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Wednesday, 3 July 2019

REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE: A WORD ABOUT WORD COUNT.


At the risk of repeating myself, I’ll risk repeating myself. My blog archive is all over the place in a literal digital sense. This blog post feels overly-familiar, but I’ll risk repeating the repeat of a repeat of a repeat…
   This comes up periodically. An obsession with writing so many words a day. Are you writing enough material? Can you write too much in a day? What happens if you don’t write a single word that day?

WORD POLICE: We’re here to check your writing credentials. Papers, please.
WRITER: No papers. I type digitally.
WORD POLICE: We’re not interested in which digits you use for typing.
WRITER: I’m sure there’s a dictaphone joke in there somewhere, but the target audience for that is from 1922.

Let’s clear those writing credentials out of the way. Be ye a writin’, why, a writer be ye. The Word Police hold no jurisdiction over you. If you write fiction, or its city cousin, non-fiction, you are a writer. You needn’t ever publish. If you write stuff and shove it in a drawer, you are a writer.
   Take that writing out of your digital drawer, brush off the electronic dust, and expose that work to the light of day.
   Never deter writers who are hobbyists. For these Germanic caterpillars may, one day, turn into beautiful butterflies. Or homicidal bats – could be that sort of story. Hungry German caterpillar declares that he will, one day, turn into a beautiful homicidal bat-creature.
   How much should you write a day?
   What are you writing? A novel. We’ll stamp it with the legal certification of 75,000 words. There’s a near-mythical level of daily wordage thrown around as if it’s heading out of stock and you should all scoop it up before it goes bye-bye. (That’s 1,000 words a day.)
   Day in, day out, write 1,000 words a day every single day and…75 days later you’ve written a novel. There’s nothing good or bad in this novel-sized number or the rate of knots at which you attack it. You lose a few days to life’s problems, but you get there. Don’t get there gasping.
   The quality of the novel is irrelevant. Its existence as a novel is far more useful to you than any notion of its quality, for you have typed the thing into being. That’s a start. One done.
   If you drop a rancid turd of a novel, at least claim it as your own. Go on to drop a mere turd of a novel next time around. One day you’ll drop solid gold. We’ll chalk that up to the strange alchemy of persistence.
   The act of novel creation is a huge barrier to the novel’s creation. Overcoming that barrier at the speed of 1,000 words a day is the same as overcoming that barrier at higher speed. You type what you type, and you reach the finish. To write a novel takes as long as it takes.
   Can you take it slowly? You won’t write a novel at one word per day, unless you’re a vampire. Feel free to write a novel about a vampire who takes 75,000 days to write a novel – but do it at a faster rate than your undead protagonist is taking on the fictional job.
   Life derails your typing efforts. Stories with an element of historical accuracy call for research, lengthening the creative process. Inventing a bullshit world that sidesteps the need for pesky historical research is no quick fix…you risk spending longer inventing a fake history than you would boning up on the real stuff.
   Daily wordage is divided into four camps: nothing, not enough, enough, and – whoah, Nellie – thrombosis in the depths of your veins.
   Going back a week to another universe, I wrote nothing of story content while digitally scribbling a long complex answer to a writer who wondered how the fuck I was doing – her phrasing, not mine. Before long, I’d rattled out two thousand words.
   Life stepped in my path, and I had to break off. The finished response would’ve climbed to four thousand words, but I gave myself a deadline for answering her – answer her before she thinks you are dead.
   Random things happen every single day, and night, and in the middle of the effing night. You still find time to write, though. UNTIL…random things collide, explode, and consume the universe of time at your disposal. Then you write nothing that day.
   And it’s okay.
   While it is possible to catch up, heed this advice: don’t. No, don’t catch up. That’s right. Don’t try to catch up by aiming at a number of words. There is no daily word count. It’s a fiction. And a radioactive one, at that. Remember these things: nothing, not enough, enough, and DVT.
   Presumably, you write for the sake of the words…and not for a cluster of numbers.
   If you want to write more, write more…more story, more plot, more description, more character. Don’t hang a number around your neck. It’ll strangle you.
   Increasing your word count means doing away with the number obsession. How to write, without being obsessed by numbers? Have a look at numbers, by all means, but quit the obsession before it seizes you. Learn to type more quickly. The alternative is to type for more hours. That third option hovering in the background is both: type faster for longer. Sitting typing for more hours a day is a challenge for which your body is not yet prepared. I’ve gone over this ground before, but it is worth repeating…
   There are plenty of wrong ways to write books, and almost all of those you’ll discover by yourself as you invent stories. This learning-on-the-job is essential if you are to write. Out of a list of wrong ways to write books, the most wrong method is to write a book that generates hazard to life and limb in the writing of it.
   Top Tip: don’t die writing your book – that’s the wrongest of wrong ways to go about things.
   If you are keen on increasing your daily wordage, first abandon the notion that you must count what you type. Yes, have a vague plan. It’s worthwhile to check the word count at reasonable intervals. You want to write a decent-sized tale of 75,000 words. And you know you tell a good short story inside 5,000 words.
   That’s what you start with. Your plan is to write a chapter using a set-up of 2,500 words with a resolution that’s about the same again. Fifteen chapters. You tell yourself you’ll handle half a chapter a day. After a month, barring interruptions, if you do your half-chapter in one day every damned day, then you are happy.
   A page takes up 300 to 400 words – nearer 300 if using snappy dialogue with almost no description, and veering into 400 with more description. Formatting comes into it…

*

There you go. I reduced the word count of a page by a tenth with a transition from that scene to this. We’ll pretend you are writing 300 words a page. After eight pages, you’re about halfway through that chapter. Set-up is done. Day’s end. Check the word count. Don’t fret about it.
   Next day. Chapter resolution. Another eight pages or so. Day’s end. Chapter’s end. If you are happy with the way the story went, don’t panic about that word count. Check it. Don’t be ruled by it.
   There are plenty of writers who cannot (and should not) be constrained by the concept of regular-sized chapters. For those scribblers, the story unfurls in this large chunk, and that tiny follow-up, and those multifaceted diversions, with a long chapter leading to a slick wrap-up that concludes the saga in a modest two pages right at the finishing-post. Uniform chapters are not for all. Hell, you needn’t use chapters if that’s how you want to work.
   Considering word count by itself is fatal. How fast do you type and how many hours do you put in? Is there a set finishing-post or are you planning not to plan the exact sell-by date? Do you feel up to writing for long stretches? Then stretch…out of the chair.
   What do I mean when I say writing is physically draining and you should train up for it first? Exactly that. If you leave your chair feeling exhausted every single time you leave that chair, then you are in trouble. Regular breaks. Exercise: take the pain, and whatever gain is going. If writing doesn’t work out for you, at least you’re fitter.

