Monthly Archives: October 2009

  •    So the Vook has competition. Again, I’m not very wooed by a multimedian approach to fiction, but I’m beginning to like the idea of watching video in my cookbooks. #
  •    William Safire’s 12 rules on how to read a newspaper column, Rule number 5:
    Don’t fall for the “snapper” device. To give an aimless harangue the illusion of shapeliness, some of us begin (forget “lede”) with a historical allusion or revealing anecdote, then wander around for 600 words before concluding by harking back to an event or quotation in the opening graph. This stylistic circularity gives the reader a snappy sense of completion when the pundit has not figured out his argument’s conclusion.
    Funny, I use that all the time. (via) #
  •    Seth Godin on using the Internet to sell bestsellers. More applicable to non-fiction than fiction, but still a gem; in particular: “You’re no longer in the books business. Books are souvenirs. You’re in the souvenirs business”. #

Writing As Performance Art

They say that ideas come into their own, given time. Here’s an idea that seems to be gaining traction: writing quickly, writing live, writing in front of an online, watching audience.

I’m not just talking about MCM’s 3-Days-1-Novel experiment, which concluded recently (see: Novelr’s The Dispatch), I’m talking also about a few other sites/writing-experiments that’s been done over the past couple of weeks, all of which are structured around a few cool ideas.

A couple of weeks back Paul Graham – the founder of Y-Combinator – did one of his essays on a public EtherPad document. He made it available online, for anyone who was interested to watch him as he worked. (As I’m doing with this post – well, at least just the first bit of it)

Granted, EtherPad, like Google Wave’s writing-as-you-go feature, is a pretty new technology built specifically for web-based collaborative writing. It’s designed around the idea that it is far easier to work on the same document when you can see – live – what your other team-mates are doing to it at the same time. But a secondary feature of EtherPad is also this: you can now record and broadcast the document – any document – as you write it, making writing not so much passive as we’re used to seeing it offline, but as live and as active as all the other forms of web expression available to us: as active as video, say, or webcasts, or music.

Another, less technologically-advanced take on this live-writing gig is that of MCM’s one-chapter-an-hour-for-51-hours writing stunt. To be fair, this kind of marathon-writing extravaganza isn’t new, given that there is a 3-day-1-novel yearly competition held every Labour weekend since 1977 (for the record: I suspect the competition’s for writers who’ve gotten bored with NaNoWriMo – meaning, well – not many of them). And some months back, Penguin’s We Tell Stories did a live writing experiment – this one in Week 4 of their WTS project. The work, entitled Your Place and Mine, was written every day at 6:30 pm for exactly a week, and structured in such a way as for both authors to post responding installments, each of them writing from a different first-person POV. (It’s a love story: one author presumably writes from the male lead’s POV, and vice versa).

Robin Sloan covered this four days ago, over at Snarkmarket, and while he isn’t seriously thinking about putting the concept into practice, he does have a few ideas about the use of such live technology:

Think instead of a short story writ­ten with play­back in mind. Writ­ten for play­back. Typ­ing speed and rhythm are part of the expe­ri­ence. Dra­matic dele­tions are part of the story. The text at 2:20 tells you some­thing about the text at 11:13, and vice versa. What appear at first to be tiny, ten­ta­tive revi­sions turn out to be precisely-engineered sig­nals. At 5:15 and para­graph five, the author switches a character’s gen­der, trig­ger­ing a chain reac­tion of edits in the pre­ced­ing grafs, some of which have inter­est­ing (and pre-planned?) side effects.

I’m struck by another similarity: this sounds an awful lot like a reading, doesn’t it? Difference being that you aren’t actually reading a completed work, in front of a gaggle of listeners, you’re writing and they’re all crowded around you, staring over you shoulder as you work your magic. (Yes, a reading would have more similarities to a webcast). But here’s another element of the writer-reader experience, unthought-of before the Internet, possible today, and a pretty cool idea at that.

  •    What book designers think of the Amazon Kindle. Here’s a hint: they sure like their baseball bats. #
  •    In the vein of recent writing experiments, Robin Sloan (of Snarkmarket) recently wrote and posted a short story entitled: The Wrong Plane. It was the result of a wager:
    As I’m writing this, I’m at $9,853—just a handful of backers away from $10,000. So here’s the pitch: If we get to $10K before midnight PST on Tuesday, I’ll do the world’s first digital/occult (super) short-story throw-down in the sky. Five hours, 2,500 miles—so let’s make it 2,500 words. I’ll write and edit the story entirely on the plane and post it as soon as I land.
    He got that $10,000. #


An interlude, in which we find it helpful to imagine the future:

In the future of writing there are many websites. All the writers have one, like a new toy, or a fountain pen. They are easy to navigate, easy to read, nothing like the vacuous crap you sometimes find in the back-bowels of the present Internet. All the books are digital in this future, and all the books are published online (for free! – depending on author, the grouchy ones refuse, and so have less readers, and that serves them right -) or you can choose to buy them in Kindle/iPhone/pdf format. Some of these websites – design, tech and all, are run by the publishing houses. It doesn’t matter. The platform is intuitive and simple, and very transparent: new writers can set it up without reading even one line of code; they choose from a choice selection of basic web-fiction themes, all optimized to provide a unified, satisfying reading experience, and then they write. By golly they write! Gone are the days of the steep learning curve, the lonely writer piecing together the technology for publishing; gone is the code. There is no need for code, not in the future of writing. Everything is drag-and-drop. The barrier to entry for fiction publishing is effectively zero, the writer weeps for joy!

