Writing advice you’d do well to follow

When writing anything, especially fiction, I find it very difficult to remember my first draft is supposed to be crap. Unless you’re a genius, or you get lucky, then first drafts are never as good as you hope. This can stop you completing your work in one of two ways.

1. You never finish the first draft because you keep going over the beginning, trying to make it awesome now, instead of later.

and 2. You finish the first draft, but it’s so bad you lose the confidence to continue, to do what 99% of all your favourite writers have done with their work. Rewrite.

This weekend, via Graham Linehan on twitter (@Glinner), I came across two of the best examples of writing advice when it comes to first drafts. The first is from an interview with scriptwriter Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass, The Woman in Black, X-Men: First Class):

Don’t re-write as you go

This is absolutely fatal and such a massive waste of time. Part of that means not going back and re-reading what you’ve written. If you re-read you can find you’ve spent three days on the same 10 pages when you could have been racing through to the finish. You’re less likely to abandon a whole project if you’ve finished a whole draft, but you may well if you’ve spent three weeks polishing 30 pages over and over.

Don’t be afraid of a rubbish first draft

There is a great book on writing [Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird: Some Instructions On Writing And Life] with a chapter called, ‘Sh*tty First Drafts’. It’s good advice. Don’t torture yourself – allow your first draft to be cr*p and just focus on getting to the end. Then go back to improve it.


The whole piece is well-worth a read whether you write scripts or prose. But also, look, the mentioned chapter from Bird By Bird is online. Here’s a section of Shitty First Drafts:


For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.

The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page. If one of the char­acters wants to say, “Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?,” you let her. No one is going to see it. If the kid wants to get into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory, you let him. Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means. There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you’re supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go–but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages.


Again, you should read the whole chapter.

One final addition comes from Graham Linehan himself, and it is something I hadn’t considered before, but now I hope to remember each time I get intimidated by that shitty first draft:





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Community management done right

Via Gamesutra:

Buenaobra decided enough was enough, and her community team took to Reddit to provide an example to the community of how these supposed unfair bans were far from the truth. It was after seeing the positive reaction to this interactions between developer and community that ArenaNet realized that a full post on Reddit may be the best way to deal with the issue.

As part of the full post, the team responded to angry players who believed they had been banned for no good reason. “I would love to know what I was banned for,” says one Redditor, after which the ArenaNet representative pastes the exact crude chat which led to the ban, complete with vulgar, racist and sexist terms.

Having a scroll through the comments of the Reddit post is quite the eye-opener. Here’s just one example of an offending comment from the game’s in-game chat: “the worm IS fucking hard if you’re a fucking mentalpatient no we fucking dont you can take a keep with 5 people if you’re not a fucking dickhead.”

“We wanted to set the record straight in a more visible way,” notes Buenaobra. “We’ve done this before on a small-scale, one-off basis on fansite forums for the original Guild Wars. However, this is the first time we’ve done this in a more visible space such as Reddit. It’s also the first time we’ve broadly solicited information from players and quoted the actual chat that caused those account suspensions.”

Full article: Guild Wars 2: This is how you do community management

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Kraken Attack in London!: Photoshop Tutorial

Photoshop Tutorial for "Kraken Attacks London"

When I used to teach myself Photoshop, I found following tutorials to create cool images the most entertaining way to learn. Sure, I’d only create that one image this one time, but by going through the process and understanding the steps, I could then take those techniques and apply them on hundreds of images I would produce later.

For that reason I’m going to write up a few Photoshop tutorials myself. Today I’ll show you how I made Kraken Attack in London! (available to buy as cards, prints, and iPhone cases)

First you need to source your images. When looking for free imagery I like to search Flickr for those that are Creative-Commons licensed. And if you plan to adapt the image (which we definitely are) and sell the image in anyway (as I have done) then you need to make sure you tick these boxes:

Take your time looking for images. The first rule of good photo editing is making sure you source suitable images. Try to image how they’ll fit together. See if the angles will work. For this project I was looking for suitable city and creature shots. The other requirement of using Creative Commons-licensed content is attribution. You must attribute the original photographers. I’ve listed the names of the photos I used at the end of this tutorial.

Step 01: Open your base image in Photoshop. Use the marquee tool to select the area you wish to use. If you have a size ratio you wish to use, this can be set in the top bar. Once selected use Image > Crop to crop the image.


Continue reading

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Full-time photographers are an endangered species, but so what?

From The Independent’s Photography Blog:

No one can recall a time when there was less money available for photography whilst a demand to fill all the pages in our papers, magazines, websites or PR and advertising campaigns remains so strong.

Now, I’m not saying the industry deserves to be awash with cash simply because ‘hey, we’re artists, man’.  Neither am I expecting sympathy from people for the plight of the full-time photographer – it’s tough for everyone right now.  What I’m really concerned about is the fall in the quality of the photography we will experience as a result of undervaluing this commodity.  As I see it, the quality of images that we are presented with from advertising to editorial is now under threat.

I remember standing on the platform of the London Bridge tube station on my way home from work one day (back when I had a ‘proper job’…) and being confronted by a poster campaign encouraging me to visit Turkey.

