Nanowrimo Mood Wallpaper, Final Week

The final entry in the wallpaper series is a bit tardy, and I apologize for that. It should come as a surprise to no one who participates in Nanowrimo that time can… get away from you a little. As a result, there are a few days missing from the weekly wallpaper, but this one chronicles the final days. Many thanks to the people who have made kind comments about these wallpapers throughout the month — I hope it’s helped keep at least a few people motivated. Good luck finishing, if you haven’t already.

If I do these again next year, I’m definitely finishing them all by November 1st.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Kindle

If you would have told me two years ago that I’d be a Kindle owner, I’d probably have laughed.

My initial distaste didn’t stem from dead-tree Luddism (although I have been accused of such several times). I was reading e-books on my Palm Zire long before the Kindle came around. I was turned off by screen glare, by clueless pricing schemes, and by idiotic DRM (one online e-book vendor, who shall remain nameless, required you to use your credit card number as your account password — and when your card expired, so did your books. Yeah, that’s a sure-fire path to customer loyalty). By the time the Kindle was released, I felt like I’d already tried e-books on for size and found little appeal.

I also had the misfortune of running into some true Kindle zealots, who, in their enthusiasm for the device, could not wait to tell me what a naive dumbass I was for not taking all my paper books out back and burning them at once. Paper is over. Soon, you won’t have a choice. You’re killing the earth because paper requires cutting down a bunch of trees (not at all like clean, renewable plastic). You say you like cover art, the feel and smell of books? Well, you’re stupid. Aesthetics have no place in the reading experience.

This isn’t humorous hyperbole. People actually said these things. Okay, not the book-burning thing. But people assured me that my preference for paper books was motivated by sheer delusion and a failure to understand just how amazing e-books were.

Even though it shouldn’t have, I let these attitudes bother me, and so I avoided looking into the Kindle because 1) I didn’t want to become one of Those Guys, and 2) I feared having to eat a bit of crow if I got myself a Kindle and ended up enjoying it.

I’m sure you can guess how that ended up. Crow is very tasty and I think it gets a bad rap.

Two things motivated my decision to finally pick up a Kindle. First, the price point. $150 to $200 for an e-reader was, and is, out of my price range. $79 is a lot more affordable, and I’ve built up enough ad-blindness over the years that the “special offers” don’t bother me (although I will be glad when the goddamn Twilight movie leaves theaters, so commercials for it will stop showing up on my reader).

Second, it turned out there were a lot of indie books I wanted to check out which were only available in mobile format. Generally, I can’t read entire novels, or even short stories, directly off a computer screen. Even long blog posts start giving me trouble. My attention span shortens when I’m in front of a web browser, and the longer something is, the greater the chance I’ll abandon it. Over the past month or so, I’ve met a lot of writers, and if I wanted to check out their work, the e-book format was the only viable option.

So I bought one. I like it a lot. I won’t go into technical details here, because I’m sure you can get a better rundown elsewhere. But I will say this. The screen is easy to read, not at all like the glare of a monitor. Navigation is intuitive — I didn’t even read the manual until several hours in. Buying books is ridiculously easy (too easy, in fact, for an impulsive fool like myself). The ability to instantly look up words in the built-in dictionary is awesome.

I loaded my Kindle up with free classics, a handful of indies, and raided the Baen Free Library. I’ve got books until next year, most likely, and that’s assuming I don’t acquire any more books, which of course I will.

Although I do like my Kindle — a lot, actually — there’s no danger of it seducing me away from paper books. I’m still too much of a sucker for gorgeous cover art. I still get a comforting rush from the smell of paper. Practical or not, those things are of value to me, and I won’t apologize for them or give them up as long as I have a choice.

The pricing schemes are still working themselves out — there’s no way I’m going to pay hardback price for an e-book, for example, regardless of how justified the publishers might think it is.

It’s not perfect, but the Kindle is a big leap forward in e-books, and I’m glad I finally realized that.

