Category Archives: appearances

Welcome to Write Club

Ever been in a situation where you have a metric shittonne of writing to do in a really short time?

Maybe you’ve got an overdue assignment. Maybe you have a deadline in two days. Or maybe you’ve signed up for the Rabbit Hole event at the Emerging Writers Festival, with the aim of producing 30 000 words in less than three days, possibly even as part of the online team which is hosted and directed by yours truly.

Yeah. Maybe that last one in particular.

Anyway, whatever the reason, there comes in a time in a writer’s life when you have to write a lot in a short time. There’s no real short-cut to this; you can’t just stare really hard at the monitor and make words appear through sheer force of will. Believe me, I’ve tried. But there are tools that can make the process that bit easier – they won’t make the words appear faster, but they can make the task feel less daunting and keep you focused on laying down the wordcount.

Here are some things that have worked for me – I think they can work for you too. They’re weighted a little bit towards creative writing, but most are just as applicable to writing non-fiction, theses, essays or schizophrenic manifestos.

Start from zero

Whether it’s a blank page or a new Word file, the best way to begin a bulk writing exercise is to start from scratch, whether than means beginning a new project or creating a separate document that can later be added to an existing one. Part of this is practical – the work you create when writing for volume is not going to be polished, and it’s better to partition it from the rest of your efforts until it’s been overhauled. More important is the psychological boost you get from a fresh start. If you have 10 000 words and add 5000, that’s a 50% improvement; if you have zero words and add 5000, that’s an infinity percent improvement.

Perfect is the enemy of finished

I get the urge to fine-tune a sentence or paragraph until you’re happy with it, but there is a time to do that and that time is not now. All that matters is getting words down on the page, one after the other, and there is no going back to make it beautiful or lyrical or remotely coherent. The work you produce when bulk writing is not a first draft, it is a zero draft; it’s a roadmap and a set of tools to help make a first draft later on. Quantity over quality is your mantra right now, and your inner editor needs to be gagged, blindfolded and dropped down a well for a while. Lassie can rescue them later. That dog can do anything.

Don’t touch that backspace key!

And when I say don’t edit, I goddamn mean it – that means no going back. Did you make a speeling mustake? Fix it later. Did you decide to make the hero’s cat a robot dog? Just change it and move on, remembering to find-and-replace ‘hairball’ with ‘USB bone’ tomorrow. Every second you spend deleting the last word you wrote just because it doesn’t make sense in any known language is a second you’re not spending writing another word. Suck it and and keep going; you are a word shark that must keep moving, and if you stop to fix the tense in your last sentence YOUR WORDGILLS WILL STOP WORKING AND YOU WILL DROWN.

Structure is your friend

Writing 30 000 words is terrifying. Writing 1000 words? That seems pretty easy by comparison. Now just do that 30 times! Breaking up your work into shorter chunks allows you to monitor your progress and feel good about reaching milestones. If your project allows it, spend some time before you start writing doing a rough plan of the structure, working how many thousands of words go into each stage/chapter/subdivision and how many of those there should be. A large number of small parts is better than a small number of large parts – if possible, have 30 1000-word chapters rather than 10 3000-word chapters. If that can’t be done, try to break down those big chapters into smaller subparts so you still have fast, regular goals to work towards.

Plan ahead – or fuck it, just make shit up

If you have an outline and a clear direction in mind for your work, then you can use that as a roadmap to get to where you want to go. Alternatively you can wander around at random, going down interesting side streets and mugging new ideas in alleyways, and still end up at your destination. As long as the words keep coming there is NO WRONG WAY to go about getting them. At the same time, it’s worth having a think about how you go about things and possibly whether it would help to borrow a bit from the other approach – to have a loose plan that you can then improvise within, or to allow yourself a little room to change direction when working to your outline. Pick the approach that works for you, because the process is less important than the goal.

