May 31, 2016

31:05:2016

After last week’s illness I’m now feeling better and am mostly mucus-free (other than having to clear my flemmy throat every few minutes like the old man I will one day become). It’s amazing how you forget how good feeling good feels. Did I have this much energy pre-sickness? That can’t be right because I’m pretty sure I remember feeling tired all the time. Either way, I’m riding this post sickness rejuvenation for as long as I can which I’m guessing will be about one full work week, no doubt by then I’ll be back to being tired and bitter and not this peppy annoyance the Lady Holly is currently putting up with (who is now also sick thanks to yours truly).

Until then I’ve used this seemingly surplus energy to come up with a plan for future-tired-me that will see him maintain the lifestyle of the current-peppy-me. I’m calling it a June Retune, because the timeline for this plan will last to the end of June, and because I like creating names that rhyme. Basically the June Retune is a diet/exercise/writing regiment that I will stick to for the thirty days that make up June. The rules of this plan aren’t too harsh, to be honest they’re aimed at being fairly sustainable. The current aim is if I manage the plan easily enough I’ll continue on into a July Retune (although obviously I’d have to rename it to something that rhymes, July Solidify maybe?). Here’s what I’m asking of myself: No snacking – something I’ve been indulging in a lot lately, no doubt trying to fatten up for a winter hibernation, Minimal alcohol – mostly because during good beer week I drank a month’s supply of beer anyway, exercise everyday – nothing too crazy, just twenty minutes or so and only on days when I don’t ride to work, visit the quagmire of facebook only once a day and only for a maximum of half an hour – that one’s fairly self explanatory, and of course stick to my writing schedule – which at the moment is an hour in the morning before work, an hour after work, any time I can sneak in at work, and a three hour block (or more if possible) on the weekend.

Like I said fairly manageable, especially when I just need to maintain it for thirty days, the main thing is to stick to it; which is the final point of the plan. No excuse, no justifications, just FTDP (follow the damn plan – thanks to The Lady Holly for providing the initialism, and thanks to Brother Jonathan for pointing out the difference between an acronym and an initialism).

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Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about input and output. In order to produce a creative output (be it writing, drawing, dancing, knitting, dog grooming etc.) I think you must first put in a lot of informational input. For myself this mostly comes from reading. Reading anything. Books, blogs, scripts, articles, research papers, and so on. I know I have a lot of input, sometimes I worry too much input. Throughout the day I’m almost in a constant state of informational input. I listen to audiobooks on my way to and from work. I read a bunch of stuff in any downtime I have. When I’m home I watch TV, browse the internet, and read. When I’m in the bathroom I read a book from my phone. All day my brain is being swamped with input. Which for the most part is a good thing. I’m providing my brain with a wealth of different information so when it comes to the output stage I have a lot of points to draw on. Using these points, connecting together seemingly unconnected things, and weaving something new, is to me what creative output is. It’s what art is. So all that’s fine, but I’m starting to think there’s a third step. A middle step. Analyse. This is where I think I fall short, and it comes back to bite me in the arse when it comes time for output. Without properly analysing the input I sit at my laptop, watch the minutes tick by, and bash my head to get it to think of what to write next. I know I’ve got a lot of points in my brain, I know I’ve saturated it with input, hell, it should have plenty just from near thirty years of living, but the dots aren’t connecting because they haven’t been analysed. The tricky part is how to analyse and when to analyse. Thanks to my smartphone and the internet it’s easy to distract myself, to never be bored, and in turn never give myself time to analyse, just continually put in more input. Maybe that’s the key, reduce my input. Ride to work one day without any kind of stimulation. Eat lunch without looking at my phone. Go to the bathroom and just go to the bathroom. Set aside ten minutes at the end of each day to do nothing. Create input free time. Because ultimately without analysing the input goes to waste.

In fact I came up with this whole theory, i.e. the output you’ve just read, while in the shower; one of the few input free times I have left.

The annoying part is there’s just so much good input out there.

The challenge continues, and we’re better off for it.

