Archive for the 'Writing' Category

2011 Goals

So I’m back on the blog and it’s been a while.

I thought I’d start off this new year by talking about my New Year’s Resolutions and what I’m going to do to keep them. My resolutions can be boiled down to three key words: Writing, Happiness and Wellness.

In each of my three categories I’ve picked three things to track in order to keep my focus on these goals throughout the year. For each category I have two quantitative measures and one qualitative/catchall category.

Writing

My original goal for this year was to get a paid, in-print publish. Of course to do that I need to get things written, and more importantly rewritten and edited. Getting from first draft to second feels harder for me than getting from blank page to first draft. So far this year I’m managing to write fairly consistently two days out of every three. I’d like to increase that to every day.

My three metrics for writing are:

  • Fiction words per day
  • Other words per day (including blogging, articles, and plotting and planning)
  • What writing related activities I have done that day

 

Happiness

I like being happy, and I would like to happy for more of the time. It seems to come very easily to a lot of people. I’ve seen a number of internet articles that indicate that how happy you are on average is a fixed quantity and doesn’t change very much throughout your life. Some people are just upbeat and full of the bright side; others are anxiety-ridden worrywarts. (I put myself in the latter category). Well screw that – I’m going to work hard at being happy this year, and see if I can’t change my average happiness.  I’m hoping that working towards my other goals will rub off in the happiness department. Other than that I’ve not got any clear ideas right now about the things I can do to make myself more happy.

My three metrics for happiness are:

  • Average happiness in the day (0-100%, with 50% an average day)
  • Peak daily happiness (0-100% again)
  • What made me happy today

 

Wellness

In this category I’m mostly going to concentrate on physical wellness. The Happiness category should take care of psychological wellness. My goals here are to be more active, eat less and more healthily, drink more water, and get the right amount of sleep. I find it hard to keep all of these good habits, but I know that I feel orders of magnitude better in body and in mind on the days where I get three out of four of those things done.

My three metrics for wellness are:

  • Number of steps taken in the day
  • Waistline measurement (I’m not expecting this to change very quickly, but I’m hoping to see a two or three inches change in the year)
  • What exercise did I do today

 

You know what they say about good intentions, but I’m hoping to stick with these goals throughout the year.

2 Days Later and BSSC

Had a bit of feedback from competitions I was involved in recently.

First the British Short Screenplay Competition: I entered this back in June with my first ever screenplay attempt. Visiting their website the other week I had a pleasant surprise to see that my screenplay was on a list of those that had made it through to the 2nd round of judging, dodging at least two cuts I believe. Hurray. Not bad for my first try, a screenplay that quite a few reviewers on Urbis had said was very much a retread on a well explored concept (what isn’t nowadays?). Though sadly when I looked again more recently I found that I had not made it through to the 3rd round. I’ll definitely try again next year. And my writing self has been awoken a little by this small success. I’m now pretty sure that I’ll try to do NaNoWriMo again this year – despite the demands of my C&G course. I’ll just have to not have a social life in November.

2 Days Later Competition: Dan and I, and three of our friends had a crack at making a 10 minute horror movie for this competition. I wrote the script – comprising a massive 4 lines of dialogue and much stage direction. Dan did the camera work. Our friends Scott and Wen starred, and Scott produced. The film was directed by our other friend Matt. For almost all of us it was our first film. Scott had worked on a few short videos for work previously. We learned an awful lot. Our film wasn’t good enough to make it into the evening showing for the competition, but we’re getting screened at the matinee showing instead with the rest of the less lucky entrants. It will be a good chance to go meet up with people further down the filmmaking road than we are now and get to watch some awesome lowbudget short films.

Project: 2 Days Later

My friends and I are taking part in a short film making competition 2 Days Later. The idea is to make a 10 minute horror movie in 48 hours. Unlike most 48 hour challenges you get to spread your 48 hours out – though I don’t know if this will make it easier or harder.

We’ve had a bit of a chat, thrown some ideas around, and now I’m having a crack at writing a draft script. I guess the clock is ticking.

I’m interested in scriptwriting, but a lot of the ideas I’m having are visualised in very definite ways in my mind. It will be interesting and difficult to see the script translated to different images by whoever is directing and DoP’ing. I’m also finding myself thinking out low budget special effects and sound design. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to be involved in everything that interests me.

Updates as the project progresses.

Software Engineering Models for writers (part 2)

My previous post on this topic talked about how the writing process (or at least my writing process) is like the waterfall model of software engineering, in that there are discrete phases, each of which must be completed before the project is complete. In software engineering: Design, Code, Test; in writing: Plot, Write, Edit.