Research before or after but not now

Is there a vital piece of information that informs your text? Cool. Did you research it already so that it’s fresh in your mind or printed out next to your computer? Great, put it in there. Haven’t done it yet? Then leave Wikipedia unopened in your browser window and keep writing, damnit. Time spent researching is time not spent writing and we have no patience for that right now. If you know you need to insert some data and you don’t have it, just write ***ADD 500 WORDS ON DOLPHIN PORN*** and keep going; you can come back later and flesh it out. Alternatively, if you want to keep the wordcount up, make up whatever facts you need to – it’s called fiction for a reason, people – and then fix the egregious falsehoods when you revise the text to make it readable by humans.

Don’t stop, change direction

Sometimes you’re going to get stuck on a scene or a section and not be able to move forward; you need time to think it over and work through things. Don’t do that. Instead, put that part of the project to one side and start on something else. Shift to a new scene, a new location, a new character; skip to a different subheading of the essay and write on that topic for a while. Or just change it up where you are right now to shake you out of the rut – as Chandler famously said, ‘When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand’. Always keep moving; don’t let anything stop you!

Distractions are inevitable

Eventually something’s going to stop you. You’ll get a leg cramp, your pets will catch fire, your wife will demand something selfish like you driving her to the hospital. Hell, at some point you’re probably going to want to attend to those base human needs like eating, sleeping or checking Twitter. And you know what? That’s fine. Don’t try to remove all distractions before you start, because it won’t happen, and instead you’ll just end up procrastinating as you keep looking for more things to close down. Let it be. The key thing is not to avoid all distractions, it’s to minimise the attention and time you give them and to quickly regain your focus and momentum when you get back to work.

Reward yourself

And sometimes it’s just time to take a break because you’ve earned it. Did you hit a milestone and finish a chapter? Well done! Go have a beer or a make-out session or play Angry Birds for five minutes. You’re not a machine or a million monkeys with typewriters – well, probably not – and you deserve to treat yourself for working hard. Regular high-five-me-bro breaks are an important way to keep your focus and positivity up and to prevent burnout. The key thing is to step back, feel good about how things are going, finish the beer and then get back to work. And if you hit a point where you finish a section and decide to maintain the momentum and keep writing rather than flex off, then good on you – keep it going and make the next break even better.

No cheating

Is time growing short and the target too far away to reach? Want to just copy a chunk of text from another source or just write COCKDANCE COCKDANCE 500 times? Dude, I can’t stop you and I won’t know you’ve done it, but you know it’s bullshit. The only person you’re cheating is you because you’re giving up; the only person who can award you for reaching the finishing line is you, and you’ll know you don’t deserve any kind of medal. There are no short-cuts, there are no cheat codes. Better to make a genuine attempt then blow smoke up people’s arse. Because the only person breathing the arse-smoke is you.

There’s always another day

And if you can’t hit the target in the time frame, so what? This isn’t heart surgery, and no-one’s going to die if you don’t write 30 000 words in a weekend, not unless you’re in some weird and poorly-paced Saw sequel. No matter how far you get, what matters is that you made the attempt and laid some words down, be it 20 000 or 2000. Coming out the other side of a writing boot camp gives you a better appreciation of what you can achieve when you go all in, and leaves you with a mess o’ words that you can now tweak and revise and sculpt at your relative leisure.

Everyone’s a winner, baby. That’s the truth.

Are you inspired? Are you fired up? Are you still reading? For those who are, thanks for sticking around – I hope it was worth your while!

If you’ve got any other tips for pushing word weight, please leave a comment. Share what you know, if only to save me from writing another 1500+ words on the topic later.

He’s everywhere, he’s everywhere

On Sunday I said that I wouldn’t spend so much time talking here about The Obituarist, and by God I meant it.

So instead, I’m gonna talk about all the other places where I have been (or will be) talking about The Obituarist.

IT’S A RULES-LEGAL LOOPHOLE DAMNIT

…man, I have really got to get out of this sudden all-caps habit.

