October 10, 2017

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I’ve loaded up on new music recently and one I’ve really been enjoying is Newton Faulkner’s latest album, Hit The Ground Running. His albums can be a bit hit and miss, but this one is a real winner. The first couple of tracks are upbeat and fun, and then it dips into some almost funk and blues songs that really work for me. This is one of the upbeat ones, entitled: Smoked Ice Cream.

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Current chain of writing days: 2

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For the past two weeks the Lady Holly have been making our way across Malaysian Borneo. It is a hot and humid place thanks to it’s proximity to the equator, full of jungle, quick and heavy tropical rain, noodles, and unfortunately quite a lot of palm plantations.

Borneo, for any who don’t know, is a large island surrounded on four sides by Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and the lower half of Vietnam — and is made up of three countries; Malaysia Borneo, Indonesian Borneo, and the very small nation of Brunei.

My first introduction to Borneo came when during a flight to Europe last year we stopped over in Brunei and I had no idea where we were. Some quick research dispelled my ignorance, I learnt some basic facts about Borneo (those listed above), and then forgot all about it as we were already on one adventure and weren’t needing to plan our next one just yet.

That was until months later, when attending a friends book launch, the Lady Holly picked up a lonely planet on Borneo. She flicked through, showing me one amazing photo after another, and by the time she had made it to the back cover we were in agreeance that, yeah, we were going to go there.

Holly did a bunch of research and put together an itinerary of one amazing activity after another. I did nothing, maybe I cooked, either way, she rocks and planned us a killer trip. We booked it all in and then had to trudge through a half year wait until we could finally get on that plane and dive into the photos that had won us over all those months ago.

Now, I could go through out whole trip and tell you each incredible thing we did one after another, but I have the feeling that that would be more fun for me than for you, so, in short: We visited humid rainforests dripping with wildlife, peeled leeches from our ankles while trying not to freak out, floated down kinabatangan river spotting monkeys and birds, drank beer while watching the jungle soak itself with rain, scuba dived and snorkeled through island reefs brimming with fish and sea turtles, and ate, and bused, and sweated, and watched movies, and waited in airports, and read books, and discovered something new every day. It was magic.

Because that’s what travelling does, it exposes you to the new, and when that happens you can’t help but learn things.

So, I thought I’d finish by jotting down the… 

Things I Learned in Borneo:

  1. I’m fairly terrible at keeping up my writing while on holiday. I started out strong, but then got quite sick, then had activity filled days, and in the end I decided to just lean into it. I don’t think it’s the worse thing. While I like having a big number for my consecutive days of writing, some time off can be beneficial, and has left me extra keen to jump back in.
  2. Something will always go wrong. This is my mantra for any time I travel. If you’re expecting to travel and have everything go perfectly then you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. There’s too many factors involved, too many ways something can and will go wrong. By acknowledging this fact it means that when it does you can simply say, ‘I knew this would happen,’ and get on with it, rather than get disappointed. Works for life in general too, but that’s another blog. For this trip, I got sick. I actually had gastro the day before we left, then contracted a flu two days in. It was a bad one, I can’t remember the last time I felt so rotten. I could barely get out of bed, was sweating and delusional, and I couldn’t even hold onto a thought during the worst of it. When it was clear I wasn’t getting better, I took some antibiotics and quickly started improving. It’s the first time to my knowledge that I’ve taken antibiotics and wow, they’re awesome. I got out of bed and back on track. Not to say it wasn’t upsetting but in the long run it was a small setback to a great trip.
  3. Fortune may favour the bold but it also favours the prepared. E.g. the antibiotics I took we had on hand because we’d seen a travel doctor before going. While things will go wrong, being prepared minimises the effect. 
  4. Noodles are literally good for any meal. Yes, even breakfast.
  5. Plan a holiday around seeing wildlife and you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a good time. That’s a more personal one. Nature and wildlife may not be for everyone, but for me it meant I always had something beautiful and interesting to look at and photograph, as well as providing us with that recharge that only nature can provide and that I miss by living in a city. It’s also cost effective.
  6. No matter how hard I try I am destined to always break a pair of sunglasses while on holiday. Always. Sometimes multiple times.
  7. I should read more. While I didn’t write as much as I thought I would I did read a bunch. How much? Five and a half novels in two weeks, my friends. It was bliss. By allowing myself permission to disconnect from my phone, as well as having plenty of down time, it meant I could commit to reading as much as I usually want to, and was so much more beneficial than scrolling through apps on my phone like I usually would. One of the books was Stephen King’s On Writing, in which he says aspiring writers need to do two things; write a lot and read a lot. He’s not wrong, and I’m hoping to bring back this renewed passion into my usual routine.
  8. My beard is quite good at protecting my face from sunburn; my thinning hairline, not so much. You can read that one any way you like, but I choose to see it as; things always even out.
  9. You should go visit Borneo. Honestly, there was so much to see and do, the people were friendly and relaxed, never pushy, and getting around wasn’t a problem. It’s a wonderful part of the world and one we’re hoping to get back to one day.
  10. Holly’s the best. You should get yourself a Holly.

