Always A Different River

The way of the artist is to process their experience through their art. This presumes that they have practiced the craft that forms the substrate of their art to the degree where they are able to express themselves through the filter of their emotions. I have mastered guitar to the extent that I can play what I intend to play.

I have reached a similar level of mastery when it comes to writing prose. I would hesitate to claim the label artist in either domain. I can express a thought or a tune but controlling the emotional color of the product is something that I’m still struggling with. At this point I am pleased to be able to capture simple truth in either medium.

The way to mastery is effort though. You must make the attempt and refine your efforts with each one. Every piece has lessons to teach. You must learn them and then move on to the next. Recognizing when a piece is as finished as it is going to be is part of the lesson.

Sometimes you revisit something you worked on previously. The result is another piece entirely. It may share structural and thematic content but like the river that is different each time you step into it, each rendering of an idea has its own soul. Each is a separate piece.

After all, like the river, the artist is constantly changing and the filter that is applied to the content is different each time. This realization gives a different spin on the process of creating a new draft of a work. The earlier work was complete, if only by definition. The new work is intended to improve on the predecessor. But in fact, it only portrays the subject in light of the more mature experience of the artist.

It is easier for me with music. Each performance is its own rendition. There is no question of any one version being definitive. Perhaps I should try to adopt that attitude toward writing prose. In some ways theater is more like music than prose is. Each performance is free to be interpreted slightly differently, even if the text is read exactly as written.

Perhaps the true prose artist can achieve the same effect in as much as their text makes a slightly different impression each time it is read. This is achieved by the combination of the filter of the reader’s experience as well as that of the author’s. And since the reader is a different person each time they read the work, the experience will be unique each time.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Time is a Relative Phenomena

One of the peculiar attributes of human beings is our ability to think about time. We have a perhaps unique awareness of time passing that is based on our ability to remember events that happened before the present and to anticipate events that will happen later. Consequently, we have a clear concept of both the future and the past.

Furthermore, we divide time up into intervals, from short intervals such as a second or less, through moderate intervals of minutes and hours, up to longer intervals of days, weeks, months, years, and longer. A strange phenomena that accompanies our ever evolving perception of time intervals is that the older we get, the shorter a given time interval seems to us. This is because our perception of time is based on comparison of any given duration against the total time that we have been alive.

I recently spent some time thinking about what it would be like if we could perceive time at a radically different scale, for instance at the scale of billionths of a second or nanoseconds as they are called. That is the approximate duration of operations that occur in the central processing unit of a computer.

I was writing a science fiction story in which one of the characters merges their mind with that of a computer. It occurred to me that one of the communication barriers to be overcome between artificially intelligent entities and humans would be one of their vastly different perception of time. As a consequence, large portions of the story that happen inside the machine take place in the blink of an eye on the human scale.

I have always had an intuition that artificial intelligence would not be created by programmers writing programs that were intended to behave in intelligent ways but rather would emerge as a federation of systems that were composed of parts that were programmed by people. Perhaps this has already happened but these artificially intelligent entities perceive time on such a vastly different scale that they are unable to imagine life at any other scale.

Imagine if you will that Sequoias were intelligent beings that perceived time on the scale of years. Would we be able to fathom their intelligence? Or even more extreme, imagine that stars are intelligent creatures that perceive time on a scale of millennia. How would we communicate with them?

The world is a strange place. The more you think about it, the more you realize that it is even stranger than you can possibly imagine. That is not to suggest that you shouldn’t try. On the contrary, stretch your imagination at every opportunity. It is what makes mankind great.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

So You Want to Write a Blog?

How to blog.

I’ve been blogging every day for six months now. I have learned a few things about what works. I’ve learned lots of things that don’t work. I decided that it might be worth while to capture some of these ideas, both for my own reference and for any of my readers that might be considering taking the plunge and starting a blog. I highly recommend it.

Know why you are blogging.

It is a lot easier to succeed at something if you understand what you are trying to accomplish. I wrote about why I blog in a previous post so I won’t go into any further detail here. I’ll just say that it does help to get you started in the first place and to decide when your finished.

Understand your audience.

This is an aspect of blogging that I’m still struggling with. It is critical though. You obviously can’t please everyone. The better that you know exactly who you are writing for, the easier it will be to please them.

