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Archive for July, 2009

402px-Madeline_BreckinridgeI don’t know what I’m thinking until I write. I can’t remember who said that or if my remembering is even accurate. Writing has nothing to do with word processing, the eternal quest for the perfect editor or the latest megaflop — do everything faster — super computer. Technology is the enemy of writing, a simple quill pen is much better.

All writing begins in our minds. Writing is exploring and releasing our ideas onto the page. Writing (the real kind) is discovery. I’m not kidding about the quill pen either. When you write longhand, there’s a direct connection between your mind and your hand moving across the page. Barriers dissolve when I write with my fountain pen.

When you sit staring at a blank computer screen wondering what to write
and little or nothing going through your mind ends up on the screen, your thoughts and ideas can slip away forever. When you just write what’s on your mind and edit later, you will have too much and much of what you’ve written will be crap. But you will never lose any of your thoughts and the gems will be there for harvesting.

“But I might make mistakes” you say. I sure hope so. Your inner critic, that pain in the butt editor delights in pointing his or her finger and telling you what’s wrong even as you write (or try to). Your inner critic wants to play it safe.

Creativity isn’t safe, it’s risky. Your creative self, your dragon doesn’t understand the concept of mistake, only discovery and play. So called mistakes are how we learn and how we grow.

How will you know what you’re thinking
or how your ideas will pan out until you write uninhibited? Word processing is the enemy of writing because it stands in the way. Word processing is packaging, the antithesis of writing.

Do I want to write everything out longhand? Of course not. Longhand writing helps shake out the cobwebs and fuel the creative engine. Longhand is a beginning.

Writing is also rewriting,
the stage when you need the cooperation of both sides of your brain and the technology of a good editor or word processor. But only after you’ve given birth to your ideas.

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Photo of Chiostrino di Santa Maria Novella by Sailko

Photo of Chiostrino di Santa Maria Novella by Sailko

I love the novella form. The word “novella” is an Italian term meaning “story.” I thought it would be fun to use this photo of the Cloisters of Santa Maria Novella as an illustration. If a short story is like a snapshot of life, a novella is like a photograph that invites and explores a single issue. If you carry my analogy a bit further, the modern novel is more like a full length movie.

Longer than the longest short story and shorter than a novel, a novella is typically between 15,000 and 40,000 words in length. The length of the novella gives the author the freedom to explore a single issue in great depth not possible in a short story.

The novella form has a unity, a singular focus that can be lost in the plots and sub plots of a long novel. Here are a few examples of the novella:

  • Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”
  • Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice”
  • Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”
  • Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”
  • George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”

Each of these fine works can be read in a single sitting. Single novellas in book form are rare because they are too short to meet the structural requirements of the printed book. When you can find novellas, they are often grouped into a quartet to meet print publishing requirements. I’d love to see a renaissance of the novella and the E-Book is the perfect format.

It’s time for a paradigm shift. Instead of viewing E-Books as digital versions of printed books, why not capitalize on the virtues of the E-Book instead? Freed of traditional production and distribution constraints imposed by printed books, E-Books can go where the printed book can’t.

Novellas, short stories, thoughtful essays, single articles are all E-Book candidates. Instead of being aggregated into anthologies or included in print magazines, short pieces can finally stand on their own. Might this be an opportunity for writers similar to single music tracks and the iPod?

I read a book containing four novellas by four different authors last week. It was a $15 paperback. With a typical 10% royalty, each author would receive a mere 38 cents from the sale of each book. What if each novella was offered at 99 cents on a site like Scribd? Too low? Well even at this price, the author would receive 54 cents, almost 50% more than book royalties. 99 cents is probably a good price for a short story.

A novella ought to be worth a bit more, say $1.59. An author would receive $1.02 from Scribd, nearly three times what he or she would receive in book royalties for the same novella. A best selling author who receives the highest print royalties would get about $4.19 on the sale of a $27.95 hardcover book. A book of four novellas would net the best selling author $1.05 for each novella. Hmmm — I like this math.