*

Nothing. Not enough. Enough. Whoah, Nellie.
   On certain uncertain days, you’ll write nothing. And that’s okay. A writer is always on the job, and you plan what you’ll write while you are in the dentist’s chair. Time away from writing is time spent thinking about writing. Word count? Nothing. It’s okay.
   Scrappy days come along in droves. You never quite hit your imaginary stride, whatever that is, and you don’t write enough. Word count? Not enough. This is the tricky one. You write what you write, and you feel it isn’t enough come day’s end. It’s a feeling. Little more than that. Next day, you’ll almost always view things differently…unless you genuinely didn’t write enough. Okay. So write more.
   Regular days unfold before you. You get the job done. Word count? Enough. This concept is the dangerous one. If you are hitting a daily quota mechanically, ask yourself if the story reads that way. Don’t worry over numbers. It’s what you do with the words you write. Okay, so, you type 60 words per minute, and an hour later you’ve hit 3,600 words. Were they any good? That’s unknowable. Even in this unknowable territory, there’s a yawning chasm of a difference between writing and great typing.
   There’s a world of great typing that’s not great writing – it’s grating reading.
   If you must obsess over numbers, buy a lottery ticket. When you write enough, you shouldn’t still be worrying over word count.
   And then there’s the other word count.
   Too much. I don’t mean being wordy. Whoah, Nellie. I mean you run the risk of keeling over dead from writing and writing and writing and writing. Take regular breaks away from the chair. Stay hydrated. Eat food. Fall in and out of soapy water. Take note of peculiar sensations – pounding headaches, detached ears, the popping of a knee and the clatter of your lower leg hitting the floor. Trails of blood festooning the walls.

*

What the hell is my experience and what’s that worth to you?
   I had a load of appointments converge in an unholy alliance, and the day was shot to hell. Word count: nothing. This is, to use a technical term, fucking unavoidable. I could skip those dental appointments to get more writing done, though I harbour a suspicion that I’d end up writing about all my teeth deserting me.
   So much for getting nothing written. Scrappy days swarm around like flies on a mission. I wrote a bit. Not enough. Word count: 1,000. The start to a scene, and not the chapter I aimed for. Though this lack of writing could lead to an overall disjointed feel on reading the completed chapter, don’t panic. Something obvious occurs to you overnight, and the stuttering start to your writing one day gives you a breather before hitting your form the next day.
   Don’t obsess over the numbers. You are in the words game.
   A good day. Rattled out 5,000 words. Wrote that chapter. Yes, I wrote enough. There’s nothing to analyse or dissect there. Beyond writing enough, there’s the business of risk to life and limb.
   Where does the risk of DVT come into it? I’ve never gone far enough into the wilderness to find out. Eat, drink, and walk around a lot. You can still think through your writing while taking important breaks from typing.
   I wrote 10,000 words a week for one novel. That was bundled up in research, slowing the pace. I wrote the bulk of a chapter over five days, always keeping two days in reserve for interruptions. And I used those extra days every week. Either life intervened or I jumped into editing. Both.
   Anything shy of 10,000 words? I added to a leaner piece. But if I went over my rough guide, the story went with me. Up to a point. There was an awkward fortnight in which I wrote the chapter that would not die. I spent twice as long on that stretch of the book and wrote, surprise, shock, horror, twice as much. There was a fix in editing. A hacksaw.
   For another book, I wrote 10,000 words a day. Take breaks. Stay hydrated. For fuck’s sake stop when you are tired and go to sleep. I tackled this blog post late one night and just shut the damned thing down. Too tired. Knew it. Stopped. LEARN THIS AND LIVE BY IT: if you wouldn’t fucking drive that tired, don’t write that tired.
   When writing at that pace, around 10,000, it is easy to cross over into 15,000 words a day for a few days. Everything comes together and you roar along the railway on an express train. This is fine. I don’t find that pace sustainable for more than a few days. Your express is liable to hit a curve and go crashing off.
   If the writing fever is upon you, yes, just run with it. Don’t develop a genuine fever, though. It’s not enough to take breaks from the chair. You must take breaks from the office itself. From the town you are in. Hell, sometimes from the country you are in. I’ve made the occasional interplanetary voyage, but the Alien Hive said I shouldn’t mention that in public or in the fourth dimension.
   Already, at 15,000 words in a day your writing will need significantly more editing than 10,000 words will. The more ideas crash onto the page, the greater the fun and the lesser the logic to what you are typing. Don’t obsess over the words, but develop an awareness of what word count means at feverish levels.
   Word count. Any higher than 15,000 daily? Yes. Pulp level. Once you hit 20,000 words a day, you are echoing the era of the pulp writer – presumably minus the mechanical typewriter, booze habit, cigarettes, and battered hat.
   I’m sitting here popping mints like pills that should never be popped, and sloshing my way through more coffee than I care to think about. This blog post is brought to you by a pulp-era soundtrack furnished by John Williams. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve stepped away from the keyboard.
   Truth to tell, I’ve lost count of the number of days spent writing this blog post, on and off. My aim is to write 1,500 words at the very least. Let’s hit the button and find out how I fared.
   Word count: 2,500-odd. Well. I’d say that’s enough.
   A word about word count. Don’t obsess over it. Tell a story.
   (I can hit 20,000 words in a day, though I choose not to. And I’ve know writers who passed that level of scribblerisation. It’s unpleasant, even if you prepare for the ordeal. You need a clear run at it. No dental appointments or roadworks outside your door. Expect to knife the outpouring of text from all directions in editing. Rapid writing and the flow of ideas will beat the shit out of logic and continuity at that frantic pace. Go back in later with a flamethrower and fix things.)
   If you obsess over daily word count, that’s your obsession. Especially if you take no account of your typing speed or the time spent writing. Gain a rough idea. Don’t gain a rough time. Avoid death by typing. There are more pleasant ways to go. Mints and coffee are ganging up to kill me. They’re just waiting for the arrival of the chocolate cake. As am I.

