Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Stephen King on Writing, Sci Am on mental disorders and creativity, and writing a book with evernote

Stephen King recounts being a school teacher.  Jessica Lahey interviewed him on how he taught:
Lahey: You extol the benefits of writing first drafts with the door closed, but students are often so focused on giving teachers what they want and afraid of making mistakes that they become paralyzed. How can teachers encourage kids to close the door and write without fear?
King: In a class situation, this is very, very hard. That fearlessness always comes when a kid is writing for himself, and almost never when doing directed writing for the grade (unless you get one of those rare fearless kids who’s totally confident). The best thing—maybe the only thing—is to tell the student that telling the truth is the most important thing, much more important than the grammar. I would say, “The truth is always eloquent.” To which they would respond, “Mr. King, what does eloquent mean?”
King: A lot of them didn’t care; they were just hacking out assignments. For those that are sensitive and insecure, you have to combine gentleness with firmness. It’s a tightrope, particularly with teenagers. Did I have students actually bust out crying? I did. I’d say, “This is just a step to get you to the next step.”Lahey: Of course, once they have something down on paper, they are going to have to open the door and invite the world to read what they have written. How did you cope with the editing process early in your writing career, and how did you teach your students to handle feedback?
Lahey: You warn writers not to “come lightly to the blank page.” How can teachers encourage kids to come the blank page with both gravity and enthusiasm?
King: It went best for me when I could communicate my own enthusiasm. I can remember teaching Dracula to sophomores and practically screaming, “Look at all the different voices in this book! Stoker’s a ventriloquist! I love that!” I don’t have much use for teachers who “perform,” like they’re onstage, but kids respond to enthusiasm. You can’t command a kid to have fun, but you can make the classroom a place that feels safe, where interesting things happen. I wanted every 50-minute class to feel like half an hour.

There's a lot more that I liked as an English teacher and as a writer.  I think "writing with the door closed" means absent outside concerns, perhaps even walled off from your personal editor.  Approaching a blank page with both serious intent and eagerness is an interesting way to look at it, too.
By the way, I am a teacher who performs like I'm onstage, so perhaps I need to mature up my game.
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Scientific American on spectrum disorders and creativity:

They found that both real-world creative achievement and creative cognition (as rated by four independent judges) were significantly associated with two personality traits:psychoticism and hypomania. These findings remained even after taking into account prior academic achievement test scores.
Psychoticism is characterized by impulsivity, sensation-seeking, and proneness to psychosis. Many of the items on the psychoticism scale measure oddness of thought and behavior, such as “Other people seem to think my behavior is weird”, “My thoughts are strange and unpredictable”, and “My thoughts often don’t make sense to others.” In a clinical setting, extremely high levels of psychoticism may be cause for a diagnosis of mental illness, but this finding suggests that in the normally varying general population, there is an association between these characteristics and real-world creative achievement.
Creativity was also associated with hypomania, a mood state characterized by high energy levels, rapid mood fluctuations, and racing thoughts. Some items on the hypomania scale include “I am frequently in such high spirits that I can’t concentrate on any one thing for too long”, “I have such a wide range of interests that I often don’t know what to do next”, and “Sometimes ideas and insights come to me so fast that I cannot express them all”. Again, in a clinical setting, extreme levels of this trait may require rehabilitation. But this finding (and the findings of prior studies) suggests that in the general population hypomania is associated with creative achievement.
Neither creative cognition nor creative achievement were associated with depression ...
Interestingly, creative cognition was no longer associated with real-world creative achievement, psychoticism or hypomania when scoring the test using the method recommended in the testing manual.
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I love Ommwriter, others like Scrivener, but Evernote?  Yes, a man wrote a book using nothing but Evernote.
One reason I used Evernote was because I kept all of my reporting notes and research in Evernote, and I wanted quick access to all that while I was writing.
It felt less clunky switching between screens in the same app than switching between Evernote and a slow-loading memory hog like Microsoft Word or the surprisingly lethargic Google Docs.
Another few reasons:
• Evernote constantly saves what you're working on and backs it up to the cloud.• I have Evernote on my phone and iPad, and it was nice to be able to pull up my draft and review it anytime anywhere.• Evernote note windows are sparse, and I like that for writing.• I've developed a "process" around turning reporting/research into writing in Evernote, and when you're doing work as open-ended as long form writing, it's nice to have some step-by-step tasks to do to ground you.



Saturday, September 6, 2014

Want to be a writer? Grow a thick skin!

