4 ways to write if you can’t sit still (e.g. due anxiety)

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4 ways to write if you can’t sit still

This came up recently on Reddit; due mostly to anxiety, a poster could not write without constant pacing. (PSA: Constant pacing is pretty much incompatible with typing a story!)

I don’t get anxiety but I am a professional author, so I offered some purely technical workarounds in descending order of probable usefulness…

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Posted in Writing Tips

Big Magic Creativity Beyond Fear when you’re a professional with responsibilities

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“a professional with responsibilities”

So I just reviewed Elizabeth “Eat Love Pray” Gilbert’s Big Magic for Black Gate.

It’s a good entertaining book, and it has a wise message: Give yourself permission to enjoy your creativity for its own sake; don’t burden it with expectations, including the expectation that you will live off it – easy come, easy go.

And she’s right. Creativity is about play, which is hard to do when you are Being Serious.

But what if you have serious responsibilities and you do do it professionally?

I have kids and a mortgage. Other writers just have a partner, and the expectation of partnership is that the resources sometimes flow one way, sometimes the other.

Should we really have gone pro?

Possibly not! I had no choice since my day job then my profession went away. Others made a leap of faith based more on faith than financial calculation. But, just as entrepeneurs cannot resist starting new businesses, doctors have the vocation to doctor, and craft brewers want to just brew, most published writers really want to just write.

So we do go pro if we can, and that means burdening our creativity — and please, I’m using this term as a lable for our capacity to create, rather than a claim to special snowflake status — with the expectaton of earning money.

How do you play for money?

I’m not a fan of the macho concept of discipline, the idea that you should power through writer’s block etc by sheer force of will. I’d rather just know how to write, and do it. However, for me, there is a very real need for mental discipline in compartmentalising the money from the work.

When I sit down to write, I put on music, make myself comfortable and — by an act of self seduction more than will power — forget my adult responsibilities. There’s a judo to it if you do it right; writing — like gaming and reading — is an act of escapism, so as long as you treat it that way, the more burdened you are, the easier it is to escape

To do that, you have to give yourself permission to do something as frivolous as writing in the midst of all that adulting, and giving yourself permission is one of the main themes of Gilbert’s book…

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Posted in Writing Life

Charles Stross and I build a Sword and Planet universe and Kurtzhau (12) breaks it

Steam Punk Kurtzhau

…a year away from his first convention, and already using Halloween to dabble in Steam Punk cosplay.

“But it’s Science Fiction,” insists Charlie. He’s just handed Kurtzhau (12) a signed copy of the Atrocity Archives.

“No,” I say with a laugh. “It’s Horror – or at least it is as far as the school is concerned.”

A few days ago, Kurtzhau came home from school seething.  “The teacher says it’s important  to read outside your ‘comfort zone’!” He made sarcastic finger quotes and the word “crucial” hung in the air between us unspoken (but I bet somebody thought it).

The English department is getting the kids to keep score of the books they’ve read, with prizes and other extrinsic rewards I don’t approve of. Having finally graduated to adult SF, Kurtzhau is already an avid reader and so pulling ahead. Now, however, binging on one genre (Science Fiction) and a handful of series (Vorkosigan Saga and the more military Star Wars) isn’t good enough.

“Bugger that,” I said. “How about some Horror – I bet you’re old enough for Charlie’s Cthulhu stuff.”

“It’s Horror – or at least it is as far as the school is concerned.”

So now we’re in the coffee shop with Charlie – Charles Stross.

Kurtzhau has always enjoyed hanging around while I have coffee with my creative mates – Charlie, animator Hugh Hancock, and sometimes Hannu Rajaneimi. Back when he was a pre-schooler, Kurtzhau loved our trips to the now defunct Blue Moon Cafe where he evolved from buggy-confined baby, to babyccino slurping toddler. Then school got in the way. However if we had a day off together, sometimes he’d say, “You could have coffee with your friends…if you like.” At first I thought he was after the epicurean hot chocolate (I’d like the Mexican WITH The Chilli please) . However, it soon became apparent that he liked listening to our conversations…

So now he’s an articulate junior geek, a year away from his first convention, and already using Halloween to dabble in Steam Punk cosplay.

The three of us – Charlie, me and Kurtzhau – sit amidst the hipsters and talk ideas and Science Fiction. At length we turn to the possible return of the Sword and Planet genre. I quite fancy designing  a universe with both spaceships and sword fights.

…to hell with blades, I’d go into battle with a basket of rabid ferrets and just throw them at people.