Friday, 7 June 2019

QUALITY CONTROL IN AMAZON KINDLE BOOKS: A REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE.


Amazon warned me it had updated the e-book process behind the curtain. Updates are constant. This update, though, is worth a mention. It’s far easier for Amazon to point out quality issues concerning my e-books. I thought over all the gruesome alerts I’ve been sent since the update kicked in…oh, no, there aren’t any on file. Why not? Just lucky, I guess. That must be it. Just lucky.
   I recall the searing memories of THAT TIME.
   THAT TIME was the time I spent eight ultra-long weeks formatting my first e-book. And formatting. Then formatting. Formatting some more. With a bit of formatting thrown in. Followed by a hint of formatting. With a smidgeon of formatting after that. On the menu tonight and every night: vindaloo and…no, of course not. Formatting. With a hint of lemon.
   No, I didn’t learn the hard way.
   (A lie was told there, surely.)
   I learned the very hard way.
   (True.)

*

I stared at those files from front through to back and back again. That was the only way to fly. I told myself this. No matter how drudged-up the drudgery was, I had to check every effing page from front to back and all the way back to the front again.
   Good job I did. That way, I discovered formatting glitches that only showed up when you flipped back for more than four pages at a time. There’s page 77. Let us take a dainty trip back in time to page 76. No problem. Now let us traipse to the very end of the book, and walk all the way to the start, page by bloody page.
   From page 82 we run to 81, 80, 79, 78, there’s page 77, and now page 76 with no prob…what the blue veiny cheese is going on?! Half the page is in print twice the size. How? Why? And what’s this glitch that doesn’t show on the page unless I am digitally thumbing back for more than a few pages?
   Invisible gremlin is invisible. (Shakes fist at invisible gremlin. Spins slowly in circle, hoping to shake fist in general direction of invisible gremlin.)
   I’d uncover the formatting problem in the original file and erase it. Occasionally, I’d accidentally import a gremlin from a wildly different file. Or I’d find myself using an older file that had ancient formatting built into it where you couldn’t see anything. There’s a space in the file, and, though there’s no text at that space, the text that could go there would definitely be in a green font. (For reasons beyond me.)
   And I’d change the green font to black. The invisible formatting problem went away.

*

When I downloaded free samples of books, I checked formatting in those and discovered that paging back through someone’s story spewed up all sorts of nonsense you didn’t normally see if you were just going forward. What if you were interrupted turning a digital page and you moved back to read the last paragraph again? All these spanners falling out of the machine, why, they must come from somewhere.
   Belgium.
   They came from Belgium.
   (Unable to verify this at the time of writing. But definitely Belgium, though. Known for its spanner manufacture. I almost typed spaniel there. Searches internet for Belgian spaniels. Discovers trade in spanners offloaded from Mozambique to Belgium. Nothing much on the Belgian spaniels, though.)

*

Old news. I thought I’d revisit that old news on seeing the new news that I’ll receive direct updates on the Amazon bookshelf, warning of quality issues. Quality? That means formatting issues, and I buried most of those in a deep grave during eight weeks of teaspoon-based digging.
   Except…I remember one persistent glitch I couldn’t shake for a year, after publication. One night, I resolved to bury that gremlin. I tried everything. Except one basic thing. That was all I had left. The last item on my list. Yes, I should’ve gone straight to the last item on my list.
   Life never works out that way. If I’d skipped the first thing to go and check the last thing, the last thing wouldn’t have been the very thing – just one more thing. It’s always the last thing, no matter where it is on your list. If it is on your list at all.
   Well, I had a list and I exhausted it. This is a detour down memory lane, into levels of formatting that still apply, even if the file processing procedures rolled over and died in the name of simplicity. Of course, I welcomed the simplicity. Shame it didn’t rear its head earlier.
   But nay, I must not speak of the dreaded Table of Contents and its associated file madness that almost worked for me. Damn that five-minute window of opporchancity in which it all looked golden. As golden as a desert mirage. And as useful. I found my own simple solution for dealing with that nest of vipers. Confront complexity. Kill it with fire. Eat a hearty meal. Think no more of that nonsense.
   So what are quality issues? The things I’ve already described. Imported fragments of troublesome text that mess with the flow of the book when clicking on a chapter link or running back and forth across text. I nailed all the obvious problems in eight weeks of dealing with a single file, and never had a major beef with Amazon over quality warnings. Never had a minor beef, either.
   I went from formatting a book in eight weeks to formatting a book inside a day. After that, I had my story templates set up so that I’d adjust formatting on the go. The learning of it was tedious, performed with intermittent internet access. But once done, I was set. I threw myself at the task with relentless amounts of coffee powering my endeavours. And I was all the better for that caffeinated preparation.

*

Yes, I’ve written about all this nonsense before. I never expected to write of it again. Yet here we are, with the news down from Amazon’s mountain. I’ll be more connected, more involved, with receiving quality warnings over the formatting of my books. Technically, not receiving quality warnings.
   In talking about writing, you talk the talk no one wants to hear about. There is drudgery. It can be tax drudgery, official form footeriness, or the emptiness of the coffee receptacle calling to be refilled. Technical crap clogs your day. On some of those days, back when I toiled in the wilderness for eight weeks, I’d encounter a glitch that occupied me all day long, and I’d have nothing to show for my toil as the sun crashed over the horizon.
   I’d have to wait for a new dawn, and the opporchancity to gain a slice of that limited internet access, before I’d see the mouldy fruits of my efforts crawl into the shadows to die their lingering deaths.
   Scribble note on piece of paper.
   Attempt to fix the problem right there.
   Fail.
   Think of another solution.
   Fail.
   Leave the library and head home to the office. Thrash out the problem on a bloodstained floor. Imagine that I’d fixed the grief. Believe that. Start again the next day, and the next. I don’t know how I managed. With a faraway look, a steady supply of triple-choc muffins, and the patience of two saints – borrowed for the duration.
   Flashback. I blasted off from the library’s internet access and installed my own. Today, I could devote an entire day and night to online research into a formatting problem. No need to go through driving rain to head back and forth, when back and forth is done at the click of a mouse.
   Did much else change? File processing grew far easier. There were changes that never affected the type of books I put together. For example, if you constructed a book with a load of charts and mathematical tables, I’d imagine you saw your share of battle in the formatting wars.

