I write because I have to.
A compulsion not of duty, but the reality of living with a brain that doesn't tend to stop spinning (except during meditation, and only if well rested at the time). I've often been struck with ideas, either through paths of contemplation or random epiphany. They may not be profound or earthshaking, or particularly unique - but they come anyway. When this happens I have 2 choices: put it somewhere physical or lose it forever.
I used to rationalize that if it was a remarkable thought, whatever had produced it in the first place would be sufficiently provocative to ensure its semi-permanence in memory (or an ability to retrace steps and reproduce a predictable synthesis). I would then, at a more convenient and constructive time, sit to explore it in depth only to find the plane barren. Not even vague shrubbery of the formerly fertile and lush concept remained; no outline, no shadow. No seed.
This led to an immense frustration at the loss of creativity, which I've solved by jotting things down furiously whenever they arise. Then fertilizing them, exploring in gedankenexperiment, wandering to distant conclusions. Most fall apart upon casual scrutiny, but some weather repeat analysis and appear to be well resolved. These are the ones I then work to evolve into a finished product.
Immersing in that evolution really turns on the creative juices and repeats the process in a delicious cycle. Nugget by nugget the hoard is collected, and with careful patience something can be refined and built for the edification and enjoyment of others.
Much of my writing has taken place across disparate media, quite a lot of it entirely disconnected from the web. I plan on introducing that content here over time as it's converted to something more conducive of electronic distribution. Those works which are available can be found below, categorically separated by length.
Novel-length manuscripts are still in-progress and/or under editorial review. If you have been provided a password, feel free to browse the downloads. If you would like to receive a credentials in order to do so, please contact me.
Working titles in this category include:
- Glass Cage (When I Wake Up)
Streams of Time (yes these are in order and this is not a sub-title)
- Birth of a Stream
- The Third Stream
- Future Blind
- Passing On
This certainly applies less to writing by assignment, where much of the material is already provided and need simply be slotted into place in support of a definite (sometimes predefined) conclusion. Dealing strictly with prose fiction (nonfiction is a different bag I don't know well) then:
Getting An Idea is of course the first stop. If something doesn't come along on its own, it'll have to be invented: but I don't recommend forcing the process unless there's an undeniable itch to write which simply lacks direction and will take anything that comes along. If the desire is there then working indiscriminately will likely entice other inspiration by virtue of activating similar mental circuits.
The main rule is that ideas can come from anywhere: I once composed a lullaby based on a trio of notes my mother's cat depressed when stepping off her piano (largely for bragging rights to be able to say exactly that, but that's unimportant). Literary composition can happen in exactly the same fashion, though does tend to require a little more source material. That greater volume is easily produced with a few basic exercises.
Probably the most basic and reliable tool is the "What If." This is followed closely by its sibling, "If This, Then..." Together, these 2 guiding phrases tease out gaping holes and tender nuances alike as one moves through uncharted territory. Suspension of disbelief can be supplied liberally so long as internal consistency is maintained: otherwise it's impolite and confusing to the reader unless the material is provided with a disclaimer of deliberate farce up front.
I've also relied on a coin: given a list of options, use a flip to narrow the field as well as reveal any subconscious preference. If re-tries are being done to change the outcome, or if there's any hope for it to land one way or another, the choice has already been made. If not, then there's nothing to lose. I once started with a list of genres, then time frames, characters, settings, attributes, etc., and came away with:
An enamored but unwed pair hiking in familiar territory encounter a few obsidian shards of unique quality: hot when touched on one side, but cool on the other. It is eventually discovered that this is an exotic dielectric material used in the window portholes of an unknown and possibly extra-terrestrial source. Embedded nanofillaments trap radiation of harmful wavelengths and work to convert them to usable energy while other emissions are either reflected or allowed to pass based on their usefulness to the occupants of such a craft.
The significant turmoil resulting from the find circa 1970 caused international upheaval, re-ignites an arms and science race, and spawns violent religious indignation in parts of the globe. Not to mention the strain it places on the famous and quickly forgotten pair.
I can write things other than sci-fi, I promise. This is what the quarter chose. No, really! I also never completed the story, but have it on a shelf somewhere for later use: I didn't feel the market needed another obscure alien encounter at the time (despite the exact origins of the piece never being revealed, and no other encounters are hinted at).
The first part of any story begins with its silhouette: the briefest sketch to give (very rough) shape to the thing. This allows for the essence of imagination to flow unimpeded while still catching enough from the stream to be practically useful.
Hierarchical outlines are classic, but tend to force strict chronological or lexical movement counter to the intuitive process. Bubble outlines or "Mind Maps" can be abstractly useful but do take some time to become comfortable with.
