Writing apps – Magic or Mayhem?

Writing apps. They’re a thing.

Boston-magician

The big one is Scrivener. It’s a program designed to help writers. People I know use it. It’s talked about a lot on writers’ groups I’m involved with.

A lot of people swear by it.

It helps you structure your novel, with templates. It helps you plot, keep track of research notes via “virtual index cards”, compare various revisions, monitor your daily wordcounts/output.

It will even generate character names for you.

Way back in my pre-actually-having-written-a-novel days, I kind of wished for something like this. It seemed a bit awkward to have to stop and look at my handwritten notes or physically arrange and rearrange those actual index cards. I thought it interrupted my train of thought.

I cannot, of course, speak to anyone’s experience but my own, but I have to say that I have never, in the end, been all that interested in Scrivener. I looked at it with interest when it first came out. I’ve looked at it since. I’ve read the online reviews and heard friends’ opinions, good and bad, and I have come to feel…underwhelmed, and I have some reasons for that.

The first is purely physical. The way that it sets up on the screen just feels crowded. My computer screen isn’t big enough to use all that in any way that would be comfortable.

Maybe if you have two monitors, or 20-year-old eyes that can read really teeny-tiny font sizes, you could feel comfortable with it – but I have old lady eyes and a laptop, and even flipping from my manuscript to the Google tab to find out how strong the wind needs to be to rip a mature oak tree out of the wet ground by its roots is problematic these days.

The second reason is that while authors frequently want some kind of magic bullet that will just get them through to “The End”, I’ve discovered that I am not that kind of novelist.

I’m not a “pantser” – I used to say I was, but this was me lying to myself, because inside my head, the books actually do get fairly well-structured before I start.

And I do need notes. I need reminders about researching those wind speeds and what plot questions have to be resolved, and whose motives are at play in a particular way at a particular time.

I use a notebook for that stuff, and yes, it does mean that if I want to refer back to any of that, I have to take my attention from the computer and onto the actual words I wrote in my undeniably messy handwriting.

But here’s the thing: I write the notes, but I only rarely need to look at them after that. It’s as if the act of writing by hand imprints things more fully on my mind, in a way, but it also seems to open weird interior doors in my brain, and find solutions that might not occur to me otherwise.

It’s as if the process of scribbling down “Why would she say she was demon spawn? Why that phrase?” does something to my writer-brain: it frees something, or solidifies it, or sends me racing down memory lane to find the analogy in my own life, so that when I look back to the screen, it’s just there, ready to be typed in.

And when I do stop to look back at some inscrutable note to self, or to regroup and rethink the sequential stuff, the removal of my eyes from the screen is not anywhere near as annoying as trying to find the right tab on my screen and sort through the truncated nomenclature to find the bit I think I need. The break away – even for only a minute – helps clarify things, instead of feeling like an unnecessary interruption.

And finally, at least for me, the uniformity of the Scrivener experience, the way that a single program will assume that each user is essentially thinking in the same kinds of patterns, seeing things and organizing information and making neural connections in the same way, has begun to feel wrong.

I am scared that the reason so many novels feel so similar – despite the outward trappings of new/different/twisted/morphed/reflected – is that the program is pushing us into a trough of “This is how fiction has to be”.

I’m scared that between the dictates of literary fashions of our times and the tyranny of the programming, we are being forced to believe that organized thinking can replace the wayward wandering of the mind.

And that would take all the fun out of it for me.

 

 

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THEM’S FIGHTING WORDS AROUND HERE

valkyrie

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/09/dna-proves-fearsome-viking-warrior-was-woman

I’ve watched with fascination how this debate has evolved over the last few days.

It’s been instructive.

And depressing.

The argument goes like this:

“There are lots of reasons this cannot be the grave of a woman who actually was a warrior. But one of them is that we have found almost no graves that can be reliably proven as women who fought. Therefore, this one is not an actual woman warrior.”

Basically, the whole rationale here is a self-fulfilling prophesy.

If this grave can, by subjecting it to a level of testing and analysis that no male-with-weapons inhumation is ever subjected to, be consigned to the category of “unproven”, then the number of female warrior graves can remain statistically at zero or less, which therefore means that the next XX skeleton can also be dismissed, because we “still haven’t found any unequivocal evidence of women who were warriors”.

