July 31, 2016

31:07:2016

On Friday night I experienced a train trip that was such a positive experience it made me want to write it down.

I entered the crowded train, saw an empty spot, apologised my way to it, and settled in. Usually in such situations I’m on my phone like everyone else, actively avoiding the reality of a crowded train ride. For whatever reason – perhaps because I was in a good mood thanks to the knowledge that my brother Jonathan and his girlfriend Alexandra were flying in the next day – for this trip I decided to avoid it; instead embracing the experience. Because of this I paid attention to the people around me, I saw the details.

I saw a Dad and his son with down syndrome who sat across from me, off on a Friday night adventure, and I saw the obvious affection the man gave his excited son.

I saw a hispanic two or three year old with chubby cheeks, wide eyes, and a vacant expression. I saw the affect this adorable addition had on the people on the train, the small smiles she elicited when wondering eyes fell upon her dressed in her little sweater staring out at the odd world of the train.

I saw a waif of a woman, early twenties, who with closed eyes unabashedly mouthed along to the music from her headphones. I saw the small movements of her head and shoulders as they shifted to the beat of the music, a small outward expression of the internal dancing she was no doubt performing.

I saw the son with down syndrome ask his Dad to join him in a selfie, both giving wide smiles to whoever the recipient of the photo was to be.

I saw two hipster girls get on, one wearing denim overalls over a fuzzy mustard sweater that should have looked ridiculous but that she pulled off with laid back confidence and an easy smile.

I saw a crotchety looking old man enter and I saw his face light up as his eyes fell upon the small hispanic girl, greeting her warmly as though she were an old friend. I saw him beautifully, wonderfully, stereotypically pulled out a pack of Werther’s Originals and offered one to the girl, whose face broke into a rare smile as her Mum repeatedly prompted a ‘say thank you’ to her. I saw as the man and the girl sat side by side, shared in the act of eating the hard candies.

I saw the faded tattoos of the sixty plus year old woman next to me and wondered at the history behind them.

I saw the matching St Christopher stickers both father and his down syndrome son had on their phone cases, and smiled at the appropriateness of having the patron saint of travellers in your pocket at all times, not to mention on the train with us.

I looked at the people around me on our small corner of the train carriage and saw the details that made them them and wondered what they saw when they looked at me.

Talk soon

Damian

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25 July, 2016

25:07:2016

The last week has been a cold one for us Melburnians. While other areas of the world are reaching temperatures as high as fifty four degrees I’ve been grumbling about the fact that we got down to three degrees the other morning and I could see my breath while lying in bed. Despite twenty nine years on this planet and a preference for winter wear I still never really seem all that prepared for the season. Maybe it’s an Australian thing.

It could also be seasonal affective disorder, a mild form of depression that comes on over winter thought to be caused by the lack of exposure to light – and, which can appropriately be acronymed as SAD. Having a name for it and knowing that I’m likely to get a little SAD (wow, that acronym really does work well) over the winter months is good. It means when it does come on I can recognise it and do my best to buck up and get on with it until the happier sunny months come rolling on through. It can be a hard thing to ignore however. Not only is there wind, cold, and rain to dissuade me from getting outside and being productive, I also find I have a lackluster attitude to even try and do anything. Everything seems to become a little more pointless. Things like exercising, socialising, or doing anything that isn’t hibernating in bed alternation between reading, eating, sleeping and watching tv become mountainous tasks that seem to require much more energy than they actually do. This only works to feed the SAD as not only am I likely to gain some weight from indulging in such sedentary activities, which the depression happily feeds on, but by avoiding exercise I’m also avoiding the release of hormones such activities bring; the one thing most equipped to battle SAD. Without the vitamin D, or whatever it is, from the sun that triggers a catalyst of happiness, then surely the release of endorphins and dopamine that come post exercise are the next best thing to get our brains back to a more functional state.