Kurtzhau treats us to his rant on how to kill a Jedi; shotgun and grenades, mostly – Parry that! Charlie – if I remember right – wants to use bio weapons. I throw in the idea of unlit fuel-air explosive – Go on, Jedi, switch on your light sabre. And Kurtzhau wonders why nobody uses force powers simply to switch off the other guy’s weapon…

Then we contemplate literary Sword and Planet settings like Dune and Deathstalker which use velocity-limiting fields. Charlie proposes a pneumatic rapid-fire arrow thrower based on Chinese repeating crossbows. I say to hell with blades, I’d go into battle with a basket of rabid ferrets and just throw them at people.

At this point we’re having  a lot of fun and the middle aged guys and the pre-teen are meeting somewhere in the middle…. well to be honest, more like somewhere near the lower end of the age range.

But how, we wonder, can you create a self-consistent setting where people with spaceships use swords?

“Ah,” says Charlie, “They don’t want to damage the spaceship when they fight.”

“Gas,” says Kurtzhau. “Darts. Stunners.”(At this point Charlie references the Evil Overlord Checklist.)

“Sod it,” I say. “I’ll just use some quasi-magic to do with life force.”

“You know me,” says Charlie. “I want to do it Mundane SF style.”

“But swords just don’t make sense without a cheat,” I say.

“They do!” exclaims Kurtzhau, now full of Mexican hot chocolate and possibly a little buzzed. “If the enemy spam you with Cheap Canon Fodder so you run out of  ammo then a chainsword is PERFECT.”

“If the enemy spam you with Cheap Canon Fodder so you run out of ammo then a chainsword is PERFECT.”

“Yes,” I say, “But we’re trying to do an adventure story universe, not emulate Warhammer 40K. We want heroic sword duels as standard.”

“Wait!” says Charlie. “You have point defense lasers to take out out the incoming bullets. But the lasers can’t penetrate the armour…”

“So then you have to use swords!” I cry. “Big swords driven by your powered armour. Bingo!”

“No,” says Kurtzhau, “You mount the lasers on a Really Big Tank with a fu–Massive Gun.”

Pause.

We laugh.

Yes, we briefly built a heroic Sword and Planet universe, and Kurtzhau has gone and turned it into a dystopia dominated by marauding nuclear-powered mega tanks.

Then Charlie gets out his iPad and shows Kurtzhau pictures of German WWII mega tanks and we fall to discussing their utility or not. Kurtzhau would rather have some T34s, I think.

So it is that at an age where most kids break your computer or wreck your carpet, my 12-year-old son broke our story world.


And here we must leave Kurtzhau, not quite come of age, but ready to control and project his own image.

I started dad-blogging back on LJ because I wanted everybody to know that parenting was not some Buffy-esque black hole from which people emerged after decades, grey and dried out, but rather a fun choice if you were up for it. I’ve also loved chronicling Kurtzhau’s joy in discovering books and history and gaming, and – to be honest – what proud parent doesn’t like talking about their child?

I may reminisce and he will feature in stories about my life. There will be stories about raising Morgenstern, his geeky rough-tough little sister. But this is chronologically the Last Ever Kurtzhau Entry. If you want to hear what happens next, then you’ll have to catch him at a con or over a gaming table and ask him yourself.

(I can, however, tell you that Kurtzhau read and enjoyed the first Laundry book and is now blitzing through Ernst Junger’s Storm of Steel. Next up is the first of Simon Scarrow’s Eagle series.  Perhaps the school was right after all…)

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Posted in Blog Post

How do I manage my writing time?

Writers must multi-task.

Professionally, it’s a must — we’re editing one manuscript while drafting another, all the while keeping up with blogging and admin.

Artistically, it’s also a must. Too long just editing and we grow stale and twitchy. Too long drafting, and we lose sight of our next project. Plus most projects benefit from mulling time where we don’t think about them, and if we’re not pushing one project forward, then we want to be working on another because we have too many ideas and too few years…

Multi-tasking is challenging. Short term projects offer a quicker fix — attention, money and sense of accomplishment — than the long-term ones. Meanwhile our ability to efficiently perform a core activity depends on momentum, mood and mental fatigue (3M), and therefore the point where we need to make lucid decisions is usually also the point where we are least able to make them.

Old fashioned project management planning can’t help much because of 3M (and, to be honest, writer). More modern Getting Things Done-style approaches are also infective because we have too few external events to break up our working day into identifiable slots.

I find muddling through  unsustainable because it’s stressful — All those decisions! — and guilt inducing —  Why am I having fun planning a new novel when I should be marketing the one I already have and so making some money Right Now?  I’d rather have a system that I can point to and say: this is what I should do next and I’m working toward the future using this system.

