Archive for the ‘writing life’ Category

Terry Pratchett once wrote that rules are there so that you think before you break them. I think the same holds true to any plan or scheme, including my intention to do the Writing Excuses exercises every week this year. This week is very busy with other things, including talking at the Nerd East convention, sorting out website hosting and making preparations to move house in a couple of weeks’ time. So I’m letting myself off and not doing my homework.

Like writing templates, working routines are there to help us, not to follow for their own sake. If a routine isn’t working, maybe it’s time to change it up, or just to take a break. Hopefully I’ll be back from this one next week.

Ikea to the rescue!

Ikea to the rescue!

When I wrote a week ago that I was starting to work at a standing desk, several people said they’d be interested in hearing how I got on. As it’s also been an instructive experience for me, I figured it was time for a quick update.

First up, my neck and shoulders feel vastly better. My habitual slouching or hunching forward is impossible with this setup, which means I’m treating those muscles much more kindly. Less neck and shoulder strain means less tension being passed on into my head, which means no tension headaches and better concentration. It also means that, at the end of my working day, I’m more likely to be able to do something productive and enjoyable, and less likely to be reduced to slumping in front of the TV. It’s been well worth the effort.

That said, there was one significant bump along the way. It’s entirely my own fault, and a useful lesson for anyone thinking about using a standing desk – build up your use gradually, like I didn’t do.

The day I set up the ‘desk’ (actually a cunningly adapted set of shelves) I was very excited. This looked like the perfect way to improve my health. I worked standing for about nine hours, with just an hour’s break in the middle. And by the end I was exhausted. I felt like I’d spent three whole days on my feet while wearing a solid mass of chainmail (a comparison I make based on personal experience and curious hobbies). My feet were sore. My calves ached. My thighs and lower back were stiff and awkward. I had totally over-done it.

The day after my new desk, I was completely exhausted and spent most of the day resting.

Since then, I’ve brought a tall kitchen stool up into the study, letting me alternate between standing and sitting at the desk. I’ll work standing for an hour or so, then sitting for between ten and thirty minutes. I can feel the difference in my neck and shoulders when I switch to sitting, muscles shifting awkwardly like they did when I sat and typed all the time. But I also feel the sweet relief in my legs and give a happy little sigh.

Even over the course of a week, I can feel my endurance improving, meaning I can work standing for longer without wiping myself out.

So on the basis of a week, the standing desk has been a huge boon to my health and my writing, but one that I shouldn’t over use without practice.

I’ll try to remember to provide another update after a month, but if I forget, and if you’re still interested, then remind me. And in the meantime, take care of your posture. Because unlike a nest of angry hornets, good health doesn’t grow on trees.

No, wait, fruit grows on trees, and fruit is healthy. Good health does grow on trees. Curse you poorly thought out cliché!

And now back to work.

A Wanted Man

Posted: January 28, 2015 in writing life
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I really don’t think it does, Lord K. Love the moustache though.

Another minor writing first this week – I got approached by a recruiter. While I wasn’t interested in what he was offering, it was nice to know that my skills are in demand. Come to think of it, a couple of clients have come back to me with new work in the last few weeks, making this the most demanded I’ve ever been. Brilliant!

I don’t want the job back in an office cranking out technical writing for a company. But it’s nice to know that it’s an option if I ever get sick of free-lancing (doesn’t seem likely right now, given the fun work and control over my lifestyle). And it’s a timely reminder that I should be making an effort to use social networks, as that’s where so many of these opportunities come from.

Experiments in posture

Posted: January 22, 2015 in writing life
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Working at a computer all day can play hell with the muscles in your neck and shoulders. Despite doing stretches three times a day and visiting a physiotherapist every few weeks, my body’s still giving me a lot of trouble. So today I am starting an experiment in preventive action, with an improvised standing work desk.

IMG_0781[1]This is my fourth different attempt to make things better since realising how much trouble computer work was causing for my body. First came the dining room table, so that I wouldn’t just be sprawling in random places and postures. Then it was Chromecasting to the television, so that the screen was straight ahead of me. After that I tried a separate monitor on top of a pile of filing boxes, so that I could combine sitting upright at a desk with that straight ahead screen. Each one has helped a bit, but I didn’t think I’d find a proper solution until I could afford to buy some kind of ergonomic desk.

Fortunately, Laura is smarter than me. She pointed out that I could turn the Ikea shelves in the corner of my workspace into an upright work station, just by adjusting a couple of shelves. As well as giving me the chance to try typing while standing – which is supposed to be one of the better ways to work – it also means that I’m forced to declutter this room some more, which is good for my mental processes.

Two and half hours in my legs are starting to ache, and I think this approach might take some adjustment. But my shoulders feel good, and that’s a great start.

Remember kids, take care of your body – your brain can’t cope without it.

And we’re back…

Posted: January 5, 2015 in writing life
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Happy New Year everyone!

I can’t say the last few weeks have been as quiet as the blog. Laura and I have had three Christmas celebrations, two stays with my brother and his family, and one gaming convention, all in the space of a fortnight. I’ve eaten and drunk more than is healthy, exercised less than I should, and generally enjoyed letting it all go for a couple of weeks.

Festive highlights have included:

  • watching my dad laugh hysterically while my nieces rolled him around in a half-inflated air mattress and shouted ‘sausage roll!’
  • lots of playing with Lego – I got two new sets, then immediately took them apart to build an airship
  • listening to the finale of Radio 4’s hilarious Cabin Pressure
  • this lovely pair of notebooks from my brother and his family:

IMG_0751[1]

Hopefully by tomorrow I’ll have something more coherent to say than ‘look, I’m still here!’, but I’m still fighting through the junk food fatigue, so for now that’ll do.