Talk soon

Damian

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May 25, 2016

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After my last post, where I talked about how busy I’ve been at work and that I drank beer for a week, I’m now sick. Suprising? No. Annoying? Yes. Mostly because the back of my throat currently feels like someone took a cheese grater to it. Saying that, it’s just a cold and I’m sure it’ll pass soon. Meanwhile, sick days! There’s nothing quite as satisfying as a legitimate reason to skip work, and if that means being a snot monster for a few days then I say it’s worth it.

Today I did nothing, or as close to nothing as a person can get. Certainly nothing productive. I just watched TV in my pyjamas all day, with a quick visit to the doctors to get him to give me a note. The whole getting a doctor’s note seems a little ridiculous when all you have is a cold. He didn’t bother prescribing me anything other than to drink a lot of water and rest up, and, while drinking water at the moment feels like chugging a glass of ice cold acid, that’s pretty much what I was planning to do anyway. In fact the argument could be made that driving myself to the doctors and waiting for an hour for a five minute consultation to get a piece of paper that says ‘You’re sick’, actually gets in the way of me resting up. Oh well, you know what they say, if the system’s broke then complain about it on the internet and don’t actually do anything to fix it.

Tomorrow I’m planning to get some writing done as long as my mucus filled head is able to think clearly. I’m looking forward to it. I’m working on a short story that has the working title His name was Henry, as that’s the first line of the piece and I haven’t thought of a proper name yet. Pretty good first line though, right? If all goes to plan tomorrow I should get a nice chunk of it done. As that’s all the writing news I have let me harshly segway to…

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…internet bits, aka, cool things from the internet.

As some of you know I’m a big fan of Warren Ellis. One of the things he does so well with his writing is to imbue it with ideas and knowledge of things that seem likely to exist in the near future. In other words, he’s a futurist, so much so that he’s been asked to give talks and write essays on the topic. Another writer who does the same thing is Ramez Naam. He’s written an award winning series of books called The Nexus Trilogy which are must reading, not only for its in depth futurist themes (and they are very in depth, the guy was a CEO for a nanotechnology company and worked for Microsoft before writing fiction) but also for its interesting characters, and a story that will always keep you guessing.

I found his writing after seeing a post on the internet about an Icelandic tradition where you givie books to each other on Christmas eve and then spending the night reading them. The Lady Holly and I decided to partake in this tradition and so I had to find a book to give her. I went to the website www.whatshouldireadnext.com, which allows you to type in the names of books you’ve enjoyed and then produces a list of books it thinks you’ll like. Nexus kept popping up, I read a synopsis, purchased it, and gave it to Holly. I’m glad I did, as I mentioned it’s excellent reading, and it inspired me to look more into futurism (footnote: the Lady Holly and I both ended up finishing the book while in Iceland which added a nice circular ending to the whole thing).

This interest in futurism caused me to look for pages I could add to my facebook feed on the topic and unsurprisingly I found one called…Futurism (which also has a website here) and it has been entertaining and educating me ever since. It, as you may have guessed, is this post’s cool thing from the internet. Apart from checking out the site yourself I thought I’d share a few of the cool, quick, videos they make about all things futurist.

Like this one about braille tablet for the blind

Or this one that is a brilliant combination of technology and art in the form of 3D projection face mapping

Or finally this one about a smart touch mirror

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Mind blown? Good, because mine was. Although as it’s full of mucus I’m going to go blow my nose instead.

Talk soon.

Damian

May 20, 2016

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It’s been another busy week for me, both working and socially, and so writing has once again taken a back step. It’s also left me tired. Every morning starts the same way; my alarm rings, I turn it off then get comfortable again which is when the never ending monologue in my head says “C’mon mate, got to get up”, the ‘got to get up’ thought then causes my brain’s jukebox to start playing the theme song to the Winnie the Pooh cartoon I watched as a kid, which goes “Gotta get up. Gotta get going. Gotta see a friend of mine. He’s round and he’s fuzzy, I love him because he’s just…Pooh bear, Winnie the Pooh bear”, and with this jaunty tune playing in my head I start the day. Admittedly having a children’s cartoon theme song play through your head every morning is a weird routine for a twenty nine year old man, but it’s one that’s entirely out of my control; and every day the song buzzes through my brain it manages to cement itself in there even further. I know one day, when I’m old and my brain is on it’s way out, that tune will still be playing, and I’ll end up in a rocking chair somewhere singing it to myself over and over again. At least it’s an upbeat song.