Responding to a lukewarm review: Author Stephan Harper dominates the comments of a review of his book -and not really in a good way. Click to embiggen.

I love Harper's use of 'lastly' and 'one last thing' then posting, what, twenty more comments.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Interview with artist Brian Dean on Sept 5

I gotta tell you right away that this is a different Brian Dean and I am promoting it purely due to the shared name.  But if you are in San Fran, you might want to check it out.  His photography exhibit is here:

An image from the latter link:

Best of luck, Brian Dean!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Be careful out there.

Grant Snider looks at errors and perfectionism.  Here are four of twelve panels.
Follow the link to see the rest.
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Be careful in your writing.  "Write about what you know"  But if you do, the man may come knocking.

A Dorchester County, Maryland, teacher was taken in for an "emergency medical evaluation," suspended from his job, and barred from setting foot on another public school. Authorities searched his school, Mace's Lane Middle School in Cambridge, for weapons. As classes resumed, parents worried that their children were in danger, so police decided to remain on the premises to watch over them.What happened? The teacher, Patrick McLaw, published a fiction novel. Under a pen name. About a made-up school shooting. Set in the year 2902.
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Updated Sept 3 from The Atlantic.
"From our perspective, this was more about a health concern about Mr. McLaw than about a security issue," [state attorney] Maciarello said. Authorities grew concerned about McLaw after he sent a "four-page letter" to a school administrator over the summer. According to Maciarello, the letter contained no threats against schools or school personnel, but that it indicated that McLaw was not mentally sound. "Health care professionals were concerned, he was in a relationship that had just come to an end, he was talking about his mother as being overbearing, there was some thought that he could be a threat to himself." Based on the "totality of the circumstances," Maciarello said, McLaw was involuntarily committed for evaluation. Among those circumstances: Authorities said that McLaw had built a model of a school building in his home, and had asked an administrator to move classrooms, to one near the "point of ingress and egress" of the school.
Yes, I too was underwhelmed by that response. I asked Maciarello if the novels McLaw had self-published had been a factor in county decision-making: "The books are a factor," he said. "You cannot consider the total picture without knowing that he had this book, this other writing. This was very concerning to the administrators. 
It now seems possible that police officials are somewhat discretely investigating other aspects of the author's past.  I hope they either release their information at some point or that McLaw take the school and local police department for enough money to help him begin anew with another new name (the article conflates nom-de-plume with 'alias').

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Quora on writing and links aplenty on outlines

A recent Quora question: What should everyone know about writing?  Zachary Norman offered his father's advice:
It's a full time job.  To be successful you must be disciplined.  You do it from nine to five, five days a week.  Focus on your work for forty hours and put it away at night and on the weekends.  When you're blocked write something else, sonnets, poems, the "other novel", love letters.  The point is you must write full-time.  A writer's talent is a muscle that must be worked out, and like a bicep it will strengthen with use.
Writers write alone, in quiet.  Writers don't write in coffee-shops.  Silence is the blank canvas onto which the world of the work is drawn.
Personally, I think the bit about silence is more of a individual preference, but I like the rest.

Stan Hayward says:
Writing effectively clears the brain.
It is a form of talking to oneself.
When you write your thoughts down you find it easier to see alternatives to ideas.
Writing a shopping list will encourage you to check what else you might need while shopping
Writing a diary gives you a sense of how you spend your time, and to plan.
Writing letters makes you focus on what you feel is important.
Writing out lessons - even those already printed - helps to reinforce the ideas in your mind.
Writing and checking what you have written improves your ability to express yourself.
Writing gives others a good idea of how you comprehend things.
The physical act of writing is a eye-to-hand skill that improves your motor control of your body.
I should write more by hand.  Or even print more (by hand) as I desperately need to maintain the minimal hand-eye coordination I currently have.  Of course, I also need to type more carefully so as to stop using 'teh' as an article.

The link above also includes a list of similar topics: creative writing, freelance writing, grammar and more.
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Nanowrimo is coming round again soon.  Last year, I finished the month in style, with two thousand words over the minimum.  The story I wrote had been a sort of daydream of mine for years and I had worked out a lot of details in my head before I started typing.  The story still surprised me and went places I hadn't anticipated but I had ten or so plot points in mind and their order.  This let me jump around in time.  When I couldn't think of where to go next in the first chapter, I jumped to the fourth chapter and started in.  When I ran out of literary steam there, I went to chapter 2 and so on.  Once place I was particularly weak on was character.  I had to invent character tics, flaws and general individuality on the fly.  I want to be more formally prepared this time.