Last winter SAD hit me pretty hard, not helped by the fact that the Lady Holly was living three hours away from me at the time and was equally as unhappy. This winter I decided to prepare myself. Not only did I buy more beanies to add to my already abundant beanie collection but I mentally prepared myself as well; cognitively bracing for the impact of SAD. I told myself to expect a dip in energy levels, and then to welcome winter, purposely finding ways to enjoy the extra time I was to spend at home in order to battle the winter blues (lately that’s been indoor picnics with my three favourites: whiskey, cheese, and the Lady Holly). I was also determined to keep exercising throughout the winter months so not only will I have an amazing beach bod come summer but also so I keep my hormone levels a little more skewed to the side of happy. For the most part this has worked pretty well. I can still feel an uncommon rise in apathy from time to time, and little things can affect me more than they might when the sun in shining, but during those times I remind myself what the cause may be and then force myself to go for a run or do something fun. To put it another way, I use some HAPPI (Hormonal Appeasement by Prioritising Positive Industry) to fight the SAD.

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In writing news The Lady Holly and Brother Jonathan have both now read my novelette and have given me feedback. Both were not only extremely constructive, helping me to strengthen the story and my writing, but were also very complimentative; which I thoroughly enjoyed, my ego basking in the warmth of their praise. Next I’m planning to make some edits based off of their feedback and then pass it on through a friend to her Aunty who’s a professional editor, and much less likely to be quite so nice as she doesn’t love me the way the other two do.

I’ve also started a new short story which so far has had a few false starts. I had a plot I liked but it took me writing out a few pages until I figured out just who my character is and how he relates to the theme. I ended up rewriting those first pages a few times until I had it right. I’ve got it mostly sorted in my head now, and on my notes page, however I might still ditch those initial pages once the stories done as they’re mostly set up and aren’t working to push the story forward as much as they should. We’ll see. In the meantime it’s all practise, it’s all learning, and, most importantly, it’s all fun.

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Finally, I thought I’d share a TED talk I watched the other week that I found very engaging. It covers the differences between introverts and extroverts and is presented by the highly entertaining psychologist Brian Little. If you don’t know if you’re an introvert or an extrovert I expect you will by the end of this talk.

Talk soon

Damian

July 19, 2016

19:07:2016

The literarily gifted Warren Ellis has a new piece of work out for us all to feast on. It’s a novel of sorts that comes in four parts entitled Normal. The story follows a futurist who is doing a stint at Normal Head, a rehabilitation centre for futurists – those who look into the bleak almost probable end of the world and try to subvert the fate humans have put on ourselves by developing strategies that offset that end. Normal Head exists because these futurists often need a break, either by choice or by force, from this vocation, especially prone to what Ellis names ‘abyss gaze’,  a depression that comes from gazing into the abyss of the future. To add to this, at Normal Head all patients are completely disconnected, meaning they have no access to technology, often bringing on withdraw from their tech addiction.

This point in particular interests me about the series. The idea that people need to be forcibly cut off from their tech, surely this is something most of us can relate to. While I love the connectivity our crazy future world currently allows us it can no doubt be detrimental to how we function, and people are, without question, addicted. For myself I couldn’t tell you the last time I went through a waking hour without looking at some kind of device, let alone a day; not to mention the amount of times I’ve picked up my phone and checked it for messages despite the a fact I’ve had it with and know none should exist. I can at least claim a resistance to the urge while driving, something others are less capable of. All to often I see someone steering with one hand while they try to talk on their phone or type a message with the other, as though forgetting that they’re currently in control of a fifteen hundred kilo machine moving at up to one hundred kilometers an hour. That’s a pretty wicked addiction right there, one that’s sure to hurt themselves or those around them. Of course there are plenty more examples of how this commonplace addiction affects us; from people who shun their friends when out to look at their phones, to those who fail to even get out of their house for fear of disconnecting.

One bit of tech that’s popped up in the last few weeks that seems to use our collective addiction for good is Pokemon Go. I haven’t got the app myself but it seems designed to get people out of the house, forcing them to move and be social in order to progress through the game. I think that’s kind of awesome. The game rewards people by walking set distances and physical connecting with others which means it’s designed for a group of people, gamers, that makes them do the exact opposite of what they’re known for…and it’s working! No doubt the popularity of the game will breed others of its ilk, which is great. Not only will the games work to entertain people, and make them more healthy and social but if also paired with apps like Charity Miles – an app that raies money for charity whenever you exersice – then it will be doing an even greater good. Of course the argument could be made that people should exercise, be social, and give to charity without the need for for technology making it fun, but, as that argument doesn’t involve believing you may one day become a pokemon master, it’s pretty easy to argue against.

