Posted in Writing

Finding Free Photos

Today’s post isn’t intended to help you with your writing. Today’s focus is helping you with your blogging…or website…or even your social media presence. And it’s target isn’t just our readers. Today’ I’m also talking to the people who write for us here at Today’s Author.

Finding an image to use in your blog posts is always just a little stressful. I’m sure we all make the best effort (*clears throat*) to find images that are licensed as Creative Commons or some other Royalty Free source. But it’s not easy. Even when you make the effort you can run across photos that are not free to us, but were distributed–intentionally or unintentionally–as free to use.

As writers, we should all want to make sure that people are getting credit–and when applicable, payment–for their creative work. But for something as mundane as including a picture in a blog post, being ethical can be quite a bit of work.

Well…it just got easier.

For years Getty Images, the largest photo service in the world, let us use many of their images as long as we were willing to put up with a watermark.

But now, Getty has changed the way they share their images. Now a huge number of pictures can be used free, without a water-mark, using their new auto-embed feature. Which also has the side benefit that it gives credit to the content creator.

Here’s how it works (Note: I did not try this first, so I’m writing these steps as I’m trying it–Let’s see how easy it is.

    1. Go to the Getty Images website.
    2. Search for something. I’m testing the claim that many of these pictures are about very current events. So I’m searching for “SXSW”.
    3. OK. That was easy. Now I’ll find a picture I want. Hover over it and look for the embed button (see the example picture below). OK, not all the pictures have this feature enabled–but it wasn’t hard to find a bunch that did,

getty_example

    1. Click the embed button.
    2. In the pop-up box, copy the embed code.
    3. Paste that code into your own blog. Here how it looks.
Embed from Getty Images

Wow. That was significantly easier than I expected.

Looking at the code, by doing this you might have a little less control over placement of the image than with a traditional photo embed. Though I’ll admit I didn’t try to play around with anything more than the size of the image.

This new tool makes it a lot easier for us bloggers to keep on the right side of copyright law. Giving credit where it’s due, is a ridiculously awesome side-benefit.

Posted in Writing

The Only Way Revision Works (For Me)

keep-calm-and-revise-revise-revise-4We talk a lot about the rituals and habits of writing.  It’s the same for just about every blog, website, magazine or class that I’ve had experience with.  What time of day should we write?  Do you write every day?  Do you journal?  Don’t edit while you write.  Write by hand.  Don’t write by hand.  Caffeine precedes inspiration.  And so on.  And so on.

There are powerful reasons for this focus.  The processes of inspiration and creation are hard to talk about because the act of creation has never been well-understood.  So we talk—sometimes, talk to death—the minutiae that surround the process, because it’s too scary to tackle the real issue head on.

However, more often than not, advice surrounding the process of revision sounds remarkably similar to the instructions on a shampoo bottle….Revise.  Repeat.

Revision is never that easy.  Any writer who’s ever clashed with their editor, but had trouble expressing the reasons for their objections can attest to that.  Likewise, how many of us have moved a paragraph or two earlier in the manuscript, only to move it back when we second guess ourselves—only to move it back again…and so on?

While revising is not, strictly speaking a creative process, there is undeniably a creative aspect to it.  After all, revision is not just removing.  If you decide that a certain scene needs a little more detail—or more emotion—to feel genuine, you have to create that detail.   But the analytical aspect is at least as important.  It takes experience and judgment to know what’s going wrong in your story.  It naturally follows that if revision is partially a creative process, you may still need some of those same tools you use to create.

In the last year, as I analyzed my creative process, I’ve learned about my revision process as well.  I write by hand.  Maybe it’s because I learned to write just before computers were everywhere, but I’m just more creative with a pen than I am with a keyboard.  Then I use the process typing my story into the computer to revise.   But in the last year I’ve learned I have an extra step.  My first revision works best on paper.  I’d rather move a paragraph by circling a paragraph and drawing an arrow to its new location than by using my word processor’s cut-and-paste.  It’s just easier for me to read through it and try the story out both ways.  It’s less permanent.  It’s less of a decision and more of a question.  Then, when it’s time to type it into the computer I’ll make my choices.

