Monday, November 9, 2015

Pure Writing

What is writing? I'm glad you asked.

In life there are, what I like to call, pure activities. Activities that practically define themselves. For example, running--it's just you and a stretch of land. Or swimming--you and some water. Or meditation--you and the universe. Or my favorite, napping.

Writing is not one of these.

But there are activities that are so maddeningly close to pure that it's tempting to classify them as pure. The one that everyone can relate to is soccer. At its core, it's you, a field, and a ball. And by "ball" I mean any object you can kick. If you have a used food can, good enough. Or maybe you only have an old pair of pants and a roll of tape, no problem. It's not even particular about the size or shape of the field. A quiet street is just as good as an empty room.

In today's age of public education, writing is like this. It's you, something to write with, and some time. That's it. Society has come a long way in the past few hundred years. It wasn't always so easy to write. I love living today!

This is November and National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) is in full swing. I'm participating, and if you have any desire to write, I encourage you to participate, too. Nanowrimo isn't about being a sports star who can score the winning goal in the World Cup. Nanowrimo is about finding a pine cone or a crumpled up magazine and kicking it around.

Write. Just write.

You can work on grammar and characterization and pacing and all the other skills later. Or not. It can be fun just to write just for the purity of it.

* There is a great story in this photo. If you like this one, you should check out Danimurthi Mahendra's whole collection of Indonesian photos. It's great.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Popping the Question

Boy popping bubble

In many endeavors there is the question. The one question that almost everyone asks. For example, if you were a Boy Scout people will ask, "Are you an Eagle scout?" If you answer No, then they will move on. It doesn't matter how many good turns you did, or merit badges you earned, or tents you accidentally set on fire there are no more questions.

When people find out you write novels they ask the question, "What have you published?" They don't always phrase it that way, "What have you written?" or "Where can I get your books?" are common ones. And if you answer that you haven't published anything, the conversation stalls and you find a new topic.

At first, I tried to explain why I love writing. How I've written multiple novels, but I wasn't interested in getting them published. Even now, I risk losing you, precious reader, with my reasons. And so, I learned to just let it slide. I write for my own reasons, and I have reasons for not seeking publication.

Until now.

As my kids grow older, I've started to feel like I should get a story published. I'm not sure if I will go traditional or self-publish--there are so many pros and cons to weigh. But either way, I'm working a story through the last few stages of editing and beta readers.

I'm excited for this next phase in my writing career. I've been writing for over 10 years, and I've learned a lot. Now it's time to share with the world. I'm sure that much of the world won't notice, some of the world won't like it, but I'm hoping there is a small slice of awesome people out there who will love it enough to buy it.

And I'm looking forward to being able to answer the question in a way that moves the conversation forward.

* Joshua Rothhaas either worked very hard or got very lucky to capture this image of a popping bubble--probably both. Either way, it's really cool.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Master of Bear-emonies

The Midwest Storymakers Conference is always a highlight of my year. I get to see old friends and meet wonderful new people. And this year was no exception.

If I had one suggestion for beginning writers it would be to write, write a lot, write some more, then keep writing. If I had two suggestions, the second one would be to go to a writers conference to meet other writers like you and learn from them.

Thanks to our conference partners this year, the Johnson County Public Library and their Read Local committee, we held the conference at the education center of the Antioch branch of the library. I never knew that the library did so many different things in the community. Three cheers for libraries!!!

This year, I wasn't in charge of the Audio/Visual equipment. It felt a little strange, at times, being able to attend classes and not worry about making the rounds to check if projectors were behaving, clickers working, or giving 5-minute warnings to the instructors. It was both refreshing and a bit awkward. I've been doing the A/V for several years, so I always had that aren't-you-forgetting-something-important feeling.

They didn't let me completely off the hook. I was the Master of Ceremonies, and it was a blast! I had so much fun finding humorous ways to make announcements or introduce the schedule. If you've seen me at a conference you know how much I like to interact with people, so MC was the perfect job. I got to meet everyone.