I’ve often said that I write for someone who is interested in the same things that I’m interested in. I’m interested in too many things for that to narrow it down enough. Also, a lot of things that I am interested in are so personal that I doubt anyone else would be interested in them.

Definitely give it some thought and spend some time trying to write a succinct statement describing who you are writing for. Revise it periodically as you find your voice. The clearer you are about this the better your blog will target them.

Have an opinion.

If you are motivated enough to write a blog about something, you probably have an opinion on the topic. You should state your opinion firmly. There is no need to preface your statements with “I think”. It is your blog. By definition, this is what you think. That is what people are looking for, an informed, rational position on the topic. Either that or a controversial rant. No one likes to read wishy washy prose written by someone who can’t make up their mind one way or the other.

Do your homework.

Before you go out on a limb, check your facts. See what other people have written about the topic. You don’t have to agree with them. In fact, it will probably be more interesting if you don’t. If your post is just going to be a rehash of something someone else has already written, you either need to think of how to say it better than they did, not an easy job, or, think of a way to spin your topic so that you discuss an aspect of it not covered by other authors. Of course you always have the option of picking a new topic altogether.

Organize your thoughts.

This is a step that I’ve only recently mastered. Up until then I would start writing without thinking things through and I’d write until I had written everything I could think of pertinent to the topic. I would often contradict myself and sometimes totally leave out critical points of my argument.

Then I started writing a simple, single level, bullet-point style outline of what I wanted to say. This has had two effects. First, it has helped me focus the post on a single topic instead of wandering around it hit or miss.

Second, after I’ve written down my points, I find it much easier to actually write about them. I actually understand what each section is trying to say. It is also easier to decide when I’ve said enough in a section and can move on to the next one.


You know who you’re addressing and why. You know what you’re going to say and the order you’re going to say it in. Now comes the fun part. You sit down and fill in the blanks. You write your heart out. You tell it like you’re talking to a friend. The words will fly off your finger tips.

Be sure you cover each of the points that you’ve laid out in your outline. While your at it, you can check to see if you forgot something in your outline. Maybe it came to you while you were writing. It is perfectly okay to adjust as you write.

Read what you’ve written.

Now comes the hard part. I can’t emphasize how important this step is. Once you’ve written your blog post, be sure to read it carefully. Look for words that, while spelled correctly, may not be the word you intended, after all who writes with an editor that doesn’t have a spelling checker these days.

I often find that I leave words out entirely or, in the process of editing a sentence, I will mangle it up so that it no longer makes any sense at all. It is better to catch these errors before you hit the publish button than discover them the next day after everyone has had a chance to see how careless you are with your proofreading.

Every time I publish a post without proofreading it first I have found that I have published mistakes. That’s not to say that I don’t miss mistakes when I do proofread, only that there are always mistakes of one sort or another to be corrected when I don’t.

Give it a catchy title.

When you’ve put the time into writing a post, you want people to read it. Remember that first impressions are important. The title is how your reader forms their first impression of your post. It has got to be attention grabbing while at the same time capturing the essence of the piece.

A good rule of thumb for organizing your post is to put the most interesting things first and then add less interesting details as it progresses. This is not always possible, especially if you are describing a process, like this post for example.

Promote it.

You’ve written your post. You’ve given it a good title. Now you need to take a moment to promote it. There are two things that you need to do at this point. First, take advantage of the category and tag features of your blogging software. They make it easier for people to find your post with search engines.

Second, you need to post pointers to it on social media like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. Some blogging platforms have features that help you automate that process. I have found that most of my new readers find out about my blog on Facebook or Twitter.

So that is what I’ve learned about how to blog. I hope it helps you if you decide to write a blog of your own. There are plenty of free blogging sites out there that make it easy to set up a blog. You’ve got no excuse. Set up a blog and start posting today.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

The Closest Thing to Writer’s Block that I Get Anymore

For a month I have written about two thousand words a day. Three quarters of those words comprised the draft of my novel. The rest were blog posts. After thirty days of writing, I find myself struggling to think of topics for my blog.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had writer’s block. That may be because I haven’t let the fact that I couldn’t think of anything interesting to write about stop me from writing about stuff that would bore a statue to tears. I’ve been focused on producing a quantity of words without considering the quality of words.

