Archive for January, 2013


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Word Music

on January 23, 2013 in Habits, Writing 1 Comment »

This year I have been trying out different writing habits to see if anything fits with my own personal style. For the past two weeks I have been writing with music. Usually, I write in silence, attempting to avoid all distractions.

But I read some interesting things from Chuck Palahniuk about how listening to music helps him keep a consistant tone to his writing, and how for each novel he listens to a different set of albums to help do that. Here is an excerpt from an interview he did with Bookslut:

The music depends on the tone of the book. In a way, I use a single piece of music to re-create the same mood each time I go back to a project. By listening to it — again and again — I quit hearing the words, and almost hypnotize myself into a fictional world. Andy Warhol used to do this with a record called “I Saw Linda, Yesturday.” His friends grew to hate that song.

And again from ChuckPalahniuk.net:

I use music like a drug. For this non-fiction writing, I like “chill” music – with “Chill Factor Audiotherapy” playing right now. But for editing, I’ll listen to the Chopin Nocturnes that Tiffany Wong sent me. And for the first draft of my next angry story, maybe… Pink Floyd. Other stories, Country and Western. What can I say? I’m a mess.

I think its a good idea. Music does set a mood and it theoretically could help your writing keep the same tone over a time period. For some writers it may work well. But for me it causes too much distraction. My brain is a little too finicky. When there is sensory input coming in I don’t create information at the same rate I would otherwise.

This is the second habit (trick, method, etc) that I’ve researched this year and the second one that I am not going to use for myself. It just goes to show that not all writers are the same. What works for one might not work for another. I just hope, by the end of year, I learn something new that will help make my writing stronger.

Whenever you refer to a person in your writing without using a name or a description, you usually have to use a pronoun. But embedded in these pronouns there is already a description. It’s the person’s gender: He/She, Him/Her, His/Hers.

I ain’t no linguist so I don’t know why there are different versions of pronouns. But I can see why, back in the day, gender would be an accepted way to separate them. Now, though, when people are more enlightened and the lines between genders have blurred, We don’t need artificial segregation in our language.

In creative writing it is not really an issue. You usually know the gender of the character being refereed to. And reading those pronouns just feels right. After all, we have been using them forever.

“Jane was a strong woman. When people looked at her they could tell she enjoyed doing impressive things with her muscles.”

“John was a beautiful man. When people looked at him they could tell he enjoyed doing impressive things with his hair.”

I have been working on a rule-book for a Role-playing Game. (Demonize! A competitive RPG debuting soon on this very website!) It contains a paragraph where the player is supposed to fill in the blanks to create a character. But the player could create a man, woman or anything in between, so how do you address pronouns in that situation? Here is what I did:

“In (TIME PERIOD/LOCATION) there lives a (GENDER) named (NAME). Most people see them as (OCCUPATION), but the thing they want most in life is to (ULTIMATE GOAL). If they can just get their (EVIL VICE) under control they might be able to attain that goal. In the meantime, they bide their time (HOBBY) and hoping that (FEAR) doesn’t happen. Little do they know that The Demons have taken notice of them for something terrible they did in order to get where they are today. (TERRIBLE THING)”

Notice I decided to use the “singular they” approach. It sounds fine, right? But when you start to fill in the blanks you will see that the results read quite awkwardly:

“In present day Washington DC there lives a man named Sterling Jackson. Most people see them as a US Congressman but the thing they want most in life is to be elected president. If they can just get their corruption under control they might be able attain that goal. In the meantime, they bide their time sailing yachts and hoping that they don’t get caught lying to the American people. Little do they know that The Demons have taken notice of them for something terrible they did in order to get where they are today. He once had a mistress who threatened to expose their affair. He had her killed before she could talk.”

See what I mean? Yes, I can use “He or she” and “Him or Her”, and besides the masculine pronoun always being the first part of that duet, the main problem is that it’s just too cumbersome.

I was alerted to the existence of gender-neutral pronouns such as Ze/Zir/Zirs and Xe/Xem/Xyr. But it comes down to respecting your reader. Do you really want people to have to look things up to understand what you are talking about?

