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How I Write

A question on a forum reminded me that I had promised someone (sorry!) a long while ago that I’d post about my writing process and the tech I use.

So, with no further ado and apologies for being nearly a year late, here it is:

Stories arrive as the first two lines, a mental image, or initial plot section. From there, it’s ‘just write’ and see where it takes me. :) At the end, I will have a piece of work that I cunningly refer to as a ‘chunk’. It may be a whole story. It may not.

Larger pieces come together in chunks, then I write other chunks to link the original chunks, then I go back to the earliest chunks and revise them for the clever stuff I thought up in the later chunks.

For the larger works I invariably end up with a notes/leftovers file as well as the main document.

When the chunks accumulate sufficiently to be a book:

  1. Starting with a 10- or 20-pass continuity/sanity/review checking before letting the proof readers at it.
  2. Proofing & editing is two or three passes (depending on how big a kicking I get from my proofers and editors) over a two-month period.
  3. There’s usually a prevarication/denial phase between proof reviews coming back and me fixing things.
  4. Post proofing is a 5- to 10- pass process before final review.
  5. Another prevarication phase, duration dependant on the number of chapter/story bookmarks and hyperlinks I need to add to the ebook. I hate ebook formatting.
  6. Ebook creation – which is only going right if I spot a single word that needs fixing/replacing – and submission of ebook.
  7. When that has gone through to publication, there’s a final review of the master before submission for printing.
  8. Then a review or two of the print proof before pressing the green button to let them make books for me.
  9. Euphoria phase. I made a book!
  10. Dread phase. I’m sure I missed something.

I have an Excel spreadsheet for published story titles, as I have over 500 of the little buggers now and duplication is not acceptable.

Word 2003
for all text work.
CutePDF for text conversion to PDF.
Proofs are created as watermarked Word files from the master documents, then run off via CutePDF and ALZIPped for sending to my proofreaders and editors.
ArcSoft PhotoStudio for cover creation, starting with original art for front or wrap cover and working through to finished, fully lettered cover. Everything for covers saved as JPEG, with incremental stages calved off to allow rollback.
Total Image Converter to turn JPEG to PDF for printing.

I run a 3-2-1 backup strategy, which is 3 backups on 2 different types of media with 1 offsite.

Incremental backups occur daily or whenever-I’m-away-from-the-laptop if I’m mid process.

All non-secured backups are encrypted.

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2015 in Daybook

 

On the Dark Side of Curious

I was catching up on a bit of browsing today, picking up ideas, filling minor knowledge gaps, letting curiosity chase ideas and themes down virtual rabbit holes and such like. In amongst the plethora of sites I visited, I came across a piece about the creation of the first Starship Troopers film and where Paul Verhoeven took his inspirations for visual styles incorporated in it. For the patently neo-fascist Federation, he used Nazi styling to hammer home his message of “war makes fascists of us all”. But the latter part of the sentence that followed is where things went cold for me:

  “He evokes Nazi Germany – particularly through its use of fashion, iconography and propaganda – which he sees as a natural evolution of the post-World War II United States.

The implications of that, when taken in conjunction with where the actual power in the western world seems to dwell, is chilling.

Now, please forgive me if my understanding is limited, but to my mind, Nazism is a fundamental superiority regime that requires objects of contempt and objects of hate: ‘enemies’ within and without. It is also incredibly appealing to certain sections of society; as witnessed by its persistence.
When I mentally incorporate religion, twenty-first media manipulation and the susceptibility of large sections of the populace, it becomes something that looks a lot like a world-eating monster.

Nothing I have encountered for a very long time has perturbed me quite so much. Here’s hoping I am very wrong.

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2015 in Daybook

 

Live Like a Gamer

This post is a revised version of the original by Mark Rosewater of Magic:The Gathering, which omits the Magic specific terms to leave the advice, which can also be used by non-gamers. :)

Being a gamer is an awesome thing. It gives you great life skills. What I’ve discovered, though, is that many gamers don’t apply all the awesome gaming skills they’ve acquired to their lives. The point of this article is to say, “Stop doing that. You have awesome game skills. If you apply them to your life, I think you might be happier.”

    The Game’s the Thing

What follows are a bunch of things you pick up as a gamer about how to play games. My advice is a simple one. Use them in your life. If you already do, great. Reading them might give you some introspection on perhaps how you can use them more. If you don’t, well here’s a thought to chew on.