I write better at night, but I edit better right after work—maybe because my job is analytical.  I write better in slightly-noisy venues like coffeehouses and restaurants, but I edit better in comparative quiet—maybe a radio or TV playing softly in the background.

What about you?  Have you ever thought about how you edit?  Do you know what works for you and what doesn’t?  Let us know in the comments below…

Posted in Writing

Mainlining Iced Tea

I didn’t always enjoy writing—in fact, I can still remember a time when I hated to write.  Through public school all the way up into high school I wrote for school assignments–and did well at it.  But only occasionally did I ever find it enjoyable.  And then it was generally because I liked the assignment more than deriving any real pleasure from crafting something that people would enjoy reading.

It’s difficult to pinpoint when that changed.  I’ve been thinking about it for days, and I guess it happened slowly through my college years.  That was when I had the freedom to pick classes that interested me.  Sure, I had to take a history class, but I got to choose the Peloponnesian war over WWII and it’s effects on Modern Society.  That class had a lot of writing–and a professor that was a real nitpicker–but I remember enjoying writing my essays.

Later, as I moved into advertising courses, and a host of creative writing classes, and essay-centric classes that explored interesting subjects, writing became more and more of a joy.

I’m certain that much of that had to do with my ability to tackle interesting subject matter.  Added to that was the fact that I was now skilled enough at writing that it wasn’t a source of undue stress.  But there was something more.  I had finally stumbled upon the truly artistic side of writing.  I had begun to feel about words what painters feel about paints and colors.  The words began to have beauty in and of themselves.  Words became things–sure, things with specific meanings–but still they were things. Building blocks.  Paints.  Notes.  Colors.  Rhythms.

This was when writing stories and essays became fun.  When I would take my notebook and pen, find a 24-hour diner, stake out a booth, mainline iced tea, and produce pages and pages and pages of…well, sure some of it was crap.  But a lot of it was good.  And even the stuff that wasn’t good, was fun.

My whole writing career, that’s the feeling I’m trying to replicate.  When I sit down with my favorite fountain pen, and some mid-quality paper, I’m trying to rid my mind of all my problems and get back to that booth with the endless iced tea, and the steady stream of words.

And colors.

And notes.

And paints.

And rhythms.

Posted in Pens, Writing

Seeing Things in Black and White

Newton Gibby

I just got my first custom pen. There are quite a few makers of custom pens out there. But I didn’t just want a pen made from a kit. Those generally all have a similar look and feel—you’re just picking your parts. I wanted something made from scratch. Due in part to my previous dealing with Shawn Newton—I bought a replacement #5 nib from him, which performed beautifully—I went with Newton Pens. And now after a long wait—compared to an off the shelf pen—I finally have my first one of a kind pen.

So what do I think of it?

Design/Ordering Process: 9/10
This was a difficult category to score. The process of designing a pen with Shawn is a fight between two different forces. First, you’re ordering a commercial item. From this perspective the process is kind of lacking. Even if you have a good idea, and you’re idea is fairly simple, it’s probably not going to be as easy as filling in a form, hitting send, and waiting for your pen to arrive. But it’s also—and primarily—a creative process. Working with a craftsman simply can’t be done by visiting a website and checking a few boxes.

To some extent Shawn has tried for a balance between the two forces, and he’s generally opted for the craftsman approach. Our design process took place over about 3 dozen emails over a two week period. When I’m buying a pen I’m not the guy who says, “I would buy this pen if it had this sort of grip”, or “I love this pen except for the color.” Generally I make my decision based on the pen as a whole, unless I’m trying to fill a gap, such as wanting an oversize pen. But when I’m designing my own things I’ll be the first to admit I get a little finicky. Shawn handled this very well, and I appreciated that when he told me something wasn’t doable, that he explained why.

Ultimately, after wasting a lot of his time, I settled on one of his base models, with a custom combination of two materials. If he wanted to jump through the computer and throttle me with my space bar, for taking him on a wild goose chase only to settle on an established model, he never let that show.

