There’s not much to write about at the moment. Between a family health thing and family in town for Christmas, there are other things to focus on. Be well. Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Merry Kwanzaa, Merry Festivus, Happy Solstice, and happy holidays for the other festivities and celebrations I’ve overlooked.
Opinion pieces are meant to articulate thoughts and ideas informed by fact. They are not, however, formal reporting.
Social Media Ambivalence
I am experiencing some ambivalence when it comes to social media, although most of that is about Twitter. I use a few different platforms, for different purposes, and I am trying out a pair of newer ones.
What and Why
I currently use most of the common social media platforms. Facebook is mainly about friends and family, keeping up with what they are doing or thinking. LinkedIn is about professional connections, and keeping up with that community. Instagram is a weird mix of friends, family, and various celebrities or other notable personalities. I visit each of them once per day. On Instagram, once I’ve “caught up”, I don’t keep scrolling. I did for a time, and it was easy to lose a lot of time to that. No more.
Then there’s Twitter, Mastodon, and Post. The latter two I’m experimenting with, seeing if I use them differently than I did with Twitter. Twitter is, for me, an oddball. There’s no way to keep up with each and every tweet from the people I follow. I’ve reduced the number of accounts I follow there over the years, but even then, I usually didn’t read everything. It wasn’t hard for a thousand or more tweets to pile up in a 24-hour period, and that’s with me following maybe 50 people.
Twitter The Outlier
I wasn’t sure about Twitter when I first joined in 2009. It was already 3 years old by that point, and appeared to be gaining traction. It was when social media was becoming more of ‘a thing’, and there was an expectation in some circles that you should be part of it. I followed a lot of different people and organizations, all of whom I was interested in, or sometimes connected with, in some way. But it didn’t take long to get buried in tweets. I would check once a day, and there were thousands of unread tweets. This was before promotions and recommendations started to appear on the site.
For the next few years, I would stop using Twitter for months at a time, or even for more than a year. Then I would come back, pay attention for a few weeks or months, then just sort-of “wander off”. I removed more and more of the accounts I followed to try to get the volume of tweets down, but it was relentless/ There were just enough accounts that I wanted to follow, and many are fairly prolific posters.
To Stay Or Go
I have been considering deleting my Twitter accounts for some time now, long before the Elon Musk Imploding Disaster Show arrived on the scene. And leaving isn’t really about the dumpster fire fueled with thermite that Twitter appears to be devolving into. Twitter was a mess before that, it’s just managed to get worse. I, fortunately, had been spared that, in part because I used TweetDeck, which doesn’t show ads, promoted or recommended tweets, or following suggestions. I rarely posted anything. What I did tweet was apparently uninteresting, so I wasn’t subject to the trolls that roam the Twitter landscape.
But I also found that I had little or no engagement from Twitter and my modest number of followers. I generally tweeted a link to my most recent blog posts, as I do on other social media sites. The number of visits to my blogs that were courtesy of Twitter were generally zero. I would get some from Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. But almost nothing from Twitter.
The only thing holding me back is that I have a few connections on Twitter that aren’t on other social media platforms, and I’d like to stay connected to them. I go back every week or so and check for notifications on Twitter. But otherwise, I’ve stopped using it again.
Stay, For Now
For the moment, I’m going to keep my personal and Vintrock Twitter accounts. Part of it is to retain the Twitter handles. Part of it is because maybe, perhaps, things might change again. For now that appears unlikely, but who knows. But I’ve got the accounts reasonably secure, I’ve removed a bunch of personal information from them, and it costs me nothing to let them sit. Whether I also stay on Mastodon and Post is a question mark, but I need to give both a lot more time before I decide what I do next. It’s too soon to make any decisions on them.
While I’ve already technically “won” NaNoWriMo 2022, the book itself isn’t done. I’ve crossed the 60,000 word threshold now. I’m working toward completing one of the other achievements, which is updating my writing progress every day for the month.
Ease Off The Throttle
I don’t expect to work on writing seven days a week. Like any task, breaks are a good thing. It keeps you fresh, and it helps you focus. Starting in December, I expect to focus on writing at least five days a week. The big lesson for me was understanding how productive I was (or wasn’t) going to be, and how much time do I need in a day for writing. I seem to be able to get a fair bit done in about an hour or two, hitting my personal goal of 2,000 words in a day.
Those words are, right now, first draft words. I’m working on getting the story told, knowing I have to go back and revise and revisit what I’ve created. The idea that I can create the “perfect” work on the first try is beyond optimistic. Moreso, since I’m still new to becoming a novelist. Writing itself isn’t hard for me. Writing well is where the challenge lies.