I say that until every single “male warrior” grave undergoes the level of critique that this recently re-interpreted burial has, not one single archaeologist (and certainly no one whose expertise remains at the level of “I read a bunch of stuff about it on the internet”) should be allowed to pontificate on this.

Because, frankly, there’s no way to compare the relevant findings until that happens.

https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/09/viking-warrior-woman-archaeology-spd/?_ga=2.93224029.1910155824.1517479523-1022426435.1517479522

 

 

Also: come to the Cover Reveal Party, next weekend. It’s on line, so no need to wear pants!

https://www.facebook.com/morgansmithauthor/posts/871860922985757

Epicly Not Epic

Or “Why my books are the way they are”

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Recently, someone took me to task, telling me that my fantasy novels aren’t “really” epic fantasy.

This is because they are written as stand-alone stories, each dealing with a small piece of this world I created, and told from a very limited, first person singular point of view. The stories don’t involve a “Chosen One” (or perhaps they do…ymmv) and each one seems to resolve a less-than-world-threatening conundrum.

But wait! There’s more here than meets the eye.

The fact is, what I am doing is breaking the “epic” canon in a tiny, tiny way.

In most epic fantasy, the world is set out as an incontrovertible and static unity. Things are the way they are, and in a sense, there’s only one voice. There is, ultimately, only one way of perceiving the facts of the case. The religion, the values, the politics are uniform, and everyone on the “good side” adheres to those views – and the opposite side (the “bad guys”) stand against that view and that’s all there is.

There’s only one interpretation of the events. There’s only one way of seeing those events. While some characters might speak as if they don’t follow those views, the writer forces the reader into seeing that central vision as the only one that is “true”.

But that’s not how people really are, are they? Each one of us sees and feels and interprets the events based on everything in our lives that has gone before. How we were raised, every individual experience, what our lives consisted of before the proverbial trash hits the hurricane: those are the things that create each unique interpretation of what is happening, and how the world works.

And so my aim is to show that the prior living of life, not to mention the time and circumstances in which one grows up, colours one’s interpretation of events. My other aim is to show how events connect and pile up on each other, and can conspire to become a more earth-shattering, world-changing watershed moment that everything and everyone else is a part of.

So Caoimhe (in “Casting in Stone”) sees both the past and her own present very differently than Keridwen does. Even her interpretation of Dungarrow’s history is different from Keridwen’s: Caoimhe’s cynicism and her internal pain make her suspicious of what other people see as “goodness”, and her emotional armour against the world is the only thing she really relies on.

Keridwen, (the protagonist in “A Spell in the Country”) having grown up in security and love, sees the world as innately fair and just, and she has to come to terms with the fact that it may not be. She has more confidence in both herself and the world.

Both of them and their recollection of events they were part of are different views of a larger picture – a picture they can only see and interpret a portion of, and only in the way their character interacts and reflects their personal worldview.

Believe me: these “small stories” are part of a much greater whole, and it is *epic*: there are larger forces at work in this universe. This world is not static – what seems “good” in Caoimhe’s era might not hold true a generation or three later.

Plus stories do not end just because the time and place and viewpoints alter. Nothing is ever “finished”. All life is, at best, an ongoing endeavor, and the battle for equilibrium is always more of a “keeping the evil at bay for a little while” than a “we conquer ALL” proposition.

Real life is a work in progress. Thus it follows that all stories are, too.

And I really hope that readers will come along for the undeniably wild ride ahead.

 

Watch for “The Shades of Winter”   

A band of aging sea raiders set out on one last voyage of revenge, and get a whole lot more than they expected.   

– releasing March 30, 2018  on book vendor sites everywhere!

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writing 6

 

Here’s the thing about social media that a lot of writers – too many writers – seem to miss.

Everything you write – every word that goes out under your name – reflects on you as a writer.

All of it.

Those tweets, those Facebook memes, those email newsletters.

 

And there are two really important things that you need to recognize and deal with.

 

One is philosophical. How “real” do you want to be?

 

Some people will counsel you to remain innocuous. To self-censor and stay away from controversial topics (ie: politics) in order to not alienate potential readers.