Invented pronouns (chart stolen from Wikipedia)

Spivak (old) E laughed I called em Eir eyes gleam
Spivak (new) Ey laughed I called em Eir eyes gleam
Humanist Hu laughed I called hum Hus eyes gleam
Per Per laughed I called per Per eyes gleam
Thon Thon laughed I called thon Thons eyes gleam
Ve Ve laughed I called ver Vis eyes gleam
Xe Xe laughed I called xem Xyr eyes gleam
Ze (or zie or sie) and zir Ze laughed I called zir/zem Zir/Zes eyes gleam
Ze (or zie or sie) and hir Ze laughed I called hir Hir eyes gleam
Ze and mer Ze laughed I called mer Zer eyes gleam
Zhe, Zher, Zhim Zhe laughed I called zhim Zher eyes gleam
Yo Yo laughed I called yon Yos eyes gleam

Usually, no. And in the example paragraph I am working on, I feel the best choice is to leave it as-is with the the singular-they. It’s not perfect, but when it comes to grammar (and other things), we are still a society that segregates by gender. So for now this will have to do.

speedometer-slow-to-insanely-fast-thumb9878061Recently I decided to experiment with different writing tips and tricks. This week I’ve been using 750Words. An author, Mary Robinette Kowal, pointed it out on an episode of Storyboard (If you haven’t watched that show, you really should. The specific episode is here)

The website is simple, quirky and clever. It provides a blank private slate to write on, and rewards you with badges for consistency, speed, word-count, etc. The idea is that 750 words is about 3 pages. When you hit 750 words you are alerted to your success. And every day you get points based on your consistency and word count.

The best part is that after each day a fun display of analytics pops up analyzing your speed and content. How fast did you write? How many distractions did you have? What is your writing rated? (PG, PG-13, X, etc.) What words did you use often? What tense did you write in? Mood, feelings, weather, etc. It’s quite fun and some of it is actually useful.

The problem is, and I am only using myself as a test-case here, writing with a word-count in mind (even if its just the notion of a word-count), causes strange changes in the writer’s mindset and the prose itself.

I am a competitive person at heart. I love to play myself against other people, and more importantly, myself against myself. So when there is a goal in front of me, my mind instantly and subconsciously thinks of ways to exploit the rule-set or outplay the opponent to achieve that goal, or if that is not possible, tries to achieve it through sheer force of will. That must be why I like board games and running so much! Two activities that work well with goals.

My plans don’t always work. But that is how I think. And word-count is no different. I find when I write without a goal I am a bit slower. A bit more careful choosing my words and sentences. When a goal is in front of me, however, I write fast and loose, trying to get as much out onto the page as possible.

There is nothing wrong with either of these methods, but what I want someone to get out of this article is a sense of what type of writer they are. I, for example, when writing fast and loose, tend to write crap and more crap. What I churn out may be high in word count and tell a story from start to finish, but usually it is beyond help. An editing job turns into a complete rewrite. But when I take my time and write, not slowly, but more deliberately, I find that my first draft is usually quite nice and an editing job is quick and fun because the structure is solid.

So I have nothing against 750Words, or National Novel Writing Month, or any other group or scheme that gets people to write more. Just keep in mind how your brain works and always do what’s best for the story.

Most people make resolutions for the new year. I’ve decided to make somewhat of a bigger change. It’s more of a rule-set for how I want to live my life, and all of the rules have to do with things that make me happy. The idea is to push my days in the direction of those things and to find ways to limit the negative influences that always seem to have a hold of me.

Some of these things seem like they have nothing to do with writing or film-making. But wait, they do! Being healthy keeps my mind clear and gives me lots of energy.  And running does the same. The better I feel the better I write.

And I know I won’t be able to do all of these things everyday. I’m not delusional. So I am going to do something simple. If I have a good day and stick to all the daily rules then I get 1 point. That way I can track a % score over time. I’ll shoot for 90% and see how it goes. The non-daily goals will be harder to track, but there is no need. If I stay on track daily than those will happen as well.

So here they are. Hopefully you’ll be hearing much more from me in the future.

Health

  • No more unhealthy comfort foods (non-bible bread or cookies/pastries)
  • Eat at least 1 fruit a day
  • Eat at least 1 veggie a day
  • Exercise 30 minutes a day (run, or other things)

Running

  • Beat last year’s distances each month
  • 1,200 miles for the year
  • New 5k PR
  • New marathon PR
  • New 50k PR
  • 6 laps at next year’s World’s Toughest Mudder
  • Run 1 50 mile race

Writing/Creativity

  • Be creative at least 30 minutes a day
  • Post on this website at least 1 time a week
  • Blog on www.reelfriction.com at least once every 2 weeks
  • Research the habits/tricks of writers and try one every 2 weeks
  • Make 2 films
  • Write down every idea I have when I get it

Addictions

  • No more than 2 episodes or 1 movie per day if home alone
  • Limit non-productive internet time at home to no more than 10 minutes
  • Limit productive internet time at home (research, articles, etc) to no more than 30 minutes.

Personal Life

  • Don’t let it get in the way of any of the above


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