Nanowrimo used to have an outline planner that you could print out.  I guess they still do but I can no longer find it.

Writer's Digest has one.  Well, many, printouts to guide you.
Necessary Writer has an outline.
Creative Writing Now has three: Novel Outline, Character Outline and Scene Outline.
Many seem to love Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet. See here (from here), here, and here.
One of the above links is from Belinda Crawford who also links to more templates, including some for Scrivener, which professional writers seem to love.
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Added Sept 7: Gord Sellar looks at character development.  I hope this excerpt is, well, clear enough.  Follow the link for a chart that explores the ideas further.
In other words, Paracelsus saw the world not in terms of the four elements and their elemental natures (dryness, coldness, heat, and wetness) but instead in terms of dynamic properties that were part of all matter, and which could be manipulated through alchemical processes, specifically these:
  • saltSulphur, representing what is combustible, or burned away in alchemical procedures
  •  sulphur Salt, representing what cannot be burned away in alchemical procedures
  • MercuryMercury, representing the enduring, but transmutable, part of a thing which is purified through alchemical procedures.
This is interesting because there was also an idea in Renaissance alchemy that an alchemist had to engage in alchemical work in order to achieve a self-transformation that imbued him or her with the capacity to actually perform the highest works of alchemy, including the creation of Philosopher’s Stone, which after all was not used to “turn lead into gold” but rather was (by many alchemists, at least) understood as a catalyst that facilitated and accelerated a natural process of purification that they believed all matter–including metal–was undergoing anyway.
What’s tantalizing about that is how central in Western fiction it is that a character must change, under pressure of the story. Stories are widely read as, and understood to be about, the process of transformation that a character or group of characters undergo in the course of a process usually involving increasing pressure and raised stakes–rather like the heating of metals in an alchemical ritual or experiment.
One can very easily reformulate Paracelsus’ tria prima into a schematic model of character development, too:
  • saltWhat in the character is to be “burnt away” through the experiences of the story.
  •  sulphur  What in the character is to remain the same, because its durability and fundamentality ensures that it cannot be burnt away.
  • MercuryWhat in the character is, instead of burning away or enduring, is purified through transmutation from one form to another (typically, from a baser form to a more precious form).

Friday, August 22, 2014

Lev Grossman on becoming a fantasy writer

Lev Grossman on becoming a fantasy writer

The New York Times website doesn't permit copy-n-paste so here's a fragment of a screenshot.  Probably, if you click on it, it will embiggen so you can read it.
Another quote can be found at Boingboing.
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Bonus: I've never been a doodler.  Anytime I attempt a drawing, I already have an idea in mind.  Or, when I make an unintelligible mess on the page, I know what it is a mess of.  Shoebedoodling's work is therefore as fascinating to me as that of gymnasts or people speaking languages I'd never even heard the name of before.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

It's not just about the margins, man.

Let's talk about the margins is about far more and is about the things I need to think more deeply about.  I'm the type to finish the text, the ideas, then let it go.  Often, this means I haven't proofed the text.  Spell-check gets a lot but when I'm typing quickly, their are a few airs that spell-check won't catch.

On a recent text science book I wrote*,  I had set the margins in Google Docs but the printer probably used Word.  Whatever, I had left underscores for students to fill words in and this happened _________
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Ah, anyway, back to the 'margins' article.
Reach for a book. The dedication and earnestness of those who made it is revealed immediately in the margins. If the margins feel questionable, be suspicious. Other corners were likely cut. All authors should have a Margin Clause in their contracts. Objection, your honor. Never be fooled by a fancy cover. Always remember: Covers are just there to protect pages with beautiful margins.

The layout of this essay will change in time. If we return to medium.com in a few weeks or months or years, the margins will be different, the block quote styling a darker grey, the headers a new font. We will read it on new devices, bigger and smaller phablets, goggles, contact lenses, windshields. Nothing is fixed.
Do not dismiss the fixed page. Margins on the screen are necessary, but margins on paper have the power to affect.

Fifty per cent of the character and integrity of a printed page lies in its letterforms.Much of the other fifty per cent resides in its margins, says Bringhurst.
Yes, look here — perfect dictionary paper sticks to the fingers but doesn’t stick to the other pages, says the Dictionary Man.
Make an object that lives forever, says our ghost of George Nakashima.
WE WILL TRY HARDER, says the Paper Man.
I'm a content over style man but the style isn't nothing and I really need to work on the finishing touches.
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*16 or so pages and mostly a guideline for the material I would use in class.  'Book' might be overstating the product.