Either way, I’ve been busy.

Work has still been the same mess it has for the last few weeks, where the powers that be keep expecting me to work. What’s more they seem to have this insane notion that I should do this for a full eight hours, five days a week! It’s madness. Seriously though, my non-writing work has been a shit storm, one that has raged on unchecked and managed to soak up most of my time and energy. However some sunlight has appeared on the distance and I think it should only be a few more weeks before I ride it out. I hope.

The other reason I’ve been busy is a much more positive one. It’s Good Beer Week in Melbourne town, which is basically a week long festival celebrating all things beer with a bunch of events being held all over the city. The Lady Holly and I decided to embrace it this year and went to some of these events. It’s been fun, but drinking beer during the workweek is a sure way to add points to your tiredness level.

One thing I have managed to get done writing wise this week is to roughly sketch out the outline for a short story I’m writing. My plan for it is to record an audio version which I’ll post at some point on this blog, with it hopefully being the first of many. I wrote the first few pages of it with no plan in place during a coffee fuelled buzz a few months ago and then put it on the shelf. I re-read it the other week and liked what I had but, especially as it’s to be a detective story, thought it could do with some proper planning before getting back into the fun part of actually writing it. That’s now maybe seventy percent done, with a few more points I need to figure out, although I expect it’ll morph and change during the writing process as new ideas come up from the ether.

It’s also my Dad’s birthday today, so happy birthday Dad, of all my Dads you’re my favourite.

That’s it for now, I’ll leave you with this video of the aforementioned Winnie the Pooh theme song (which was amazingly easy to find, clearly this is what the internet was invented for) so it can embed itself into your head too, that way when we’re old and in a nursing home we can sing it together.

Talk soon.

Damian

May 13, 2016

13:05:2016

Today I want to blog about bloggers.

I’ve spoken before about how I started this blog after signing up to the newsletter of comic book writer/novelist/futurist/mad genius Warren Ellis; and being inspired by it (which you can sign up to here if you’d like). It’s a weekly treat that lands in my inbox that I often giddily enjoy over a cup of coffee. As a professional writer of words he often details in these newsletters the various projects he’s working on and occasionally his process of putting those wonderful stories of his together. Usually by the time I get to the end of the newsletter my mind is inflamed, in part because my now guzzled cup of coffee is rolling in with a kick arse caffeine buzz, but also because reading about him writing makes me want to write.

My revamped mission of be-a-better-writer-you-idiot has involved a lot of me organising all my various projects and working out a constantly evolving plan and timeline for each one so I have a clear idea of what each project needs to keep moving forward. The next phase of the mission is to continue to educate myself, and I figure if Mr Ellis’ newsletter works to educate and inspire me with all things writing then that’s probably something I should try to bolster. Of course as much as I’d like Ellis to write a blog everyday in order to kick start my creativity that might be asking too much of a man I’ve never met. Instead I decided that where there’s one there must be more. There must be other writers I look up to and draw inspiration from out there who are writing their own blogs or newsletters. I just needed to find them.

I became a hunter. The blogs and newsletter of talented writers were my prey, the internet was my hunting ground, and google was my weapon. Warren’s newsletter themselves were a good starting ground as he occasionally offered suggestions of similar newsletters. I signed up to a few, and waited with anticipation for their arrival. My favourite thus far is one called Municipal Archive by Kio Stark. It rolls into my inbox spasmodically and each newsletter details a well written, and often moving, interaction the writer has had with a stranger. Each one is basically a tiny story that never fails to engage, and I really can’t recommend this one enough.