Waterfall isn’t generally considered to be a good model when it comes to software development, but for fiction writing it is generally seen as the truest and best way. You should Plot before you Write and must Write before you can Edit. I’m so deep into the waterfall mentality as a writer that it was hard for me to see how to make a parallel between writing and the Agile software development method.

First, a brief introduction to Agile. Agile software development means all sorts of things to all sorts of people. It’s a buzzword; it’s an umbrella term for lots of different software engineering methodologies; it’s new, hip and trendy; it’s all been thought of before… etc.

I have only been working in an Agile team for the past four to five months so I am by no means an expert, but I enjoy Agile, perhaps more in theory than in practice – because it sometimes feels like we’re still practising the practice.

To me the keywords of Agile are timeboxing, deliverables, and stakeholders. Setting a very definite deadline – creating a timebox, and committing to having something at the end of that time which is functional and deliverable to your stakeholders. The stakeholders then evaluate the delivered item and decide what they’d like to see happen in the next iteration.

How to parallel this software engineering model as a writing process? First, have writing iterations of a set length at the end of which deliver discrete units of completed fiction. By complete I mean written, edited and polished, and standalone. I had initially thought that a chapter could be considered a discrete unit of fiction, but I dismissed that idea. A chapter isn’t standalone and would be difficult to write without knowing the overall design and plot.

No, a discrete unit of fiction would have to be something publishable in its own right. So the first iteration would result in one or more flash fiction items, later short stories, a novella and eventually a novel. Fiction units would have to be strands of the tale, written without necessarily knowing how they would fit with the final piece. A fiction unit could be a storyline, a characterisation, a situation, a scene that works alone. Later in the process work items for a writing iteration could be to tie fiction units together, or add to existing units to make them more bulky and fulfil a story requirement.

That’s how I think I’d do it. As to the other ingredient of Agile – delivering to stakeholders, I’m a member of a reviewing/critiquing site called Urbis. People can post their writings there and have them reviewed by other people. Reviewing earns you credits and lets you buy more reviews from others. Posting a fiction unit on the site and getting favourable (> 7/10) reviews could be an exit criteria for each iteration. Once the units start to come together into something coherent and of a decent length I could try submitting it to be published in a magazine or similar. I’ll have to see how it goes.

I’m hoping that I’ll find a new way of writing quite freeing. I have difficulty with perfectionism and when writing in the waterfall model I tend to get depressed be the sheer mountain of ‘bad’, rough draft that I have to deal with in the Edit phase. I this Agile model my urge to tweak my writing into shape can be satisfied much quicker. Also writing fiction units and not knowing what the larger tale is until it’s told  feels like a much more creative and organic way of working than nailing everything down at the start.

Starting next week I’m going to try to create a work of fiction using this model. And the good part is – if I get downhearted, or distracted by new ideas, and quit half way through I’ll at least have something finished.

Writing: Guest posting on Writer’s Resource Center

John Hewitt at the Writer’s Resource Center kindly featured an article I had written on his blog.

I wrote a piece on the benefits of critiquing other people’s work, mainly as a way of gaining some perspective and objectivity on one’s own work. Check it out…

Software engineering models for writers (Part 1)

I’m a software engineer, and I’m a writer. One pays the bills, the other feeds my soul.

Generally I consider these two parts of my life to have very little to do with each other; however this evening I got to thinking how like the waterfall model of software development my process for writing a novel is.

The waterfall gets its name from the shape of the diagrams that demonstrate it. Phases of development follow each other without overlap, starting with requirements gathering and ending when the product is deployed.

WaterfallModel1

When I set about writing my novel in progress for NaNoWriMo 2007 I followed, pretty much, this process. With a few tweaks.

Instead of gathering requirements I gathered ideas: scene ideas; character ideas; bits of inspiration.

Instead of designing I plotted.

I wrote prose instead of code.

Now I’m in the analogue of the testing phase. I’m reading and reviewing my work: testing that the characters are believable and consistent; testing that the plot hasn’t got any holes; testing that the novel’s themes work. This testing/reviewing finds bugs in the novel that I will have to fix.

Enough time and work spent in the testing phase and I’ll be ready to move on to the deployment phase. I’ll have a ‘finished’ manuscript ready to start sending out to publishers.

WaterfallModelforWriting

I would say that this waterfall model is one of the most common processes for writing, but in software engineering the pure waterfall model is thought of as a flawed way to do things. I’m currently working on a project that is following an Agile software development method. So for another post I’m going to give some thought to how I could apply a more agile approach to my writing.


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