*

Once I found my way onto the formatting path, out of the deep thickets, I was fine. I could’ve paid for the formatting. But what would I have learned from slapping the cash down? How to do things the easy way, without picking up a good working knowledge of the clockwork mechanisms holding my books together?
   I’m not knocking paying for formatting if you can’t stand the drudgery. Though this is writing under discussion. In talking at any length about writing, you talk the talk no one ever wants to hear about. There is drudgery. Word on word, paragraph by paragraph. Rewarding drudgery, to be sure.
   Ah, the glamorous world of typing for hours on end with no end in sight. I long-ago rejected the notion of voice recognition software when the voice recognition software rejected my Scottish tones. So typing it must be. In my alternative history of the world, Scotland had a stranglehold on computers…and the voice recognition software in that world…is pure gallus, byrahwey. Stoatin’.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

FAVOURITE STORIES: A REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE.


A question felled me: axe meets tree. Answer is a splinter from the main trunk. I was asked what my favourite story of mine was. And this was put to me as playing favourites. It’s difficult to play favourites with stories, as they are all written wildly differently.
   Yes, they are typed. And yes…I still scribble notes by hand to help build those stories. So they are written. The physical process of generating letters that grow into words and sentences and paragraphs and chapters…
   That is the same as it ever was, since time out of mind…or so it feels.
   But the circumstances behind stories vary with the turn in the weather. And in the Grand Duchy of Scotlandia, the weather turns on a whim by the moment – not by the hour. Some stories read easily, but were difficult to construct. Other tales feel complex on reading, but fell onto the page with ridiculous ease.
   So I like one story more than another, right? And I like one story above all the others, obviously. When I thought about it, I picked one. Then I thought about it some more. And there’s always that feeling that I’ll write one that I’ll like even more than the finished one I just mentioned as the best, or the favourite, or the most treasured and meaningful…
   There are unfinished stories that mean a great deal to me, and unpublished stories that are, technically, finished. For technical reasons, they remain unpublished for now. But I can’t overlook the abandoned stories that mean a lot to me.
   I’ve written stories that fell apart. There’s almost no way to salvage them. But I learned a lot from failed writing. The story with a sub-plot obscuring the main plot. Or the story with no plot. A tale featuring a character going nowhere, standing in the way of other characters who had so much promise.
   Broken stories, fragments, half-ideas, lumpy porridge…
   Is there such a thing as your favourite story? Opinions change. Nostalgia surfaces and takes a dive. Your best story is for others to consider. Don’t dwell on that stuff, with so many opinions out there. Writing is the thing. Here I am, looking back on slivers of storytelling that never went anywhere. I wandered in the fairy realms, chasing marsh-gas to no end.
   But.
   That wasn’t about producing stories. Instead, it was about the journey. Dead-ends. Struggling with paragraphs that never quite took you anywhere. Acidly, this was about learning by not-doing. There’s a saying in writing that there’s no wrong way to tell a story.
   This is a fucking lie.
   Harsh? Better, perhaps, to say…there are plenty of wrong ways to tell a story. Yet, in walking down every single one of those marshy fucking paths, you’ll learn – through persistence – better ways to tell your tales.
   I’m not here to list all the things you shouldn’t do at the start of a story. Item one on that list? Don’t begin your story with the examination of the thoughts of an alien worm as it sails gloriously into the cocktail glass of a disreputable character only a robot could love.
   Hell, that used to be top of my list.
   If you want to start your story with a character waking from a dream, fuck it, start it that way. There are too many people out there telling you how not to start your stories. Fuck that shit. START YOUR STORIES. To subvert cliché, first use cliché. Lumpy porridge is edible. Satisfying? Doesn’t matter.
   Wander in the marshes. Trip early, trip often, but make sure you pick yourself up every fucking time. The thing I like about writing is the writing. Could I really select a favourite story? Moods change. Opinions swing. Doesn’t matter which story I favour as the wind changes direction. It’s about the writing.
   Coming up with an idea and stitching it to a twist in the plot and throwing that onto a landscape with a veiny skein of turmoil running over the picturesque scene…I like all that.
   While the story unfolds, paragraph by paragraph, perhaps that’s my favourite – in the moment. I am concentrating on that story above all others, after all. The one I am typing.

*

While that question was rumbling and tumbling in what the ancient scholars called the ground of back, I tripped over and fell into a connected conversation concerning the way you feel as you write/don’t write. This…I’ve covered before.
   There isn’t a test for detecting how you felt while you wrote a story. A gloomy tale is written on a sunny day with a bounce in your step and a songbird trilling as it circles your heart. And a story of happiness goes down on the page word by shattered word as you deal with the horrors life throws your way.
   But.
   Either way…
   You still write. Word by shattered word you write, come rain or shine, hell, high water, low spirits, surprise kangaroo attack, you name it. If you feel you can only write while you are happy, that is a feeling. Given the human lot, it’s unlikely that you’ll get much writing done, though.
   Write when you feel like writing. And write when you don’t feel like writing. Then, either way, you will be writing. Granted, you might be writing shit. But you are wandering the murky paths. Learning by doing. And learning by not telling a story. This is how you learn to tell a story.
   The mood is to write while in the mood to write, or else it feels strained. Now go back and burn all the words after the first use of the word write. The mood is to write. For the mood is to write while you still draw breath. This I’ve also covered before. We have the same deadline.
   Death.
   I face death by fire. If I forget to empty the oven on time.