Whatever the tool or process used, the intent is to brainstorm through as many facets and elements as possible. Take just enough information to recall (and expound on) them later, show association relative to each other and main threads where appropriate, but don't focus too much on organization up front. That's not what this step is for.
This is where most stories fall apart: not for lack of intent, or energy, but focus. This is the protracted step of giving flesh to the ideas which came easily, breathing life and reality into them to a believable degree. Loose threads will become more visible but are usually easily worked out.
The reason for the abandonment then is that this is work: hard work, and can be challenging to the uninhibited flashes of genius which felt so infallible before. The wrenching and retooling required to make a story compelling and entertaining, as well as true to its sources and the voice of the author, is exhausting and humbling.
A la William Faulkner, "Kill Your Darlings." Don't be afraid to hack apart, or allow others to hack apart the work at the essential layers. This does not mean to look for failings where they may not exist, or turn on such a high-powered microscope that no flaw is left undiscovered and paraded about as an infidel to the cause.
Here the intent is to let the story shine: remove that which may distract from it (even if it's good in its own right) and boil down to the real meat. The recent advent of suddenly pervasive extra features on DVD releases has offered a unique glimpse into the film-makers parallel of this stage: the Deleted Scene. Far more often than not, the vignettes in the Bonus menu would have diluted and contorted the story into a different feel and flavor, and not in a good or helpful way.
Reread and review the work many times during composition. As the universe expands and characterizations fall into their proper niche, necessary alterations will come to light: adapting to this early on is gentler and simpler as less change is actually called for.
Poor assumptions and language also stand out and beg clarification, inevitably leading to a stronger presentation when scrubbed.
Altogether, this is completely iterative. Each step relies heavily on the others for success and will be engaged in endlessly as focus moves and contracts. For me, the most difficult part psychologically is taking a scene from its small home in a separate text file and attaching it as an official member of the manuscript. I never feel ready, and though I'm certain I'll come back to and change it later, it's a level of commitment exposing a weak opinion of my own work.
A craftsman is hardly defined by their tools (wherein the talent doth not lay), but would be very nearly paralyzed without them. Below is a listing of those I rely on with a fair amount of regularity to help me keep things straight as I move through The Process. My time and habits as a professional geek show through the selection quite strongly.
While these entries could technically be placed in the Software section below, they stand out sufficiently in purpose to merit special treatment.
View Your Mind (VYM) (Linux - Windows available)
My preferred outlining tool, allowing for very rapid draft entry and powerful views and manipulations of the resulting tree. With the one minor exception that child nodes cannot be explicitly re-ordered within the program itself, and are locked instead into the order in which they were first entered. This makes attempting a hierarchical format futile as a later exercise unless new maps are created.
That's really a minor issue though, as the application performs beautifully on antiquated (cheap) hardware, and exports well over thin X sessions (without proprietary extensions).
The strongest of the wiki engines, in my opinion (also used to drive the most excellent collaborative encyclopedia, Wikipedia). Not as immediately accessible as VYM though unless one either has access to web servers or runs one's own (Linux recommended). This tool is centered more around interlinked content and accessible editing than rapid entry.
Power Structure (Mac OS X - Windows available)
I'm a cheapskate, and have not purchased this software. However, the demo left me very impressed, and were I to ever shell out $150 USD for a writing package this would be the one. In fact, much of my draft style is based on emulation of the tools and views emphasized in its interface.
Probably the hold-back for me is the limitation to Mac OS X - I'm least able to guarantee the proximity of an Apple machine when doing my draft and organizational work, which happens in locations scattered to the winds as the fancy strikes me. If I ever commit to writing as a full-time occupation, that will change and I'll snap this one up in a hurry.
- View Your Mind (VYM) (Linux - Windows available)
Designed primarily for academia, the AlphaSmart product line serves a very specific niche and does so exceptionally. This is a simple portable word processor with copious space for rough-drafts on the go. The format and execution are straightforward and uncomplicated: turn it on and type. No saving, no extended software issues, simple text entry.
When it comes time to get the contents off, simply plug into any computer as a keyboard (supporting USB, PS2, and Apple) and press "Send." The device rapidly inputs keystrokes into any waiting editor - no proprietary software or file formats. It also supports multiple keyboard layouts: I've permanently re-keyed mine to Dvorak.
Runs for several hundred hours on 3 AA (LR6) 1.5v batteries. My moderate use of a few dozen pages a week tends to last me about 18 months on a set (with an internal lithium battery to retain contents during changes).