Anyway, here’s what I’ve been doing this week:

Can I just say that this whole interview thing is AWESOME FUN? Because it is. It’s like getting drunk and talking about writing except that you’re sober (bad) and no-one interrupts you (good!).

I should have a couple of more interviews coming up in the next couple of weeks; I’ll keep you posted as they come together. One that I’m UNBELIEVABLY EXCITED  about isn’t in print – I should (fingers crossed) be on 3RRR Radio’s Byte Into It program on May the 23rd. How incredibly fucking cool is that! I promise to talk excitedly and largely incoherently about social media and identity theft and not spend too much time plugging my book.

And lest we forget, the other major activity on the horizon is the Emerging Writers’ Festival, and my involvement as the coach/cheerleader/chief bully for the online team at the Rabbit Hole writing boot camp event. I’m getting my ducks in a row for that and will be writing more on the topic this coming weekend.

(I also hope to get a slot at the EWF Open Mic on the 3rd of June to do a quick reading from The Obituarist, but that’s first-in-best-dressed and I can’t promise I’ll get in. But show up anyway, just in case!)

So yeah. May. It’s been a pretty AMAZEBALLS month, and shows no signs of letting up soon.

Emerge, learn, transform and roll out

May is nearly upon us, and that means the Emerging Writers’ Festival is again on the horizon!

And once again I’m involved not just as a punter but as a contributor. This time around it’s a really exciting role – I’ll be one of the hosts of the Rabbit Hole event. This is an orchestrated writing push where those involved do their level best to get down 30 000 words in just three days.

Cah-razy!

There are four teams of up to 20 participants, each led by a coach/cheerleader/host. In Victoria this is the redoubtable Jason Nahrung, in Brisbane it’s the undeniable Peter Ball, in Tasmania it’s the noncanonical Rachel Edwards… and in the rest of the country/world/internet it’s yours truly!

What do I know about pumping out 30k in three days? Well, I’ve got a fair amount of experience in grinding the wordcount from my RPG writing days, where I’d madly lay down 20 000 words in a weekend without stopping to eat or sleep or take in any sustenance other than stimulants. But I’ve also got a lot of experience in dicking around and not writing a goddamn thing, which has its own value – the best teachers are either those who can get things done or know exactly why they can’t/don’t get things done. And I can dish it out from both ends, which looks dirty now that I’ve typed it.

Anyway, I won’t talk too much about this here – part of my involvement is working on blogs and chats about it that get the participants all fired up, so I’ll let you know where to look for that when it’s up.

This event aside, there are a lot of great panels and projects in play at the EWF, as well as a great line-up of new and established writers who are looking to share their knowledge and help their peers. If you’re in Melbourne and have any interest in putting your work out there, this festival is a must.

Check it out and get involved!

Where the bloody hell are you?

When the internet first broke through the egg and pecked the datagoo from its downy wings, a lot of people (well, me at least) thought that the Web would be like a series of big rooms at a party. You’d put all your stuff in one room and play with it, and other people would come by with drinks in hand because they wanted to see and play with your stuff, and you’d have fun and get drunk and maybe accidentally sleep together, and when you wanted to check out their stuff you’d go to their room and hang out and maybe accidentally sleep with them and soon the party would be pumping and every room would be a comprehensive storehouse of one person’s presence and there would probably be fucking.

As you can see, this metaphor does not work. Although the internet is full of rooting, that much is true.

Instead the internet has become more like a network of swingers’ parties, where you leave a set of your keys in bowls across your suburb and okay fine I’ll stop with the inappropriate metaphors, spoilsports.

But yeah, the notion of the one-stop portal or the one site where you have your presence and that everyone comes to is pretty much cactus these days. Instead our presence is  balkanised, divided up into manageable, focused portions that do a specific thing and hopefully do it well. When I set up this site, I wanted it to be the hub of that online presence, and it’s serving pretty well as that, but I can also be found in a bunch of other social media/commentary sites, in case you wanted to stalk me. And you know, I’m okay with that, so long as you’re the kind of stalker who buys their target a beer rather than cuts their feet off.

