Speeding Up

Novel’s at 82,649 words.

Deadline seems to be working. I’ve been writing about 400 words a day since setting it, pushing myself to write more than just my 250-word minimum so I can hit the goal.

It also helps that I seem to have turned a corner in the narrative. My protagonist has gotten past the major stumbling block in her path, and is starting down the trail of the villain.

The book itself is picking up pace as she goes, heading toward the climax, and my writing is as well.

Let’s hope I can sustain it through the month.

Follow the Tweeting Bot

I have a problem.

No, not my fondness for singing 80s country in a bad twang during karaoke.

I mean a real, nerd-world problem: I have too many books to read.

I can’t leave any bookstore without buying at least one. For a good bookstore, I’ll walk out with half a dozen or more, balancing them in my arms, hoping none of them fall over.

I get them home and try to squeeze them into my bookshelf of “books I have yet to read” (not to be confused with my “books I’ve read and need to donate” or “books I’ve read and will re-read someday when I have the time” shelves). That shelf is full, floor to ceiling.

My list of books to read is already too long for me to remember them all. And that’s not counting the ones I have sitting in ebook format, waiting on my Kobo or iPhone for me to tap their cover art and dive in.

Faced with so much reading material, so many good books waiting to be read, my question is this: What do I read next?

I could pick based on mood. But that usually means me sitting in front of my physical books, picking out the one that grabs me. I could pick based on which ones I’ve bought most recently, which would probably narrow things down to just my ebooks.

But I want to be able to choose from all of my books, physical and virtual, at any time.

So I wrote a bot to help me.

It listens to my twitter stream for instructions. When I give it the right command, it pulls down my to-read shelf from Goodreads (yes, I put all of my books, real and electronic, into Goodreads. yes, it took much longer than I thought it would), ranks them in order of which ones I should read first, and then tweets back to me the top 3.

I’ve been following its recommendations for about a month now, and so far, it’s working. Footsteps in the Sky was great. Data and Goliath was eye-opening. The Aesthetic of Play changed the way I view art and games.

Now, if only I could train it to order books for me automatically…

Footsteps in the Sky by Greg Keyes


Keyes juggles plot threads involving first contact, corporate espionage, traditionalists versus progressive technologists, power struggles, abusive families and grieving for recently-passed relatives, all without dropping a single one. Grounds everything, even the novel’s villains, in sympathetic characters that you may not agree with, but still don’t want to see harmed.

It’s an incredible feat. I’m awestruck by it, and more than a little jealous.

Three things it taught me about writing:

  • Sometimes just listening to a character’s thoughts as they worry about their present and plan for their future is enough to tell us what we need to know about the world the story’s taking place in.
  • Spending time with villains, and sympathizing with them, raises the stakes of the climax for everyone.
  • Always handy to have a newcomer to the world as an audience surrogate. As they learn and explore the world, so does the reader, without any info-dumping being necessary.

On a Deadline

Novel’s at 80,577 words.

I’m closing in on my original 90,000 word target. I have a feeling the final draft will end up longer than that, possibly close to 100,000 words, given the ground I have left to cover.

I’ve set a deadline for myself, though. I want to have this draft done by June 1st.

It’s just a little over a month away, but I think I can make it. Partially because I’m in the final scenes of the book, and partially because I want to. I started the book last July, so wrapping up the draft in June would mean I’ve spent just shy of a year writing it.

I think having a target to hit will push me to write more each day, and finish it out. With this draft done in June, I can take some time off before diving into the editing of my first novel. And I want to get that done before the year is out so I can start submitting it to agents.

Mad Libs: The Game from Looney Labs

It’s Mad Libs crossed with Apples to Apples. What’s not to like?

Easy to learn, quick to play, and fun even if you’re losing.

Three things I learned about game design:

  • Pulling mechanics from two successful games and combining them is a perfectly viable way to generate a new game.
  • You don’t need anonymity for voting mechanics to feel fair. In fact, letting the players present their choices can be very entertaining.
  • Unplayed cards should present options to players; played cards should record choices they’ve made.

Data and Goliath by Bruce Schneier

Eye-opening. Reminded me of the extent of the NSA’s surveillance activities, of the importance of the documents Snowden disclosed.

Schneier’s style is easy to read and straightforward, no small feat for a subject that takes in law, cryptography, and communications technology. I plowed through this book in a few days, but I’ll be digesting his points for a good while.

Three of the many things I learned:

  • There are companies that sell the ability to send a silent, undetected phone call to a mobile phone. Call won’t ring, but will cause it to signal nearest cell tower, giving away its location.
  • FBI can (and does) collect personal data from third parties (phone companies, email servers, etc) via National Security Letters, without a warrant.
  • NSA audit showed it broke its own rules against spying for personal reasons at least 8 times a day (!) from 2011 to 2012

There’s a Theme?

Novel’s at 78,941 words. Which is an odd time to have finally figured out its theme.

Or rather, one of its themes. You’d think I’d have known this going in, the kind of weighty things I would be trying to deal with in the story.

Nope. I had a hook, a starting scene, and an idea of how I wanted to portray the characters. That was it.

Actually stumbled across the theme this week, while reading a different book. Something in what the author was talking about meshed with the upcoming events of the story my subconscious was chewing on, and that was it: I knew my theme.

It’s a little late to alter the draft much to accommodate it, but I’ll be writing the last third with the theme in mind. It’ll really come into play when I go back through for the second draft, and start making edits to bring it out more or eliminate passages that conflict with it.

Loonacy, from Looney Labs

Awesome. Easy to learn, quick to play, and ye gods, addictive. Reminded me a lot of Egyptian Ratscrew, in all the best ways.

Three things I learned about game design:

  • A little chaos is ok, so long as it’s not borne out of confusion.
  • The simpler your rules are, the greater freedom you have to explore variety in the expression of those rules (e.g., the many, many different images you have to match against in Loonacy).
  • A strong theme is important. We found the Retro deck to be more enjoyable than the normal deck, simply because the theme was 1) cool, and 2) strongly expressed.

The Aesthetic of Play by Brian Upton

Inspirational. Completely changed my mind on the tension between narrative and play in video games. Upton provides a perspective that shows narrative is play, just a different kind of it. In fact, play undergirds all the arts, from board games to paintings to novels.

Three of the many things I learned from this book:

  • 5,000 year-old boardgames have been discovered inside Egyptian tombs
  • Slot machines are programmed to pop up with near misses of jackpots often, so players think the big score is just around the corner
  • Chinese narratives often follow a different structure than the Western. Where a Western narrative has some inciting incident leading to rising action and then a climax, Chinese narratives will instead establish a topic and then explore it in great detail before a plot twist throws everything into confusion, which is only resolved at the conclusion.

Steady as Ink Flows

Novel’s at 77,376 words.

Writing’s been chugging along this week. My last major decision — read: stop and outline — point was a few weeks back, so I’ve been mostly writing out the consequences of that.

There’s another I-have-no-idea-what-happens-next point coming up, where the other shoe is finally going to drop, and right on top of my main character’s head. Not quite sure how they’ll react.

I don’t think I’ll reach it till next week, though.

Hopefully I’ll have it figured out by then?

(Probably not)