This novel, so far, plus the one I drafted a few years ago, are proving to be encouraging. I enjoy the act of creation, whether it’s crafting a story, building a piece of software, or taking wood and making something. Building is part of who I am, not just what I do. Being able to build entire worlds is fun and a challenge.
I’m into the next section of the novel. One of the big events has now passed, but we’re building toward the finale. Sure, I’ve already planned generally how the story is going to end. But there’s an element of mystery, since I don’t know exactly how it will turn out. And the story has already morphed a bit from my initial vision. Here’s to the final few chapters!
Is Andor Near-Perfection? (Spoilers)
(Warning this contains spoilers on Season 1 of Andor, proceed at your own risk)
Season 1 of Andor wrapped up on Wednesday, and I am almost speechless. The consistency and quality over 12 episodes was breathtaking. It’s interesting because it’s Star Wars, but not Star Wars in the conventional sense. It’s like Star Wars, but with a real edge. I am keeping fingers, toes, eyes and whatever else I can cross crossed because I hope they can maintain it into season 2. And I hope beyond hope they don’t use the second season to hype up more spin-offs they way they did with season 2 of The Mandalorian.
The depth of the characters, the dialog, the pacing, the dialog (again), and THE DIALOG. Holy crap, it’s nice to see someone who can write high-quality dialog that is expository and exhilarating, and doesn’t leave you thinking “c’mon, just get to the point”. Luthen’s (Stellan Skarsgård) speech at the end of episode 11, and Maarva’s (Fiona Shaw) speech via hologram on Rix Road were both poignant, powerful, but still to the point. There was very little wasted dialog.
The dialog was further bolstered by the sets. Those that should be pristine were pristine. But not everything was neat and clean and orderly, and the disorderly or well-worn looked the part naturally. None of the settings felt contrived or fake. They looked and felt like real places that you could visit. You felt the depth and history for those sets that were old. Niamos (aka Space Florida) looked as it should, sorta-new but sorta-tired at the same time. Few resorts are as nice as the brochure, and this was no exception.
The acting for every single character was incredible. I didn’t see a single flat or phoned-in performance, and even the truly minor characters that had a few seconds of screen time felt real. But the main characters were each able to shine, even when you had groups of them together. Their energy and their performances seemed to feed off each other.
There was a single, brief space battle. And as short as it was, it felt special, it was exhilarating. I suspect its because we weren’t immersed in action, so it stands out. It’s uniqueness in the story makes it more dramatic, and it’s pacing and composition as a small story was incredible.
Syril Karn’s (Kyle Soller) arc in the story was incredible, not because it was so compelling necessarily, but because it was so well done. His narcissism having his rent-a-cop uniform tailored. Every scene where he is eating at his mother’s home is him eating a children’s cereal, never “grown up food”. His demeanour around Dedra Meero (Denise Gough) and his uncertainty when dealing with other people in general was so well portrayed. I was sure he was going to kiss her after rescuing her from the street battle, and was impressed the writers had the courage to stay away from that trope. Syril had just enough growth to be plausible, but wasn’t entirely transformed, which is a good thing. People don’t change as much as we think in a short period of time, so why would he?
Watching Vel Sartha (Faye Marsay) switch between clean and coifed and grubby and ready for action was impressive. The first time, I wasn’t sure I was watching the same performer. Seeing a character that wavers between confident and tentative, from certain to uncertain, made that character more believable, more real, to me.
The droid B2EMO (voice by Dave Chapman) was made important, and had a personality. Watching the little guy reacting to Maarva’s death was truly emotional.
There are so many characters with limited time in the story, but that are still important to the story. You’d be hard pressed to remove any one of them and have the thing hang together. And every one of their performances left an impression. Kino Loy, Ruescott Melshi, Saw Guerrera. The list just goes on.
And Then There’s Cassian Andor
Diego Luna’s portrayal of Cassian Andor is simply spectacular. We can see someone who is still growing, still learning, becoming the character we eventually see in Rogue One. The man is an incredibly talented performer. He takes the amazing material at his disposal and creates a masterpiece on the screen.
The character’s strengths and flaws are there for us to see. Luna’s performance brings both the good and bad in Andor to the fore. And the storytellers never resort to cliche or stereotypes to get their tale told. It’s incredible.
Don’t Forget The Soundtrack
The music for the show is it’s own strength. The opening theme is the same melody, but a different performance each time. There are very few repeated musical cues, and none of the grand symphonic music from the rest of the Star Wars universe.