Please don’t cut my feet off.

So anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about the way we spread ourselves over the internet as I work on The Obituarist, and decided to do a run-down of the various places I’ve left a notable footprint. This is where I am:

  • Here. Duh.
  • LiveJournal – I blog as artbroken over there, and back in the day I used to blog a lot. Like once a day minimum since 2002. But the old grey mare she ain’t what she used to be; LJ started to fall apart under the weight of mismanagement and ugg boot spam, everyone pissed off to Facebook and I stopped being so goddamn angry all the goddamn time. Now I post something there about once a month, usually about gaming, negativity or why I don’t post much to LiveJournal any more.
  • Facebook – Of course I’m on Facebook. Everyone’s on Facebook. It’s practically mandatory. These days I mostly use it to help coordinate social events, pimp blog posts, check in with what my wife and a few friends are doing and post the very occasional cool link. I keep feeling like I’m doing something wrong, and it could be so much more if I let it. But stuff that.
  • Google + – I was a fairly early adopter, and like some early adopters I keep wondering if I should go back to the orphanage and see if they have a smarter kid lying around. G+ seems to be a Facebook alternative without the depth of social tools or significant audience, and all I ever post there is links back to posts I make here. Maybe one day it’ll shed its cocoon and become a beautiful butterfly.
  • Twitter – Man, I fucking love Twitter. I dragged my feet over getting onto it for the longest time, and since then I’ve racked up like 6500 tweets in two years. It’s a great place to explore brevity, for one thing; it’s about communicating effectively in a small space, stripping out detail to develop nearly glyphic forms of text. Or to dump links and make smartarse comments about politicians.
  • Amazon – I have an author page there, which has information on Hotel Flamingo, Godheads and a bunch of RPGs that don’t provide me with any royalties. But I can’t find it in my heart to let them go. The Amazon page is barebones, but if people leave positive reviews on things, that might bulk it out. Hint freakin’ hint.
  • Smashwords – I have an author page here too, with links for the ebooks and the various free stories up there. It doesn’t compare visually to the Amazon page, but there’s more of my own stuff to read.
  • Goodreads – Aaaaand I got an author page here too. Although I don’t sell any stuff through the site, so it’s mostly just a feed from this blog and a general request to please god help a brother out with some reviews and recommendations, pretty please man I need this homes.
  • LinkedIn – I really don’t know why I’m on here. I’ve never done anything through the site, and mostly get contacted by people I barely know who seem to just want to professionally network for the sale of professional networking, rather than because they genuinely want to forge business/editing connections. But hey, maybe one day it’ll pay off.
  • Flickr – I have some photos here. They’re pretty old.
  • RPGnet – I go there to talk about roleplaying. Which I used to do a lot, back when I was writing RPGs and had more spare time and was generally much grumpier. Now I just pop up occasionally to say something semi-constructive and then vanish again, leaving only the links in my signature block.
  • Obsidian Portal – Ooh, such a spooky name! This is where I write about my D&D game. If that doesn’t interest you much, I understand. If it does, go check it out. We have session writeups and a pretty detailed wiki.

That’s about it, I think, other than the various banks and online stores that make posthumously cleaning up someone’s online identity traces such a chore. If Kendall Barber was obituarising me I think it’d be fairly straightforward. And a bit freaking meta.

How about you? How thinly is your identity butter spread across the crispy toast of the internets? Where do you pitch your tent online? And do you have any stories about good ways to use LinkedIn or G+? ‘Cos I’m struggling with them, I really am.

Continuum num num

Hey there folks,

Just a very quick update to say that I’ll be at the Continuum 7 convention this long weekend talking on a couple of panels.