If I could recommend a change to the process it would be that Shawn streamline his website to walk the potential customers through the process and their options in a more linear fashion.

Note: I noticed that Shawn has made changes to his website, formalizing certain models, and adding additional information. The score of 9 that I’m giving is based on my experience, not what had changed since then.

Appearance: 10/10
Duh…I designed the pen. Of course I like it. Come to think of it, it doesn’t make sense to judge the pen based on how it looks, because Shawn didn’t choose anything about it’s appearance.

So, instead I think I’ll rate the pen’s…

Accuracy: 10/10
How well did the final product reflect the pen that I thought up? 10 out of 10.

The two materials I chose are decidedly random in their pattern. Whether through chance, or craftsmanship, or a combination of the two, the final product has a nice balance of color and design. The pen could have easily looked silly if the black threads on the white barrel were too few or too many. Though I gave no guidance on how deep the ends of the barrel and cap should be, they both seem “just right”.

In short, the pen looks exactly like I thought it would. Scratch that. The pen looks exactly like I wanted it to look. What’s the difference? I didn’t expect that the pen would look exactly like I thought—how often do you make something and it turns out just right? For me, not often. My guess is that Shawn had better results.

Construction: 10/10
A 10 just doesn’t seem like a high enough score here. There is a fundamental difference between a quality handmade product and a well-made, mass-produced product. I can make a few things by hand, but none of them are well crafted—maybe…MAYBE…well-built.

This pen, is finely crafted. My brain and my eyes KNOW, that this pen is made of two different materials. But my fingers can’t feel any of the seams (not counting the one that’s threaded, because…duh…I can feel where the threads start). If I didn’t design this pen by picking two different materials, I would assume this pen was made from a fancy acrylic that was formed from two different colors—it’s that smooth. The threads…normally I don’t like threads that join plastic to plastic. There’s always a lot of friction, and if not well done can feel scratchy. These are the best plastic to plastic threads I’ve felt—very smooth.

And turning to a more subjective measurement–the pen just FEELS like someone spent a lot of time on it.

Filling: 8/10
8 is my default score for a Cartridge/Converter system, where the end of the section is smooth, making it easy to wipe off after filling. But, as with the appearance, Shawn didn’t pick this. He provides other options, but I went with the Cartridge/Converter because that’s what I like. I’m not scoring this category, either.

Nib: 9/10
The nib wasn’t great at first. It wasn’t quite smooth, and it was awfully wide for a Fine. I discussed this with Shawn through email, and he told me a couple of things I could try. I tried them, and frankly I made things worse. So Shawn told me to send it back to him and he fixed it up for me, even correcting my own poor attempts.

Now it’s a nice, wet Fine. It’s probably the best of the steel nibs I now have, and that means it beats out a Visconti, a Delta, a TWSBI, a Binderized Pelikan, and a Pendleton Pelikan.

Test Drive: 10/10
The whole point of a pen is how it writes. Everything else is prologue. Can I write with the damned thing? Can I write for hours? When I clean out my pens and decide to ink up 3 of them, will my heart reach for the Newton?

It’s not even a fair question. With Shawn’s help I designed a pen that is very much ME. I love this pen. One knock would be that I didn’t realize how light the pen would be…but when I put it on the scale it’s still a little heavier than my Custom 74….so I guess it just looks like it should be heavier.

I haven’t left it uninked since I got it. So far it’s handled Yama-Budo, Visconti Turquoise, and Cactus Fruit Eel without skips, and without any problems.

Overall: 9.6/10
9.6. That’s the verdict. For comparison, my Delta Dolce Vita Piston, and My Visconti Homo Sapiens Bronze both got the same score.

If you’re looking for a custom pen, I cannot give a better recommendation that to give Newton Pens a try.

Newton Gibby Uncapped

Posted in Featured, Uncategorized, Writing

My Focus for 2014

My creative writing goal for last year was to review and regroup. I spent the year going through old notes, unfinished stories, snipets, ideas, and a lot of junk. The idea was to judge what was worth keeping and what could be permanently forgotten. Then I took all that and organized it so that I can get to it again.