Back to Ellis and his intriguing new novel. It’s currently getting released in four parts over four weeks in whatever digital format you choose, which quite appropriately means you need some sort of device to read it. For myself that’s a kindle, and I’ve already pre-ordered all four parts which means they’ll magically show up on my kindle over the next month. If you however wish to take your own sabbatical from technology it will be out later in the year in a physical form.

In the meantime I’m taking my own steps to slightly disconnect from technology, which at the moment involves putting my plane on airplane mode at night. Admittedly it’s not much, and is mostly to ensure I get a good night’s sleep, but, hey, at least I’m doing something to combat my addiction. I’m basically a hero.

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While we’re on the subject of technology check out this cool device that turns any surface into a touch interface.

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Talk soon

Damian

July 14, 2016

14:07:2016

I’ve been sick with a head cold this week which is a pretty good way to be unproductive. Not only do I have less energy, an ever growing pile of soggy tissues, and a head that feels packed full of wool, but I also have a good excuse to be unproductive. Unfortunately that dark side of me, the one that always wants to do nothing even though doing nothing actually makes me grumpy and unhappy, knows it. Which is why I spent a lot of my free time this week watching old episodes of 30 Rock. Don’t get me wrong, that is a perfectly enjoyable way to spend a week, 30 Rock holds up big time over both years and multiple watches, and I also believe if you’re sick getting rest is pretty high on the list of things you need; unfortunately I also think that do-nothing side of me takes advantage in times like these. This do-nothing side is the same voice that tells me to wait and start the exercise regime on Monday even though it’s been telling me that for the past three weeks, or that suggests I’ve earned a break after writing two sentences, or that whispers in my ear when I’m trying to avoid unhealthy foods that maybe I’d like being fat. If Jiminy Cricket is your conscious telling you the things you know you should do then this voice belongs to a character I’m calling Augustus Slug and his job is to push you into doing all the things you shouldn’t do. Basically replace the angle and the demon on your shoulder to a cricket and a slug, which I believe makes way more sense just in size proportions alone. I may have got diverted here, the point is I’ve been sick and I haven’t got much done.

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One thing I did manage to do this week was finish a short story. It’s really more flash fiction than a short story, and is less of a story than an exploration of an idea. It’s also two pages long. Oddly this shorter length didn’t seem to make it easier to write and I struggled to get this one from my head onto the page. It did however help me with editing my own work which is something I find challenging. I cut some parts and move others about in a way that I think serviced the theme more, especially once I managed to locate exactly what the theme was. Once I get it back from all my readers I’ll share it on this blog, which will be nice as for all my writing about writing I haven’t actually shared much of my work yet. I also started a new short story this week. It’s one I’m quite excited by and that showed up in my head almost fully formed. Mostly though it should turn out to be the kind of story that I’d like to read, and that’s pretty much always the goal.

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The Lady Holly and I also watched Sing Street this week which is an excellent movie by John Carney, who also wrote and directed the film Once which was likewise excellent. Sing Street is about a highschool kid in Dublin who starts a band to impress a girl. While on the surface it may sound like a cheesy hollywood plotline it is anything but. The great thing about John Carney’s films is that they have real heart and an overall upbeat feel while also not shying away from some everyday tragedies like having to listen to your parent’s marriage fall apart or how terrifying high school bullies can really be. All this is paired with some great music that not only service the story but also show why music is such a great thing. It’s a winning combination and, if you haven’t picked up on this already, I would highly recommend watching it.

Talk soon.

Damian

July 7, 2016

07:07:2016

Fantasy writer, world creator, and inventor of magics, Brandon Sanderson, has done a very kind thing. Apart from being possibly the most prolific writer currently in existence, as well as a podcaster of some note on the topic of writing, he also spends part of every year presenting a series of lectures on writing at Brigham Young University over in the States. Realising perhaps that all his fans and would be attendants of those lectures don’t live near Ohio, or in the States at all (says the Australian), Brandon has decided to record them and post them to the one country we all have a passport to, the internet. This is his kind thing.

In the interest of my own education, and possibly yours, I thought that as I watch each lecture I would share it here. I then also had the thought that to truly make the most of this knowledge I would accompany each video with a recap of the main points and my take on them in relation to my own writing. This second point is a much more selfish addition as I can’t imagine it’s going to be amazingly interesting to read and I’m mostly planning on doing so in order that all his little knowledge chunks stick in my head. However, if you don’t want to watch the whole video and are more inclined to be the kind of person who prefers looking over someone’s shoulder to copy their notes then this summary is for you.

