June 26, 2017

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Today’s song is entitled Changes and is by American singer songwriter, Sean Scolnick, who goes by the stage name Langhorne Slim. It’s a folksy track from his album The Spirit Moves.

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Current chain of writing days: 41

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I’ve written before about my love on the interconnectedness that the internet provides us with. Not just the obvious examples of social media or the ability to video chat with friends and family pretty much anywhere in the world (although that does amaze and will continue to amaze me until the day I die), but also the connections with strangers in the weird maze that is the world wide web. Due to just about every website coming with a comments sections these days the chances of bumping into a stranger with similar interests as you has increased dramatically. Obviously there are the opposite examples of that, namely the hate filled comments spewing out of just about any mainstream message board, whether it be under a youtube video or whatever popular image on facebook is currently doing the rounds; but in other corners of the net, particularly on websites that aren’t as popular or that cater to more niche interests, there are people reaching across the globe with fingers of fiber optic cables and finding welcoming fingers reaching back.

Let me explain. I use an app on my phone to generate rain sounds while I sleep. I started using it a while back as I’m not a great sleeper and The Lady Holly isn’t the quietest. Originally, I had it on for about an hour to put me off to sleep, as it comes with the option to set it to run as long as you want. However, overtime I’ve increased it to play the whole night. This is due to the aforementioned shitness of my sleeping capability and the high likelihood I would wake up at some point during the night only to fixate on the sound of my girl’s heavy breathing. I really love using this app, it even helps me with waking up. I set it to turn off half an hour before my alarm goes so if I wake up and hear quiet I know I have to start thinking about getting up soon, but if I hear rain I can go back to sleep. Another option the app provides – and it’s called White Noise Free by the way, the free insinuating my cheapness at having not purchased the full version – is that it comes preloaded with around twenty sounds to ensure the user can chose one to their liking. Like I said, I’m a rain sounds kind of guy, but the other options include things like a general white noise – as well as a brown noise, and a pink noise, apparently there are other shades of noise – waves crashing, jungle sounds, campfire, fan sounds, as well as oddly a dripping tap and a clock ticking; so it’s also useful if you want to torture someone.

Maybe, though, you flip through the options and decide none of them are quite right. Yes, there are wave sounds, but you want a different kind of wave sound. Well, you’re covered there too because the app also has a download option, which when clicked takes you to a catalogue of hundreds of sounds. This is where the internet connectedness kicks in because this catalogue is provided from people all over the world, using yet another feature of the app, to record their own sounds and upload them to the website for everybody else to use. This is, to me, just the coolest thing. Want wave sounds? There are hundreds of them, from all over the globe. Want to hear some from Lake Michigan? Lucky you because Andy has uploaded one for you. Maybe you want to listen to the running water of the Gorge Basin in Launceston, Tasmania while you drift off. Good, because Pamela has supplied a recording of just that to the database. Scrolling through the many many options it seems like there isn’t a sound in the world that hasn’t been recorded and stored somewhere on there. It blows my mind, and is such a great thing, not just to fall asleep to, but simply that a catalogue of sounds from this era of life exists. I find the hopeful prosperity of that catalogue existing extremely uplifting for some reason.

For myself I stumbled across all this when I decided I wanted a different kind of rain sound to fall asleep to. As a kid my family and I drove up and back from our home in Traralgon in rural Victoria to Melbourne city quite frequently. We had a lot of extended family we would visit there and the trips would take roughly two hours each time. Due to my parents generally being the last to leave any party, as well as attempting to make the most of any weekend, quite often the return trip home would happen at night, and occasionally in the rain. There was something so safe and secure and comforting about falling asleep in the back of the car on those trips home. Something about the movement of the car, the sound of the rain, being warm and surrounded by my family, and knowing that if I did fall asleep there was a pretty good chance someone would carry me to bed once we did arrive home. It was probably the closest I’ll ever get to being back in the womb; especially because my twin brother, Jonathan, was usually fast asleep beside me.