Hope you all had a great holiday. What were your highlights?

 

Working with my usual colleague His Majesty King Glove Puppet is not as rewarding as working with real people

Working with my usual colleague His Majesty King Glove Puppet is not as rewarding as working with real people

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I’m currently working pretty much full time on a work-for-hire fiction project, ghost writing science fiction. The process involved is an interesting one, and having got permission from the guy running the show I’m going to share a little about it here, and about why I think it’s so good.

How it works

There are five people working on this project – there’s me as the writer and the last addition to the team. B is the mastermind behind the process, the guy who brought us all together, he manages the virtual team, works out schedules and marketing and all that business side of things. C seems to mostly do developmental editing work, helping work out story, setting, etc. D wrote the plot for the books, and as part of that did a lot of work developing the characters and setting, together with B, C and E. E mostly does line editing.

From my point of view, I’ve been given a plot and extensive briefings on characters and setting. I’m the one turning this into prose, adding my own ideas and flourishes to fill gaps and flesh things out. For example I took some characters from book two and brought them into book one, to save me inventing extras and set them up for later.

C’s provided a few editorial comments on my work, but most of that comes from E. Once she’s read through my work I go back and accept or respond to her changes. I have the most contact with B, who’s doing a good job of dealing with any practical issues I stumble across and keeping me in the loop.

What I like so far

I love working with a team in this way, especially because they seem like a nice, lively, creative bunch. While I like writing my own stories, collaborating with others makes creativity even more fun, and I’m enjoying taking D’s plot and fleshing it out. Getting to work with editors is also good.

What I particularly like about the process, which B has developed and is continuing to adapt, is that it seems less wasteful than the traditional publishing approach. Instead of a writer providing a completed story, only to have to re-write large chunks when a developmental editor points out problems with character and plot, those problems have mostly been smoothed out beforehand. To put it in terms of my old process improvement job, we are avoiding the waste of re-work.

The end-to-end story production process is also being speeded up by working together via Google docs.  So even before I finished writing book one, E was reading and making editorial comments on the early chapters. It’s a good thing I naturally write in chronological order, or this could get messy.

Having other people literally leaning over my shoulder as I write freaks me out and stops me working – Laura can attest to this. But having collaborators perusing my work in a virtual environment, providing both critique and enthusiastic positive feedback as we go along, is really helpful. It’s sharpening the writing and keeping my spirits up, if occasionally stressing me out too – let’s face it, being edited always has its stresses, whether from disagreeing with the editor or agreeing and seeing what was wrong with your own beautiful words. Of course the reality is that I’m facing both.

This kind of collaboration is akin to what I imagine modern TV writers’ rooms to be like, allowing people to share and refine ideas, then go away and specialise in what they do best.

And because of this efficient, collaborative process, together with the joys of digital publishing, the first book will have been through editors, beta readers, refinement and publication, all within maybe four months of them developing the plot, and maybe two months after I started writing book one. That is staggeringly efficient. I approve.

Letting go of the artistic ego

I know that there are people who will view this as somehow detracting from the art of writing, from the purity of the author working away at their own ideas and craft. But I don’t agree with that view. Writing is already a collaborative process, involving editors and publishers. This is making that collaboration more effective and enjoyable. It’s not what we expect, and that will create a negative reaction in some people, but I like it.

I’d be interested to hear any thoughts you guys have on this, or similar experiences you’ve been through. You know where the comments go, please feel free to leave one.

NaNoWriMo update

I’m only writing this a few hours after yesterday’s post, and I’ve been busy with the freelance work so nothing’s changed. I think I’ll get around to NaNo this evening. Fingers crossed. Just blogging a day ahead now will relieve some pressure and make it easier to juggle tasks tomorrow.

I notice that JH Mae and Everwalker are tearing ahead at 21k and 15k respectively, while I haven’t quite reached 12k. And I also have to mention Russell Phillips, who’s normally a non-fiction writer and went into this knowing he didn’t have time to manage 50k, but is still getting plenty of words down.

How are you guys doing?

The power of doing nothing

Posted: November 10, 2014 in writing life
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This guy knows how to live.

This guy knows how to live.

Yesterday I did nothing. I don’t mean literally nothing – I watched about a dozen episodes of House and played some Minecraft, but in terms of writing, planning and other story productivity? Nothing.

This might sound like a backwards step in a month when I have immense amounts of words to get down on the screen, and when I’d already fallen behind last week, but actually it’s one of the best things I’ve done recently. The very fact that I was able to sit and watch that much TV without feeling the urge to do something else at the same time, that tells me that I needed a rest. And my shoulders feel much better for a solid chunk of time away from the keyboard.

We’re programmed to think of rest time as unproductive. Whether it’s Catholic guilt or the Protestant work ethic or capitalism’s demands that we participate in an endless cycle of production and consumption, we all have some voice in the back of our brain telling us to fill the time. Maybe yours, like mine, is less one lone voice and more a chorus. But resting lets your body and your brain reset, it lets them be productive in healing and recovering while you sit back and relax. And it leaves you all the more productive afterwards. Sometimes, even when you don’t want it, you need that.

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NaNoWriMo update:

So yes, I’m now a couple of days’ worth of writing behind. Also I nearly finished my current chapter and need to plan the next one before writing much further. Hoping to get on top of some of it this evening, but the shoulders are still a achy and paid work has to be the priority. I’m trying to talk myself around to the place of accepting that I might not hit 50k and that that’s OK, while still staying motivated and aiming for it. And with nearly 12,000 words done already, even it I quit now (which I won’t) I’d have got something productive out of it. NaNo was definitely worth doing.

 

Photo by Umberto Salvagnin via Flickr creative commons.