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It’s good to be back.

Talk soon

Damian

February 20, 2017

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Music today is from Will Varley. I oddly discovered his music on an ‘Easy Listening’ inflight radio station while travelling 40,000 feet up on the way to England last year. Which is appropriate seeing as he’s English. But mostly, who knew plane radio would actually have a great undiscovered gem? This one, entitled ‘This House’ is one of my favourites.

It’s been almost two weeks since I last posted, possibly my longest absence since I started writing this blog. This is due to life being pretty crazy. I mean, life’s always crazy, but lately it’s been dialed up a few notches and not necessarily in a good way. It’s been busy, that’s the main issue, and busy with the things I’m not passionate about. My non-writing-pay-the-bills work is where most of this has taken place. A number of factors have aligned to make it so my eight hours each day in the confines of the laboratory/office are packed full of things to do to the point that I’m rushing through lunch and skipping my usual coffee break, and as I write this I’m thinking these are first world problems. Which they are, but problems are still problems and these are mine.

The main issue here is time. It used to be that I could slip in the occasional writing break at work with no one the wiser but now that’s been taken away which makes me increasingly more tired at the end of each day, giving me less energy to write even when I’m not at work. The thing is I also don’t want to burn myself out. I like to think I’m pretty disciplined. I get up at 5:30 most mornings, go for a six kilometer run, write for half an hour, and ride to work. I then work, ride an hour home, get whatever little tasks I can get done before making dinner, then it’s usually an episode of tv with dinner, read for a bit, and bed. Other nights can also involve socialising, usually with my writing mates, or with others I haven’t seen in forever because life gets in the way; which is great but ultimately all bills come due and so the extra hours I use those nights get subtracted from the following day. Weekends at the moment are likewise full. If I try to plan a catch up with someone at the moment I’m currently looking four to five weeks in advance. Not a lot of time left over to get thick slabs of writing done. And like I said, I don’t want to burn out either.

I was telling some friends of mine, Nice Guy Sean and his lovely girlfriend the Angel Belinda, about this schedule of mine last Friday night. I was at their housewarming and it was around twelve thirty at night (or in the morning depending on how you look at it) and I had gone over there after picnicking/watching a musician perform in the Melbourne zoo grounds with the Lady Holly and her friends as part of their zoo twilights line up. After telling Sean and Belinda about my routine Belinda asked ‘But, how are you here?’ It was a good question. As I was driving home later thinking about the conversation I realised that if I simply stayed awake for four more hours I would have been up for a full twenty four. She went on to ask how I kept going doing all of that every day? And didn’t I get tired? I told her I did, but that I really want to do all those things (the writing and exercise, not so much the work), so that’s what it takes.

It may come off like I’m bragging here but to be honest I’m not sure it’s really something to be proud of. If anything it’s a bit of a family flaw. I’ve seen my Dad go weeks with only five hours sleep a night and then wonder why he gets sick. I’ve seen my sister manage a schedule far fuller than the one I’ve just described until she inevitably crashes, hard. And I saw it in myself when I was driving home and realised I’d almost been up for twenty four hours but hadn’t noticed until someone pointed it out.

Work/life balance is an ongoing challenge for all of us to manage and I think doubly so for people pursuing creative careers. There’s always more that can be done and the ability to do the work is with you all the time. I once read a description of choosing to be a writer as assigning yourself homework, forever. I think the important thing here to note is that since the writer is their own disciplinarian and task master they must also be their own manager of time; which means they have to take care to set aside large periods of time for recreation. I’m learning that even if you like to write, it’s still work, and shouldn’t be included in your recreation time.