That sound, rain on a car roof, is what I looked for. I found it, multiple versions, in fact, but it was Dave that provided the one that sounded most right. Dave, who lives in Los Alamitos in California, and who recorded the sound while driving around in his volvo on new year’s eve in 2016. To me there is something magical about the fact that Dave can share this sound with me, that I can fall asleep to rain from a city I’ve never been to, to know that it was recorded in a volvo, and that thanks to the comments section I can even reach out and thank Dave for making the recording. What’s more I’m not the only connection here, far from. One thousand and seventeen other people have downloaded the recording, and three hundred and sixty thousand other people have listened to the sound of rain on Dave’s volvo, and of all of those five have left a positive comment and a thank you in the comments section. Six now.

And to add one more link to this chain l can also share the sound with you, whoever you are. Thanks for connecting.

(You can also find the site here)

Talk soon,

Damian

 

January 30, 2017

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Music today is from an instrumentalist called Tony Anderson. He has a number of albums but is more known for his work providing music for films and television. His music is ambient, emotional, and damn near perfect for writing to, able to provide tone without the distraction of lyrics.

I just saw a screenshot a friend of mine posted on facebook. It was an interaction he had on twitter where he tagged a celebrity in a photo he tweeted and the celebrity responded. That itself is telling of where we’re at today. He facebooked a tweet he had with a celebrity. The world is weird and not just because anybody is contactable through social media but because it made me think of how much we give of ourselves into our phones.

It wasn’t even the multiple layers of social media present in the photo that started this thought. It was the notification bar at the top of his image that was almost accidental added when he took the screenshot. It was littered with symbols displaying all the apps and functions that were currently in use on his phone. Tweets were being received, photos were being synced, something was being downloaded, awards were given for playing games, and a multitude of other symbols for things I didn’t know, as well as arrow suggesting there were more symbols that weren’t being displayed because there wasn’t enough space on the notification bar. Then when I scanned across to the symbols on the right – those for bluetooth, wifi, reception etc. – I saw that his battery was almost empty. It seemed like a perfect analogy.

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I have felt like my friends phone must right now. Overtasked, overstimulated, overconnected, and running on nothing. Too often I can feel like this. I get it, I want to be productive. I want to connect and play and sync and download. The problem is there’s just too much of it. Too much content waiting at our fingertips that it’s impossible to get through all of it, but our fear of missing out tells us that we must. Articles to read, tv shows to watch, interviews, recipes, music, photos, memes, advice, videos, news, and an endless stream of social media that we can just keep scrolling and scrolling through endlessly in an attempt to get to the bottom of the metaphorical well. Instead we just end up getting lost in it.

The trick, of course, is to know when to log off; but it’s so hard to do. A dead battery is a clear sign that it’s time for a break but instead we just plug in the charger and keep on going. How many of us check our devices as soon as we open our eyes in the morning and how often are their screens the last thing we see at night. I’m as guilty as anyone, which was why seeing the screenshot rocked me so much. It felt like I was looking at a notification bar for myself. It instantly made me want to stop and do nothing until the bar was cleared.

Remembering to do nothing, or at just less things at once, is the hard part. Often I think to myself I’ll log off from whatever I’m doing right after (insert digital activity here). Then that digital activity leads to another digital activity to another digital activity, or three, or four at once, until all the tabs in my brain are open and I’m exhausted and I’ve forgotten that I was going to set aside some time to do nothing. Then I remember again when I lay down to sleep and find myself weary but wired.

So, consider this your reminder, and mine. A reminder to stop, cool down, and recharge quietly. What am I going to do now? Well, first I’m going to post that screenshotted status bar somewhere where I can see it regularly then I’m going to go give my girlfriend a hug and read a book.

Talk soon

Damian

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Also, because I saw this earlier today and it seemed appropriate here’s a comic from Poorly Drawn Lines

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January 11, 2016

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The blog tune this time is The Gun Song by The Lumineers, it come from their album Cleopatra which may well have been my favourite of 2016.

Crossing off days on my calendar has commenced and just like that the year is already a little shorter.

My plan for this year is to try and write everyday (beside’s New Year’s Day where I spectacularly failed to meet my resolution immediately) . To ensure I achieve this I have acquired the tools of a yearly wall calendar, a marker, and a big tin of just-do-it-you-lazy-idiot which I’ll use to paint over any I-can’t-be-bothered feelings that crop up. To be fair, I’ve made it pretty easy for myself to succeed by setting the bar low in terms of what constitutes ‘daily writing’. I have an unofficial daily word limit of 600 words, which can go towards whatever I’m working on; a short story, a script, an outline, or even this blog (157 words so far). However, I’ve also decided that as long as I open one of these documents and really try to write something, even if all I get out is one line because my brain, or motivations, or writing juice is all tapped out, then I still award myself the coveted cross on the calendar. For the moment it’s more about ensuring the mindset and practice is in place.