Readers benefit as well. I’ve purchased short stories and novellas from fictionwise to read on my palm. You can tell that was a while back. I never minded paying a dollar or two for a good read. E-Books open a new world of writing, publishing and reading not possible in the world of printed books.

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Our columbine flowers arrived on the wind one summer. I was surprised and delighted when I found these delicate blooms. I had no idea what they were (my wife filled me in), but they begged to be remembered. I spent many hours, tripod low to the ground on splayed legs, crawling around on my hands and knees, photographing the ethereal beauty of the white columbines & the dark mystery of the purple. The two images below are the best in the series. Enjoy.

white columbines 1

Ethereal popped into my head as the perfect adjective to describe this scene. I can imagine a story evolving from this image of the white columbines. I tried to picture what it might be like to enter the macro world and walk among the giant columbines in a green world of wonder.

Purple Flower

Contrast this image of purple columbine with it’s air of dark mystery. Brooding? Looming? Then again, the image is more abstract and I have no desire to visit a forest of these dark flowers. What creatures could be lurking in the shadows?

I love the way both images stimulate my writer’s imagination. Beauty and mystery, huge rodents crashing through the underbrush, the shadows of monster birds passing overhead, spiders the size of mastiffs spinning rope like webs to capture the unwary tourist. Of course the technology that allows me to shrink to the size of an insect protects me with my Mark IX portable force field — when I remember to turn it on.

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Sometimes doing nothing is the best way to boost your productivity. Ruminating isn’t the same as procrastinating. When you ruminate, you relax and allow the moment to carry you. Call it daydreaming, ruminating, musing… the words don’t matter. You’re not denying reality, you’re giving in to genuine reality and opening the lines of communication with your dragon.

popsicle

You could take lessons from Sara. She’s about as relaxed as a kid could possibly be — just her Popsicle and her world. When you look at the image, you wonder if Sara is even aware of the Popsicle in her hand. This is one laid back kid.

Just as ruminating isn’t procrastinating, busy isn’t necessarily productive.
Busy doing the “wrong” thing(s) is procrastination. You might have a deadline for an article. So you get busy doing something, anything to keep from starting your article because you don’t know how to begin. You might relax with a Popsicle, stare out the window at the clouds or another “non-action” instead. Your inner critic will go nuts because you aren’t doing anything. Oh, but yes you are. You are recharging. You are open to the whispers of your dragon and the currents of the universe.

Real writing happens when you aren’t trying too hard.
I’ve written some of my best stuff in the shower. All action, in fact all things that “are,” begin in the mind with thought. When you feel ready to record what you’ve written in your ruminations, keep daydreaming, sneak over to your computer before your inner critic catches you and let the words flow. You can fix the grammar and punctuation later.

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Competition is healthy. Up to now, Amazon and their Kindle have dominated the E-Book market. Barnes & Noble made two exciting announcements on Monday that will pump new life and energy into the E-Book market. Barnes & Noble Makes a Big Splash Into E-books (Melissa J. Perenson, PC World, Jul 20, 2009 4:40 pm).

800px-CandlestickTelephones

B&N opened their eBookstore on Monday, July 20. All new releases and bestsellers will be priced at $9.99. The virtual shelves add the half-million free public domain ebooks available from Google to B&N’s own stock of 200,000 titles. That’s a lot of books. Not as many as Amazon’s 300,000 Kindle titles, but B&N expects their inventory to top one million titles within the next year.

Todd Weiss, in his PC World article, hopes B&N will get it right and learn from what he calls “Kindle mistakes.” Barnes & Noble: Please Avoid These Kindle Mistakes, (Todd R. Weiss, PC World, Jul 21, 2009 10:11 am).

When you buy an E-book from B&N, it’s yours. You won’t be held hostage to a device. All their books will be in the ePub format and yes they will be DRM protected, but once you purchase a book from them, it’s yours. If you need another copy, all you need do is log in and download. I’ve had a fictionwise account (B&N acquired fictionwise earlier this year) for years and it works well. Content from B&N won’t be tied to their e-reader like Amazon locks people into the Kindle and that’s a good thing.