    “There’s a Solution”

First and foremost, games need to provide the players with a goal, because the point of a game is for the players to reach the goal. In order to do this, gamers quickly learn that to accomplish the goal they have to just accept that there is an answer to reaching the goal. When presented with the goal, gamers always start with the attitude of, “How am I going to accomplish that goal?” and not, “Can I accomplish that goal?”

Imagine starting chess with an attitude of, “Is it even possible for me to capture my opponent’s king?” That sounds crazy, yet it’s how many people face challenges in real life. Rather than assuming there’s a way to accomplish the goal, they start by trying to identify why they can’t accomplish it. Gamers don’t start games by identifying why they can’t win. They put their energy to figuring out how to win.

My favorite scene from Apollo 13 is the one where the scientists from ground control have to figure out how to make a square filter fit into a round hole. They dump a box that contains everything the astronauts have on the command module. They then are given a deadline to solve the problem or else the astronauts will die. The reason that’s my favorite scene is because I realized that it’s what I do every time I sit down to play a game. I’m given resources and a challenge and I have to make it work.

Bring that attitude to your life. If every problem is treated as solvable, guess what? You’ll start solving more problems. The key is just starting with the right attitude.

    “Try Something Else”

This is actually the first piece of advice that I gave my friend that led to the idea of this article. She was sharing with me how something she had wanted didn’t go the way she had hoped and how it was depressing her. My response was, “So the first attempt didn’t work. Figure out a new plan of attack.”

I then brought up that when she plays games, what does she do when something doesn’t work? She tries something else. You see, the gamer mindset is “it’s not over until it’s over.” If the game hasn’t ended yet, then you still have time to try and find another solution.

The key to applying this to real life is accepting that failure is going to happen. Not every plan proves successful, but gamers know that the key to solving a problem is to not stop looking for solutions. Yes, it can be disheartening when something you’ve worked very hard on doesn’t pan out, but if the goal is important, that just means you have to re-examine how you’re attempting to reach it.

    “Losing Is an Opportunity to Learn”

No one wins every game. No matter how good you are, at some point you will lose. Gamers learn quickly, though, that losing can be an opportunity. For starters, losing is a chance to learn what you are doing wrong. Why did you lose the game? What actions did you take that led to the loss? What could you have done differently that might have kept you from losing?

If you want to get better at playing a game, you have to start taking ownership of your losses. If you believe each loss is the result of something outside of your control, you will never have the opportunity to improve. But if you assume that your actions led to the loss, it will allow you the opportunity to learn and thus get better.

Life is no different. When you fail, don’t blame the factors outside your control. Assume that your actions had an impact. Take the time to figure out what you did that led to the outcome you are not happy with. This will increase the chances that in the future you don’t make the same mistakes. It also will give you a sense of power, because you will see that you can directly impact what happens to you.

    “Identify What Matters Most”

One Thanksgiving Day, my wife and I were tucking our kids into bed when the fire alarm in our house went off. We quickly ran downstairs to see that the candle in our Thanksgiving decorations had burned low enough that it had caught the decoration on fire. The flames of the now-burning decoration were reaching four feet in the air.

I quickly ran to the sink and started filling up a pitcher. While the water was on full blast, it took about thirty seconds to fill the pitcher up. Those thirty seconds felt like it took forever. All the while the fire alarm was still loudly bleating. Once the pitcher was full, I ran over to the decorations and poured the water on it mostly dousing the flames.

Afterwards, my wife was commenting on how she didn’t understand how I could so calmly stand at the sink for thirty seconds while the water was filling up the pitcher. I explained my thought process to her: I knew the danger was the flames reaching the ceiling. The best way to stop the flames was water. My course of action was the most likely way to solve the problem at hand. Standing still for thirty seconds to get the water didn’t phase me because I knew I was doing the thing I needed to be doing. Yes, there were other issues at hand, such as shutting off the alarm (it was freaking the kids out), but it was a lower priority than stopping the fire.

The lesson here is something gamers all know. The key to solving a problem quickly is learning to identify what matters most. There are many distractions, so you have to learn to focus. Note that this applies not just to life-and-death moments such as stopping a fire, but even mundane tasks. What is the actual key to the problem you’re facing? If you understand where to focus, you’re already halfway to solving your problem.

    “Prioritise”

Let’s take the last lesson to the next step. Once you have identified the most important aspect of your problem, start breaking down the other components. This is something gamers do when gaming all the time. The key to winning a game is to figure out a priority for the things you have to do. The priority is important because it allows you to better allocate your resources (more on this one in a second).