For myself, I’m now actively looking for a part time position. Preferably one where I can do the money earning for half my work week and writing for the other half. I’m blessed enough to be in a situation where this is possible, and hopefully it should leave me with my evenings and weekends set aside to do nothing. Or everything. Even more writing if I really want to. It doesn’t really matter as long as I’m listening to my body and ensuring I give it what it needs, whatever that may be.

For now that’s to eat some dinner, give my rabbit a pat on the head, and watch some tv with the woman I love.

I suggest you do the same (although perhaps not with my rabbit and woman)

Talk soon

Damian

January 2, 2017

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I thought to mix things up this year I’ll add a song that I’m currently enjoying to the start of every blog that you can listen to as you read, if you’re so inclined.

First up we have a Melbourne band called Woodlock whose music is all so excellent I had trouble choosing a single song, nevertheless I did because I’m a warrior.

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I feel conflicted over new years, the idea of resolutions in particular. I’m a firm believer that if you want to change something about your life you can do so on any day, any hour, any minute – not specifically at the end of December 31st – and that delaying until the end of the year is just that, a delay and an unnecessary one. However, I also believe that it’s easy to forget about making changes. It can be very easy to continue life without evaluation and therefore never even think about any changes you might want to make, let alone start doing anything about them. It’s for this reason that I like new years and it’s resolutions because it provides us all that opportunity.

For myself my hopes for the new year are much the same as they have been in recent years; write more, stay healthy, and be good to the ones I love. This blog is a way to ensure I keep up the first, not only because to publish it I need to write but also because I know there are readers who will continue to expect new posts and badger me if they aren’t forthcoming; these people are my parents – bless them. I also have a second system though to ensure I keep writing. It comes from some advice I saw floating around the internet earlier this year that originated from Jerry Seinfeld. You can read the original article here but the setup of it is that when a young comic was learning the ropes he had an opportunity to talk to Seinfeld and asked him if he had any advice. Here’s what he said, and I’ll simply quote the article here:

“He said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day. But his advice was better than that. He had a gem of a leverage technique he used on himself and you can use it to motivate yourself—even when you don’t feel like it. He revealed a unique calendar system he uses to pressure himself to write. Here’s how it works. He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.” “Don’t break the chain,” he said again for emphasis.”

You can guess what I’ve done. One of the benefits to working in lab is that you use a lot of equipment. This equipment needs to come from somewhere and so you then get salesmen and women coming to the lab to buy you coffee and talk about their products. These salesmen and women will also bring knick knacks and doodads with their company’s logo and products printed on them. At this time of the year those doodads include giant wall calendars like the one detailed above. So, I have placed said calendar on a wall in my study and I plan to start crossing days off one by one, starting today. Admittedly, I was going to start yesterday but after a lazy morning at our friends house and then driving a very hungover Lady Holly and I the two hours back home only to realise I hadn’t come off as easy as I thought from the night before I decided to leave it until today. Starting a new year’s resolution on the first is cliche anyway, although I guess breaking a resolution on the first is equally as cliche…either way I now know breaking a resolution straight way certainly takes a lot of pressure off of it.

That’s my plan for the year, I don’t expect that I won’t break the chain at some point but I do expect to get some mighty good runs in.

Remember: The trick is to get a little better everyday.

Talk soon

Damian

December 1, 2016

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November has come to a close and with it NaNoWriMoers around the world stop their fingers over their keyboards and breath a sigh. It’s been twenty days since I last wrote a blog and in that time I turned thirty, had a week of celebrations with my brother, and completed NaNoWriMo.

My birthday was predictably fun, full of love, and over in a flash. The lead up to the event, especially a landmark one such as this that completes not just another year but another decade, was slow but unstoppable. My excitement rose by the slightest margin incrementally with each passing day and was doubled not only by the thought of birthday fun but also by once again being visited by Brother Jonathan. It’s weird and more than a little sad that I now get “visited” by my brother who since birth, and arguably even before that being twins and all, has been relatively accessible to me pretty much whenever I wanted. However, he now lives in London and half, if not more, of his life also resides in Austria. The day was over quickly being full of activities, friends, and family; and even Jonathan’s trip went by all too fast as he really only had five full days in the country. We made the most of them. Jonathan is now back ensconced in his life on the other side of the globe and unfortunately, life being what it is, it’s unlikely that we’ll see each other until we’re both thirty one.