So far this plan is already paying dividends in the form of a completed short story, which I stamped the final period into yesterday. After getting home from work (and not having been able to sneak some writing in during work hours) I was sitting at zero for my daily word limit and so made a coffee, force fed myself way too much leftover Christmas chocolate, and got to work. I added around 740 words to the story and was ready to call it a day and made my mark on the calendar. After dinner however, with both my food and sitcom watching tanks full, I found myself opening up the story and thinking about what should come next. My fingers continued their typing and a very enjoyable 900 or so words later I was done and so was the story. It still needs a polish but is a testament to what can be achieved by plugging away everyday.

I currently have nine crosses and I want to keep that train going. As the year goes on hopefully I’ll increase my daily word limit and have less instances of shortages in writing juice. We’ll see.

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In things not about me, here are some bits from the internet that I stumbled upon recently and enjoyed.

First up is this TED-ed talk by Jia Jiang who purposely completed a challenge in which he sought to get rejected for a hundred days in a row in order to help him get past his fear of rejection. He did this by approaching strangers everyday with some absurd request they were likely to give a definite no to. The results were funny and entertaining but also informative because once he did get past this fear he found he could actually turn some of these no’s into yes’.

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Next we have an animated version of Dan Harmon’s universal theory of storytelling. This comes from other similar story synopsis’ like The Hero’s Journey or the 5 Act Structure but simplifies it in a way that I found easy to understand and easy to use, and it’s animated so you don’t even have to read.

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To keep the animation train going I’ll finish with this animated short about a dog doctor who’s wondering if she should have instead been a stay-at-home dog. Beautifully drawn and a lovely exploration of choosing a dream career over more “normal” goals all done in the space of two and a half minutes! A very enjoyable watch.

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I’ll leave it at that for today. In the meantime give a conspiratorial wink to a stranger, make a new animal friend, and hug your loved ones until they feel uncomfortable.

Talk soon

Damian

October 24, 2016

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There’s been a few new little things happening writing wise that I want to tell you all about but I also realised it’s been awhile since I’ve shared some bits from the internet. I know this because my Facebook saves and chrome bookmarks, the two places I usually store the interesting things the internet throws at me for future sharing, are starting to pile up. Because of that I thought this blog could just be a run down on all those cool things and I’ll save writing update for later in the week.

So, without further preamble…

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BITS FROM THE INTERNET!

I’m going to start off with a few short stories I’ve read lately. As I’ve been attempting to write my own short stories recently I’ve been on the hunt to read as many as I can in order to evaluate what makes a good one good, and a bad one bad. Luckily, the internet provides us with a huge amount of options in this regard; from newbie writers like myself offering up their work for free to writing magazines and publisher websites occasionally giving us a piece of work from the cream of the crop in order to suck is into buying more. Which it does. For myself I’ve mostly been reading ones from the publisher Tor, as they they print sci-fi and fantasy (my favourite), they offer a new short story for free every week in their newsletter, and because I’m subscribed to said newsletter. Convenience.

This is where this first one comes from. It’s entitled The Three Lives if Sonata James and is written by Lettie PrellIt’s a sci-fi story about a young woman called Sonata who lives in a world where you can automatically update your persona to the cloud. This means if your body dies you can just upload your persona into a new android body; one that’s capable of doing so much more than your current weak squishy bod. This theoretically means you could live forever, continually jumping from body to body whenever an old one breaks down. The story discusses the ramifications to this re: overpopulation and a resistance to the technology. It also goes into the idea of life as art and the beauty in the limitations to both. It’s a truly gripping story that will have your mind ablaze with questions and possibilities by the end of it.