Happy watching.

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Sanderson starts this lecture starts with what I believe to be one of his most important, and to me personally, relieving, points; that every writer has a different approach to plotting. As I’m fairly new to this writing game I’ve recently been trying to figure the “right” way to plot, with the certain fear that I was doing my plotting “wrong”. Sanderson’s explanation of the process quickly dissuaded me of this notion, basically stating outright that there is no one right way to plot. Phew. My perfectionist brain was struggling with that one, not helped by having heard ambiguous advice on the correct way to plot in the past. Mr Sanderson even went so far as to say that writers might find that they plot every project slightly differently. Phew, again. He then broke down plotting into two forms; Discovery writers – who just start writing their story, exploring and discovering it as they go, and; Architects – writers who start with a big, detailed outline before beginning their story. Discovery writing can be a good way to figure out your characters, where outlining is beneficial in helping to create a well structured story. These two types of writers are really the end points of the plotting spectrum. In reality each writer will be somewhere on this spectrum; obtaining a plotting style that is really a hybridized version of the two. For myself that’s exactly the case. I’ve found that usually I’ll be struck with an idea and want to start discovery writing it immediately, getting that spark of an idea into words and dialogue as quickly as possible. This can involve writing anywhere between a single sentence to a couple of pages; whatever it takes to get that spark fleshed out. Once I come to the limit of that initial idea then I go into architect mode, starting a notes document for that project and slapping down any broad ideas and thoughts I have surrounding that first spark. This document becomes my sounding board, and gets constantly updated and altered as I figure out what the story is. Once I’ve got all the broader plot points down – especially the ending as I need to know where I’m writing towards – then I discovery write my way from plot point to plot point, updating the notes doc as I go if I change or find new things of relevance.

Back to the lecture; Sanderson next talks about the realities of wanting to be a writer. His basic advice to those who want to be a professional writer is that they should be doing at least six hours of writing a week, equivalent to around three thousand words. For me this was great news as I had recently decided to give myself a weekly word count and had chosen pretty much that exact number. Very reassuring. He then followed this by saying that he’s found it takes about ten years of maintaining this level of writing, on average, before a person has a chance of getting published. This was more sobering, but, as someone who prefers the realities of a situation rather than the more comforting illusions, also welcome. It’s his belief that a writer should be writing a novel a year, and if they can write two even better. Like I said, he’s prolific. I personally like that goal, it’s challenging but attainable. I also don’t mind the ten year rule. If it takes ten thousand hours to master a skill then you simply have to do it a lot, and if it takes writing ten less than great novels to get to the one great one that has a chance of being published then so be it. Plus, writing’s fun, and while putting in that many hours is definately work it’s still not as great a burden as it sounds.

Sanderson’s final topic for this first lecture was about workshopping, more specifically, workshopping as part of a writer’s group. He tells how he’s been part of a writer’s group since he was at university and still meets up with his group regularly in order to workshop each other’s writing. For me I have a sort of sporadic, spread out, writer’s group. The Lady Holly is my first port of call and is great with helping me work through an idea as well as the initial editing. I then have Brother Jonathan – who apart from being a writer himself has the added bonus of having completed a professional writing and editing course, as well my friends from the Masters course; Sean and Gabe. While we do all share each other’s writing and give general points to each other we are lacking a more formalised and routine meet up where each person has a word limit to write and share before each meeting. I have thought of setting up something like this in the past but have until now been a bit slack, I might have to change that. If I do decide to start one I now have Brandon Sanderson’s rules for workshopping.
For the workshopper (those doling out the advice to the nervous recipient) he suggests the following:

  1. Be descriptive with advice, not proscriptive. This means rather than offering all the things you think the person should add to the book, pinpoint ideas where you’re confused and help clear them up. The most important thing to remember is that you’re trying to help them make the best version of their story, not change it to what you think it should be.
  2. Stay positive. Make sure you let the writer know all the things you think they’re doing right. Point out the parts that made you laugh, or blew your mind, because as well as boosting the writer up it also ensures that they won’t make the disastrous mistake to remove those bits in revision. Then you can say some negative stuff. Kindly.
  3. Discuss. This means if someone in the group mentions that they didn’t like a certain bit but you thought it was awesome, say so. If it turns out that that person didn’t like it but three others in the group did, then the writer has a better census on whether or not to keep it in. It’s also important to talk about why it worked for some people and not for others as it allows the writer to know if the reaction they’re getting from that part is the one they want.
  4. Drop it. If you have a pet peeve about the story and you’ve said your bit on it then let it go. It’s up to the writer if they take the advice or not.