What’s equally impressive is the diversity of musical styles throughout the show. You have classical, synth, basic rock, and a host of other styles, sometimes all within one episode. I read an article (I’ve lost the link) that interviewed the composer, and he spent as much time making the music as they spent filming and editing. He spent hours on a piece that would only be heard for a few seconds in one case, but wanted to write the entire song to it felt complete. There is one song that they decided would be a “galactic hit”, so it appears in its original form, and in various forms including muzak throughout the rest of the show. Brilliance.
Hopes for Season Two
I have high hopes for season two. My wish is for them to put the same care and attention into it, and to avoid a sophomore slump. I hope beyond hope that Disney leaves them alone (and with Iger at the helm again, that may just happen). Don’t use it as a vehicle to push other products. Stick to the story.
If the producers, cast, and crew can make season two with the same stunning quality as season one, I will be thoroughly impressed. It can be hard to carry on something at that high level. At some point, there will be stumbles. That it never happened, at all, in 12 1-hour episodes is truly impressive. If they can repeat that in season two, then they deserve all the accolades possible.
Writing and Technology
There are many, many opinions on what is the “right” way to use technology when writing creatively. Some are deeply held, others are more flexible. There may be a divide when it comes to the age groups that different writers fall in, but even there, you’ll find exceptions (some vocal about it). I’m a technologist, so naturally my views are skewed by my experience, but I’m also in that gray area between “baby boomer” and “Gen X”, depending on where the line gets drawn. Frankly, I’ve never really identified with either all that strongly. But I won’t pretend that my age and experience don’t influence my preferences when it comes to the tools I use for writing.
Modernity vs. Nostalgia
I’ve noticed that there are a cohort of writers out there that swear by the more historically traditional tools of the trade: either pen and paper, or the venerable typewriter. Personally, I love typewriters, although at the moment I am without one. I have some vintage machines I’m hoping to acquire in the coming years. They are both marvels of art and engineering. And there are those that swear by them as their main writing tool. For them, there is some visceral connection between the words and the act of forging them on paper.
I get that, but I also know that I was about three times faster on an electric typewriter, and I’m faster again on a computer keyboard. I’ve been writing other work that way for so long that it’s my “connection”, but that’s me. It doesn’t mean I won’t try using a typewriter (once I get one) as an experiment. I suspect I won’t find it as productive, but I haven’t used one for writing in decades, so I could very well be wrong. If nothing else, it will be fun to give it a go.
Over time, I’ve experimented with a few different technological approaches to writing. I tried using a Freewrite Traveler, but found it a bit awkward and cumbersome both physically and from a workflow point of view. The bigger reason, though was I didn’t see the point of dragging another piece of technology around, since I already have a laptop (with an arguably better keyboard). I also experimented with a dedicated writing tool on iPad (Hanx Writer from Tom Hanks) coupled with a bluetooth keyboard that approximated the feel of a typewriter. It was fun, but it felt like it was slowing me down, that it wasn’t “keeping up” with my thoughts as I tried to get them down. I won’t pretend that I was looking at that objectively, that is a purely subjective feeling on my part.
Most of my writing over the past four decades has been done in either a simple text editor (before PC’s and word processors were a thing) or using a word processor, virtually all of it using Microsoft Word. I’ve used others (Framemaker, Pages, Google Docs, LibreOffice, a host of others on Unix, Mac, and Windows), but Word became the standard in most industries, so that’s what we used. For my creative writing, I began using Word, but in the past few years I’ve been using Scrivener. It suits the workflow that I’m comfortable with, and it provides me with some reasonably straightforward ways to organize and edit my work. It also allows me to collect notes, character outlines, external links for references, all in a single project.
My Workflow (for now)
During the past year, I’ve begun to develop my own personal workflow that seems to help me focus on my writing. I expect it will continue to evolve. My participation in NaNoWriMo 2022 helped focus and structure it more than I had in the past. Part of how I work was inspired by an article I read in Writer’s Digest, on some approaches to “winning” NaNoWriMo. It starts with the checklist I made, which are the “work items” I need to put in place to get writing.
This is in front of me on my desk, ready for me to refer to it to make sure I haven’t missed something in my rush to get writing. I use the Focus feature on my Apple devices to filter out distractions like the arrival of new email or text messages, or any news alerts. I have a tool (I’ll describe later) that helps me with some of the mechanical elements of crafting my story. I keep a web browser ready for any searches I might have to do, but other than that browser window, Scrivener, and my new tool, all my other apps and windows are hidden away. I remove all the other distractions so I can focus on the task at hand, writing.