On to NaNoWriMo. It’s been a hell of a ride. I detailed some of my thoughts on the experience in that last post and so will attempt to avoid repeating myself and instead focus on the things I noticed in the second half of the challenge. Firstly, that it’s not the worst idea to write myself into a corner. The first twenty to twenty five thousand words I wrote were largely exploratory and world building which meant that the actual plot got fairly neglected. I was setting things up but not really pushing them forward as I was too caught up telling myself the ins and outs of my world and characters; a fairly easy thing to do since I had done minimal outlining before the month and had a word count to reach each day. Aware of this I purposely sought to push the plot forward after reaching the halfway mark of the fifty thousand word deadline. The only problem was I didn’t really know where my plot was going. I had a hazy idea of an ending somewhere in the future but all the bits inbetween, and all the mysteries I had been setting up, needed answers and I didn’t have them. I pushed on regardless until I wrote myself as far into a corner as possible, literally to the point where one character was asking another character for an explanation that I didn’t have. I found out that at that point something miraculous happens. I wrote something down. The character responded with an idea that came from some desperate and last minute part of my brain and I then built upon that. Even more amazing, the idea wasn’t half bad. This happened a number of more times as the days of November passed by and always with the same result. I’d hit a wall, brain would kick in with an answer from nowhere, and I was off and running again. It was really exciting because while I knew that I would scrap most of the words I was writing at the end of the month, as it was fairly terrible writing, I wouldn’t scrap the ideas. With each new gem of an idea I was once step closer to a second draft that actually had some substance.

I hit the end word target, fifty thousand words, two days before my birthday. In the week leading up to my birthday, with these fresh ideas popping up, I got into a groove and my daily word count jumped from around two and a half thousand per day to around five thousand, which meant I was barrelling towards that fifty thousand goal even faster than I thought I would. I had a plan to slow down and purposely write that fifty thousandth word on the day I turned thirty, November 20th. Except on the 18th I got another fresh idea and decided to write it out, thinking I would still be a few hundred words away from the target. When I was done I checked the word count and found that I had instead passed the illustrious goal. It was odd. I had stumbled across the finish line almost by accident, without noticing, and without any fanfare. After the shock passed elation kicked in and I was too happy to care that I had ruined my own plan. It turned out to be a blessing because rather than get more writing done in my week off with Jonathan I got less, almost none to be exact. This was due to the combination of being blessedly busy as well as getting sick, which was undoubtedly the worst present I got this year. I finally rallied again after a few days of rest and I finished out the month yesterday with somewhere just over sixty one thousand words and a self filled out certificate proclaiming I was a winner of NaNoWriMo.

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The story isn’t finished but I realised pretty early on that it wouldn’t be by the end of the month. That’s okay, it was getting to the point where I had actually found my story and so all the early muddling about was distracting me from writing good stuff for the finish. My plan is to leave it for the next month then starting January 1st reread what I’ve written and scrap it for parts. I’ll take all the good story points, characters, and world elements that I liked and use them to start a detailed outline for draft two; ditching all the other superfluous stuff. Once that’s done and I have a pretty good idea of the whole arc of my story then my plan is to open a fresh document and start writing again from page one.

I was planning on including in this blog all the things I’ve learnt from NaNoWriMo but seeing how I’ve gone on a bit already I might save that for tomorrow. Instead I’ll leave you with this.

http://community.sparknotes.com/2016/11/30/did-nanowrimo-slay-you-read-this

It’s an very well written article by Sara Benincasa on the overall point of completing NaNoWriMo, and how all writers out there should be proud even if NaNoWriMo got the best of them.

For now me and my writing buddies, Sean, Gabe, Tom, and Alyce, who also successfully slayed NaNoWriMo this month and also supported, encouraged, and provided competition for me, are going to go get drunk.

Remember, there’s nothing new in this world, which means anything you create has been done before. Rejoice in this fact because it means there are others like you out there.

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

July 7, 2016

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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