His advice for the workshopee (the one receiving the advice) is simple and has one point; be quiet. Try not to say anything at all while the group discusses your work, don’t defend or explain, just listen. If you’re lucky they’ll forget you’re even there and will discuss it amongst the group like the perfect test audience you want them to be, leaving you free to just take notes.

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We’re done. Fun though right? He’s already posted two more lectures but I won’t write those up until I actually get time to watch them. Isn’t learning the best? The answer is yes.

Talk soon

Damian

July 1, 2016

01:07:2016

After having finishing the novelette last weekend I ended up not writing much this week; instead I plotted out a few ideas and tried to figure out what my next project will be.

I’m still very much in a prose state of mind, to the point where at night I find myself subconsciously writing descriptions of whatever odd things my brain is providing while I drift off to sleep. A good practice for the craft I suppose, but not great for my sleeping pattern. I’m tempted to go with another short story as I have an idea for one I really like. Two, actually, as an idea popped into my head as I was looking at the hairs on my arms while in the shower (thank you subconscious). It’ll be a very short one, probably fitting into the flash fiction section, and I think I might even try bashing it out this weekend.

However I’m also considering writing an idea for a TV pilot for the next project, mostly so I’ve got one in the bag in case any opportunities come up. It’s this idea that I’ve been attempting to plot out this week, but I’m struggling to fit it into a TV structure. Part of the problem is that I don’t know what the full story is. The idea came from one of the earlier scene-a-day’s I wrote back in 2014 (you can read it here if you like) and while the scene sets up a lot of intriguing things past Damian didn’t really have answers for them, and present Damian isn’t much better. I instead have colourful blobs of ideas that have yet to resolve themselves into the fleshed out storylines they will hopefully one day become. Basically I might have to let it gestate in the back of my mind for a while until I can see what the blobs are. Sometimes that’s all you can do, forcing it might get me answers but chances are they’ll be of a lesser quality that the one’s my subconscious might come up with given enough time.

Given this point I think I will go with the short stories next, and see if by the time they’re both done I have more in the idea bank for the TV one. Thanks for letting me talk that out, clearly I needed it.

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June is now over and with it my June Retune. Mostly it went well, although I have to be honest and say I unintentionally took a week off last week, using my busy work schedule to justify it to myself. This week I was back on it though and now have many pleasingly sore body parts.

The end result was a loss of three kilos but the real prize was getting myself into a routine that I am more than happy to sustain. I can now quite easily get up at six and get an hour of writing done before work. I continue writing during my lunch hour and, if possible, for even longer. Once home I do half an hour or so of exercise and call it a day. Having kept that routine for (mostly) a month now it’s feeling natural to do so and my body and brain seem to have adjusted; meaning I actually have all the energy to accomplish all these tasks without too much internal complaining. I’m also doing all this on a much better diet that I was before the retune started, mostly thanks to having cut my sugary snacking back drastically. Once again my body seems to have adjusted to this change as well. I’ve read it takes doing something consistently for three weeks for it to become a habit and this clearly fits that model. Yay, improvement!

I also wrote almost all of the novelette in that time, which at twenty six pages of prose is the longest thing I’ve written to date other than my screenplay, and I wrote that in a year and a half. So I think I have to include the completion of that wee story in the June Retune prize pack as well.

I’ll continue on with this routine for the immediate future, which was always the plan; giving myself the month long timeline was a lie I knowingly told to myself in order to maintain motivation. It’s weird that we can do that, and it’s weirder still that it works. I’ll probably be a little more flexible diet wise, especially when eating with other people, but otherwise the only other change I’d like to make is to get some writing done in the evening too. I never really managed to work that into the retune and, while I have a strong feeling I’m more of a morning person, wouldn’t mind seeing if I can learn to get used to that as well.

Hell, it should only take three weeks, right?

Talk soon

Damian