Setting The Mood
Part of my writing environment is the music playlist that I’m using. I’ve created one specific to the story I’m working on. It’s a collection of songs (currently the soundtracks for both Blade Runner movies, Andor, The Martian, and The Expanse) meant to set the mood of the story. I’m hoping my current novel captures the kind of dystopian world seen in Blade Runner, The Expanse, and parts of Andor. A new novel will require a new playlist, since it will likely have a different vibe, a different feel.
A key for me when writing prose is that the music not include lyrics. I have no problem with them when I’m writing code, but when I’m writing words, I find the lyrics can be a distraction. Some of the songs in my current playlist do include vocals, and I think I’m learning to tune out the words and just listen to the music. I haven’t removed them from this playlist, but I’m leaning towards them being deleted from the playlist. They can be a bit jarring when they appear.
This Is Me, Maybe Not You
The approach I have taken will not work for everyone. Some of what I do might be useful for others. Other parts will seem ‘wrong’ to people. I will not claim that I’ve captured the “secret sauce” for being a productive and creative writer. Partly because I’m still new to this. Partly because I’m not representative of all writers. No one is. What works for some will not work for others. But sometimes we can learn from others, and take what works from them, and leave what doesn’t. My goal is to remain open-minded enough to try new things, to help me to not just be ‘productive’, but to enjoy the act of writing at the same time. This isn’t meant to be ‘work’, even if I’m hoping to make something of a career of it. Most of my main career wasn’t ‘work’ either.
So this is an evolving thing, and I expect to add, drop, and modify elements of it. Some will be about revisiting the technological components. Some will be about the processes, the procedures, the rituals, finding what works (for now) and doesn’t work (for now). I don’t want to become beholden to something for any particular reason, either.
I reached the NaNoWriMo goal of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, making me a “winner”, in that I was able to reach the goal. The story itself is a long way from finished. I estimate that I’m about 2/3rds of the way through the first draft of the story. I consider myself lucky that I haven’t hit any real bumps in the road to building out the novel. It would be tempting to say this is fairly easy, but of course, I’m nowhere near done, and I don’t really know if the story itself is all that good or compelling. I think it is, but I’m obviously biased.
Easing Off, A Little
While I might take my foot off the gas a little (in that I may not do much writing on weekends, and focus on writing during the week only), the story’s not done. I’ve finished one of the main turning points in the plot, and now the story shifts in focus and purpose. I’m hoping that the different layers in the story, which feature theme’s I’m exploring, are coming through.
Tools and Rituals That Help
Part of what has helped in meeting this goal, and now knowing how much time writing will take for me during the day, is how I’ve used used technology, but also some “process” if you will. I’ve been using the focus feature available on the Mac and iDevices to remove the distractions that come from new emails, text messages, and news alerts. I make sure to hide all the other apps I have on my Mac, so I’m not tempted to glance over at Twitter, my texts, and other information sources.
The only thing I have up is Scrivener (the tool I use for writing), a Google search page in case I need to look something up, the NaNoWriMo page with my stats and the running stopwatch (which I start when I’m writing) and the app I’m working on, Writer’s Assistant, which helps me with things like generating made-up character names.
I have a playlist I’ve built that sets the tone for the story (this one features music from Andor, Blade Runner, The Expanse, and The Martian) that I kick off at the start of each writing session. All of the steps I need to take before I start writing are on a little checklist I have in front of me. I don’t want to forget to do something (like start the music or the stopwatch) in my eagerness to get words on the page.
Just Write The Story
Part of this first pass on the novel is concentrating on getting the story down, even though it is rough, there are gaps, and there are times where I’m sure I’ve written way too much, and need to be more succinct. But I’m avoiding any meaningful editing at this point. That’s the next step, to go through the work and start to sort through what I’ve created. It’s then I will focus on fixing any issues with inconsistency, culling parts that aren’t adding to the story, or putting some parts of the story on a diet, say what needs to be said in a more compact way. This is unlike writing software, even though both are creative endeavours. This is a topic I will explore in further pieces down the road.
I’m also going to write up some thoughts on technology and writing, although obviously being a rookie at this type of creative writing, I’m not exactly speaking with any authority. But that has never stopped me before from expressing an opinion.
To those still working away on their own NaNoWriMo projects: keep at it. If this is your first time, like it is mine, you’ll find it satisfying to reach your goal.
New Domain and Mastodon Thoughts
Some may have noticed that vintrock.social is now a thing. I registered it because I’m toying with, maybe, hosting my own Mastodon instance. I figured I should grab it while it’s available, even if I don’t go down that route. For now I’ve pointed it at the main vintrock.com site.
