And all through the condo I was breathing a sigh of relief over not taking part this year.
Honestly, I’m looking forward to having a bunch of free time for other stuff in November. There may be a cure for my writing ills, but the last few years suggest to me that the cure is not National Novel Writing Month.
It feels a bit weird sitting out for the first time in ten years (!), but it also feels right. And nice.
Now to maybe write something without the pressure of 1,667 words per day…
Anyone looking for nuts and bolts advice on writing should be warned that this is a collection of some of Block’s fiction columns from Writer’s Digest, and as such they sometimes provide instruction or advice, but sometimes Block just takes you along on his musings about the writing life.
It’s probably also relevant to add that the columns in question date from 1981 to 1987. He mentions typewriters a lot.
And that is probably what I enjoyed most about the book. Some of the writing advice is obviously dated–he has a wonderfully detailed column about self-publishing his own book that isn’t particularly relevant to how self-publishing works in the 2010s, but Block has such an affable style that the column still entertains.
The columns also serve to paint a portrait of the author as he draws extensively on his own experience writing and publishing–he had been in the business about 25 years at the time these columns were new–and in a way, this makes the pieces serve as a kind of memoir. Block recounts his early days writing soft porn novels, confesses to questionable behavior in his youth, details his fights with editors, agents and others, and regularly reminds the reader that what works for him may not work for them and to adjust as needed.
If you want a no-nonsense book about writing full of advice on plot, pacing, story structure, characters–you will find that here, to a degree. But more than that, you will get a good glimpse into the life and habits of a particular writer, and a snapshot look back at what the writing life was like in the 1980s.
I wouldn’t recommend this as your first book on writing advice, but I would recommend it as one of the books to check out.
Based on the results from 2018, I set an ambitious goal for this year’s Goodreads reading challenge—52 books or one per week.
At this point, the third week of August, I would need to have read 33 books to be on track. I have read 19. I’m actually lagging behind last year’s pace, when I managed to read 40 (with a goal of 32). To hit 40 I’d need to read 21 books in about 17 weeks.
That ain’t gonna happen unless I cheat and read a bunch of 50,000 word NaNoWriMo novels.
Why am I reading so much less this year?
Before answering that, I’ll note that my writing has stalled out, too. I’ve been keeping up on the blog, but the fiction writing has sputtered like a campfire in a rain shower. In the last few months, even the blog writing has suffered.
So here it is, the latter half of August and I’m not reading much and I’m not writing much.
The answer is: It’s not any specific thing, it’s a series of things. Mostly it’s me.
As ridership continues to increase, it is increasingly rare that I get a seat at the start of my morning commute (which begins with a 30+ minute train ride), so I don’t start reading until I get a seat, as I am not comfortable reading while standing up. I could read while standing, so this is kind of on me. But it still means I don’t read as much.
But there are days where I could read and don’t, I just put on my headphones and try to blot out the sound (and world).
I sometimes read at home, but it’s rare.
For the writing, I enjoy the irony of The Journal, my unfinished novel, in which the protagonist struggles with writing, knowing all the ways to get going, knows that you don’t wait for the muse to arrive, that you make time to write, that you sacrifice and force yourself to do it.
And then still struggles. As I do. Why? Ennui? Laziness? I’m not really sure, anymore.
Also, I’ve been playing a lot of City of Heroes again and until the shine of that wears off, it will continue to occupy a chunk of my free time (I had a seven year gap where I didn’t play after the game was shut down).
There are other things I intend to do—draw me, look into meditation, stretching and more—and I dabble, but ultimately don’t follow through.
Maybe I just suck at time management.
I’ve looked at time management apps and have yet to find one I really like and click with. Maybe I’ll look again. I’ll just pencil the search into my current non-existent time management/to-do app, ho ho.
Anyway, I’m writing this on my lunch break and running out of time, so I need to wrap up in some clever way or come back to this later. Or both.
This slim volume is basically Kevin J. Anderson and Martin L. Shoemaker telling you why they use voice dictation for their writing, and the specifics of how they do it. Their techniques differ–Shoemaker dictates while driving a one hour commute to and from work (and emphasizes the safe way to do so), while Anderson usually takes a digital voice recorder with him when he is out on hikes, keeping fit while staying productive. They sometimes overlap methods and Anderson in particular makes use of typing services, which can transcribe at a typical cost of one cent per word or thereabouts. He admits this is not suitable for all writers. A 100,000 word novel would cost $1,000 to transcribe, a hefty sum for a lot of people, especially those new to writing.
Each author also uses dictation for brainstorming, tossing out ideas, character background and more into their recordings. Shoemaker uses Dragon Professional 15.0 to transcribe his recordings and is satisfied with its accuracy, noting that cleanup is always part of the editing process, regardless of writing method.
They cover all the basics–when and where to dictate, overcoming the embarrassment of talking to yourself in public, getting comfortable with the sound of your own voice, and more.