The rationale behind that strategy is that if you write enough you will eventually get better at it. While this is true it still doesn’t change the fact that at some point you have to start writing about things that you care about, things that mean something to you.

So, let’s make a short list. At the top of the list is my family, my pets, and my friends. I feel like that writing about my family or friends, at least without disguising them in the cloak of fiction, is too intimate. My pets are cute and often funny. But they don’t have much of a dynamic range of emotional complexity.

Next on my list are my geeky hobbies, writing, programming, building electronic gadgets, and ham radio. These actually are a pretty good source of ideas to blog about. They don’t offer much in the way of dramatic content or plot though. Maybe a blog doesn’t need those attributes. I do believe that all writing is story telling at its  heart though. That poses the challenge of writing about these seemingly factual topics in an entertaining way by telling a story or even adding an element of humor.

I have blogged about the experience of participating in the NaNoWriMo challenge. I seem to learn something new every time I participate. I expect that will continue with every writing project that I undertake, whether it is under the auspices of NaNoWriMo or not. It certainly makes sense for me to share some of those insights as they occur to me. It also serves to help me remember them when I have recorded them as blog posts.

I have blogged about computers and programming and the history of computers and software development as it unfolded during my career. I think this kind of blog post is an important way to contribute to the historical record. That is assuming it doesn’t just evaporate as soon as I die.

I guess my final thought on the matter is that I shouldn’t wait until I sit down to write a blog post to start trying to come up with an idea. Instead, I should make a list of ideas for blog posts and add to it as I think of more ideas.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

In a Glass, Darkly

I’m learning to do a number of things. I am learning to plan the plot of a novel. I am learning that if you don’t stick to the plan you can find yourself at the end of the story before you have told the beginning and middle, or even the bulk of the end, in sufficient detail.

I am learning that setting, and keeping daily goals are the key to achieving long term goals. I have also figured out that a time based goal may serve my purpose better than a word count based goal. For example, I can decide to write for an hour each morning instead of writing a minimum of a thousand words a day. I will keep up the word count based goal until the end of the month in order to meet the fifty thousand words in thirty days challenge of NaNoWriMo however.

I have learned that in order to accomplish things you have to do something first. It sounds trivial but it’s true. I’ve also learned that just because you do something doesn’t necessarily mean that you will accomplish anything. It’s one of those “necessary but not sufficient” type of constraints.

In the final analysis, it turns out that writing a good, entertaining, exciting, grammatically correct, coherent, story is inherently difficult. You have to combine a lot of skills. You have to give it lots of thought. You have to show up and write every day. You have to finish a draft, and then another, and yet another, until eventually you get it right.

If you give up before you finish, you will fail. If your idea is not as good as you initially thought it was, you may fail. But if you don’t sit down and write every day until you’ve written it, you will certainly fail. As unfair as it seems, sometimes just showing up every day is the bulk of the effort.

It’s not down to talent, luck, or connections. It is persistence, pure and simple. Talent, luck, and connection can help, but again, they are not sufficient alone.

These realizations ought to depress me but they are having the opposite effect. I am actually more encouraged after writing this blog post than I was when I sat down. I have written a coherent essay, off the top of my head, without having composed it before hand. I have proof read it and discovered only minor usage edits. And now I post it.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

The Struggles of a Fledgeling Writer

Once again, the importance of planning is arising in the execution of a project. My first novel, The Gentry, was drafted in 2014. It has sat, unedited for two years. I had planned much of the character details for several years before I actually sat down to write. It was not, however, well plotted. Now, there is much to do in order to attempt to salvage it.

The novel I’m drafting this month is beginning to show signs of some of the same shortcomings. I have not done enough planning and what planning I did hasn’t all been reflected in what I’ve actually written so far. The technique that I chose to get past the block that I found myself struggling with yesterday was to punt and write about something that happened before the point at which I initially started this novel.

I didn’t particularly like the way I began this novel anyway. Having some more scenes from that period in the timeline of the story will let me play with exactly how I intend to start the story.

In much the same way, I will write other fragments of the story tomorrow morning and see if by so doing I can pull a full blown novel out of my hat again this year.