Sharp Zaurus SL-C1000
Linux-native PDA Imported from Japan to replace the very-slowly-ailing Clié. From a point comparison, a few features are missing and a few have been significantly upgraded. I carry this with me at almost all times in order to take notes and make rough drafts or minor edits; in USB Host mode I can even upload from the AlphaSmart and consolidate versions before depositing elsewhere.
Sony Clié PEG-UX50
The last globally available PDA on Sony's Clié line, and a pinnacle of achievement. Runs PalmOS 5 on an ARM processor, has several enhanced media capabilities and 802.11b networking & BlueTooth. 16MB of internal application memory is augmented by built-in 32MB flash expansion as well as a MemoryStick™ slot.
In addition to my daily organizer I use this to take notes and drafts discretely in nearly any circumstance. The backlit thumb keyboard (on which I get 25-35wpm) is comfortable for prolonged use, and the voice recorder has been invaluable while driving. Export to ASCII and WAV over wireless and the world is a beautiful place.
AceCad DigiMemo 692
Purchased initially for my role as a Software Development Director during which I was required to attend far too many meetings. The ability to transfer rough ERD and flow diagrams directly into PDF for storage and dissemination along with the rest of the project materials was a phenomenal asset.
This is used as a backup now, or when creating visual sketches, diagrams, or layouts. Sometimes text, but raster images aren't nearly as searchable as other formats so I tend to use that as a last resort and always transcribe to a file afterward.
Kinesis Essentials Contoured Keyboard
In the rare circumstance I get to sit down at my own computer to write, I rely on this ultra-ergonomic contoured keyboard in a Dvorak layout (software based, the 'Essential' model doesn't support layout switching natively like other Kinesis models). The keys are satisfyingly tactile and responsive, and whole of the experience is supremely comfortable.
I can't use it in QWERTY mode to save my life though, so when I'm doing systems work or cutting code I use the 2nd keyboard on the machine (a standard run-of-the-mill flat ergonomic-split model).
Ink & Cellulose
In earlier journal and creative writing years I stuck exclusively to pen and pad, unable to trust a machine (or file format) to stay around long enough to be consistently useful. The software tools hadn't matured sufficiently, and the PDA capabilities weren't anywhere close. Laptops or other dedicated devices were unwieldy and temperamental.
I've filled more than 10 fair-sized journal volumes with beautiful (sometimes meticulous) uniformly illegible scrawl. When other options are out of reach, these trusty implements do the job. The focused stream of written communication also restricts the scattered avenues available to the mind, enforcing a unique style of discipline as the indelible lines move slowly onto the page. Thoughts must be concise (not necessarily increasing quality, but encouraging them to be meditatively succinct).
My current preferred pad is featured in the image to the left: a reproduction of a civil war era field journal. Best yet, it takes standard Composition Book (mottled cover) notebooks on the interior.
Having a nicely configured machine at hand, adapted "just so" to preferences, is not always a possibility. But, having any computer is preferable to none. So long as I can get the data off, uploaded or captured onto a USB drive, or something so that it need not be abandoned and left behind, it's all good.
This of course applies to rough drafts where the interest is generating new material. Though I can get to my work from any internet connected machine, I rarely do editing or polishing work from anywhere but home.
- AlphaSmart 3000
OpenOffice (Linux, Mac OS X, Solaris, Windows)
Clean, fast interface and surprisingly small application footprint despite being every ounce as capable as its Redmond competitor. I've also been able to work with far larger and more complex files without crashing anything (sometimes bringing it to the rescue of those who have by using that other program).
- Novel Manuscript (Open Document format)
Places for capturing keystrokes and not much else.
- CardTXT (Palm)
- Kate (Linux:KDE)
- gedit (Linux:Gnome)
- TextEdit (Mac OS X)
- WriteRoom (Mac OS X - Windows available)
Celestia (Linux, Mac OS X, Windows)
I couldn't conceive of doing space-travel themed stories without this program. This acts as a complete 3-dimensional map and simulation of every celestial object in the known universe, given any time-frame and parameters the user desires. What does a Martian sunset look like in late July of the year 2152? Download the app and paste this link into it to find out.
Or visually track and calculate orbits and motions of distant stars and extra-solar planets. Many add-on developments also exist to provide new features and scenarios for the viewer (sci-fi universe maps, or the formation of Earth's moon for example).
vim (Linux, Mac OS X, Windows)
High learning curve complex text editor, typically bundled with Unix, Linux, or BSD based operating systems. I use this mainly for cutting code or composing HTML (such as this site), but also as a fallback for text entry and manipulation just about anywhere I can find a terminal. Minimalistic interface which exports well over thin net / slow connections without sacrificing usability.
- OpenOffice (Linux, Mac OS X, Solaris, Windows)
Stuff I rely on while I'm writing.