February 28, 2008

My Magazine Habits

Posted in Reading, Skepticism tagged , , , , , , , at 11:03 pm by lifelessonsfromwriting

I think magazines (all magazines) have gotten an unfair reputation for being ‘low-brow’ or not worth the time of more intellectually minded people. I love magazines, and buy quite a few of them. Like many people, I think, I don’t like to scramble around looking for news or information from a lot of disparate sources. I like having everything in one place, in a format that I can carry around with me for a while.

 Earlier today I bought a copy of Micro Mart, a magazine about computer hardware, and New Scientist, a magazine about…well, you can probably guess. I get both of these fairly regularly.

I was particularly drawn to this week’s New Scientist because the cover story was about transitional fossils, a topic that’s capable of generating (to be charitable) ‘some friction’ in internet debates. That article, and the debates I’ve been engaged in recently, have convinced me to try combatting some of the total bullshit that’s floating around about evolution in a more serious way. Given the way science education is in most countries, people aren’t going to learn this stuff in school, and I applaud the efforts of magazines like New Scientist in attempting to fight back against religious whackjobs.

But they’re pretty much preaching to the choir. Few if any creationists (and I include IDers in that group) are going to read it. The more vocal voices there are on the internet, where people do actively search for information on this stuff, the better.

To that end, I’ll be starting a  new blog solely about religion, science, and why we need a lot less of the former and a lot less of the latter. This blog will only be about writing, which is what it was originally made to be about.

February 25, 2008

‘Flash’ Fiction

Posted in Reading, Writing tagged , , , , , , , , , , , at 8:57 pm by lifelessonsfromwriting

So, I’ve recently been reading a lot of ‘flash fiction’, which is not, as I had hoped, Flash Gordon fan-fiction; no, it’s terribly literary, Joyce-like stuff. (‘Joyce-like’ in the sense that the stories tend to end with startling abruptness and value unusual structures over actual content. That’s right, I went there).

All joking aside, however, I think flash fiction is great. It lets writers tell a story or present an idea quickly, and I can well imagine that the skills people pick up writing this way can carry over to writing longer fiction, where you can be far more indulgant and long-winded. I’ll give it a shot now and then, so expect to see some actual fiction up here soon.

I’ve been struggling lately with the issue of novel length. Not because I’m worried about hurting the book’s chance of being published (my writing will no doubt do enough damage on its own), but because the story could work either as a single, fairly long book or as two medium-length ones. I’m leaning towards the latter; there’s a very definite ‘cutting off’ point where one stage of the story ends and the next begins, and I can’t imagine simply moving on to a new chapter once I’ve reached that point. It’s hard to describe, but it feels as if doing that wouldn’t do it justice, somehow.

Of course, that’s a concern for the future. Right now it’s nearly nine o’ clock in the evening and I’ve spent most of the day writing in comments sections here. Admittedly that adds up to several thousand words output, but it’s not moving the novel forward any.

Continuing with my non-fiction reading streak, I’m planning on starting Carl Sagan’s Cosmos tonight. I was planning on checking out Pale Blue Dot because I was actually looking at the pale blue dot photo, but I’ve apparently lost the copy I bought years ago. I’ve been a huge fan of Sagan’s work ever since reading The Demon Haunted World, which I would encourage everyone to read. More than any other writer I know of, Sagan was incredibly good at sharing the sense wonder and awe inherent in any study of the Universe.

Current word count for [untitled]: 17, 534

Target word count by the end of the day: 18,100

Current word count for [untitled]: 19,031. Booya. Tomorrow I’m going for 20k.

PS: If you’re a fan of Yeats (and you should be!) and have read his poem An Irish Airman Forsees His Death, track down a copy of Keane’s song ‘A Bad Dream’. You’ll get a kick out of it, trust me 😉

February 22, 2008

Word Count Works

Posted in Reading, Writing tagged , , , , , , at 12:00 pm by lifelessonsfromwriting

So, for the past few days I’ve been setting myself a challenge here by putting how many words I’d like to have written by the end of the day. I wasn’t really expecting it to work, but much earlier this morning I really put it to the test. Basically, due to a number of issues (none of which were all-encompassing laziness, I swear), I ended up with nothing written at 1.1oam. I was tired and really, really wanted to go to bed, but I had promised myself that I’d write about 500 words first. What to do?