And I did a pretty good job. I’m left with one story that is unfinished that I still feel is worth finishing, and a good-sized database full of characters, scenes, dialogue, and thoughts that I can both find and use, when I need them.

But all that was prelude to a different goal. Now that all that is out of the way, this year I’m going to focus on redeveloping the habit of writing. Being creative is hard. Especially if you don’t use it everyday. And I’ve gotten out of the habit of writing.

There are many excuses I could give for this, and some legitimate reasons, too. But there’s no point in spelling them out, because even if you have real reasons you’re not writing, if you have the time and energy to list them, they’ve become excuses.

So what are my goals?

  1. I will write everyday. It might be a blog post, or a journal entry. Maybe personal correspondence. And just maybe a little bit on a story.
  2. I won’t schedule any exceptions to #1, but I will allow myself 1 failure/week without guilt.
  3. Since I’m rebuilding a habit, I’m going to start small. January 1-January 15, 5 minutes/day minimum…January 16-January 31, 10 minutes/day minimum…and so on. So by the Ides of March my minimum will be 30 minutes per day.
  4. I will learn not to stop when I’m on a roll.

And to give myself the threat of consequence…if I don’t contribute, SIGNIFICANTLY, to this blog in 2014, I’m deleting it.

You may notice that these goals do not include writing X stories, or anything to that effect. In fact I do have a project, that I’ll be working on this year–Rob Diaz and I, will be compiling and editing a collection of short stories. But right now we’re in the early stages and haven’t developed a deadline. Keep an eye out for news.

Posted in Anti-Resolutions, Featured, General Silliness, Writing

My 2014 Anti-Resolutions

2014Written based on the Today’s Author Write Now! prompt on December 31, 2013, in which we are asked to creatively list ten things we will not do in the coming year.

Today’s Author is a blog designed to help get you off the couch and back to writing.

The rules are simple:

  • List ten things you resolve NOT to do in the upcoming year.
  • Be as creative as possible.

To get this thing rolling, here are…

My 2014 New Year’s Anti-Resolutions

  1. I will NOT leave scores of opened cans of tuna around my apartment building hoping to attract feral cats to serve as my army of evil minions.
  2. I will NOT try to convince my kids that the manna referred to in the bible is actually cranberry sauce.
  3. I will NOT refer to my collection of fountain pens as my preciouses when we have people over.
  4. I will NOT attempt to experiment on the scientifically illiterate by professing the theory that the sense of smell is an illusion and the invention of the government.
  5. I will NOT amuse myself at cocktail parties by asking the males whether they have six fingers on their right hand.
  6. I will NOT try to advance my career by getting co-workers to refer to me as Red Five.
  7. I will NOT stop in my quest to change grammatical standards to mandate that punctuation go after the closing quotation ONLY when it makes mathematical sense.
  8. I will NOT, on the occasion of my 42nd Birthday, celebrate by walking around in a bathrobe and claiming to be the second coming of Arthur Dent.
  9. I will NOT do what the cans of Red Bull tell me to.
  10. I will NOT attempt to thwart the NSA by resurrecting my disastrous plans for the Analog Cell Phone.
Posted in Writing

Milestones and Checkpoints

Tomorrow marks the end of Today’s Author’s first year. Rob and I started this blog because another blog was ending it’s run, and we didn’t feel like we were done. When we started we really didn’t know what to expect, or what this would become. We had a few authors we knew who decided to come on board, and a few we were less familiar with. And while I don’t know what Rob would say, as long as we got a little traffic and a little participation, I’d call it a success. But I think we got a lot more than that.

Today’s Author’s 2013

  • 269 Posts (counting this one and tomorrow’s writing prompt) – That includes:
    • 152 Posts by our writers
    • 107 Write Now Writing Prompts
    • 10 Writer’s Circle Discussions
  • 1647 Comments (as of the drafting of this post) – That’s a little more than 6 comments per post.
  • 15 Writers – That includes some writers we’d never even “met” when this blog started. We’ve lost a couple in the last year to busy schedules. And we’ve had one take a step back to deal with a terrible, terrible year–and hope she’ll be back to the pen sometime soon in 2014.