All of this is good stuff, and both writers present their use cases in convincing fashion. The book does lack a certain amount of depth–this is Anderson and Shoemaker relating their experiences, with a minimum of advice, technical or otherwise. Those looking for more specifics on using voice dictation for writing may be better served by checking out The Writer’s Guide to Training Your Dragon by Scott Baker (which still covers the latest version of Dragon as of this writing, August 2019) or Chris Fox’s 5,000 Words Per hour.
Still, this is very much a worthy read, if for no other reason than to provide a little more incentive to making the jump to using voice dictation.
But I did read most of them, actually, not just to get the inspiration, but to get an overall feel for how Donovan puts together her lists. Quite often you can see her riffing on a theme or flipping a prompt to generate another (“Write why you like scrambled eggs. Or why you hate scrambled eggs with the fire of a thousand suns.”)
There are a few things Donovan does that elevates this above so many other writing prompt books or websites:
Quantity. Yes, sometimes size does matter! The sheer volume of prompts means you’re bound to find some that appeal to you, even if you use her method of randomly picking one.
Speaking of randomly picking one, Donovan directly tackles the purpose of the prompts and suggest picking one to write every day for two weeks, to rekindle your interest in writing if it’s faded. This is an entirely sensible plan, but a lot of prompt books don’t address this at all, they just pile on the lists.
Speaking of lists, Donovan provides a great deal of variety and even the groupings that might seem marginal to you (for me it would be the poetry prompts) actually offer a lot of good ideas that can be applied to other types of writing.
Donovan offers commentary and background on some of her ideas, especially those that have cultural or historical significance.
Really, this is just a solid all-around collection. I expect to use a bunch of these prompts as I seek to re-ignite my own fiction writing (and if you don’t write fiction, there’s lots of material here for blogs and other forms of non-fiction writing). Recommended.
I’m about to find out. I just picked up the book 5,000 Writing Prompts (Goodreads link) by Bryn Donovan, in an attempt to grease the wheels or whatever metaphor you prefer to get my writing rolling/moving/something other than very still and quiet again.
The book is divided into convenient sections and so far I like the little tidbits she adds to a lot of the prompts, noting stories that have used the same ideas, which are especially popular (and why) and more.
She suggests an exercise to pick a random prompt every day and spend 15 minutes writing something based on it, then repeating this for two weeks, to better build or rebuild the writing habit.
I’m going to try this starting today because why not? Because I’m reading the ebook version, I’m going to go with a high-tech solution for randomly picking a prompt, since they are numbered, by using a random number generator. It’s almost like having the internet write the story for me, or something.
Anyway, the first result will be ready later today, or else I’m a big fat liar.
Actually it would be more fair to say I’ve been using my smartphone (currently an iPhone 8) for harmless nonsense, which is still better than using it for evil.
I’ve made a few recent posts to the blog during my morning commute, using the Ulysses app to slowly tap out a post and then upload it directly to my blog. I marvel at the technology, even as I lament how few will see my carefully-considered nonsense. I even just recently had a two-day stretch of zero visits on June 21 and 22. This is bad even by my own sad standards. I clearly need to work on the SEO and other acronyms to boost hits. More clickbait! More gossip! More whatever it is people want. Maybe just a redirect to Facebook.
It feels like the writing muscles are finally starting to halt their atrophy, as I am using more little blocks of time to write errant thoughts down, moving ever-so-slightly closer to perhaps engaging in some fiction writing again.
Mainly, though, I am not using my phone for social media, except for using Slack at work, which is not really in any way fun, so doesn’t count. There’s hardly any clickbait.
What do I use my phone for? Here’s a list. I like lists.
What I use my smartphone for, in order of most to least
Listening to music
Sending and receiving text messages with my partner. A lot of this includes Bitmoji nonsense, which I love and adore.
Logging food/water in the MyFitnessPal app
Adding or removing stuff in the Reminders app
Checking stats in the Activity app
Occasionally checking email, either personal (Gmail) or work (Outlook)
After posting the cat to inspire my writing on June 7th, here is how much writing I have done (excluding forum posts):
That’s right, Inspiration Cat™, as I am now officially calling him/her, has achieved the opposite. I have written no blog posts, no fiction, nothing at all except stuff required for work and a few errant words to accompany photos on Facebook, which I feel bad for doing every time because I believe Facebook is actively making the world a more terrible place.
Also, why isn’t there a competitor to FB that just provides a place to hang out with friends and family and nothing more? Come on, Silicon Valley billionaires, throw a few dump trucks of money at this while the world burns.
Anyway, I should be writing more. I’ve read books about writing more. I know all the techniques. There are no secrets. It’s about discipline and making the time, making the commitment. I can do all of these things right now, instead of watching people rant on the internet about the $999 stand for the new $4999 monitor Apple just announced at this year’s WWDC. By the way, I’ll have my own thoughts on this in an upcoming blog post.
So here it is, another blog post about how I’m not writing. If I put all of these posts together, I bet they would stretch to the moon. Or at least to the end of the condo.
I’m past making promises now. No more promises. If I write, I write. If I don’t, you can find me ranting about $999 monitor stands or searching for funny cat videos, or sometimes going outside and stuff.