Outbound, 11/12/11

Everywhere I look, people have clever, alliterative monikers for the days when they just post a mess of links in their blogs. Feverish Friday. Shameless Promotion Saturday. WTF Weekend. I can’t do it. I’ve  thought up, and rejected, approximately a dozen lame examples just like the ones above. No offense to your alliterative link day, of course, which is funny and inventive and the only reason I didn’t use it is because you got there first and I want us to be friends.

So I decided on “Outbound,” because if you read this, that’s probably just where you are. And it has the advantage of not being tied to a particular day — which is actually a disadvantage, as I’m sure you’ll be waiting breathlessly for these links every week like it was the British Invasion.

Anyway, links.

Got a Block? Try a WEDGE by Janece Herrington at WrimosFTW. Writing advice is objectively better with a snappy acronym, and this is the snappiest you’ll see today. But that’s not all. There’s also Take This Plot and SHOVE It and Fortune, Flames and FOCUS. Now how much would you pay? Janece is the Ron Popeil of writing advice.

10 Phrases to Purge From Your Speech & Writing via Passive Voice.

An Open Letter to Authors via jessica at downtherabbithole. A must-read treatise on how self-publishers need to bring their A-game.

Character vs. Trait at edittorrent. A concise guide to going deeper with your characters.

Blog Treasures via Gene Lempp. Links to more links. Now you’ll be here all day. You’re welcome. Seriously, some great stuff here. And Gene’s not alliterative either. Yet.

31 Ways to Find Inspiration for Your Writing via Leo Babauta. Babauta’s kind of amazing. If you haven’t checked out his stuff, you really ought to. See also Zen Habits.

Can You Write 200 Words? Then Read This via Start Your Novel. Tasty words.

How to Write Quickly via Ava Jae at Writability. Ava really knows how to start a discussion and engage her readers. I am transparently jealous.

Miraculous Freak of (Writing) Nature via Anonymous Legacy. Angela’s rapidly becoming one of my favorite bloggers. She’s also a blast to talk to on Twitter.

25 Things You Should Know about Suspense and Tension in Storytelling via Chuck Wendig. I’m not sure Chuck Wendig needs any more exposure, since everyone seems to have heard of him, and with good reason. Still, if by any chance you’re not familiar, here’s your chance.

Shooting for the Moon via Catherine, Caffeinated. Some invaluable advice on using traditional publishing expertise to leverage your self-publishing efforts.

Editing: Butchering Your Creativity? via Kristen Lamb. Anyone who’s ever been tempted to edit while writing is cordially invited to stop, drop, and roll with this advice.

Okay, that’s all. Have a great weekend. And if there’s anything cool you think I might have missed, do drop me a comment. I do love me some comments.

Writing When You’re Sick, Tired, or Just Hate the World

Photo by desiitaly on Flickr.

In a perfect universe, I’d begin every writing day with nine hours’ sleep, a perfectly brewed cup of coffee, nothing on my work schedule, and a gentle rainstorm to keep me from even thinking about going outside. I’d have a clearly formed idea, a flawless outline, and several unbroken hours to work.

While I’m at it, I would also like to write with telepathy from the seat of my private jet while I get a neck massage from a Czech supermodel.

Writing when you’d rather not is one of the most important skills you can ever cultivate as a writer. Anyone can write when they’re feeling fine and the muse has just hit them between the eyes like a thunderbolt from Valhalla. But there will be days when every syllable is like a back-alley fistfight with a rabid hobo. That’s when your mettle really gets tested.

Any book, blog or seminar on writing advice will tell you to write every day, and with good reason. To me, the most important reason is this: every day that you write hones your craft just a little more. Every day that you don’t write dulls it just a little more. For most people, it dulls a lot faster than it hones. Go a week or a month without writing anything and you can practically hear the shriek of rusty gears grinding together.

Good habits are easy to build when there aren’t any obstacles in your path, but it’s an imperfect universe, and obstacles happen. In fact, obstacles are nigh-omnipresent. So what do you do when you’re sick, tired, or just plain hate the world, but you still want to get words down on the page?