Looking deeper than just the numbers:

  • We’ve had our own Sharon Pratt have a post featured on WordPress’ Freshly Pressed section, which presents highlights from around the blogging platform’s community.
  • Our Tuesday and Friday Wite Now Prompts are now listed on The Daily Post, one of WordPress’ own blogs (about blogging).
  • And perhaps, most importantly, we have steadily grown a community of writers whose goal is to help inspire and motivate each other.

It’s all better than I’d hoped. Now I’m anxious to hear what you think–our readers and our contributors. How do you think we’ve done in 2013, and what would you like to see in 2014?

Posted in Writing

NaNoWriMo, Don’t Stop Now

or

What to do with your 50,000 words now that you’ve won NaNoWriMo

dont_stopCongratulations. You’ve survived a NaNoWriMo November. Not only that, you won. You kept a vigilant eye on that daily goal. And you met–or even exceeded–that goal enough days in the last month that you’ve emerged from the fray with 50,000 words. Now, it’s time to take a look at what you have.

You’ve got a bad, first draft. I’m not trying to tear you down. I’m just telling you what is, in all likelihood, the truth.

But that’s OK. NaNoWriMo, isn’t designed to get you to write a polished novel. It’s supposed to get you off the sofa and into your writing chair. And it did that. But NaNoWriMo is just a first step. And I’d like to give you a little advice on how to take the next step, and do something with what you just wrote.

1. Pause, Don’t Stop

Do you know how long it takes to break a bad habit? Or to create a good one? 28 days. If you do something for 28 days, you have changed YOU. You are now a more productive writer. So we don’t want to lose that. But it’s also important to acknowledge that the pace you’ve been holding yourself to isn’t sustainable–at least not if you have school or a job (or both). Plus, over the past month you’ve probably negelected a few things–maybe even an important person in your life.

So for a couple days it’s a good idea to calm down. Rregroup. Relax. Take your understanding sweetie out for a thank-you dinner. Catch up on a few deadlines and that pile of laundry.

And while you should NOT keep writing at the breakneck pace you’ve been pushing for, you should definitely keep writing. Every day. Even if it’s just a little. Unless your story ended at 50,000 words, just keep writing that. Even if it’s just for 20 minutes each day.

You’re not done, but yes, you deserve a break. A small one.

2. Evaluate

NaNoWriMo doesn’t really allow time to look over what you’ve written. That’s intentional. It’s real purpose is to show you what you can do if you turn off your internal editor. But now you need that annoying alter ego with the red pen. Reread your NaNoWriMo output with a critical eye.

If the story has held up, great. Highlight sections that might not be up to the quality you want. Move stuff around so it flows better. NaNoWriMo left you with a beautiful mound of clay that looks kind of like a story. But now it’s time for careful sculpting to bring out the details.

If your story didn’t hold up, that’s OK too. Because I guarantee you there are snipets of gold in that morass of 50,000 words. Now comes the time to find those hidden treasures and get rid of the rest (BTW, “get rid of” means move into a different document so you can look over it if you need to. It does NOT mean delete).

Which brings me to a question. At the end of NaNoWriMo was your story done? If so you can skip Step 3 and head directly to Step 4. But for the other 99.9%, Step 3 is for you.

3. Keep Writing the Story

Just because NaNoWriMo is over doesn’t mean your story is. Finish it. If the heavy word count is something that was working for you, then keep sprinting. Or, if the gaps in your plot were starting to bug you, but you couldn’t patch the cracks and still win, now is a great time to slow down and smooth over the rough spots. Do a little character backstory, or chart out your plot. Now that you’re not on a strict deadline, you can take a little time and proceed with a little more deliberation if that’s what you want.