All my new subscriptions however weren’t enough. I wanted more. I was catching the newsletters but the blogs were managing to get through my net. A quick search showed me that, yes, a number of my favourite writers did in fact maintain a blog on their websites, the problem now was the ease to which I accessed them. I had become used to my idol’s words coming to me and the idea of routinely making the rounds on a number of websites in the hope that they’d been updated didn’t entice. I figured I can’t have been the first person in this quandary and another google search proved this to be true, and provided an answer. Feedly.

Feedly is a website/app that provides (as wikipedia cleverly puts it) a news aggregation service. Basically it uses rss feeds from websites to notify you whenever an update to those website is made, or, in other words, it’ll tell me when there’s a new blog in town I might be interested in. There’s a few different websites like this but I found feedly easy to use and, even better, easy to read. Once you make an account, which I did simply by logging in to my google account, you can sign up to get feeds from whatever website you like. This is made easy to do by the app’s search functionality that easily finds the website you’re after and even suggest similar ones you might be interested in. Once it’s found the website you’ve searched for you simply click the ‘+feedly’ button and that’s it; you’ll now get those blogs sent to your feedly whenever they’re updated where you can read, share, or save them at your leisure. It’s now become a daily pleasure for me to make my way over to my feedly in the morning (accompanied by a cup of coffee) and read through whatever new blogs the writers have written.

In case you’re interested, my current subscriptions are Brandon Sanderson, Matt Fraction, Warren Ellis (he keeps a blog as well as the newsletter, bless him), Neil Gaiman, Patrick Rothfuss, Ramez Naam, John Scalzi, and V. E. Schwab. The problem now becomes that not all writers keep blogs, which I find a bit strange. To me it would seem that the nature of being a writer is to write, and that of all the people out there likely to have a blog writers should be at the top of that list. Maybe they’re just busy writing stories, which I also want to read, so I can’t complain too much.

Either way, with this daily dose of inspiration and information my education should increase and hopefully with it my writing improve. In the meantime I’ll just have to keep an eye out for new blogs to add to the list.

The hunt continues.

Talk soon.

Damian

May 11, 2016

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All the organisation and filing I’ve done to get my various writing projects into any sort of a shape (hopefully one that looks, sounds, and smells like a story) caused me to go through some of my old writing. They mostly consist of bits I spasmodically wrote when the feeling hit me, and word docs with one line ideas in them that obviously meant something to past me but now means nothing to current me.

Amongst all that was a little piece I wrote on missing someone. I wrote it a couple of years ago when the Lady Holly was living in London and I was living alone. It’s a bit melodramatic, something I usually try to avoid, but there’s enough truth in there that I thought I’d like to share it with you.

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The worst part is when you stop. You turn off the TV, or something like that, and you become aware of the silence, you become aware of exactly how alone you are…and it frightens you. There is a definite element of fear to it, it takes you by surprise. With the television on you’ve got sound, you’ve got people, you get caught up with the characters you’re watching , you’re thoughts align with theirs and you’re not alone. Until you realise you are, and you were all along.

I just finished a film and was feeling great, good movie, nice message, very much satisfied. I turned it off and the silence came barreling in on me. I had to look around at my empty living room. I noticed the darkness in the adjoining rooms, how clean everything looked (because one person alone can be terribly neat), and the only sounds I can hear are the drone from a faulty light and the distant noise of traffic outside.

Behind the fear comes a sadness. Something is missing, something that other people have but I’m missing it and I’m missing it even more in this current moment. Then you think what next? What am I about to do right now? You don’t know because whatever it is you’ll still be doing it alone and it won’t fill that something that’s missing. You become desperate to get it but you know you can’t, because that something missing is a person or persons. It’s not a quick fix. I can’t go down to the shop and buy my new significant person and feel good again. I can go down and buy ice cream which is pretty close, but ultimately temporary.

It’s not the end of the world or anything. It’s a sadness forgotten that comes back with more force because of that forgetfulness. And I’ll be alright, we all will be, but it sucks to miss someone and it sucks to be alone. Humans are pack animals and as evolved and as civilised as we become there will always be basic human needs, companionship is one of them. I miss it. I miss Holly.

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Talk soon.