If I hadn’t set myself a target for the day, I can guarantee you that I wouldn’t have written anything at all. Instead, I ended up writing well over what I had intended. (We’ll not say anything about the actual quality of that writing…)

As the title of this post suggests, the ‘word count’ method seems to work for me. With that in mind, scroll to the bottom of this post and gaze upon the truly epic target that I’ve set myself today. Or alternatively, read my little rant first:

This is probably the dumbest book I’ve seen for a long time, and I once tried to read ‘A Million Little Pieces’. The title, the subject matter, the fact that Russel Brand is on the cover…it really hasn’t got anything going for it. The original manuscript should have been ejected into space as soon as Brand finished it.

Predictably enough, it’s a best seller in Ireland. I suppose the picture on the cover helped potential buyers identify with the author. Either that or they thought they were looking at a mirror and decided they could do with a new one. It’s a sad day when people are entertained by the self-indulgent rantings of some jackass who got famous despite looking and acting as if both sides of his brain melted together from drug overdose.

In other news, Why People Believe Weird Things is a very interesting read, although I’m a bit too framiliar with some of the topics to learn anything new from several of the chapters. Since Ireland seems to be enjoying a bumper crop of what could charitably be called ‘weird things’, I might pull a Shermer and cover one or two of them here.

Current word count for [untitled]: 14, 423

Target word count for the end of the day: 17,000

Current word count: 17, 038 (Success! And now, I’m going to sleep!)

February 21, 2008

Hot, Writing-on-Writing Action!

Posted in Reading, Writing tagged , , , , , at 7:29 pm by lifelessonsfromwriting

Writing itself is, strangely enough, a surprisingly difficult thing to write about. There are endless amounts of books, magazines and websites that will supposedly teach you how to write, but most people will tell you that the vast majority are fairly pointless. In fact, they’re all pointless on their own; if someone reads twenty of the best writing books in the world, then immediately attempts to write their first 5,000 word story, ever, you can be fairly certain that the result will suck. Badly.

Writing books are only useful when they go hand-in-hand with lots of practice, and this is assuming that whoever wrote the book is good at teaching in the first place. Unfortunately, merely being a good writer yourself doesn’t automatically make you good at teaching other people how to do it.

Having said that, I’ve come across a few books in my time that actually are very good, and which have greatly helped me improve my writing. I’ll add to this list as time goes on, so let me know if you’ve got a suggestion:

How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card

Obviously, this one is mainly of interest to those who want to write some form of SF (‘speculative fiction’), but it has a lot of excellent general advice as well. Of particular interest is the section on the ‘MICE quotient’, which really opened my eyes about how it’s possible to wreck your own story long before you even start writing it. (Possibly not what the author intended, but I mainly remember thing ‘Crap, I’m writing a Character story as if it was a Milieu one!’ upon reading this for the first time).

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne & Dave King

This book is fantastic. Written by two professional editors, it takes you through a common mistakes that fiction writers make and gives you numerous ideas on how to correct them. The language is clear and, above all, concise (they don’t waffle needlessly), and it even has some entertaining little cartoons in each chapter!

Get your hands on a copy of this, read it, then immediately go through your own work-in-progress and be horrified at just how many of the mistakes listed in the book you’ve made.

Word Count for [untitled]: 13,571

Target word count for the end of the day: 14,200

Current word count for [untilted]: 14, 423

Finishing Books

Posted in Reading tagged , , , , at 11:28 am by lifelessonsfromwriting

Every reader tends to have their own opinion on finishing a book. A lot of people feel that they need to finish something once they’ve started it (unless it’s really atrocious, or only becomes atrocious halfway through) while those on the other end of the scale will toss a book on page ten if it doesn’t seem interesting enough.

I’m much closer to the latter.  While I’ll give any book a fair chance, I’m reluctant to invest in something if I don’t think it’s going to be worth the time. I’ve recently done this with George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Medieval fantasy with kings and lords? Blah. Not my cup of tea.

I also stopped reading The Stand at about page 250 (somewhere around the third monumental flashback), which is unusual because I usually like King’s stuff. A few weeks ago, I also got most of the way through What I Was by Meg Rosoff before stopping, mostly because of a sneaking suspicion that she ripped off another book that I read a while ago and liked much  more (Lucas by Kevin Brooks, in case you’ve read both and would like to give your two cents).

There seems to be a pattern to my reading habits, though. If I’m hard at work on writing something, as I am now, I’m far less likely to finish a book than if I’m not writing anything in particular. I don’t know if it’s because I don’t want to risk letting someone else’s writing style ‘influence’ mine or if I’m just too tired of looking at words to do it for hours on end, but I can pretty much forget about reading if I’ve written for more than three or four hours that day.

Strangely, though, I have no problem reading non-fiction while I’m like this. I’ve recently started to read Why People Believe Weird Things  (take that, Objectivists!) and had no trouble ploughing through a few interesting chapters. Apparently I only have room in my brain for one fictional universe at once!