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Next is a short story called The Egg by Andy Weir. The Lady Holly and I rewatched The Martian on the weekend, based off the book of the same name written by Weir, and it got me curious to see what else he had written. The story of how The Martian got published is infamous and, to me, fairly inspirational. Weir initially self published the novel off his website in a serial format, one chapter at a time. At the request of some of his fans he then made it available on Amazon Kindle, setting the price at 99 cents; the minimum he could set it. It quickly climbed to the top of the list of Amazon’s most downloaded sci-fi where it then garnered the attention of some publishers who bought it, published it, made a lot of money off it, and the rest is history. For any of you out there who haven’t read it it’s a terrific novel and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Back to my research though. From Weir’s site I found a bunch of short stories and webcomics he had written that he happily lets people consume for free. The one that is probably the most famous is The Egg – the story I’m sharing here – and for good reason. It’s an incredibly short read, perhaps two pages at best, but it contains a huge idea that chances are you’ll be mulling over for a while. I won’t tell you more than that for fear of ruining it but as examples of good short stories go this one is pretty high up on the list.

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We’ll stick with cool writing bits for the minute with this animated video of advice from screenwriter, Michael Arndt. Arndt has written for a number of Pixar movies, as well as the screenplay for Little Miss Sunshine, and more recently Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Clearly with a resume that good the guy knows what he’s doing.

In this video he talks specifically about his time with Pixar and what he learnt there about writing a good beginning to a story.

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Let’s now move into the science and design side of things with another video that shows basically the most bad ass coffee table anyone has ever owed. I won’t bother describing this one because the video speaks for itself (that’s pretty much what videos do) but if anyone wants to buy me one I won’t say no.

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It must be time for a TED talk right? Right. I’m currently planning out a story that incorporates virtual reality (again, more about that in my next post) and so when this TED talk about how VR can be used as an art form popped up on my Facebook feed I had to watch it. It’s fascinating and shows how, much like the birth of movies back in the day, the rise of VR will give audiences a whole new medium for art and storytelling. A truly fun, engaging, and moving talk.

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One more video for us to finish things off. A beautiful and thought provoking animated short film about a dog doctor who wonders if she’ll be happier as a stay-at-home pet. It’s only a couple of minutes long and covers the topic of the difficulty in making life choices really well. And it has adorable dogs wearing human clothes, so it’s a double win.

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That’s it for today. I have a bunch more internet bits I could happily share but probably best not to over do it. In the meantime have a mental chew on those and hopefully you enjoy them as much as I did.

Talk soon

Damian

October 3, 2016

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One of the best things about the internet is that you can get anyone to teach you to write; as long as they’ve recorded and posted a series video lectures of themselves doing so. Luckily Brandon Sanderson, one of the current greats in fantasy writing, has done exactly that. A while ago did a post detailing this news as well as giving a recap from my perspective on the first in this lecture series in order to enhance my own education. Today I do the second.

Find the lecture below, and my recap below that.

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This lecture, entitled ‘cook vs chef’ covers writing formulas. Sanderson starts by explaining what cook vs chef means, which is that the difference between the two is that a cook follows a recipe and a chef comes adds to a recipe and comes up with something new. Meaning that when using writing formulas the idea isn’t to rigidly stick to the formula and make sure you tick every box, but to start with them but then add more, add your own style. He also notes that for himself he doesn’t think about formulas while he’s writing, but usually when he runs into a problem or as a way to analyse a story when it isn’t working. For myself it’s much the same. Having studied screenwriting I was well initiated in the three act structure, which I find extremely helpful, less when beginning a story but more throughout it when I need to figure out what sort of plot point should come next.

The first formula he sets up is an analyses of the parts that make up story structure. Think of a venn diagram, where you have three unconnecting circles representing plot, setting, and character. Over the top and connecting all those is a fourth circle representing conflict. Sanderson explains how conflict is what ties them all together. For example you could have a character at odds with their setting, or at odds with other characters (or even themselves) or at odds with the plot and what the world thinks they should do. At its most basic that is what a story is.

The next formula, or rule, he talks about is the advice that ‘you should always start a story with a bang’. Sanderson explains that this doesn’t mean start with an action sequence but with a really intense character moment that will draw people in. I’ve learnt much the same thing. With screenplays the rule is to start as close to the action as possible. Another way to put this is ‘in late, out early’. Meaning start your story as late into the action as possible, then leave as early as you can once it’s resolved. He then goes on to explain what it means when people say you need ‘a hook’, namely something that introduces the idea of your story in a concise and interesting way, and encapsulates the kinds of emotion and tones you are going to give your reader by reading this book.