What you don’t want to do is set the 50,000 words aside and say, “I’ll get back to it later.” Too many NaNoWriMo novels have died because the author lost momentum. NaNoWriMo tries to make a habit of out writing now. Don’t settle back into the habit of writing later.

4. Edit

After your NaNoWriMo novel is written, you don’t have a finished book. You have a finished draft. So here’s the time when you go back over your work and tweak, rewrite, path, expound…whatever you need to do to turn a rough draft into a second draft, and eventually into a finished work.

How long did it take you to write your daily NaNoWriMo word count? 2 hours? Then set aside 2 hours each day to edit and revise your book. If that wasn’t a pace you could keep up, then make it one hour.

Wrapping it up

If you haven’t noticed the theme running through this post, let me sum up.

You’re not done. So don’t stop.

Posted in Writing

Getting Some Distance

There’s an old aphorism that in order to write about love, you can’t be in love. That is to say that you must have lost love, and be removed from it, before you have the perspective to write about it. You may have encountered this is your own writing, in a different way. Have you ever been told–or told someone–that you were too close to your own story?

What’s that about? Is there any merit to the idea that by putting a work aside, and forcing some emotional distance between you and it, that you can gain a sense of perspective?

Maybe we can answer that by looking at a different kind of love–love of a place.

James Joyce’s Dubliners is a collection of short-stories set in Dublin, Ireland in the early twentieth century. Critics at the time hailed the work as capturing the essence of living in a modern Ireland. And since it’s publication in 1914, it has been held up as the epitome of capturing a time and a place in fiction. But while Joyce had most definitely lived in Dublin–he was born there and lived in and around Dublin for 22 years–he wrote Dubliners while living in Zurich and Trieste. In fact, in letters he wrote that he used the stories to remind himself about why he missed Dublin, as well as reminding him of why he left.

The reason that putting some space in between you and you own fiction can, sometimes, be helpful, is that the absence of something from your life–and from your daily consciousness–has a tendency to distill your memories of that thing–that place, that person, that story–down to most memorable aspects.

I have been divorced for nine years now. When I look back on the years I knew my wife the things that stand out to me are the very best and worst of the relationship. I remember, with great fondness our trip to the Salt Lake City Olympic Games–it was probably the best vacation of my life. And, equally, I remember coming to terms with infertility, and the growing stretches of time we spent apart, until ultimately we were no longer a couple. But I have to work to remember the little joys and trials of daily life with her. I’m sure we had favorite restaurants we frequented, or television shows we watched together, but I can’t recall any of these.

Time has distilled the entire relationship down to the truly memorable things–the good and the bad. The trivial things–that matter immensely to day to day life–get smoothed out and pushed to the background.

Likewise, after some time away from a story, the things that stick in your head, are those characters, those scenes, those lines of prose, that captured your attention and boiled in your subconscious. Those are things that made you have to write the story. And the little things, the scenes you wrote just to get the reader to the next good part, the flat character who serves merely as a distraction, and the clunky prose that you always meant to make better but never did, those things get forgotten. And once you reread your work, they stand out like headlights in the desert. As you reacquaint yourself with the story and characters, what you love and hate about it will rise to the surface.

You can write your story, and you can write it with love…but maybe the two of you just need a little distance.

Posted in Writing

Ready…Set…NaNoWriMo

waitLess than 24 hours until the start of NaNoWriMo.

Over the last month, we at Today’s Author have weighed in on NaNoWriMo. We’ve told you why we’ll play along, and why we won’t. We’ve meted out advice on what you need to do in order to finish, and what you need to have in place before you start to improve your chances.

Now it’s your turn…and, ours too. Depending on when you’re reading this, you have less than 24 hours left in your normal life.

Over the next month, we understand you might be a little short on time, but be sure to swing by. We’ll be here. Some of us will be sharing our own NaNoWriMo progress. We’ll also be continuing our tradition of supplying writing prompts each Tuesday and Friday–if you’re up against a creative block, these could provide just the right boost. And others will be offering encouraging words and a shoulder to lean on.

Good luck.

Well? What are you waiting for? Get writing.

But wait until Midnight or it doesn’t count.