can more easily enjoy what is new.

Link to the rest at Double Barrel and thanks to Scott for the tip.

Self-Published Titles Take Top Ten Spots on Kindle Germany List

30 January 2014

From Digital Book World:

Self-publishing is blooming around the world. One indicator is that the ten best-selling books in Amazon’s Germany store are self-published, according to one blogger (in German).

Link to the rest at Digital Book World and thanks to David for the tip.

Calling Miss Manners

29 January 2014

From the Page-Turner blog at The New Yorker:

We have an epistolary crisis in this country—a shortfall in valedictions, or sign-offs. The salutation, or greeting, doesn’t seem to be a problem. Though I see “Hi” trying to sneak in, “Dear so-and-so” has hung on pretty well and can be used on anyone from your mother to the Department of Motor Vehicles. But what do we do at the end of the letter? When I was young, you used “Sincerely” on anyone who didn’t get “Love.” Now that I’m older—or the world is older—I’m supposed to choose among a lot of subtle variants. “Love” is still fine, for those you love. Ditto “XXX.” (The English seem to favor “Love.” Americans like the “X,” which, though it means “kiss,” still seems a bit less fervent.) Then, I guess, comes “Yours,” and I use it, though it feels old-fashioned—not to mention the fact that there are plenty of people I like without being theirs. I never do “Warmly,” “Affectionately,” or “Cordially.” They all sound fussy to me. As for “Ciao” and “Ta-ta,” I don’t want to talk about it.

. . . .

Now come the businesslike phrases: “Very truly yours,” “Best wishes,” “Best.” (Also “Sincerely yours,” where our old “Sincerely” is operating in a new key.) These are all completely O.K., except that, if you use them on a person to whom, while you’re not close, you’d like to show some warmth—the person got your child a summer job, or you want him to—they feel a little stiff. What I do here is pump the words up a bit: “Very best,” “Very best to you,” “My best to you and Susie,” etc. The “my” makes a difference.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Snark Aeternum,


There’s no such thing

29 January 2014

There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.

Terry Pratchett

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