it took 124 days

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I quite liked this from author Andy Weir on the research process behind writing fiction.

You want the reader to be blown away by how much you’ve learned. You have to resist that urge. Save the bragging for when you’re writing an essay like this one—where I can’t resist telling you that for The Martian, I worked out my Mars missions’ orbital paths and necessary launch dates. It took me literally a week of hard work and I had to write my own custom software for it. But the only thing the reader saw of all that labor was “It took 124 days to get from Earth to Mars. link

Photograph by Chris Rivait licensed under Creative Commons.

twitter for bullies

In the light of this story, I thought I’d put together a short Twitter guide for bullies and those who think they really are anonymous and can say what they want on Twitter.

Lesson 1: Never manage multiple Twitter accounts from the same app. Yeah, I know, you’re not stupid enough to tweet from the wrong account, are you?

Lesson 2: Do not use someone else’s photo, a fake name, a fake bio or any combination of all three.

Lesson 3: Don’t bully people. When the cloak of anonymity falls, you really won’t feel quite so brave anymore.

Lesson 4: If you fail to follow lessons 1 – 3 for any length of time, you will be unmasked. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. You’re cleverer than everyone else. It’s impossible. Read on…

Lesson 5: When it does happen to you, as it surely will, you will probably do what every brave, anonymous, bullying Twitter user has always done. You’ll delete your account. As fast as possible. After all, if you can’t see it, no-one else can, right? Well, no…

Lesson 6: If you’re a bully, many Twitter users will go that extra mile to watch you. They’ll download everything you publish on an ongoing basis. You know, just in case. Remember that – before you click publish. Plus, there are a number of ways to still see a deleted account. But, you know all that, don’t you? After all, you’re a Twitter rockstar.

Lesson 7: Don’t libel people.

Lesson 8: Chances are, if you’ve ignored lessons 1 – 7, you’ve already libelled someone by this point. If you have, then it really is game over for you:

You may think you’re anonymous, but more often than you realise, you can be found – both technically and legally. Locating people via IP addresses etc is possible, and though the use of a legal mechanism called a ‘Norwich Pharmacal Order’ an information service provider such as Twitter can be ordered to provide what details it has about you. link

Lastly, if you are bullied or threatened by an anonymous Twitter account; why oh why would you ever want to engage with the person wearing the mask?

bubble and squeak meets bò khô

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One thing they don’t tell you at book writing school is this; by the time you’ve written it, edited it thirty or forty times yourself, had another editor run through it with you five or six times, incorporated suggestions/edits from others, read through it all one last time and then, finally, sent your book to the publisher. By the time you’ve done all of that, and more, you are utterly sick of the sight of the thing. Yes, there’s a feeling of completion and satisfaction at having written a whole book, but the flip side to that is just this overwhelming sense of – good riddance. You’ve rung every last drop of fish sauce out of the thing. It’s gone. In other’s hands. Let them be the judge of it now. You can’t be. You know it too well. Still, it was with some irony that on the day the publisher received the final edit of my book, I found myself, not by design, in the kitchen cooking two quite different dishes that seemed to sum up the whole journey.

Next stop. Line edits…

the bullshit alertinator

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I have this pinned above my desk. I gleaned these tips from a 2001 piece by Elmore Leonard in the New York Times. Nothing to disagree with when it comes to fiction – and I’m sticking to these rules for Project T. However, I suspect memoir and non-fiction are given more latitude. I confess, I have committed 3, 4 and 9. In addition, four exclamation marks have been added to my text – the editor insists they go in. I’m still battling to get them removed.

1. Never open a book with weather.

If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people.

2. Avoid prologues.

They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.

3. Never use a verb other than ”said” to carry dialogue.

The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ”said” . . .

. . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange.

5. Keep your exclamation points under control.

You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

6. Never use the words ”suddenly” or ”all hell broke loose.”

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won’t be able to stop.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

In Ernest Hemingway’s ”Hills Like White Elephants” what do the ”American and the girl with him” look like? ”She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.” That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

Even if you’re good at it, you don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he’s writing, I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue. My most important rule is one that sums up the 10. If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Photo by me from a street stall in Dakar.

deadline mid-may

book 2 plot

Work on the Project T book continues apace. It’s a novel. A refreshing change from my first book – for which I now await the final editing process with the publisher to kick in.

I don’t know if other writers work this way, but I have so far found that working concurrently on two radically different book projects suits me rather well. As soon as the non-fiction project goes out the door for edits or whatever, I get my head back into the other fictional project. In the process, I ‘forget’ about the former and concentrate on the latter. And I have a fresh eye when the former eventually comes back to me. A slightly schizophrenic way of working maybe, but I’m finding it wholly agreeable.

The plan is to have Project T’s premise, plot, pitch, synopsis and first three chapters written and in a fit state to send out within the next three months. The first two points on that list are already finished (subject to many unexpected, interesting changes no doubt).

sending final

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You only get to “send final” for a first book once in a lifetime. “Final” is the final manuscript. It’s the culmination of a year or more of work. If I calculated it in total actual working days, it would probably come in under a year. More like 10 months. However, for that entire period, since I started writing the book on August 29, 2012 until now, my brain has been either intensely or passively working on it. Therefore, it’s quite an odd sensation to finally “send final”. It’s almost sad. I suspect it’s a book writer thing, but as this is my first book it’s all new. Fortunately, I have the radically different, rocket propelled Project T to keep me busy until the agent, editor and publisher get back to me. In the meantime, thanks for all the thanks, tweeted, emailed and otherwise.

once upon a time

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That whole planning bit does seem a very, very long time ago. Let’s just say, plans morph as they progress… The book, in its almost finished state, is quite a bit different from that. Not that that will make any sense to anyone else but me.

Bonus link, some nice notebook pictures – from whence I was reminded of this picture.