So (actually inspired by Secrets Of The Baby Whisperer) I’ve evolved my own approach which I am now formalising. Here it is in a nutshell:

Managing writing time

Active Projects

Writing projects naturally fit into three phases:

  • Planning — researching, outlining, test writing, tinkering…
  • Drafting — the actual writing
  • Editing — turning the draft into something publishable.

Each involves a different kind of mental activity and a different mental space, so I find I can have one active project of in each phase. More than that and I risk a kind of mental log jam, though I seem to be able to have more than one project in draft phase as long as they are of different sub genres.

So this gives me:

  • One active project on each phase.
  • One of these projects is the Focus Project. This is usually the one with the most real deadlines, and the most identifiable returns.

Supporting Activities

These are the things you have to do in order to keep writing (and stay married, keep your children out of jail etc). They include everything from Outreach (social media, marketing etc) through to Life.

Non-Writing Time

Time when you are not actually writing. This is usually punctuated by family and living, and not conducive to any kind of working in flow. Most of the Overheads should find time in this space — I can do my tax returns in 20 minute sessions between cooking and looking after the kids, for example.

Writing Time

This is the precious uninterrupted time when you can work “in flow”.

Put the bulk of your daily effort into your Focus Project. When you grind to a halt, take a break to do something physical– wash the dishes, drill with a sword, all the normal stuff you do — then switch to either whatever Active Project you feel like or a pressing Supporting Task. So a typical day might comprise 4 hours editing, 1 blogging, 1 planning a new novel.

All projects have campaigns; natural spans of work. These could be days or weeks long. When you hit diminishing returns, switch focus to another Active Project. So if you have spent a week editing, spend a day drafting something or planning another project. This enables you to balance long and short term professional needs, and to stay sane.

*   *  *

I’ll be trying out this formalised approach over the next couple of seasons. I’ll let you know how it goes….

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Posted in Blog Post, Business of Writing, Writing Life, Writing Tips

Spec for perfect Fantasy mapping tool for authors

This is a rough draft for sharing…

1 Introduction

Fantasy authors, game designers and referees need a tool for creating and maintaining imaginary worlds.

Since we are in the business of crafting and/or extemporising narrative, our requirements only partially overlap with those of cartographers and designers.

  • Where cartographers need precision, we need indeterminacy so that narrative can shape details and not the other way around.

  • Where designers need automation and aesthetics, we need control and ease-of-use so we can focus on creating rather than tool use.

Even so, our worlds need to be consistent over time, and presented in a manner that engages the imagination.

A GlobeMaster file should be able to contain all the cartographical information generated for a particular world.

I hope the following makes sense…

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2 Vision

WorldMaster presents the user with a virtual old style globe like this (see right).

This globe is the primary means of interacting with the world, though the software can generate a range of useful projections.

It displays qualitative rather than quantitative information, for example mountain symbols rather than contour lines.

3 Information Content

The globe displays the following information:

3.1 Grid

Depending on Zoom, the standard grid appears.

3.2 Landmasses and Ocean

Landmasses can be dragged and dropped during initial creation, but otherwise remain locked.

  • There may be tools to create fractal edges and realistic continental shift, but otherwise users rather than formula shape the continents and islands.
  • Oceans are portions of the globe not covered by Landmasses.

3.3 Text

Text is available for labels and notes.

  • Text can be attached to features.

3.4 Lines, shadings and arrows

The user can draw on the globe as required, e.g. to show trade routes, prevailing winds etc.

3.5 Terrains

Terrains are represented by generic Terrain Symbols, such as swamps, mountains and trees. The symbols indicate the quality of the terrain.

GlobeMaster handles terrains as Terrain Areas, Terrain Lines and Terrain Features.

  • Tools may exist for automatically generating or applying default terrain based on climate.

3.5.1 Terrain Areas

Terrain Areas are polygons containing Terrain Symbols, such as swamps, mountains and trees. The symbols indicate the quality of the terrain rather than specific quantities such as height.

(Note that no scaling is required; the idea is to show that a patch of the world is mountainous without committing to specifics.)

  • Where the Terrain Areas overlap, GlobeMaster combines the symbols. For example, mountains and jungles will produce mountains with jungle around the bases.

3.5.2 Terrain Lines

Terrain Lines are user-drawn lines that show linear features such as Rivers, Passes, Roads and Mountain Ranges.

  • Terrain Lines override any Terrain Areas they cross.