To be honest, it was also stressful to get everything together and figure out how to make a bunch of different things fit together. And there are always last-minute changes that got whispered to me right before I went on. That's just the job of MC. But it was so much less stressful than A/V.

This year, we had a power-packed lineup of instructors: 

I know that's a lot of people in a dense list, but they are all awesome and I didn't want to forget anyone.

Now, another wonderful Midwest conference is done, and I'm already looking forward to next year. I don't know what my job will be, or if I will be given one--won't that be weird, to not have anything to do?

And I'll leave you with a bit of an inside joke. If you don't get it, don't worry. Enjoy.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Writing a NaNoWriMo Novel on My Phone

Did I mention that I won Nanowrimo this year? No? We'll then let me tell you. I won Nanowrimo this year! And, as usual, it means that I've written about half of the story, but I'll finish it off in the next few months.

This year I found motivation from the awesome Storywonk Nano podcast. And I also gave up my Ingress play time which is about half my morning exercise time. There were a few days when I wanted to go back to my normal routine, but the sacrifice paid off.

As I am want to do, I tried something new this year. I wrote my novel with my phone. (I'm sure that didn't come as much of a surprise, given the title of this post.) Before you imagine me hunched over with my phone inches from my face tapping out a novel with my thumbs-- You were imagining that weren't you? What you need to imagine is me sitting comfortably on a couch at a church or a bench in a restaurant typing on a keyboard that doesn't seem to be connected to anything.

The Keyboard
I while back, I bought a RockSoul bluetooth keyboard for my phone. It cost me less than $40. It's small and light, runs off of a couple AAA batteries, and I can take it anywhere.

I'm a touch typer, so I made sure it was large enough that I could rest it on my lap and type without looking at the keys. But even if you use the biblical method of typing (seek and ye shall find) you could make this work.

I do get some strange looks from people who wonder where my computer is. Then they see...

The Phone
I have a Samsung Galaxy S3 from Sprint. This phone happens to be at least 100 times more powerful that my first computer, and I could write a novel on that. Why not this?

The advantage of using the phone is that I always have it with me. Even without a keyboard I can jot down notes, leave myself recorded messages, read what I wrote the day before, and research bits and bobs needed for my story.

And unlike my computer, it has handy settings for turning off sound and notifications and for disconnecting from the world so I can focus on writing.

The downside is that you do have to deal with a small screen that is often setting next to you on the arm of a couch or a table, or balanced precariously on your knee while you wait for your daughter's play to begin. If you, hypothetically, had a daughter...who is in the school November. It's much more fun to slip the phone into my shirt pocket, then people really wonder what I'm doing.

The Software
In order to make this happen, I downloaded some applications. There are lots of them out there, so I'd recommend you try several until you find one that works for you. Here's what I used:

Dropbox is the star of the show. This is what synchronized my draft files back to my computer at home. I didn't want to lose my novel if my phone was lost or stolen or broken during the month. Plus, there were some rare times when I was at home and typed on my computer, then the files were sync'd back to my phone. Beautiful.

I wrote in JotterPad X. It is a nice-looking editor with decent power under the hood. One of my first requirements was that it sync with Dropbox--which it does well. I also like to write my drafts in text format. I find that having the manuscript in such a simple format gives me a lot of options for editing later. I can use Word or Scrivener or, basically, any other editor on the planet. And text files are very small, size-wise, and that makes syncing easier.

I also bought Outliner Pro. It doesn't have the prettiest icon, which is a shame because it is very easy to use. I kept my story notes in here and it worked well. I had a section for characters, one for places, the magic system, notes on future plans, stuff like that. I didn't have a full outline for my story this year, but this program helped me keep my details straight when I needed to. I bought the Pro license to get Dropbox sync, but it was worth it.

The Outcome
I liked this setup so well for drafting that, even if I had a computer available, I would often slip off to a quiet place in my house (which sometimes wasn't located in my physical house, because kids) and write on my phone. I'm planning to continue drafting this way in the future. It was very handy to be able to write anywhere just by carrying around an 11oz keyboard.