While I’m still on Twitter (both personally and with Vintrock), I’m exploring options. I’ve put myself on the waitlist for Post (here’s a link that, if you click and register through it, I get extra “points” or something to move up the queue. I won’t be insulted if you don’t bother, just putting it out there), but who knows how long until I get invited to sign up for real.
No, I’m not convinced Twitter is going to disappear anytime soon. Even with all the chaos and anarchy that Elon Musk is creating, Twitter will likely be around for a while. Sure, it may end up like MySpace (which still does exist), but it’s not going to disappear entirely. Okay, maybe it will, but we are a long way from that happening.
I have also joined a Mastodon server (@email@example.com), and I’m messing around with it. The concept is intriguing, but I’m not convinced that it’s going to be the “thing” that could challenge Twitter, let alone replace it. Of course, the adherents who have been on Mastodon for a while think otherwise.
The basic premise, and the way you use it, is virtually identical to Twitter. You create posts (they used to called them ‘toots’, a result of the site’s creator not being from North America and being familiar with some, er, cultural nuances). People can read them. Or not. They can be “reblogged” (that used to be called ‘boosted’, but was changed for no apparent reason). There are a few editing tools available that aren’t on Twitter, like being able to hide content that might be sensitive or a spoiler, so people have to click through to see it. Generally, though it’s very similar. You get a reverse-chronological scrolling list of things people have posted.
There are rudimentary search features, as well as ways to find out what’s happening in the rest of the Mastodon world. And it’s here that the troubles begin, and will likely be an impediment to growth and adoption.
The problem is that there are two Mastodons. There’s Mastodon the technology, and “Mastodon” in the form of the various instances using that technology. People conflate the two regularly. There’s no way to “join Mastodon” per se, because there isn’t just one “Mastodon” out there. There are a bunch of them, and there more appearing regularly. And then there are sites that use Mastodon, but aren’t “Mastodon” in the sense the rest of the communities think.
A Mastodon server, or instance, can connect to other instances and join what is called the “fediverse”. Basically, the servers are “federated”, each running independently with their own community of users and their own policies on content and activities, but still interconnected. Their message traffic can be shared with other instances. This allows someone to follow an account on a different server, and you’ll see their posts, reblogs, etc. This allows groups to set up their own private instances when it comes to access (only people invited to join can use it), but still interact with the wider community.
You can, of course, set up your Mastodon instance as stand-alone, and not join the fediverse. Truth Social is using the Mastodon platform for its service, and it is not part of the fediverse. The founders of Mastodon aren’t happy about it, but because the software is free and open-source, anyone can download and use it. This, of course, has created confusion, since some people think that, since Truth Social uses Mastodon, it is somehow “part of” Mastodon. Truth Social also likely runs on Linux on servers powered by Intel processors. That doesn’t mean that Linux and Intel have anything to do with Truth Social and it’s content or users. So Truth Social uses Mastodon, but it isn’t “Mastodon” in the conventional sense.
It’s this fediverse, and the distributed nature of Mastodon that forms the crux of the problem when it comes to adoption by casual users. Step one in getting on to “Mastodon” (the service) is “choose a server”. For technically-inclined people, that’s probably not a big deal. But for normal human beings, that introduces a challenge. Which server is “best”, where “best” is different for each individual? Sure, you can move your account to another server if you find the one you’re on isn’t working for you, or isn’t to your liking. But while you keep your followers and who you follow, your posts don’t follow with you. And just from reviewing the instructions, moving isn’t nearly as simple as experienced Mastodon users would have you believe.
One Service Is Simple
Most people like simplicity. They have enough things to do in their day without having to figure out the complexities (minor as they might seem) of trying to decide where to start. You go to Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or whatever, sign up, and everyone else is there, or might appear later. It’s really easy to do.
Having to pick a server is the first complication. Then, if you’re trying to track down people on other servers, well good luck with that. You have to know which server they might be on, and there are dozens (with more appearing every day or so). The discovery elements of Mastodon are primitive, and in some cases non-existent. And that is likely to hold it back.
They’re still going to see some growth for a while as Elon thrashes about more-or-less at random. But I expect the growth to slow or stop. Part of it will be people simply abandoning their interest the moment the “pick a server” thing is encountered. You’ve just created friction. Then, as they find that servers they pick are full, or invite-only, or are performance limited, again, they’ll abandon their interest and move on.