Sanderson next talks about what makes a good character and what makes a character interesting. He references the quote by Kurt Vonnegut “Start a story with somebody who wants something really badly, even if it’s just a glass of water”. I’ll add to that by saying that the character has to have a strong will to seek that something that they really want, there’s nothing worse than a passive protagonist. He then goes on to list aspects that make a character interesting, including: conflicted morals, they need to be capable, they’re out of their depth, their relationships with others, that they seem real and relatable, that they are proactive, they’re flawed, they’ve got a past, and they’re funny.

To aid with this character development Sanderson next gives us another formula; a timeline where at one end you have the everyman and at the other you have the superman. He tells how the everyman reminds us of ourselves, who we see ourselves as, and are a person we can become sympathetic towards, and that the superman are hyper competent people who we want to be like and find interesting. A lot of stories have characters who move along this line throughout the story, becoming the superman. Which here can mean becoming super dominant in their field, or in high society, or whatever.

His next formula sticks with the character development and involves three scales that range from high to low; they are competent, likability, and proactive. He explains you can use these scales to drive what makes your character interesting. Someone who’s competent is very interesting to us, even if that competency is in a very narrow area. Likability works simply by making us like the character. He states the adage “if you want an audience to like someone have them pet a dog, if you want the audience to dislike someone have them kick a dog”. Finally, proactive. Simply, we like a character who moves the story along, who tries to fix a problem even if they don’t always succeed.

Sanderson explains how by moving characters up and down these scales you can create different styles of characters who will all be interesting for different reasons. Take Sherlock Holmes for example. He has high competency and high proactivity, but low likability. Whereas Watson has high likability and medium competency and proactivity. Both are interesting characters but for very different reasons.

Sanderson then finishes up the lecture by detailing a few further methods for the development of characters. Including: Create a list of questions to ask yourself about each character. Write a monologue from the point of view of a character, almost as if they were being interviewed. Ask yourself why doesn’t a particular character fit the role you’ve given them? With the aim to develop the worst person for the job in order to maximise conflict.

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Lecture number two done. Good stuff, right? Learning continues to be fun.

Talk soon

Damian

August 30, 2016

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Currently I am very tired. Tired to the point of my eyes being somewhat bloodshot. There are two reasons for this. Firstly because my day yesterday started at five thirty and ended at midnight, and secondly because once I did go to bed my brain and body refused to sleep. Mostly this was because I had had a really good night recording some podcasts with the guys from Sanspants Radio.

While they host a number of programs the one I participated in is called Movie Maintenance and involves taking a movie, tv series, book, whatever, and basically laying out where you think it did well and where it could be improved. Sometimes even pitching an entirely alternative plotline of your own making to either add or replace the canon of whatever it is you’re doing maintenance on. It’s a lot of fun. I was called in last night to do one on the Wheel of Time series, a sprawling fantasy epic written by Robert Jordan that goes for fourteen books. I’ve been reading and rereading this series since I was in high school and so felt well equipped to sit around and chat about it for a couple of hours. In fact that describes a near perfect evening, which it was. One the adolescent version of me would have been very jealous of. For this one we were looking less at how to improve the series – which doesn’t really need me messing with it too much anyway – and more at how you would adapt it to screen. Mostly though we just talked about what makes it the great series it is. It won’t come out for probably a month or more, as the guys already have a fair back catalogue of pre recorded episodes to upload first, but when it does I’ll relink it here.

My only complaint about the night was that I enjoyed it too much. My brain kept itself awake bubbling with ideas for what other content I could rework. I think what I like most about the practice, other than it’s just fun to sit around and talk about the things I love with like minded people, is that it’s a really good way for me to improve my own story writing. Not only does it cause me to critically analyse other successful stories but it also forces me to fairly quickly try and come up with an alternative plot line that will still hit all the major story structure markers. This kind of quick story generation is great, and allows me to train my brain to take that original spark of an idea and then pass it over to the analytical side of my brain that can tease it out and find the beats of the story within it. A process I currently find challenging, but that will only be improved by practice.