I often find that when gamers shift to their real life that they sometimes turn off the critical eye they use when gaming. Life’s problems are no different than those in a game. The difference is the consequences. In other words, when you are playing a game, you feel safe to experiment because the threat of failure is low. What’s the worst that can happen? You lose the game. But in real life, the consequences are larger. Making a mistake has repercussions.

The interesting thing, though, is that the mindset used during gaming leads to better results. Understanding your priorities is simply a means to learn when and where you need to focus. If your real-world problems have bigger consequences, it seems you would even more want to use methods that increase your chances for success.

    “Use Resource Management”

Every year, I travel to San Diego Comic-Con. I’m there for four days, which is a pretty short trip. One year, I decided to treat my packing like a game. My goal was a simple one: What is the least amount I could bring with me? I wasn’t trying to see what I could do without but rather was trying a way to streamline what I was bringing.

Along the way, I made an interesting realization. I have a very large tee shirt collection, much of which is geeky and pop-culture related. One of the best places to buy these shirts is at San Diego Comic-Con. In fact, every year, I buy a bunch of tee shirts there. Hmm. Normally I pack tee shirts to wear at the convention, but I always purchase new ones there. There was a chance to minimize my packing—stop packing tee shirts, as I can wear the ones that I buy.

Gamers are trained to recognize when things are management resource issues and react accordingly. What resources do you need to accomplish your task? How much do you need? This second question is crucial because an important lesson of gaming is that too little or too much of a resource can cause problems.

This lesson is simple. Think about the problems in your life with the same resource-management eye that you would when playing a game. Ask yourself the questions you would ask if the items you are dealing with were in a game. Which resources matter most? Which matter least? How much is enough and how much is too much? You will find, once you use the same mindset, that there is a lot of value to be had.

    “The Value of Things Can Change”

This next rule is a corollary of the last rule. Gamers, in general, tend to look at their resources as tools. They are something you need to use to get to your goal.

The offshoot of this is that gamers learn to accept that, sometimes, something they value has to be sacrificed for the greater good. Often, the key to getting to where you need to be is being willing to let go of something that got you to where you are now but is no longer needed.

In life, what this means is that you have to be willing to reevaluate what matters to you. Just because something once was important doesn’t mean it’s still important today. Often, the key to moving forward to the future is being willing to let something go from the past.

This is an especially hard lesson to apply in real life because people are emotional pack rats. They feel a need to hold onto things that once made them feel positive (happy, loved, safe, etc.) even if it no longer has that impact. The key is to do emotional inventory from time to time to understand the value of the things in your life and judge them as they are now, rather than as how they once were.

    “Trust the Math”

One of the things you learn in gaming is that there’s a lot of math involved. A big use of math is predicting percentage outcomes. How likely is something going to happen? When making decisions where math is applicable, gamers learn to trust the math when gaming. If the numbers say to stand on a thirteen when the dealer has a two showing, you stand, even if the last three times this situation happened, you lost. You stand even if your gut tells you that, this time, you’re going to beat the odds.

In short, what gamers learn is that sometimes you trust your instincts and sometimes you trust the math. When the issue at hand is a matter of numbers, you trust the math. Fifty-one percent does, in fact, trump forty-nine percent. Gamers learn that your emotions will always have an opinion, but you have to know when and where to listen to it.

This problem is directly applicable to real life. When tangible stakes are on the line, people get nervous and, when they do, they tend to listen to their emotions more. That’s fine when the issue at hand is an emotional one, but when it boils down to math, you have to let your gamer instincts prevail. Your gut will never change percentages, no matter how much it wants to convince you that it can.

    “Find Value in Others”

There are many different types of games. One of them is what we call a political game. A political game involves players having interactions where the personal dynamic between the players impacts the outcome of the game.

One of the things gamers learn quickly is to recognize when games have a political component. The key to doing well in political games is understanding that your game is dependent on the other players. You need to recognize that each player has value and you have to learn what that value is. The fastest way to lose is to not respect what the other players have to offer.

Real life is as political a game as they come and this lesson carries over pretty smoothly. Everyone has value and has the ability to impact your life. Don’t dismiss people, understand their value. The worst thing you can do in a political game is to play by yourself without any allies. Life is no different.

    “Let People Do You Favours”

One of the things you learn in political games is that the key to doing well is creating a bond with other players. When push comes to shove, you want players to be allies and not enemies. What is one of the best ways to create allies? Allow others to do favors for you. At first blush, that might sound backwards. Wouldn’t doing favors for others encourage their loyalty better?