*

The house wasn’t consumed by fire. Yes, I consumed a meal. And then I wrote this and that and the next thing. I created content and consumed it as well. Never mind my favourite story of my own. What are my favourites written by others?
   I’d mention one. Really, I would. However, it is an absurd story for a number of reasons that utterly destroy its plot. And if I tell you what those are, I will spoil the plot for you. Best if you find the tale out in the wild. I don’t think I can name some of my favourite stories…
   With time, they still stand up. I guess that’s what matters. My opinion of a tale may shift with the dust of years. Not often, though. If that is something that comes up, a change of view, it’s more than likely a piece of news about the author that emerges to bring about that shift.
   That takes me back to the question I was asked about my own stories. Those, being personal, shift and change for many reasons. Published works. Finished but unpublished stories. Unfinished stories that will see publication. Broken stories that are absorbed into other tales. The truly ruptured tires that’ll never carry the story anywhere ever…
   There’s something magical in every category. And then there’s the stuff I haven’t written yet. What about the really important material, though? I’m talking about the stuff that YOU haven’t written yet. Word by fractured word, painful step by agonising step, and grating paragraph by jagged paragraph…
   Write.
   Never mind what my favourites are. Go and write a few favourites of your own. This isn’t about me. It’s about you and what you are going to write. No matter the mood you are in. Good, bad, indifferent, it doesn’t matter how you feel as you type as long as you scribble and write and create.
   You don’t have to write anything good. As soon as you’ve written crap, be inspired to write better than that and go at it all over again. Disappear up the arse-end of your own story. Then try to write your way out of that dead-end next time.
   There are people out there, struggling to write. Nothing wrong in that. It doesn’t come together. The story is too short. No character to speak of. Historical research is thrown to the wall, where it slides down behind a lumpy couch. That shock twist to the finish has been used a bajillion times.
   How do you cope?
   If it doesn’t come together, go back in and stitch beginning to end with a middle. Then it’ll be long enough to avoid being too short. With no character to speak of, speak for the character. If your killer hesitates without explanation, bolt one on fast. Throw in a flashback about having a code of not killing women and children and cats. Then have your assassin walk in on grandma handing Tibbles to her grandson.
   Throw historical research to the wall, update your story into the far-flung future, and invent your own history. That shock twist to the finish that’s been used a bajillion times? Put it at the start and give it away so the audience is in on it ahead of the bad guy. Then you have room to make all the twists and turns you feel like.
   I’m talking in vague abstract-ish terms. Really I’m saying…just go and fucking type some shit. Then make it better than shit next time, nexter time, and the nextest time. You needn’t show the words to a damned person. Flay the rough passages behind closed doors where no one can hear your characters scream.
   One day you’ll realise that it doesn’t matter how you feel as you type. Except in the sense of feeling the keyboards under your fingers.

Monday, 1 April 2019

JUST ONE MORE LOADED BOOKCASE: A REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE.


Thoughts trickle through filters and drip into cups. After I’d published my last blog post, I thought over the knock-on effects from moving a bookcase sideways and assembling a new chair. Initially, I didn’t think there were any snowball effects.
   Usually I have to move a thing, and I know that greatly disturbs the landscape. Avalanche. Now I must shift that, alter this, take that thing down, put that other thing up, count those, hammer that, apply pliers to these…
   This time, nothing much happened. Unscrew those connectors. Shift that bookcase around. Assemble the chair. Done. It’s easier to lean back and reach for items on the moved bookcase than it was to twist and reach for things when the case faced me, strangely enough. Nothing else? Well, no. Nothing else.
   Except…

*

Memory takes a strange battering when you make a major move. The bookcases change. And the order of the monoliths in your own personal Bookhenge…the order goes to hell. In an attempt to draw order out of the chaotic changes, I made things harder for myself by preserving the order of books on new shelves.
   A massive bookcase must travel from the left side of a room to the right side of another room just to give me room to move things around the first room. That bookcase is coming back to this room later. It’s too big to move loaded. You have to unload those groaning shelves.
   It’s worth repeating this. An author’s library is a crazed beast bolted into shape by the demands of the books themselves. Authors gather many tomes down the centuries. Even in the Digital Age, that’s still true. I check my Kindle.
   Of the 116 items on there, 44 are files of mine in various stages of development. I used to throw files into the tappokita machine and watch as the story sausages emerged from the flopperiser. I’d take the results and load them on my Kindle to see the state of the fart.
   Amazon ended support for those highly-processed files. It’s now easier to drop the raw story ingot into the online preview machine and check formatting issues that way.
   What am I saying? It’s the Digital Age. I’m a digital author. Yes, I’ve been loaded into Tron World by a powerful laser more times than I care to remember. But even so, I don’t use the Kindle much. Almost half the files on that Kindle are test files from days of yore. My books are, mostly, made of paper. And that leads me back to the topic of physically bulky books and physically bulky bookcases.
   It should be easy to preserve the order of books in an alphabetised room full of books, right?
   Wrong. An author’s library is a crazed beast bolted into shape by the demands of the books themselves. Authors gather many tomes down the centuries. And authors do not store those tomes alphabetically. Authors store those volumes by volume. Size matters. Width, especially.

*

You can’t transport books off shelves and onto tables and floors in a jumble and then rely on the alphabet to help reconstruct the exact order once the furniture is finally as you like it. No. You must create a space on the floor for the queue of books, and line the bastards up like victims in a firing-squad. They must fall back into place in a new part of the room – exactly as you laid them out. By the combination of sizes that fits.
   And, for the most part, laborious as this stacking process clearly is, the book-moving and order-preserving engine works.

*

Until…
   You move furniture around and create a tiny new space that allows you to flip a whole bookcase around – opening up a vista crammed with possibilities. And you cram it…with a new bookcase. This opens up space in another room once you transfer a whole case from one side of the building to another.
   And that, in turn, opens up another vista crammed with possibilities. So you cram it. With another new bookcase. And you reorganise absolutely everything.

*

At that point, you have space on bookshelves once more. Ah, the luxury. The only space that’s cluttered now is in your mind. Why? The shelves are a uniform length, for you purchase uniform bookcases.
   That’s a trap.
   You remove a whole shelf of books. And you preserve them in order on the carpet. It’ll be easier to move them to the new bookshelf. In that utterly new location, protruding books won’t catch a wayward author with a quick one-two combination. There’s extra space in that new locale.
   Same width of bookshelf. Wider avenue to walk down. Easier to move past, on the hunt for other tomes. You gather five books at a time and pop them on the new shelf in the same order. When you reach for the last three books they fit just exactly in there at the end. Job done.
   Except…
   Uncluttering your mind is the knock-on effect of moving things around. The books are in the same order, based on fitting the bastards onto that shelf. But they aren’t on that shelf. They aren’t even in that room any longer. You wander rooms looking for the memory of a place that almost exists. It’s still there, from left to right and back again on that shelf. But you know it isn’t that shelf you are looking for, now.
   Today, you look for a shelf that’s the width of that shelf. When you find it, you’ll locate all those books, crammed in where they are meant to be. Wherever that may be.