The Stimulus Package

Let’s get the easy one out of the way. Stimulants! Imbibe caffeine in various forms. Take a vitamin pill. Drink a whole tumbler of orange juice. Some artificial stimulation can sometimes get you through the job, as long as it doesn’t further compromise your health.

Embrace the Delerium

Writers love to romanticize the image of the drunken author who composes his or her masterpieces while smashed. Why not do the same for the natural incoherence brought on by fatigue, sinus congestion, or having just chugged an entire bottle of Robitussin? So you couldn’t string a proper sentence together if someone put a gun to your face — they can bill you! Let your incoherence be your guide. Write whatever comes to your poor addled brain. Freewrite like an escapee from a mental ward. Some of it might end up far more usable than you think.

Shake it Up

If your condition (and your conscience) won’t allow you to work on your chosen masterpiece while half-dead, work on something else. Start something new and impractical. Try your hand at dirty haiku. You may not create anything deathless, but writing is writing. That thing I said last time about giving yourself permission to suck? That goes double for when you’re sick.

Work it In

Say, have you got a chapter where one of your characters just took a dart full of dimethyltryptamine to the face, or drank Windex till he saw a UFO? Well, would you like one? Nothing gives you perspective on being sick, tired, or full of hate than actually being those things. Now’s your chance to get those feelings down on the page. It’s not death’s door, it’s research!

Throw it Out

A lot of writers I know loathe tossing out anything they write. Their words are like their precious babies, the nectar of their very soul. Why not take a sick day from your well-manicured neurosis? Rattle off a freewrite and then shred it. Bang out a wild, incoherent blog post and then delete it. Fall deeply out of love with your words for one day. Meditate on impermanence while you listen to The Cure’s Disintegration at top volume. Turn your vitriol on your own work. You can kiss and make up tomorrow.

Just Do a Half-Assed Job

Accept that what you’re writing now probably won’t be your best, and possibly in the running for your worst. Just remember that it’s still better than nothing. Earn some street cred with yourself. Make this your war story. Sure, you might look at what you wrote a few days from now and toss it out in disgust. Then again, maybe not. But either way, you put pen to paper or butt to chair and did it, even when you didn’t want to. Go you. Pound it. High five. Okay, well maybe later.

This one goes out to my good friend Tracy McCusker, who is on the mend. Feel better, Tracy.

Writing Through the Wolf’s Hour

Photo by dalliedee on Flickr.

Around this time in National Novel Writing Month, I start seeing a litany of familiar fears and complaints from first-time participants. My plot isn’t working. My story’s boring. I don’t know what to do next. I’ve hit a block and I can’t write another word. This is literally the worst thing I’ve written, quite possibly the worst thing anyone has ever written.

I’ve got bad news, guys. Those fears aren’t endemic to Nanowrimo. They are the tiny ankle-biting gremlins of the writing life, and they will be with you all your days. You might as well start naming and feeding the little bastards right now. You might placate them for a while, but they can never truly die.

I don’t know a single writer who hasn’t had moments of crippling doubt about their own work. Most writers I know have days where they feel like they’d just as soon hang it up. Every one of them has felt like a failure at one time or another, myself included. But the real writers keep writing, and if you want to be one, just repeat these three simple words: permission to suck. These words form the map that leads out of the caverns of despair and self-loathing. They are tranquilizer darts for the ankle goblins.

Although a lot of writers (and editors) seem to look down on it, I’ll always owe a lot to Nanowrimo, because it taught me one of the most valuable lessons in my writing life: there’s every chance your first draft is likely to be complete shit, and that’s okay. Seriously, it’s okay.