  • Some Terrain Line types show interaction between Terrain Areas and Terrain Lines, for example Mountain Road shows a road winding around a mountain.

  • All Terrains types are available as Terrain Lines.

3.5.3 Terrain Features

Features represent things such as Cities, Castles, Towers of Ultimate Evil, and specific Mountains.

  • Features are resizable.

  • Features override Terrains and Terrain Lines.

  • All Terrains are also available as Features.

  • Feature symbols are generic in order to not present wrong information. E.g. only one castle symbol.

4Functions

4.1Measuring

A tool enables measuring from point to point and along Terrain Lines.

4.2 Turning

The globe can be turned by simple dragging and behaves like a physical globe.

  • Symbols maintain a fixed orientation with an option to redraw.

4.3 Zooming

You can zoom in and out as required. However, the Globe has five standard zoom thresholds – Global, Continent, Region, Local, Tactical.

  • Zooming scales the symbols so that they look sane. Typically, this means that symbols maintain the same screen size, e.g. a region of mountains simply shows more mountains.

  • Lower level edits do not automatically propagate to the higher levels, e.g. tweaking the course of a river and adding a village at the Local level does not impact the Regional level.

  • Higher level edits do not automatically erase lower level ones.

4.4 Layers

You can add information to different layers, switching them off and on as required.

  • Each terrain type has a layer.

4.5 Export Projections

GlobeMaster can export a variety of projections. These should not look embarrassing,

  • Symbols are resized after creating the projection, so not oddly stretched.

  • Scales, compass roses etc are provided.

  • Optional Hexagon overlay. Nice if this could be stretched by the projection.

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Posted in Blog Post

Two senior authors like Storyteller Tools!

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Ken MacLeod – British Hard Science Fiction author, he’s also writer in residence at Edinburgh’s Napier University Creative Writing MA

Just in case you were wondering what established authors think about my Storyteller Tools: Outline from vision to finished novel without losing the magic (download)…

Ken MacLeod recently tweeted:

  • @mharoldpage Found your book very useful in getting from ideas etc to plot and story.

Ken is not only a very senior British Hard Science Fiction author, he’s also writer in residence at Edinburgh’s Napier University Creative Writing MA!

His tweet triggered a similar tweet from Hannu Rajaniemi, Gollancz SF author and real-life nanotech guru:

  •  Also find myself to coming back to @mharoldpage‘s book in the early stages. Just convinced an aspiring writer friend to buy it.

So I’ll hope you agree my little self-contained writing handbook passes the works in the real world test 🙂

Which reminds me, you can now get Storyteller Tools as a downloadable PDF.

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Posted in Storyteller Tools

Swords Versus Tanks 3 published!

Phew! I just hit publish on Swords Versus Tanks 3 – PYRAMID OF BLOOD! It should be appearing shortly, but in the mean time here’s a link to my author pagesvt3-small

It was perhaps the hardest to edit because I didn’t want my authorial wrath to fall on the wrong target.

As you can tell from the cover, Ranulph and his Vikings end up in my quasi-Meso-American continent and get into a fight with the locals.

The snag was that since this was going out in an episode, rather than as a section of a longer book, it had to convey its theme without the context of the rest of the story.

Just to be clear, it’s not about “OMG Aztecs were awful they deserved to be conquered,” but rather, “The past was bloody awful everywhere and people are foolish to look to find a utopia in pre-modern times.”

Yes, the Aztecs, Mayans and Olmecs had amazing civilizations, but most of the evidence also points to an equally amazing number of human sacrifices, some of them too nasty to describe here. However, there’s no moral high ground here in the West either. We might not have thrown up pyramids and torn out people’s hearts, but we wiped out the Cathers, slaughtered suspected witches, massacred the “pagan”… Even when you remove religion as a motivator, our ancestors were pretty good at massacring innocents. The same goes for the Northmen. Wonderful ships, amazing wargear, exciting mythology… shame about the rape, pillage and slaving, not to mention the human sacrifice.

So line them up in a story, make them fight, admire their prowess and their culture. Just remember that though our ancestors may have been giants, they are giants on whose dead shoulders we stand so we can inhabit our own, fragile, moral high ground.

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Posted in Swords Versus Tanks

Warhammer 40K as a tool for literary criticism

“The English teacher said she liked your analysis of The Pearl,” I say.

We just back from our first parent-teacher thing at Kurtzhau’s high school. They’ve been reading John ‘Tell-me-About-The-Rabbits-BLAM’ Steinbeck.

“Yes,” says Kurtzhau, eyes twinkling. “It’s because I used the Horus Heresy.”