Then There’s The Community
The server I’m on is mastodon.social, and it was the first server that was created. What I’ve found, so far, is that the people and groups on it (and many I’m following for now) are showing some trends. There are a lot of posts about how Mastodon is superior because of the fediverse thing (without providing more than half-baked reasons to back the assertion). Some are saying that no server should grow beyond a certain point, again based on ideas that don’t seem completely thought through.
There is a lot of outrage and indignation at, well, almost everything. Rich people are bad. White people are bad. Some new thing is uncovered that is the singlemost worst and awful-evilist thing to have happened. Outrage of the shootings in Colorado I get. People died that should be alive, and they were killed by someone who is evil, period. But the whole “colleges associated with on-line gambling” thing? Yeah, that’s a problem, but the level of outrage I’m seeing over it is beyond the pale.
From time to time, there are also people who decide to shame new users. They bully or berate them for “not doing things the right way here”, or because they did something they way they would on Twitter. Hmm, I wonder why that would be? I’ve seen reports of accounts being suspended or deleted because a single post violated some rule on content that apparently wasn’t described very well (or, in one case, that the site owner simply “didn’t like it” with no explanation on how to remedy the transgression). Since each server has its own rules, and those rules aren’t necessarily stable, it makes for a bad experience. And single bad experience is all it takes to lose that person as a potential customer forever.
Questions about Stability and Performance
Some servers have adequate performance. Some are buried almost instantly because they’ve undersized the resources for the server. And any instance will cost money, even if you’re running it out of your home or office (Internet access isn’t free, kids). So how do you pay for this?
Most servers either offer a way for you to donate to them directly, or via a platform like Patreon. To add to this whole “fediverse” confusion is the presence of the original Mastodon Patreon account. You can give money to it, but that money only goes to the original core sites and the main developers of the technology. It isn’t spread across the other instances. This means you have to track down the Patreon (or whichever) for your server. With Twitter having been free to use, I expect very few of the new people will donate to the instances they’ve joined.
But the platforms are, for now, anti-advertising. Some are proud, almost obnoxiously so as they brag about it on a near-regular basis, of the fact they aren’t doing this for profit, that they aren’t “greedy”. Fine, if you can make a go of it, more power to you. But I’m expecting that there will quickly be limits on what people will pay, and how many will bother. Twitter’s problems don’t stem from their need to grow and be profitable. They stem from larger problems, that have nothing to do with the money.
Other Services Are Coming (Maybe)
Apparently Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter, is creating something called “bluesky” that is being described as a “social protocol”, but supposedly isn’t meant to be a Twitter competitor (so it may sound like Mastodon, perhaps). Tumblr is apparently looking for developers, and is appealing to the now ex-Twitter folks to contact them. They may be trying to create their own form of social network beyond the blogging platform they have now. I’m sure others will start to emerge from the woodwork as well.
Twitter is Unique
What Twitter does, and how it works, is unique. It isn’t perfect, not by a long-shot, and it has been something of a dumpster fire for over a decade now, depending on what parts of Twitter you interact with. I’ve managed to avoid that myself, through the use of Tweetdeck instead of the normal web interface or official apps. I don’t see ads, and I only see posts from who I follow, and things they re-tweet. And that’s it.
It’s questionable whether you can effectively replicate Twitter without encountering the same junk that Twitter now features. And perhaps you wouldn’t want to. What a new Twitter-like system might look like, I don’t know. I haven’t thought that much about it. I’m not convinced Mastodon is it. We’ll see what Post is like, if I ever get invited to join. I don’t depend much on Twitter, but I do use it, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
NaNoWriMo 2022: One Week In
My first week participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2022 ended yesterday, and so far, so good. I’m well on my way to my 50,000 word goal, clocking in nearly 20,000 words as of this morning. I feel good about the story itself. This is only my second attempt at writing a novel, and if it goes well, will hopefully be the first one I publish. The first one I wrote a few years ago comes with some intellectual property baggage, so it can wait.
Of course, I still have about 3 weeks to go, so who knows if I can maintain this pace. So far, I’m able to exceed my personal target of 2,000 words every day. It takes me about an hour to write that (that probably sounds like I’m bragging, but I’m not trying to, honestly). Of course, those are 2,000 “first draft” words, and there is a lot of work to be done after the first draft of the novel is complete. I’m pretty sure I can expect at least 2 months of editing and revision on my own for every month I take to write the first draft, but that’s a guess on my part. I have no idea how long it will take when I work with an independent editor.