I'm not sure if this setup will work for editing, The screen isn't quite big enough--then again if phones keep getting larger that might change. The biggest hurdle to editing, is that you have to see the screen and interact with it quite a bit. That's not easy to do with a phone, but there are possibilities. I like possibilities.

*Note: The device pictures are copyright of their respective manufacturers. I've linked to their pages in the article. And the NaNoWriMo Winner banner was used with enthusiastic encouragement as well as permission.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Sweet Confections Cover Reveal

I know I don't review a lot of romance around here, but I had to share the news. My wife's latest book is coming out soon and today she revealed the cover!

Don't I just look dashing? And so debonair?

Okay, it's not really me. I don't even remember the last time I had that much hair. And the woman in the picture isn't my wife, but the name at the top is. And that's what really matters, right?

If you're into romance or hockey or baking or freaky stalkers then you'll like this story. By the way, if you're into freaky stalkers remind me to take you off my mailing list . . . or not. I didn't mean that. I really do still like you. Really.

You should go over to my wife's blog for a more detailed story summary and the chance to win a $10 Redbox Gift card.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

LDStorymakers Midwest Wrap Up

This is my favorite poster for the conference. I was going for a comic book cover look. I think it turned out quite nice. I'm sad to see it go into the history books, so I'm going to use it one more time for this post.

The conference was awesome. It ran smooth thanks to the planning of the committee, the expertise of the presenters, and the work of the hotel staff. Thanks everyone.

I met a lot of new people and of course got to hang out with old friends. After going to these conferences for so many years, they begin to fell like a family reunion . . . where you get to learn new skills.

This year, I was in charge of the A/V again. As with most things, the second time you do it is easier than the first. This is also why second drafts are better than first drafts. It's nice that I can put my technical skills to good use in the writing community instead of my usual job--which is ending conversations by using too much technical jargon or really bad puns.

Now that the conference is over I feel a sense of sadness knowing that I won't get to see everyone for many months, but that sadness isn't a sharp as it used to be. Not because I don't feel it, I do. It's mostly because there is so much work that goes into the conference that the sadness is tempered by a whew-it's-done-I need-a-break feeling.

We'll take a bit of time off and then start on next year's conference because meeting everyone, learning more about this craft of writing, and building a community of writers is well worth the effort. I hope to see you all there next year.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Nathan Hale's Calendar

If you're not reading Nathan Hale's blog you should be. He's a wonderful artist and all around creative guy. His posts aren't long and they usually involve a picture he's drawn.

He's also been known to publish whole stories on his blog. Lately, he hasn't done that as much because he's just so busy putting out books.

I'd like to have that problem.

Earlier this week, he shared his calendar. He uses it to track his work. It's simple, useful, and really cool to look at. Here's a quick explanation.

A line coming in from the bottom of a day means he started drawing a page. A line going out the top of a day, means he finished the page. Seriously, look at all those lines. For more details, you need to read and comment on his post.

Not only is it easy to see the work he got done, this feels like a sup'd up version of the Don't Break the Chain method. I love it.

In fact, I've been trying to think how I could adapt it for writing. I was thinking about tracking scenes.

I define a scene as a series of chronological events that happen in one location. This is how I write my stories--scene by scene. I don't put them together into chapters until later in the editing process.

So scenes might work. Of course, they vary in length quite a bit, some of my scenes are just 500 words while others are 5000 words. Still, I don't think that matters. What matters is moving the story forward, not how many words are in the story.

I'm also considering making writing and editing scenes look different somehow. I don't want to complicate things, so I was thinking about writing a "D" or "E" when a line comes in the bottom. In the end, it also doesn't matter if I'm writing or editing as long as the book is progressing, so I'm not sure if I'll need to do this.

The goal is to have a cool visual representation of my progress. Cool enough that the pattern I'm creating will provide motivation to continue the pattern.

So, I'm looking for other people's ideas. What do you think would make for a good calendar tracking system? Also, don't forget to check out Nathan's blog.

* Nathan's calendar image posted with permission.
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* Background image based on Night Sky theme by Ray Creations