“WTF?” I blink. “I mean, um… how?”

“Well,” says Kurtzhau. “I thought that the pearl is like the Chaos Gods. It seems to make you more powerful, but really it corrupts everything, then everybody gets killed, so its a Tragedy.”

I laugh. “You actually used Warhammer as a tool for literary criticism – Oh God I hope you didn’t actually mention 40K?”

Kurtzhau laughs. “Of course not!”

“On the other hand, you really should tell your Religious Education teacher that you think that the Lore of the 40K universe is both true and preordained…”

“Do you have the next Bujold book,” asks Kurtzhau, firmly changing the subject. 

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Posted in Geek Parenting

PUBLISHED Swords Versus Tanks Ep.2: Vikings battle Zeppelins while forbidden desires spark!

Episode 2 drops back to give us a lyrical exploration of the world of Westerland  continues the fast-paced genre pit fight!

It sets Vikings against Zeppelins, but also seats Jasmine, Ranulph and Lady Maud around the same table at a feast that might owe a little to the Curtis & Douglas The Vikings, in a setting inspired by holidays on Scotland’s West Coast where Vikings segued into Galloglasses:

Tanks have driven swords from the field… for now.
In the company of a not-entirely-stable sorceress, Sir Ranulph seeks more powerful magic in the Rune Isles.
However, Colonel Jasmine Klimt takes ship on a priest-blessed Zeppelin, part of an expedition to the same destination!
What will happen when they all meet?
And, if it comes to a fight, which will prevail: magic and cold steel, or religion and technology?
Find out in Episode 2 of SWORDS VERSUS TANKS!

So we see more of Lady Maud (a lot more…), get to know Colonel Jasmine Klimt more… erm… intimately. Oh and there are Vikings and a Zeppelin and Magic.

You really have to read it!


Click to download Swords Versus Tanks Ep.2: “Vikings battle Zeppelins while forbidden desires spark!” and start reading right away!

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Posted in Swords Versus Tanks, Uncategorized Tagged with:

Authentic combat in Swords Versus Tanks!

SvT THUMBOne of the 5-star reviews of Swords Versus Tanks 1 enthuses, not about the genre mashup that strikes a chord with other reviewers, but about the authentic Historical European Martial Arts:

Our hero still has to worry about concussion or stabs through vulnerable maille, but gets to joyously wade in to hordes of men at arms – and his greatsword can cut through non-enchanted armor- including time-portaled tanks.
Great fun, and I’m looking forward to more volumes!
5 Stars for the author’s knowledge of historical armored combat systems and the joys of harnischfecten.

I guess it helps that I teach German Longsword, and that – long ago – I used to fight in plate armour.

You see they always said, “write what you know”, so nearly two decades ago, I joined the Dawn Duellists Society, Edinburgh’s first HEMA club just to learn enough to write a good fight scene. I’m still there.

In case you are not a HEMA person (Hey! Why are you wasting your life? Google HEMA and your area and get started now!!!) longsword combat is different depending on whether you are in a civilian clothes or armor.

The civilian stuff (as in the same way a Colt 45 is a civilian weapon)– what I teach — is epic stuff, with the blades slithering and skipping around, dealing slices, stabs and strikes.

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You can also grab the blade with both hands and use it like a hammer…

The armored combat, however, is nasty and short.

Typically, you grab your blade with your left hand, hold your sword like a paddle, and try to wrestle and club your opponent to death. You can also grab the blade with both hands and use it like a hammer…

The nasty thing about plate combat is that the weakest points in plate armor are also the most intimate, least pleasant to contemplate.

Good targets, according to the ancient manuals, include the crotch (Jesus Christ!), inside the cuffs (Imagine that blade scraping up your forearm…), the crook of the knee (Ewww), the armpits (Wince), the throat (Ugh) — anywhere where the plate leaves off and you’re relying on just maille, or even — God forbid — quilted fabric.

That’s one of the things Swords Versus Tanks is big on — the reality of it all… the sweat, the blood, the nasty little wounds as well as the dramatic depersonalizing  ones.

With the illusions of pretty swordplay stripped away, knights look far less glamorous, and yet I think — since they often did this for kicks as much as for duty — so much more spectacular!


 

If you haven’t already, click to download Swords Versus Tanks Episode 1: Armoured heroes clash across the centuries!

And don’t miss Swords Versus Tanks Episode 2: Vikings battle Zeppelins while forbidden desires spark!

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Posted in HEMA, Historical European Martial Arts, My Books, Swords Versus Tanks, Uncategorized Tagged with: ,