My Secret(?) to Productivity
I believe there are a few reasons why I’m able to get that much done on the first go-round. The first is that I can type quickly, and more importantly, I can touch type. Back in high school, in grade 10, I took a typing course (in Alberta at the time, it was Typing 10. I believe it’s called Keyboarding now). For the first 3 months, we learned on manual typewriters. We were able to get some time on the electric typewriters (IBM Selectrics) for the last few weeks. The goal was to build up both speed and accuracy. The result is that I can type about as fast as I can form the thoughts I want to get down on the screen. It means I’m not having to wait for my fingers to catch up.
The second reason is the way I go about creative writing, which is similar to how I approach writing software. Before I begin to write, I have planned out in my mind the next part of the story. I will go over it in my head a few times, playing with ideas and concepts, and getting the basic plot points and dialog figured out, even if only roughly, in advance. The writing part is now about capturing that thinking, and refining it as well as filling in any details.
Unlike with software, where the goal is to get it right the first time, with the creative writing, I’m not trying to obsess about getting the story perfect on the first go. I want to capture the story as I see it now, knowing it will change when I go back and review and revise what I’ve done. Then I’ll revise some sections, drop some, add new ones, and completely re-write others. I’ll have a few versions of the novel done before I’m ready to send it to an editor. That’s the step my previous novel didn’t take, at least not yet.
Independent Feedback Required
This one will go to an independent editor, someone who will look at it with a critical eye. I will also rely on some of my friends and family (I did use some for my first as-yet unpublished novel). These are people I know will give me honest, and if required brutal, feedback and comments. They won’t say “oh wow, it’s great” if it actually isn’t. Then I go back and apply any fixes when it comes to typos, grammar problems, and just plain weird phrasing. I also incorporate the feedback and opinions where I think it makes sense (and maybe ignore some, because they would alter the story in ways I don’t want it to go, but only after some discussion on those points).
The goal for this work is to eventually get it published. What road I take for that is still to be determined. I might self-publish, I might try the traditional route. If nothing else, self-publishing is the fallback position. There’s no harm in trying to take the more traditional path first.
However, to publish I first need to finish. And that’s the focus for now.
NaNoWriMo Started Today
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) started today, and I’m participating. The goal of the event is to write at least 50,000 words of a first-draft novel in 30 days. You “win” by hitting the 50,000 word total. It’s basically an attempt to spur some people who think they want to be writers to commit to something. The entire event is meant to be upbeat and positive, and the NaNoWriMo organization has many different tools available for current and aspiring writers to join communities, and find support. There are local chapters (there’s one for Calgary) that hold virtual and in-person events.
I’m participating for the first time this year. My project is a science fiction novel titled Ashes of Outpost. It’s set on an old commercial, transportation, and mining facility on an asteroid in the Bohen system in my fictional Unimanse universe that I’m continually evolving. So far, I’m off to a good start, with over 3,700 words (and counting) on day one. Part of what makes writing easier for me, personally, is that I can type quickly and reasonably accurately. It means that my fingers can keep up with my thoughts and imagination as I craft the story, and I’m not fighting with the mechanical work of getting words down on the electronic page. But I’m not so foolish to think I can keep that pace up forever, and I’m going to hit snags and roadblocks. But so far, it’s encouraging.
We’ll see how this goes, but it does look promising. Once it’s done, I’ll have a better sense of whether I would recommend the event to current and aspiring writers (and I still fall very much in the “aspiring” category right now). I like the idea, though, and that’s a start.
The Rings of Power Could Use a Boost
(Spoilers ahead) Season one of the The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power from Amazon Prime has finished. Overall, I enjoyed it, but it could use some improvement. I’m looking forward to season two, and hope they are able to address some of the shortcomings I see in their storytelling.
Spoiler Alert: The following contains descriptions that are likely to spoil key plot points for people who have not yet watched the series. Read at your own risk.
There are complaints that the series isn’t hewing close enough to the original storylines, derived from a combination of The Silmarillion and various notes Tolkien made over the years. I get the complaints, but as the showrunners pointed out, the various stories in the original written work take place over thousands of years. While the elven characters would be continuous, the humans, dwarves, and other characters would be replaced virtually every episode. Either that, or the story would drag out so long that only die-hard Tolkien fans would likely pay attention. And unfortunately, we aren’t a big enough group to sustain a TV show whose estimated costs run close to $1 billion dollars.
As a result, the story has to be compressed. That means finding a balance between telling the stories that make up the foundation for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but keeping them in a timeframe that a large enough audience will want to pay attention. It’s a challenge to be sure.