They’d used some very poor quality images that were crudely composited together to create a fantasy land; a seascape, with a waterfall flowing into it (in the Med?!), with a Disney style castle on the shore.  It looked awful.

The whole post raises an issue I’ve noticed myself. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer at this stage.

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Publicly personal

I have a great admiration for those who write very personal blog posts. Those who can open themselves and show the world their bruises, their weaknesses, their love, their beauty, themselves.

It is not something I do. Like many, I’ve succumbed to the passive or vague (and usually half-drunk) tweet or facebook status. But it’s not the same.

Not that there aren’t good reasons to keep yourself to yourself. Our emotions often work against us. That moment of pride you write about comes across as a #humblebrag, and last night’s outpouring of sadness looks, or at least feels, embarrassing this morning. After the tears dried and your inner strength came crawling back.

But then, perhaps that only applies to self-pity (as Stephen Fry says, self-pity destroys everything around it except itself) or showing off. Posts unwittingly designed as a plea for love or admiration from others. What about simple and pure emotional honesty?

I don’t know. I think it’s a good thing, but not something I’m willing to do yet. Instead my approach is to pour the feelings, like unset jelly, into my fiction. Let it fill the cracks and solidify in ways that allow me to see it anew. I’m not so crass as to replicate myself or others in my stories, but the characters that exist there get to experience the pain and love, the beauty and hurt, the joy and fear, that I experience*.

And for that, my dear fictional friends, I am sorry. You better strap in, this novel is going to be quite the ride.


*This is not uncommon for fiction writers. It has often been said that the reason Douglas Adams’ final Hitchhiker’s Guide novel is so downbeat is due to him going through a difficult moment in his life.

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Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting

Scalzi, as ever, speaks much truth:

Dudes. Imagine life here in the US — or indeed, pretty much anywhere in the Western world — is a massive role playing game, like World of Warcraft except appallingly mundane, where most quests involve the acquisition of money, cell phones and donuts, although not always at the same time. Let’s call it The Real World. You have installed The Real World on your computer and are about to start playing, but first you go to the settings tab to bind your keys, fiddle with your defaults, and choose the difficulty setting for the game. Got it?

Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.

This means that the default behaviors for almost all the non-player characters in the game are easier on you than they would be otherwise. The default barriers for completions of quests are lower. Your leveling-up thresholds come more quickly. You automatically gain entry to some parts of the map that others have to work for. The game is easier to play, automatically, and when you need help, by default it’s easier to get.

Read the whole thing.

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Hemingway’s letter to Fitzgerald

I love Letters of Note and the sites latest edition is a reply by Ernest Hemingway to F Scott Fitzgerald giving his opinion on the latter’s latest novel, Tender Is The Night (coincidently, although I’ve read Hemingway, I only got round to reading The Great Gatsby a couple of weeks ago):


I’d like to see you and talk about things with you sober. You were so damned stinking in N.Y. we didn’t get anywhere. You see, Bo, you’re not a tragic character. Neither am I. All we are is writers and what we should do is write. Of all people on earth you needed discipline in your work and instead you marry someone who is jealous of your work, wants to compete with you and ruins you. It’s not as simple as that and I thought Zelda was crazy the first time I met her and you complicated it even more by being in love with her and, of course you’re a rummy. But you’re no more of a rummy than Joyce is and most good writers are. But Scott, good writers always come back. Always. You are twice as good now as you were at the time you think you were so marvellous. You know I never thought so much of Gatsby at the time. You can write twice as well now as you ever could. All you need to do is write truly and not care about what the fate of it is.


Go read the entire thing. Letters of Note:  Forget your personal tragedy

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Stross on DRM and ebooks

Many interesting thoughts from Charles Stross following Tor’s announcement that they are dropping DRM from their ebooks.

It’s my belief that today’s e-ink ebook readers are doomed to obsolescence within a short period — 2-3 years possibly, 5 years probably. This is because the power consumption of LCD displays is dropping and their quality is rising. e-ink devices are inherently incapable of displaying video, are lousy as web browsers due to the screen refresh time, and if you use them to play audio or do any intensive processing (such as running apps) their battery life drops towards that of a regular LCD-equipped tablet. They’re essentially single-purpose devices, competing in a market with general-purpose devices. Their only advantages are battery life and readability in direct sunlight, both of which are under threat. So it’s my belief that general purpose tablets (and big-screen smartphones) will drive e-ink readers out of the mass market within 2-5 years, just as smartphones killed off your 2003 Palm Pilot.

Secondly, the software:

The two current tablet/smartphone market incumbents are iOS (Apple) and Android (Google). (Microsoft is making a come-back attempt with Windows 8 Mobile, but is fighting an uphill battle.) These are essentially competing software platforms, like MacOS and Windows in the late 1980s. However, just five years ago, none of these platforms existed; the market was dominated by PalmOS, Symbian, and Microsoft’s dead PocketPC platform. I therefore conclude that it is a really bad idea to make assumptions about the devices customers will own in even 3 years’ time.

More on DRM and ebooks

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