*

Though I don’t believe that I have a good memory, I am told that I have a good memory. At least, I remember being told that I have a good memory, an amazing memory, I’ve got some memory on me…if I misremember correctly. And the difficulty is…
   Remembering arrangements of shelves from the last big organisation. That’s the problem. And recalling the one before that. Also, the one before that. When I walk into these mini-libraries, I see them as they are now, and yet, I remember shelf combinations from the dim and distant past. This is especially annoying if I have to walk down an aisle looking for a book.
   Yes, it’s a crime to have bookcases protruding into a room. They are meant to line the walls only. In the interests of sanity, and in an insane quest to determine the load-bearing capacity of the floor, I’ve sent bookcases sailing insanely out into the deeper waters of the carpet.
   Here be Sea Monsters.
   Okay. It’s true. There are aisles. And I positioned extra lights to guide me down those aisles, into the gloom. This is the mad situation I find myself in, after a thousand years of bookery and chapteronomy and page-itis. The office is rearranged. It’s now different. Yet it’s strangely the same.
   Layers of memories tell me where the books are. And they just aren’t there. Except, of course, that they are there. Just to the side. Or one shelf up. On the same bookcase in a different room. I’ve cut down lending books out. If the books are far from the house for too long, I’ll fill the gaps left behind. This is the way of things.

*

I thought about this visible and invisible knock-on effect after I moved a bookcase sideways. There. I won’t need to move anything again for a good long wh…
   This blog post is really about moving a second bookcase sideways within days of shifting the first one. I resisted. Ah, but that resistance flew (low and at slow speed) in the face of the facts. For every bookcase moved, there is an equal and opposite bookcase you must move.
   I’d moved a bookcase located nearby and to my right. The laws of physics demanded that I balance the universe in moving a bookcase located far away and to my left. So the tale went. And I didn’t even have to take pictures off the wall. That was an achievement.
   Things are more organised to the left and to the right of me. What changed? I tidied the usual spew of cables. Look at all that new space to the left of…what do you mean I just filled it up instantly?! Well, that’s never happened before. And the bookcases…
   The order of books stayed preserved. I didn’t unload any bookcases to get those jobs done. Winged it. No need to stack anything on the floor. I stare at the books. If anything alphabetical is going on there, it’s by accident. That small shelf: crammed. And the one below it: crammed.
   Strange alchemy fills the gap. I know I’ve shuffled books around to fill the narrowing space. If I shift this one to another room, I can fit these three new books in that space. The rule for the top of a bookcase is different. Chunkiest tomes and boxed sets to the edge, with no chance of falling over. Slim volumes in the middle of the stack. Occasional support provided by bookends. Additional support from specialised bookends. No, not the decorative kind. The practical kind should be renamed bookmiddles when they sit halfway along the top of the bookcase. Can’t see the term catching on, for, y’know, reasons.
   I moved another piece of furniture. It didn’t land on top of me. And now, this time, I won’t be moving bookcases for a very long wh…

Saturday, 2 March 2019

MOVING A LOADED BOOKCASE: A REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE.


Restructuring. I moved a bookshelf. Turned it sideways. That’s it.

*

The chair died. I leaned back in it. Too far. Must have had a screw loose. And the chair, too. I typed that so you wouldn’t have to say it. Time to adjust…what the hell?! The base plate was cracked, creating all that leeway. Time for a new chair. The same model of chair? No. A different chair. Swivel? Of course. It’s the only way to fly.

*

An office chair must meet essential legal requirements. Vitally, it has to be easy to build. (It never fucking is. I almost ripped off a knuckle building the new chair up into a usable state.) Even more vitally, it must fit in. This is the tricky part. Office physics.
   The first thing I did, on seeing the crack in the chair, was reach for the tape. I measured available floorspace. This is important when your chair sits in a neuk. Then it was off to chairlandsville, a place on the interwebs, to hunt down a wild seat with the proper requirements.
   Revolving. Of course. With space not terribly spacey, I automatically ignored chairs with arms on them. Until I saw a chair with arms that folded up. Sit in the chair. Slide forward on those castors. Engage desk engines. Away we go. And then…
   Finished with desk. Push back in chair. Lift folding arm, swivel chair, eject from office…okay, sounds like a plan. Now measure the shit out of that fucking seat. Measure, measure, measure…

*

Yes, on paper it almost worked. Never good enough, is it?
   The neuk I created for this computer and that desk…was too neukish for my chosen chair. There are corner brackets at the floor, and on top of the cases, keeping my bookcases together in very tight formation as they curve around this space.
   It’s all rather neat. And awkward to change.
   The last case in the line was a bookcase too far. New chair didn’t want to know, on paper. I undid the screws and shoogled the final bookcase out of its floor fixing without unloading a single book.
   This is a skill acquired through millions of years of bookfolly, endless piling of pagement, and untold toil related to wordation.
   Moving loaded bookcases is not for professionals. It’s only for amateurs. There’s a risk of being killed, on a level with being hit by lightning…possible, though unlikely, but…if it happens, you’ve been blasted. I didn’t move the case far. This was more of a swivel on the spot to turn the case flat against its neighbour.
   Professional types will unload bookcases first, the fools.
   With that wobbly move out of the way, there was now just enough room for the new chair…which I then ordered in. The end bookcase is solid in place. There’s space to slide and swivel and turn and sit and stand and all those regular office things that go with chairs.
   The room is still divided into office neuk and studio space. Usually I must plan for days before moving bookcases around, and I make use of at least three rooms as stages on which to drop off and from which to pick up. It’s all about securing far-off space for books to congregate in, followed by securing nearby space to flit the bookcases through.
   This latest change to the office was a major one that called for minor adjustment. As long as there’s room for a chair, and I can drink coffee without resorting to gymnastics, I’ll do okay.