Overall, Not Bad
Overall, I think the season was reasonably good. The sets, the visual effects, and the costumes are very impressive. They have captured the same sort of essence that we see in the Peter Jackson movies, which is a good thing. It is different enough so we know this isn’t the Third Age from the core books. But it is similar enough that we can trace the lineage and not wonder “well, where did that come from, and then where did it go?” (I’m looking at you Star Trek: Discovery).
The performers are quite good in their roles, and that we (again) get a host of largely unknown actors means we see the characters, not the actors. The only suggestion I would have is for Morfydd Clark is if she could please unclench her teeth when she speaks. Enunciation is very much appreciated by the audience.
Lameness Isn’t Pleasant
The first glaring bit of lameness is the opening credits. Frankly, the dancing sand is horribly lame. After a couple of episodes, I now skip that part entirely. Yes, we get the right music with the right tone to impart the sense of gravity and importance of the events we will see. But the dancing sand takes away from all of that, ruining the mood. It’s as if that sand is trying terribly, terribly hard to look serious and important, and falls short in that regard.
Okay, so we can skip that part each episode. But then the season finale ends with an even more lame, verging on horrible, “song” where they attempt to set the explanatory poem about the rings (“three rings for the elven kings under the sky…”) to music. It doesn’t work. It’s bad. What makes it worse is it sounds like a feeble attempt to mimic a Shirley Bassey version of a James Bond theme. And it fails on every front. The bit of verse Tolkien wrote is structured in an odd way. It works when just read or is spoken aloud. It does not lend itself to be lyrics for a song. Fortunately, in the future I can stop the last episode before that travesty of a tune assaults my ears.
Pacing, Pacing, Pacing
The episodes themselves are very unevenly paced. There are many sections where the dialog just isn’t that interesting, isn’t telling us anything new, at times is beating us about the head on something we’ve already figured out, and seems to be long for the sake of being long. I’ve found myself a few times asking “could we just please get on with it”. Yeah, I get that Nori is taking a big step in going with the Istari that will be known as Gandalf (the “follow your nose” line was an amusing way to make that clear). It’s a parallel to both Bilbo’s journey in The Hobbit, and the one the four hobbits take in The Lord of the Rings. But Nori doesn’t need to spend what seems like an eternity explaining how hard it is for her emotionally to go.
The fact that the penultimate episode felt like the season finale, but nope, there’s one more to go, says something. Here we have things wrapped up in a bit of a bow, with a bunch of open story lines to be continued next season. The Southlands become Mordor, the Numenorians return home to regroup, and Galadriel is going to take Halbrand to get some healing. A potential new hero, in the young man Tyroe Muhafidin, is ready for his own story arc. We know that the mystery man from the sky has more to unveil, and the Harfoots (Harfeet?) are settled for a bit.
Apparently they felt the need for a “just one more thing” moment, as if they didn’t trust that we would be back for another season. The first three rings, for the elves, are made. Halbrand is revealed to be Sauron. The stranger from the sky is revealed to be Gandalf (after briefly and poorly flirting with him actually being Sauron). And a hobbit predecessor is “going on an adventure”. Really? This could have waited until season two? It’s not like there isn’t a lot more to come, because we know there is. There are still 17 more rings to be made and handed out. Gandalf needs to develop his powers, and there are four more wizards (Saruman, Radagast, the two unnamed blue wizards) still to arrive (or be found). The Greenwood needs to transform to Mirkwood. The harfoot need to evolve to become hobbits. That’s a lot to cover.
The last episode felt more like a filler, a need to make sure they had an even eight episodes. It contains nothing that couldn’t have waited to season two. But since they had a requirement to make eight episodes (and filling them was apparently already a challenge, given the pacing), we get eight. Plus so much is wrapped up in a bow in the episode that if they cancelled the series, we wouldn’t be left hanging all that much. It was almost as if they were afraid to leave things too open-ended.
Definitely More To Come
There is a lot more to come in the story. The question will be how many seasons have they planned, and how far do they take the story. Will it go as far as the war where Sauron is defeated (leading into Third Age)? Will it only go as far as the forging and distribution of the remaining rings? There is so much that can be covered. What happens to the dwarves after they get their rings, and how are they lost? What about the nine rings given to the nine human kings? We’ve seen nothing of those kingdoms at all at this point. The founding of Osgiliath, Minas Anor (which will become Minas Tirith). and Minas Ithil (which became Minas Morgul). The appearance of the Rohirrim. The construction of Orthanc and the Ring of Isengard. There is so much yet to be covered.
Part of the question is how much will be included in the next seasons of The Rings of Power. There is a lot, and even leaving out big chunks will make for a substantial story. Hopefully they can improve on some of the issues the first season has, and continue to tell a compelling story.