On Saturday I’ll be on ‘”Star Wars is Just a Western with Spaceships”: Defining Genres’ at 4pm, along with Richard Harland, Ben McKenzie and Lucy Sussex. We’ll be talking about genre, what it’s good for, what’s bad about it, and to what extent genre labels can be useful and deconstructed.

Then on Monday I’ll be on ‘Roleplaying as a Storytelling Experience’ at 2pm, along with Catherynne M. Valente, Hespa and Gareth Hodges. Can gaming make you a better writer, or teach you something about storytelling, from either side of the table?

That’s it for me, unfortunately. There are a bunch of other panels going on, featuring great people like David Wittenveen, Sarah Stokely, Ben McKenzie, Kyla Ward, Paul Callaghan and the gang from the Boxcutters podcast, to name just those that I know personally. I really wish I could make it to see more of those, but I don’t get paid until the day after the con, which is a real pain in the arse, lemme tell you.

But if you have money in your pocket and want to get your geek brain firing, you should come along. At the very least, come along to tonight’s events, which are free. I’ll be the one in the Batman T-shirt propping up the bar. Well, possibly one such person, given the circumstances.
//

Post panel ponder

Well, yesterday was the panel on ‘Future Writing’ at the Emerging Writers Festival, for which I was one of the panelists, and I think it went pretty well. All four people involved had very different ideas about what the panel topic meant and what they wanted to talk about, and we explored a variety of different angles and philosophies in the seven minutes we each had to speak.

For my part, I said that whatever form it took, future writing was likely to be writing without the backing of a major publisher. From my perspective as someone who works for a major publisher, I talked about the benefits that they provide (editing, marketing, production etc.) and how a single person or small group could hope to finance and gain those benefits. Which led to the concepts of crowdsourcing and crowdfunding, and I talked for a while about those things – things I didn’t know a great deal about until recently, but I could share what I’d learned and found with the group. And all that talk about looking to an audience for support and making them part of the process finished up with the notion that future writing is / would be, by its nature, closely tied to collaboration and community, and about sharing your passion and enthusiasm with readers in a genuine way from start to finish.

I didn’t make any jokes. I was too nervous.

Feedback afterwards was pretty positive, and there were some very good reviews on Twitter, so I feel like I acquitted myself honourably. And I got to hang out with a bunch of writers in the bar afterwards and talk about the festival and writing in general, which was a lot of fun. So that was great. Now I’m really hoping they’ll have me back next year.

Next on the speaking agenda is Continuum in two weeks, where I’m sharing panels with cool people like Ben McKenzie, Richard Harland and Catherynne Valente. So that’s likely to be pretty damn fun. Once, you know, I work out what the hell I’m talking about.

Emergence

What am I excited about right now? The Emerging Writers Festival, which opened last night and is powering into two weeks of panels, seminars, twitterfests, workshops and other activities. I went to last year’s EWF and thought it was a fantastic, useful project that really aimed at getting writers to network and help each other.

Part of my excitement this year is that I’m on a panel this year – I’ll be speaking about ‘Future Writing’ at 3pm this Sunday at the Town Hall Writer’s Conference, alongside Dale Campisi, Rebecca Fitzgibbon and Jacinda Woodhead. I’ll be mostly talking about the things traditional publishers have provided to writers, and how independent writers and groups can try to provide those services for themselves. It should be a fun panel, and more to the point should be a useful one.

But that’s hardly the most exciting thing on this festival, he said self-depricatingly. I’m also really interested in the panels on transmedia and character voice, the discussion of publishing trends, the mid-week talks on genre, the Melbourne by Dusk flash-media project and the fact that you can make Lego Poetry. And, of course, getting to talk (and drink) with other writers.

My only real problem is that I’m not going to be able to afford to go to everything I want to go to, having blown all my salary on responsible financial things this month. But I’ll make it to enough things, somehow.

Anyway, if you’re in Melbourne, if you write, if you want to learn and to meet other writers and get something useful out of it, the EWF is a must. Get excited and make stuff.