*

Wait. Were there no knock-on effects? Normally, we have to run office changes by Newton’s treasured law – for each and every action there is an equal and opposite crash of a train through your delicate plans. I quote loosely from the general text.
   No. There weren’t any knock-on effects. This time, all I did was move one bookcase around a bit and then I had room for the new chair. The avalanche from a snowball never happened this time. Why not? I believe it’s thanks to all the other avalanches I went through.
   It’s staggering to think that I have moved the absolute eternal fuck out of the furniture. There’s very little left to change, now. Once you cut a hole in the back of a bookcase to accommodate cables, you know you’ve done just about everything.
   In moments of madness, I consider wall-mounting or ceiling solutions for the studio lights in here. Setting the studio lights up on walls or on the ceiling gives me more floorspace. However, instinct tells me to stick to the tripods and stumble through the studio doing my contortionist act just to switch the lights on.
   All the electrical devices conveniently merged with extensions, oh, long ago. I even took the time to uncover a buried electrical socket to assist in my mad quest to fix space problems. These maintenance matters are of the past, and needn’t concern me.
   I’ve played the bookcase game to the point of saturation so many times, and it’s a losing game…how could it not be? There are only temporary victories in the war against fleets of incoming books. I think hard about this, and remember a massive reorganisation from a bajillion books ago.
   Sometimes, all you can do is take the Skyscraper Option. Build up the way. The shorter metal cases came down and the taller wooden cases climbed up. I thought I wouldn’t have to shuffle things around again for a long time. A lie was told there, surely.
   Yes, I had more space on more shelves. But the illusion of space is a trap. It’s an ambush you’ve set yourself. I simply ended up moving taller bookcases around, despite all that extra space I’d allegedly gained. How am I doing, in terms of space? Have I reached saturation yet again? No.
   Will it take me long to reach saturation yet again? Hard to say. Incoming boardgames, for use on the YouTube channel, now threaten saturation in ways that I never considered when dealing with mere hardback books. But I planned ahead for the influx of low-flying boardgames. When I handled books, I endured and endured and endured some more before relenting and reorganising. Madness, I know.
   So things are definitely different, now. Book-buying is down. I’m finally seeing a slight upswing in digital book purchases. There are always things that can go bye-bye. First to fall are paintings or posters on the walls, as I reclaim the space and build up to the ceiling.
   I won’t claim all the major moves are done. But I recognise that I’ve made minor bookcase moves, technical adjustments, and electrical alterations that helped avoid having to spend a week of my life shuffling books around one last time, one more time, all over again.
   It’s the space against a wall that goes, long before I contemplate sending books out of the house. There’s a balance, and it goes like this…

Considers giving books away.
(Bahahahahahahahaha!)
Measures room for new bookcase.
(Bahahahahahahahaha!)

   I find it easier to reach for the tape than for a box to drop books into. That’s as it should be. Oh, I am no hoarder. It is easy enough to escape from the house in the event of a disaster. That view contributes to my definition of hoarder.
   You will always have unread books on your shelves. Book hoarders are not compulsive buyers of tomes, but, rather, compulsive storers of books, with a vast volume of volumes at their non-disposal. If you buy a load of books and place them on bookshelves, you are not a hoarder. No.
   If you buy a load of books and stack them in rooms, to the extent that you can’t leave any of those rooms in under a minute, then you are hoarding. Let us suppose, for a moment, that you march your books up the stairs, around the corner, and into the rooms up there, narrowing an already-slim hallway as though the hall is an artery clogged by booklesterol. No, that is not a word.


   Death, by a thousand books. I must stress that the scene pictured does not depict my book collection.
   There is no saving you from the dreaded bookalanche. Accept your fate with as much dignity as you can muster, as the massed ranks doom you to a dusty demise.
   I have dozens of books nestling in each bookcase. To hoard books, I’d rip a bookcase out and store hundreds of volumes in the same space – unable to gain easy access to most of the hoarded stories. Casually, I wonder at the storage capacity of floorboards, the breaking-point, and believe I am nowhere near the limit.
   If there’s a crash and you never hear from me again, I’ll have crossed a line imposed by physics. The only thing left to ponder is the nature of the book that breaks the floor’s spine. Knowing my literary choices, the book that brings collapse will be witty, and, in a sense of irony, must fall into the category of rather light reading.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

MEETING SERIAL KILLERS OFF THE INTERNET: A REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE.

If you haven’t pissed people off, you haven’t lived.
   Reader, I’ve lived.
   (Shout out to Charlotte Brunty. Yes, I happen to like that spelling.)

*

The flip-side to making enemies is making friends. I’m going to use the f-word and the c-word in this blog post. If you are offended, it means you are alive and – at the very least – semi-awake.
   As I navigated my way across the internet, I encountered all sorts of authors…and people who would be authors if they turned the spotlight of fancy on the hidden notion of writing.
   For those people, writing is the deer caught in the headlights. Not for long. It darts into the forest and is never seen again. Even the non-writers I encounter online have many a story to tell. It’s not all about author-to-author contact.
   Mostly, but not all.

*

What strange writers do I encounter, if I encounter all sorts? Oh, the usual dead ones: former scribblers who step out of the past with the subtle hello of an atom bomb landing on your plate. The living literary typing types come in many varieties. There are people who just burble merrily along, and you wave as they burble at your wave.
   Occasionally there are writers who reach out for help in a moment of crisis. In response, I furnish as little harm as I can mismanage under the circus tenties. If you can’t do some good, at least avoid doing any bad.
   There are writers who handed me my jaw after I dropped it during a conversation in which I was stunned by the universe-forming eloquence of the non-me part of the chatter. Believe me when I say there’s no such thing as small-talk when writers are involved. I keep reminding myself of that, and I keep dropping that jaw in surprise at momentous thoughts wrapped in casual conversation.
   It’s nice just to show up to a chat like that and stay warm by the fire while the words hit me. (Yes, it’s a cold day as I type this and the heating is effing slow to respond this morning. Sensing a theme of warmth, if not sensing actual warmth.)
   As scribblers, we look for that wonderful thinky stuff everywhere and write it down if we catch sight of a glimmer.
   I’ve encountered tale-tellers who are in another universe. The searing glow from the luminous presence dazzles the vision, leaving an after-image that looks exactly like the scribbler. But that scribbler popped out to the shops for biscuits. All I’m seeing is everything left behind in words, dancing across the internet. Look at a light bulb and look away and you’ll still be staring at the light bulb, even though…
   The bulb popped out to the shops for biscuits. In another universe.