A lot of aspiring writers I know want to start at the top and work their way up. It’s natural. The desire to rattle off a brilliant, life-changing work in a couple of coffee-addled weekends and bask in the adoration of our peers is something most of us have probably entertained at one time or other. It’s an idea shot into our heads by movies and television, where a writer lights up a cigarette and creates something beautiful in the space of a pop-anthem montage. We buy into this and let it poison us. Some aspire to being great before they dare aspire to being decent. Some decide imaginary greatness is preferable to real mediocrity, and so they may never start at all, and they sure as hell never finish.

It took me years to figure this out, so I know that it may seem difficult. But your draft doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be great or even good. It has every chance of being born into the world an ugly, mewling, mutant thing, warty with flaws and riddled with issues. Accept it. Embrace it. Love it anyway, and let it grow into something more. Don’t toss it off a cliff Sparta-style because you took one look and judged it too weak to live.

If you find yourself struggling with your draft, despairing that it’s shit, wondering if you have what it takes to be a writer, the test is right there in front of you. Either give yourself permission to suck and finish what you started, or expect perfection the first time around and invite crushing failure. If you’re struggling with these doubts and you want to push past them, there’s really only one choice.

So go nuts. Hit the gas and punch through that plot hole like a semi running a roadblock. Inconsistencies? Who cares? One-dimensional characters? You can add dimension later. Loose ends? Tie them up on your way back through, because believe me, you will be back. The Plot Police aren’t going to show up to your house and start marking down your mistakes in the Book of Life. You can screw up. It’s okay. Just remember why you started this thing, and let that carry you through to the finish.

Now go forth and be awesome. Or, you know, go forth and suck. Just keep writing.

Five Tools to Unlock Your Creativity

Paucity of inspiration hits us all sooner or later. We hit a tricky story problem, labyrinthine chapter, or a mood-killing piece of dialogue that we’re sure reveals us for the insufferable hacks we are. Advice to simply bear down and power through is all well and good, but sometimes we all need a little boost to help get the creative elixir flowing again. Here are a handful of tools (some free, some merely cheap) I’ve had luck with in the past.

1. Oblique Strategies

Originally a series of cards created by musician Brian Eno, Oblique Strategies is a set of context-free remarks and questions designed to break through creative deadlocks. (Eno was the guy who composed the original “Microsoft Sound.” if anyone knows how to work within limitations, I guess it’d be him). The original cards run from the expensive to the ridiculously expensive; fortunately, there’s more than one random Strategy-dispensing website out there, and even a Twitter feed.

2. The Observation Deck: A Tool Kit for Writers

I like to think of the Observation Deck as Oblique Strategies’ more accessible cousin. This set comes with a deck of cards bearing various questions, recommendations, and strategies, most of them more specific and external than Oblique Strategies. The Deck also comes with a booklet explaining the meaning behind each card and brief anecdotes about writers who have used those strategies successfully. I’ve had my set for ten years now, and it still comes in handy every so often.

3. Rory’s Story Cubes

Rory’s Story Cubes are nine dice imprinted with random icons and symbols. Roll them, rearrange them, make up a story based on what the cubes depict. They’re simple and fun. Story Cubes probably won’t help you unlock specific creative problems, but they do make a fun distraction and a handy brainstorming tool. I sometimes break them out when I’m trying to break out of my linear thinking.

4. Seventh Sanctum

Seventh Sanctum is a free site featuring dozens of random generators. They have an entire section devoted to writing, making it a terrific go-to for story ideas, character names, and writing challenges. I visit it when I get the hankering to write a short story but don’t have a compelling idea ready.

5. The Freewrite

In some ways, this is the simplest tool of them all: just write for ten or fifteen minutes without stopping. I first ran across this concept in Peter Elbow’s Writing With Power. Elbow recommends warming up with ten minutes of just writing without pause or backtracking for ten solid minutes. If you can’t think of anything to write, put “I can’t think of anything to write” down on the page. Just don’t stop. The object is to overcome your writing inhibitions and generate words, regardless of their quality or purpose. I’ve broken through more than one creative block with this technique; it’s amazing what you can come up with when you have a short deadline and no particular agenda.