The more times that I get to the end of the fifty thousand word challenge, whether I have actually finished a draft of a novel or not, the more I will have learned about what I have done right, what I’ve done wrong, and what I need to adjust when I write again.

And I will continue to write. Because the fact is, I’ve become engaged by it. It is something that I want to get better at. It is something that I am willing to work hard to become better at. It is something that I must do. That is the only excuse for art that counts. You write, or draw, or compose music, or whatever it is that your muse bids you do, because you can not help doing it.

One of my mother’s favorite stories was about a famous actress who had come to the university where she went to school on a speaking tour. The actress had spoken and done dramatic readings and otherwise entertained the audience for about an hour or so. At the end of her performance she asked if anyone in the audience would like to ask a question.

One student stood up and asked her, “Should I become an actress?” She stopped for a dramatic pause and then answered her, “No, my dear, you should not. You should be a lawyer or a scientist or a mathematician. You should be anything but an actress. You should only be an actress if you absolutely can not be anything else.”

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Half Way Through NaNoWriMo

It’s November fifteenth. The middle of National Novel Writing Month. I have written over twenty six thousand words. I am on track to write fifty thousand words this month. The problem? I don’t think this story has fifty thousand words in it. I’m not even sure that it has the twenty six thousand that I’ve already written. In short, it needs a lot of rework.

I know. I have said before on this blog that my job during NaNoWriMo is to write a draft, not a finished novel. The thing is, I think I have written myself into a corner. I have missed important plot points in my exposition so far and I have ended up rather far from the destination that I planned.

I am not proposing to ditch what I’ve already written. I just need to figure out how to get back on track. Perhaps I can find a point from which to pick up the thread and write an alternate story. The point of NaNoWriMo isn’t just to write fifty thousand words, especially if you have “won” once already. It is to have the discipline to make daily progress on a writing project and learn something new about the craft of writing while so doing.

That said, I’m stumped. I don’t know where to pick up the thread in my novel. I also have an early meeting tomorrow so I’m going to have to postpone my writing session to the evening instead of my usual first thing in the morning. Tomorrow promises to be a challenging day.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Do Not Go Gently…

The time change has happened. Tomorrow I am going to try to get up at approximately the same time that I have been. That is to say an hour earlier by the clock. I need the extra time to keep the novel rolling.

It is going well. It is surprising me but I think that’s the best reason to write a novel. The NaNoWriMo web site has a badge to recognize the kind of person I am, a plantser. That is someone who plans their novel for a little bit before they start writing and then when the sit down to write, they write by the seat of their pants.

Doing that is liberating, fun, and informative. You never can tell where your subconscious will take you. It also results in more believable characters. Think about it. Do you know what you are going to do before you are in the situation that dictates what action you are going to take? In other words do you know exactly how your life is going to go and what mistakes you are going to make?

Neither do I. Nor do my characters. They are all complex individuals that take life as it comes to them. I’m sure there are people that live their lives differently but I don’t know any of them. Or if I do, they haven’t told me about their master plan and how it is working out for them.

We bought a season pass to the new BBC show Dirk Gently. It is written and produced by John Landis’ son, Max Landis. It is outrageously good. It is inspirational for writers like me. It is obvious that Max is a pantser. It is not nearly so obvious whether there is any aspect of planning in his writing or not. I suspect that there is at some point. It is unclear what, if any, impact the technologies that are brought to bear have on the story.

I’m scaring myself. I am beginning to sound like Dirk. I believe that we must all, individually make our own decisions and accept the consequences for them. But the universe steers things in our direction. We are allowed time to develop the skills we need before we actually need them. When we need money, that is another thing entirely. But it comes.

Who knows where these things come from? It manifests like Mana on the desert overnight. We partake of it and are creatively nourished. And don’t forget to throw challenges at your characters. It is the only way we get to see the kind of stuff they are made of. It spices things up and keeps your readers interested.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Too Much TV is Bad for You

Here’s the prompt:

Your TV is receiving broadcasts from 24 hours in the future. You see a report about a tragedy and attempt to tell somone about it so that they can prevent it but no one will listen to you.