*

With surprise in the hearing of it, I was ambushed by online writers and non-writers who used the f-word and called me friend. An alarming number of people reached for the c-word and called me charming. I’ve been called the other c-word many a time.
   (If you haven’t been called a cunt in Scotland, you haven’t stepped outside your door. In this part of the world, it is a routine form of greeting. If they really like you, they’ll call you a fucking cunt. It’s all just banter until someone takes an axe to you. Then it’s banter…with an axe.)
   I don’t think of myself as charming, and I question the sanity of people who state this of me. As they are writers, I must question their sanity in any case.

*

All of this background material informs my view that I should never meet people off the internet – they are serial killers. Yes, the jaw-dropping writers, the luminous ones, the people who hauled me out of the water to call me a friend. I can’t shake the notion that they are all one sharp axe and a decaying log cabin away from a court-appointed date with destiny.
   That’s just Canadian/American cliché, though. The Canadians and Americans I’ve met online seem to live in cities and not the backwoods. When they aren’t living in armed compounds. You know who you are. Big shout out to you across your walled enclosure. No names – it’s harder to plot drone strikes that way.

*

Why do I think these people live in log cabins, with mass graves out in the backwoods? They are writers. And all writers take bleach to their internet search histories. Writers, far more often than murderers, become unhealthily obsessed with methods of body-disposal.
   There is a healthy level of obsession over methods of body-disposal – it’s about three internet searches in, but you’ll cross the line without even thinking it over. Not a pang of conscience. It’s “research” and not for actual murderising. Anyway…seeking reliable disposal of a body doesn’t automatically mean you offed someone. No, there’s a mere 98% chance of that.

*

How do I appear to these writers? My online persona is that of the perpetual grump, snarling at the world and all its petty nonsenses…but these writers don’t believe any of that guff. With a casual wave, my grizzly bear grump is transformed into the teddy-bear slump. I am dismissed as non-grumpy, and slide under the table…snaffling a few chocolate biscuits as I go.
   Having trouble shaking A.A. Milne from my thoughts.

*

Yes, I’ve been genuinely grumpy on and off. Online and off. If you haven’t pissed people off, you haven’t lived. And if you haven’t pissed people off online, you’ve never been online.
   Occasionally, very rarely, I’ve somehow managed to prove that I am not fictional. I once had this accusation hurled at me…
   You are a real person!
   The author in question was delighted to discover that I wasn’t an artificial intelligence project languishing in an electronic lab, let out onto the internet in search of world domination and great coffee.
   Another author couldn’t decide. Was I an unfeasibly young student treating everything as research for a paper? OR was I the sort of person to set an exam for that type of student, being, instead, a retired American professor? (Complete with Tweedy Outfit and a sideline of investigating murder mysteries. Portrayed by Angela Lansbury/Dick Van Dyke. Delete as inapplicable.)

*

One authorly contact nailed me as an online friend, with the distinction that I wasn’t quite in the real world…the way real-life friends are. I countered with the observation that the hour was late, and I had to return to Cair Paravel for supper with Aslan and the Pevensies.

*

Yes, the internet is in the real world, too, surprise, surprise. Tread far enough from one into the other and you’ll realise that one is patently absurd and nonsensical. The other is patently absurd and nonsensical and online.

*

Why haven’t I met these people on the internet and off the internet as well? Distance. For the Canadians and Americans the distance is great or greater, depending on the coast. My nearest internet contact is on this side of the Atlantic, but still too far away for a casual half-hour visit.
   Planning. Expense. Opportunity. The planning is always there. I accept the expense. But the opportunity isn’t an easy thing to arrange. The closest I came to meeting an author offline was an attempted hijacking, koff, koff, was an invitation to turn up at a concert. For that, a second author decided to fly in and create a literary club rather than treat the whole exercise as an informal meeting.
   But the timing was off, and I was spared the tedium of a transatlantic flight. Travel from here to there is one thing. But travel to and from airports to wait for flights…that’s something else. A something best wiped off the bottom portion of the shoe.

*

I know when I am invited to a town that I am invited to eat out of someone’s fridge. This is unspoken. You are staying with us and all our cats and lizards. Are you allergic to cats and lizards, or bats and wizards? The big question looms.
   What if I turn up and discover that everyone is simply appalling OR that everyone thinks I’m simply appalling and the peasants revolt with flaming torches to hand? I suspect I’d generate that effect by accident.
   It’s a bit much to travel thousands of miles and take up station in a person’s abode on the off-chance that your online persona handled in small doses will match the offline version in living 3D. I know I’d be accused of GREAT RESERVE in flying over and booking into a hotel. And buying touristy tours to go on, just in case everyone is wretched to me. How to fill the hours before the endless flight back to Scotlandia…
   That’s before we get into the business of axes and log cabins.

*

Yes, the prospect of flying to someone’s fridge and then having an awkward hour-long meeting before faking a heart attack and being carried off by a fake ambulance and fake paramedics who must be hired in any event…
   The prospect fills me with gloom. I must accept the expense, of course. Can’t I just fly in, mumble a few words, and eat chocolate cake? We’d all be happy, then.
   There are authors who believe me when I say that I’ve just hired a Scottish actor to impersonate me. It’s that simple. I’m a busty blonde woman in reality.
   That’s not true. But it doesn’t stop authors fearing this is the situation. Don’t you dare. That’s right. I mustn’t dare to be a Scottish actor impersonating a busty blonde woman. No good would come of it. I’d be the talk of the Wikipedia TALK page.

*

And so…

*

Here I am, facing the prospect of meeting an online person in the offline world. The f-word was used to describe me. How do I handle this real-life encounter, bearing in mind that the internet itself is still a subsection of real life…
   Much planning. Acceptable expense. Opporchancity? We’ll see. I’m standing…not sure where I’ll be standing. They’ve taken the map away. (No, seriously. It’ll be back after building work is finished. So I can’t even see a map of how it looked before the building started. That is so online strange.)
   I’m standing…let’s hope I’m standing. Waiting for a sign to pop up overhead. Downloading Online Friend: 9% complete.
   What’s 9% of that? Boots? The boots. Will there be boots? You download online friends into the offline world from the feet up, right? Otherwise, you are into floating head territory. I need to research this a bit more.
   If I go for a meeting with an online person and never return, then I’ve gone shopping for biscuits. In another universe.