However, since we are constantly reminded (sometimes by the very same people advocating bland, impersonal, never-offend-anyone posting habits) that we need to establish authentic relationships with those potential readers, this can present a quandary.

I cannot advise you. My own values preclude maintaining any sort of pretense, even by omission, that I am not a strong and confident fighter for justice, for equality, for universal compassion, and for us to become stewards of this tiny planet, rather than raping her for short-term and petty gain.

It’s entirely possible that I lose out in sales because of this. So be it. Your mileage might vary.

 

But the other important side of this is more technical.

 

Confidence in you as a writer is undermined by things you *should* be able to fix. Grammatical errors. Misspelled words.  Incorrect apostrophe usage.

I have deleted tweets seconds after posting, and redone them.

I constantly go back and make corrections on my FB posts and replies, to make sure that there are as few typos or incorrectly spelled words as possible.

I reread before posting (no, it never works 100%) to make sure I’m saying what I meant to in the best possible way.

These are the nuts and bolts of your craft. If you cannot manage these in a Twitter post – how will I trust you for something longer?

If your Facebook promos aren’t even slightly edited for these things – why should I believe you got a professional editor for your novel?

It goes to your credibility as a writer. Maybe it feels unfair (“All those other people get to write however they want to!”) but if you call yourself a writer, then every word you commit to the world at large is, essentially, your calling card as a professional.

People are judging your writing ability on – gasp! – your writing.

Every. Single. Word.

Not Safe – You’ve been warned…**

You will note there is no accompanying photo for this. Discretion is the better part of, ummm, whatever.

A few days ago, something came over the Twitterverse that really caught my eye.

It was an article about how, yes, it’s wonderful that at least some men are getting the message about consent –

(okay, I know: there are men out there already commenting “But what about THE WIMMINS who don’t understand “No”????”.  Don’t. Just, don’t, because unless you are verifiably working on social justice issues like campaigning publicly for more resources for male victims of domestic violence, it’s pretty obvious you are just jumping in to derail here. Move on, dude.)

– but the crux of the article was that despite this, women are still having a lot of — how to put this delicately? — sub-par sex.  Essentially, they wind up consenting to bad sex.

Not violent sex. Not sex they don’t want to have.

They just wind up unfulfilled and feeling like the hype and the reality are still continents apart. They agree, and then get left out of the agreement.

The article pointed out that male orgasms are still the end-all and be-all for 50% of the participants in hetero sex acts.

That women’s pleasure is still thought of/treated as a “bonus”, a perk, an afterthought.

It stuck with me. It seemed sad, and slightly unbelievable, but there it was. College-age women are still not getting what they want out of this. They aren’t getting what they assumed would be inherent in that happy, enthusiastic “Hell, Yes”.

But I’m not college-age, and I’m not up on current dating practices, so I convened a small, private panel in Facebook Chat, composed of people that might actually know about this.

It was an interesting discussion, but, like Arlo Guthrie before me, that isn’t what I came here to talk about today*.

The thing is, near the end of the discussion, one of the male participants said, “Well, it’s not supposed to be a competition, is it? It’s not the Orgasm Olympics.”

And that was the exact moment when my brain took a gigantic leap sideways, because…

What if it was?

What if sexual pleasure was an Olympic event?

And for the next 24 hours, I wrestled with the concept.

I mean, there’s a lot to figure out.

Would this be team events, or individual competition?

Would the IOC want to separate the timed events from the endurance tests?

Would the scoring be like the scoring for gymnastics or figure skating, with a section for style/interpretation/artistic merit?

Would this finally allow women and men to compete in the same event at the same time?

(Or, as my brain asked: would they finally allow things like “mixed doubles”?)

Would we finally have a reason to outlaw both recreational drugs AND massage oils in sport?

 

Frankly, given that men keep on telling us that they are naturally competitive, it seems to me that the Orgasm Olympics are way overdue. It might be the only way to get the vast majority to take their partners’ pleasure seriously, and make it the reason for that consent to begin with.

And seriously: do we not “O” it to ourselves to make this happen?

 

* See “Alice’s Restaurant” if you find this statement incomprehensible:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m57gzA2JCcM

** UPDATE: Here’s another article that goes into a lot of detail about the socio-political side to the article that sparked the post…

http://theweek.com/articles/749978/female-price-male-pleasure