Damian

May 6, 2016

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I took the above photo on a flight recently from London to Reykjavik, in Iceland. I wish I had thought to get the girl’s parents email so I could send them the shot. Although the girl started licking the window just after I took the photo so not quite as spellbinding as it may seem.

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My big, impressive, ambitious plan to increase the quantity and quality of my writing, that I wrote about in my last post, failed me this week. Not because of the plan (the plan is good, the plan is golden, I won’t hear a bad word said about it, okay?), but because of me. Or more specifically, my work. Pesky full time job, always getting in the way of valuable writing time. What does it even get me anyway? Oh! Right. Money. Damn.

Basically my responsibilities at work have changed slightly and with them my schedule. Which means my day starts earlier, I’m more tired at the end of it, and they actually expect me to work for my money. It’s so unfair. Luckily my two favourite traits are persistence and adaptability, so we push on.

One thing I have achieved this week is more cementation of all my ideas. Each has been categorised and written out into an actual coherent breakdown rather than a jumble of words on my evernote that I wrote when half asleep. It feels like progress, although part of me feels like that’s debatable. Either way it’s left me with five TV screenwriting concepts, two short story concepts, and two novel concepts. Ambitious, especially as I’ve never really written much prose before, but hey, why the hell not. The worst I’m going to do is write a crappy story, and writing crappy stories is how you progress to writing not-crappy stories.

My next step will be breaking the whole thing down into it’s parts. Working out what each project needs before I start it then succinctly listing each of those steps. Things like what I need to research, what the themes are, ideas for characters, ideas for major story beats, etc.

In other words I’ve got plenty of work to do, now I just need to figure out how I get around work in order to find the time to do it. I’ll do it, I’m sneaky like that.

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Now it must be about time for COOL THINGS FROM THE INTERNET!

First up is a TED talk given by a guy called Harald Hass. Man I do love a good TED talk. If you ever need a healthy dose of inspiration, learning, wonderment, or just to realise that there are amazing people out there who just might make our world a better place, then visit the TED website and chose a talk at random.

Harald is one of these people. He and his team have done something amazing, they’ve developed a form of data transfer they call li-fi. What’s amazing about this is that it uses light to transfer the data (the data being the internet), and it uses regular LED lights that can be found in all homes and street lights. Amazing, right? But it gets better. The light is emitted onto a solar panel, again, a fairly regular, go to the right shop and buy, type of solar panel, and works through slight variations in the light intensity that get picked up by the solar panel, translated into binary, and then sent into the computer as data. Amazing. What’s more is that this data transfer is a number of times faster than most current broadband systems. Amazing! Also the light variations are so small that the human eye can’t pick them up. AMAzing! And the solar panel can use the light to charge the device it’s emitting the data to. AMAZING!

Basically I think it’s amazing. Watch the video below to get your mind blown by possibly the most boring voice you’ve ever heard.

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Next cool thing is a documentary about the movie Zootopia. If you haven’t seen it, why not? It is a brilliant film with well thought out characters, fun scenes, and manages to sneak in a pretty important theme. You can see how well thought out the characters are in the documentary as the team worked on the script for years, and even changed who the protagonist was basically at the last minute, and then rewrote it all. It shows how much work and dedication it takes to write a quality screenplay. And all the animation stuff is simply mind blowing too, and beautiful.

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That will probably do us for today I think.

Remember, things just keep going on until they don’t. So enjoy yourself and make the most of them.

Talk soon.

Damian

May 3, 2016

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As mentioned in the last post; I recently went on a holiday where I envisioned writing my way across Scandinavia; and then didn’t write a word. I’m not too upset by that fact, partially because I did get a bunch of good ideas during the trip, which are always worth their weight in gold (or maybe my weight as an idea doesn’t have mass and I managed to gain some holiday weight), but also because I returned refreshed and determined to write more.