All in all I give it an A+

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In other writing news, I had a post recently talking about how I wanted to get simultaneous projects on the go in order to jump from one to the other whenever I found myself flagging, thereby getting the maximum effort from myself on a given day. I didn’t really manage it last week but so far this week it seems to be working well. As of right now I have three writing tabs open (including this blog) and am finding that moving from one to another is keeping my fingers flying. I’m replacing the usual distractions of email or facebook with writing something else, basically tricking myself into writing more. Sneaky.

My major project is still my most recent short story which is coming along really well now and which hopefully I’ll have the first draft of done by the end of the week. I’m pretty excited about this one because I know I’m not going to try and shop it around, instead I’ll record an audio version which I’ll release in mini chapters on this site. This is something I’ve been wanting to do for ages now so it’ll be nice to actually make it happen.

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And that’s probably enough of me writing about myself for one day. In order to cleanse the pallet here’s a video from futurism about a company that has designed a floor to harvest the kinetic energy from our footsteps. Which means a dance floor would become some kind of super generator! It truly is an amazing age when you can harness the power of boogie.

Talk soon

Damian

August 21, 2016

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I was going to share some songs that I’ve been enjoying lately at the end of this blog but instead decided to move them to the start so you can listen to them while you read.

I’m all about the multitasking.

First is a song from an English band called Amber Run. I’ve been really enjoying their sound lately which has elicited more than one steering wheel drumming session while I’ve been driving.

Second is an Australian singer songwriter by the name of Dustin Tebbutt who’s been on my radar for a few years now but who has just recently released his first LP.

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The cherry blossoms around my neighbourhood have started to bloom which means that not only will they look gorgeous for the next few weeks opposed to the barren and bare look they exhibit for most of the year, but also that spring is coming; and it’s about damn time. The other side of the globe has had their turn at sunshine and warmth and days that last a full twelve hours, and it’s just about our turn again. I’m very happy about this. It’s about a week and a half off from the calendar version of spring but I feel like it’s already upon us. The last few weeks have provided some sun as well as slight increases in the warmth and duration of that sun and because of this I feel like my motivation and energy levels are beginning to thaw from their winter chill. I’m excited and enthused about being more productive and filling my non-work hours with greater activity – opposed to my more recent endeavours to maintain warmth, eat a lot, and move as little as possible.

The cornerstone of this burgeoning hyperactivity is to write more. I did okay at maintaining a not terrible level of this interest over the winter months (even if this was somewhat interrupted by outside forces as described in my last post) but now want to take it up another notch. I read an interview with the fantasy writer Patrick Rothfuss recently and he had a line about how all the time other people spent watching tv, he spent writing. That’s my new goal, to spend as much non-work time as possible writing. To really cut back on my other entertainments and put that time into embedding letters into a digital page.

Part of my plan to achieve this is to start working on multiple projects concurrently. As I’m still very much a novice this is something I haven’t attempted before, only ever working on one project at a time. Pretty much any expert in the field will tell you that to get the most from yourself it’s a good idea to have multiple projects on the go so that when you become stalled with one you can work on the next one, rather than wait around until inspiration hits. So that’s what I’m going to do. When I hit a wall with one project I’ll start on the next one, tasking my subconscious with the job of solving the problem with the first one while I do so. I’m also going to try and vary the type (prose, scripts, blogs, and even some plays) and tone (drama, comedy, children’s etc) of these multiple projects so that when I move from one to another it feels actually feels like I’m doing something different.

The second part of this plan is to continue to educate myself in all things writing. Firstly because when I’m too brain dead at the end of the day I can still move forward with my writing experience by watching a video or listening to a podcast on the topic rather than actually by writing. Secondly because it’s just a great habit to keep. It can seem obvious a thing to do but often I’m so into the practice that I can forget about the theory, and it’s my opinion that you’re never really ever done with the theory. It’s especially a foolhardy thing to neglect when we’re living in the information age, and you can learn just about anything thanks to wonderful people who are willing to share their expertise on the internet. Just last week a Kenyan man won a gold medal at the Olympics in javelin and learned how to throw by watching youtube videos. If that doesn’t inspire you that you can learn real skills through the internet and self educating I don’t know what will.

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Finally for a bit of entertainment and amazement a quick video from the people of futurism about roll out solar panels that can be used in disaster areas, and realistically also a number of other situations.

Talk soon

Damian