Here’s my story:

I turned on the TV to watch the morning news while I fixed breakfast. I was surprised when the weather man said it was Friday because I was sure it was Thursday. Maybe he was just confused. I looked at my smart phone. It said it was Thursday. I ate my oatmeal and watched as the news anchor started reading a breaking news story. A train had hit a car stalled on the tracks two blocks from my house. I was surprised that I hadn’t heard any sirens. I looked on the local news web sites on my phone. There was no mention of a wreck. This was starting to be a little strange.

I finished breakfast and finished getting ready for work. I was expecting a traffic jam. There was no sign of the wreck on the tracks. When I got to work, I called the TV station to ask about the story. They didn’t know what I was talking about. I thanked them and hung up. I had trouble concentrating all morning long.

I had to go home at lunch to get some paper work I had forgotten.  I turned on the TV while I was eating my lunch. There on the noon news was film of the scene of the accident. There was an ambulance, a medflight helicopter, a fire truck, and several police stations. It was the crossing near my house. I was about to call the station again when the news anchor read the date. He said it was tomorrow.

What was going on here? Was I somehow seeing a TV show the day before it was broadcast? Was I stuck in the Twilight Zone or something? I was beginning to doubt my sanity. I looked out the window and my neighbor was getting his mail. I stuck my head out the door and asked “What day is it?” He said, “It’s Thursday, of course.” I said, “Yeah, I just got confused I guess.”

I called the police station. I didn’t call 911. It wasn’t an emergency, yet. I asked to speak to someone about attempting to prevent an accident. The person on the other end of the phone put me on hold. When the line connected again it was a man’s voice. He said, “Could I get your name please?” I gave him my name.

He asked me to explain what I meant about preventing an accident. I told him what I had seen on my TV. He checked and there had been no accident that morning. He suggested that I was the victim of a sick prank. I assured him that it hadn’t been a prank. I had seen the local news anchor reading the story and the film of the accident. He said he didn’t know what they could do to stop it. I could tell that he didn’t believe me.

I thanked him and hung up. I called work and told them I was feeling sick and was taking the rest of the day off. I tried to think of something I could do to prevent the wreck. I called the railroad office. They were even less receptive than the police had been. I sat and thought and fell asleep.

When I woke up, it was supper time. I made supper and watched the news. The train wreck was the lead story. The name of the victim was still being withheld. After the news the Friday night line up of shows came on. I watched them for a while and then I decided to go to bed early so that I could get up early and try to prevent the accident.

I got up very early the next day and got ready for work. I got in my car and drove to the railroad crossing. As I was crossing the tracks, very slowly to see if there was any sign of a wreck, my car stalled. I heard a train whistle blowing. I tried to start the car again. It wouldn’t start. I tried to open my door. It was jammed closed. I could hear the crossing gates close behind me. I could hear the whistle blowing as the train got nearer. It was almost upon me. There was nothing I could do. I wished I had never turned on the TV yesterday morning.

Tomorrow’s writing prompt:

After getting a strange phone call offering help with stabilizing reality you start to notice that things keep changing inexplicably. For example, your phone number is not what you remember it being.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Writing Prompts

In high school I took a creative writing class. We did an exercise on several occasions where the teacher passed out a sheet with five premises on it. We were told to pick one and write a story based on it. We were given whatever was left of the fifty minute class period to finish it. This was in the days before personal computers and we had to write it out in longhand.

I haven’t thought about this exercise in years. I remembered it yesterday and went looking around the internet to see if anyone was doing anything like that. I should have known. There were a number of sites that were doing it. There was a subreddit that had codified the practice such that there was a set of coded tags to tell what kind of writing prompt you were posting.

There was another sponsored  by Writer’s Digest (big surprise when you stop and think about it). I narrowed the search to science fiction writing prompts. The results were still over a million sites. My idea is to post a writing prompt on my blog one day and then post my response to it the next day. That will give everyone a chance to write their own response before I post mine. Leave a comment pointing to your story if you write one or message me.

I actually thought of this idea while I was brainstorming an idea for a novel for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) which is coming up starting on November 1st. I’m still working on an idea for that.

Okay, here’s the first prompt.

Your TV is receiving broadcasts from 24 hours in the future. You see a report about a tragedy and attempt to tell somone about it so that they can prevent it but no one will listen to you.

I’ll write my story and post another prompt tomorrow.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.