Admittedly, about once a week (and usually after a coffee) I get the same manic determination to write more. I tell myself “this week is the week, just get on that computer and let the words gush out all over those blank white pages. Fill those pages up, and then fill up some more! Write for hours, no, days, at a time! Be so proficient that your friends will be annoyed by how much stuff you get them to read. Throw pages of writing at them until they beg you to stop. That’s how much you’re going to write! Yes! You will! You will be a master writer!” Then the coffee wears off, I get tired, and I tell myself I’ll start being a master writer next Monday; followed by a few hours of wasting time, after which I hate myself. It’s a fun little cycle.

The difference this time was that I didn’t just come back determined to write more I also came back determined to write smarter. Or in other words, be more organised with my writing. I’m usually an extraordinarily organised person (you should see my inbox, it is gloriously clean), yet somehow when it came to writing I was doing it sloppy. That just won’t do.

So I laid out a plan:

First was to recognise that research and outlining are hugely important parts of the writing process, parts that I had been neglecting. I’m all for smashing out an idea out in one glorious and messy draft, but realistically that draft needs to be considered ‘Draft Zero’, with the first draft coming after the aforementioned research and outlining. I decided to reorganised my brain to include these two steps as “writing”, so that when I tell myself to do some writing it would include completing these steps. I’m hoping this will cause me to save time when it comes to the actual writing as I should produce better structured and more informed writing rather than just stare at a blank page with no inspiration to draw on.

Second, organise my projects. I had a bunch of raw ideas, some more developed ideas, some half finished scripts, and no plan for any of them. One writer I admire is Brandon Sanderson; a fantasy novelist, an expert of writing magic systems, and the most prolific writer I’ve ever seen. This guy churns out quality books like a conveyor belt churning out cheap plastic toys, and has for years. I honestly don’t know how he does it. One thing I do know though is that on his website he has a percentage/status bar for all his projects. His website is www.brandonsanderson.com, and while the status bar is no doubt a way to keep his rabid fans satisfied that progress is being made on their favorite series, it’s also a great way to keep track of all your projects while also motivating you to keep working on them. So I stole it. I stole it like a thief steals cheap plastic toys off a conveyor belt (admittedly not my best metaphor). I listed and categorised all my current ideas and projects, decided what step they were at, and gave each one a percentage. Most were low, some are getting higher.

Third, set times when I’d get writing done. I have been writing most days, but how much time differed greatly; some days I got a nice chunk done, other days involved me writing for five minutes, patting myself on the back, and calling it a day. I’ve decided to think about it as a marathon, in order to run a marathon you need consistent, structured, training. Currently I’m the person who puts on activewear, drinks a coffee, and fails to actually do anything active. Training for a marathon involves not just running on the days you feel like it, but running when you don’t feel like it and running well past the point of comfort. It just happens that training for this metaphorical marathon will never be complete. Bring it on.
I wrote out a timetable for when I would write. I would get up earlier on my work day and get one full hour of writing done before work. At work I’d try to get another hour (or more) done. I work full time but if I write during my lunch break and during quiet periods throughout the day (thankfully I get a few of these) this is actually achievable. Once I’m home I’d write for another hour. Then I’d put aside three hours every weekend for me to write in. I would work those writing muscles hard; I would cause myself pain and fatigue, and sweat words.

Lastly, continue my education. There is always more to learn on any subject, and while I read scripts regularly I haven’t been doing much to continue to educate myself on the actual craft of writing. I’ve decided to start reading more blogs (mostly from writers I admire), and collate some of the great resources for craft skills out there on the internet. Also to re-read all the great screenwriting books I read years ago when I started this endeavour, as well as the ones I’ve never got around to reading.

I’ve been doing all this for only a week and a half now and already I’m producing more content than I had been previously. I wrote a pilot script for a sitcom last week and it’s one I’m happy with. In order to do this I researched advice for writing and structuring sitcoms, I wrote up an episode breakdown, character profiles, and then the first draft, which came in at twenty nine pages. It will of course need a second draft (a bunch of readers are looking over it now in order to help me do that) but it’s a hell of a lot more than I had a week ago. It feels good.

Admittedly a week does not a writer make, but if anything the progress has made me more motivated than I was even a week ago. The training is working, now I just need to stick at it.

Talk soon.

Damian