The ereader coming from B&N is next generation and has me excited. B&N is partnering with Plastic Logic and the device will be available early next year. The new reader uses plastic transistors! It’s thin, it’s light, it will hold thousands of books and it’s 8 1/2 x 11. Plastic Logic says their reader is primarily intended for business users and that’s great because you’ll be able to load the reader with PDF, excel, Word, and other common file formats.

Push buttons to navigate the reader? Nope, it’s touchscreen all the way and has a built in file management system to make life easy for the user. The Kindle is just a reader and proprietary at that. The Plastic Logic reader is a document management system, an electronic storage and reading device and it’s next generation. Sorry Todd, but no backlight. Then again, how many printed books are backlit?

Plastic Logic Demos E-Book Reader With WiFi , 3G
(Ian Paul, PC World, May 28, 2009 8:40 am). I want one. No price announced as yet, but B&N will have to compete with the Kindle on price. They win on features. War or healthy competition? We’ll all benefit from B&N’s move into the E-Book marketplace. The market should expand (I bet it explodes over the next few years) and that’s a good thing for readers and writers alike. Plastic Logic is hard at work on a color version. This is exciting indeed.

Update. Zack Urlocker of Infoworld, thinks Barnes & Noble’s new eBookstore lacks significance. Can Barnes & Noble — or Anyone — Dislodge Kindle? B&N and Plastic Logic are doing more than getting out there and creating noise Zack. This is anything but a me too strategy.

The Kindle is only good for reading Amazon’s proprietary ebook format. OK, you can read PDF files too but you have to jump through hoops to install a PDF. What else does the Kindle do? I wouldn’t drop one, the glass might break.

Plastic Logic’s device is next generation and will store common business formats. The owner is in charge of their own reader, not the vendor. All of Barnes & Noble’s titles are being issued in the ePub format and can be read on just about every electronic device with a screen. You buy an E-Book from B&N and you own it. They won’t snatch it back in the middle of the night either.

Me too? Nope. Amazon wants to control the market. B&N and Plastic Logic are betting on people, an open market and real innovation. The Kindle in it’s present form is a dead end.

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I never knew I loved hostas until we moved to New Jersey. My wife wanted them in our yard because they love the shade. We planted a few and every year, Tracy divides some of the plants and starts new ones.

yard001

And each season, the lawn gets smaller.

wet hosta

Up close and personal after a rain.

Hosta bud

A promise of things to come.

Hosta

Such beautiful, delicate flowers rising up on long stems out of the mass of green leaves every summer! This photo is  one of my all time favorites. I have a framed 8×10 hanging in my office.

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The only thing that matters is the journey. When I set out on my bicycle this morning, I didn’t care when I got there because there wasn’t any there to get to. Eventually I’d end up at home again, but meanwhile — on a perfect summer Sunday morning…

road02

My speedometer broke months ago and I threw it out. Who needs that stuff anyway? I know I’m going fast when I feel the wind in my face and hear the roar in my ears. God invented gravity so I could become a kid again, racing downhill without pedaling. And when I stopped at the top of the next hill to drink in the water, the sun, the summer sky and the quiet, knowing I climbed that bad boy in high gear, I inhaled the joy of the journey.

Who needs the baggage? Who needs the stuff?
Where to next? Find the quiet roads (cars count as stuff too) and keep riding — past cornfields where the corn is taller than me, trees in full glory, blue skies, flowers. I could ride forever hearing the birdsong.

I passed a jogger going the other way. She waved. I waved back. I could have said good morning but I had no idea what time it was and didn’t care either because time stopped today. There was only now.

Can you imagine the passion and joy we could bring to our writing if we forget our baggage, if we leave all our stuff home and just write? Write without worrying where we are going or where we’ve been? We can you know.

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