Here’s what’s going on. First, humans, as a species, enjoy doing favors. It makes them feel good about themselves. It gives them a sense of purpose. Second, because there’s an expectation of payback, there’s this sense that you want to stay around people you’ve given favors to.

The lesson here is another one easily applicable to real life. Don’t be stingy allowing people to help you. It makes them feel good, it helps create bonds, and – you know what? – sometimes you can use the help.

    Play to Win

Gaming is a great hobby and creates valuable skills that can extend into your real life. The point of my article today is to encourage you all to use these skills not just to win games but to live better lives. Even those of you who already do much of what I pointed out, please be aware that there are always opportunities to do a little more.

~^~

The original article can be found here: http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/making-magic/live-gamer-2013-12-05

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2015 in Life & Self, Quotes

 

Why Are You So Scared?

I am increasingly baffled by the hysterical fear levelled at the world by some religious folk. Really, if you’re living a righteous life, then be content with that. Trying to inflict your worldview on anyone who isn’t you is wrong. No, there is no ‘good’ reason, or any excuse. Just do not do it. Go and improve your worthiness in the eyes of whatever you revere, and let us who fall short make our own way, at our own speed, to our own ends. Your religious fears are not acceptable as a reason for you to dictate how I live. Outside of the practical stuff, of course – which we already have laws for… And that is where today’s entry really started. :)

Today, same-sex marriage was ruled as legal across the USA. There are celebrations in progress as I type. The “world’s policeman” has actualy done something positive to promote freedom.

‘Freedom’.

It’s a dangerous word. there are simply too many people on the planet for anarchy to be a valid way forward. Thus ‘freedom’ has to be restrained from it’s self-gratifying, might-is-right implementation. There have to be rules. Making large numbers of violent primates live in close proximity to each other demands them. However, the creation of law is more problematical, because it involves large numbers of the same violent primates that it is being created to constrain. Thus, bias is both anathema and inevitable. Impartiality is a rare thing, but it has to apply. Also, common sense is a preferred ingredient.

Now, with a plethora of laws having been set many years ago, there is a drastic lack of something we have come to expect: upgrades. Fixes. Clarification for ease-of-use and refinement for the changing world they are expected to apply to.

Wait a moment, I hear you say, what about the laws of God/Gods/Goddess/Being? (A shade under 3000 discrete entities at last count, and subdivisions multiply that hideously: in example, there are over 28,000 types of Christianity recognised in the USA alone.)

So, we now factor the demands of your respective divinity in to the mix and that’s where things get interesting, because some of the biggest religions are also very big at being unchanging. Which is a very, very bad thing. (IS are a modern application of medieval Muslim doctrine. Out of date and hideously inappropriate for the twenty-first century, but based in genuine Muslim teachings.)

People get ansty over politics, but history has shown that they tend to only get really ugly over religion. Combine the two and it has the potential to be a nightmare of epic scale.

Which brings us back to today’s landmark decision in the USA. It is, without doubt, a step forward. But the vitriol that those who oppose it have harboured is staggering. I would say that it is something that is going to take generations to recede, and is likely to colour many things – some you’d think completely unconnected – for many years to come.

Which is a damn shame, because there are so many things we primates should be angry about and seek to change. A decision in favour of love and stable relationships is not one of them.

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Prevaricate Not

Remember that ‘save for a rainy day’ thing?

Once there was a man who worked hard and spent a lot of money on books, ensuring he had a fine library to read during his retirement.

He even took early retirement.

A few days later, he was killed in an accident. Not one of his books did he get to read.

True? Yes. I bought a dozen of his untouched paperbacks from the second hand bookshop that his brother sold them to.

You can’t take it with you. Have your ‘rainy day’ regularly. Enjoy and share what you have.

Blessed Be.

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2015 in Life & Self

 

If I Could Have One Wish –

Just one. :)

I would wish for every person in the whole world to have a month of knowing when anyone is not telling the truth, whether directly or via any form of media; and including themselves.

That should sort many things out – messily but effectively – and clearing up the aftermath would provide a chance to rebuild this ruin we call civilisation.

 

 
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Posted by on May 11, 2015 in Reality

 

On Goodness

“Goodness is about what you do. Not what you pray to.”

– Terry Pratchett

 
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Posted by on May 6, 2015 in Quotes

 
 
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