There are reader-centered communities in this future: review sites, filter sites; the interaction is instantaneous and warm and really neat. You can choose to chat about your favourite author (link to site included in discussion), and/or when you tire of conversation, you head over to the filter sites to choose from a list of editor’s picks. Everyone has a favourite. A favourite site; a favourite reviewer. You choose from the latest recommendations, and then you curl up in a corner of your sofa to read: laptop on pillow, head on hand. The hours go by. If it gets uncomfortable, and you have to go, you purchase the book for your phone and you grab the phone as you leave: for reading in the train.

Still later, you buy the book. The papers are crisp and fresh, and they smell good right out of the envelope, exactly like the old books of yore, of before Black Thursday – the publishing houses have converted the old printing presses into POD facilities. They’re very efficient now. Less paper is wasted. You customize the cover for your bookshelf – all your books look exactly the way you want them to, different covers, but embossed black spines. When you want to recommend a book, you shoot an email to your friends, or poke them in, and they say oh thank you we’ll see it later and they are happy because you send them books they like. Then you poke the author and write him/her a short note: thank you for that, it made my week so much better, and the author pokes you back, tells you that you’re welcomed, dear, it’s been a pleasure. And literacy programs are so much cheaper in the future of writing, your daughter buys all her books online, chooses her most loved ones for print, reads the rest on her phone, her PSP, her Kindle. One day, she tells you, she wants to be an author. And you smile now, you bring her to a computer, and you show her how.

  •    Shya Scanlon’s Forecast 42 Project is a cool publishing idea: publish an entire novel, 42 chapters, one chapter a week on a different blog/website each week.
    On July 16th, 2009, I began serializing my novel FORECAST (read a blurb; watch a promo) semiweekly (Mondays and Thursdays) across 42 web journals and blogs.
    The project was recently picked up by a new publishing ‘house’, Flatmancrooked, and is due for release as hardcover in 2010. (N.B.: is this not a remarkably clever way to get the word out on online fiction?) #

I’ll Be Liveblogging The 3D1D Event (Updated)

[Update]: Day 1 and Day 2 are over, and I’ve neglected Novelr quite a bit, but expect things to pick up once Day 3 is wrapped up. In the mean time, you can see the summaries for Day 1 and Day 2 here and here.

[Update2]: Day 3, the final day, is finally over. So I’m now back to blogging at Novelr. Will be posting a summary of the whole even on The Dispatch later.

MCM's WorkspaceJust a shoutout to everyone who’s into online fiction: this Tuesday (the 6th of October) fellow writer and webfiction-lover MCM will be attempting to write an entire novel in 3 days, in front of a live, online audience. Some of you may already know this, and are looking forward to watching him work his magic. For those of you who don’t, I’ll be working a Novelr special throughout that 3 day event – a one-time only liveblogging gig, over at The Dispatch. Hop over for behind-the-scenes commentary, novel-as-its-being-written analysis, and Twitter summaries throughout the 72 hours of live writing. This is a really cool way to be writing a book, made possible only by the Internet, and I can’t wait to get started.

(Edit: the image above is, by the way, MCM’s laptop, which will be his writing workspace for the next three days. He uses Pages, and then uploads his materials online.)

  •    The official 3-Days-1-Novel project page is up. MCM, in the introduction:
    I will be working from 6AM on October 6 until 6AM on October 9, minus some sleeping breaks and other life hurdles. In that time, I intend to write 51 chapters, at about 1,500 words each. (…) I would like to remind you that I don’t drink caffeine. When you’re done screaming, please resume.
    I’m scared already. For him. #

On Reviewers and Readers

Over the past couple of days we’ve seen some discussion in the web fiction sphere on reviewers, and how an elite breed of such reviewers can help online fiction. An unspoken but widely-held belief underlying this debate has been that more reviewers would equal more quality, and more quality would equal more readers. This argument is best summarized as: ‘the reviewing class sets the bar for online fiction. A good reviewing class equals a high bar, and a high bar elevates the medium.’ (Forgive me for the wordplay here, I’ll soften my argument in a bit).

I no longer believe this to be true. The quality of a medium has never been measured by the quality of its reviewers. As writers, this is intuitive: how often do you write to please your critics? I know I don’t. I write for myself, and I’m pretty sure that you too, write for reasons far more important than the next glowing review. Perhaps we’ve gotten the causal relationship wrong: the bar isn’t raised because of reviewers; instead, reviewers improve in scope and ability as the bar of quality in a medium rises. And the bar rises of its own accord, driven by writers who work to improve themselves, or by writers who attempt to experiment within (or even without) the boundaries of their chosen form.

When you think of it like this, WFG’s true value becomes clear: it isn’t valuable because of its reviewer integrity; it is valuable, rather, because it makes it very easy for one writer to look at another writer’s work, and to learn from that experience. I must admit that I used to believe in such an idea: that good reviewing would improve the quality of web fiction. But a year at WFG has proven me wrong: quality happens regardless of whether or not there are reviewers on hand to catalogue it. Writers are fantastic people, and they don’t need to be told to up their ante.

That is not to say that reviewers aren’t important. They’re just important for a different reason. In indie music, independent music blogs (usually curated by a team of music lovers) post tracks from their favourite artists on a weekly basis. This helps to spread word of mouth, from artist to blogger and finally to audiophile. Reviewers play the same role. They’re not important because they improve the quality of online fiction. They’re important because they attract attention, and attention in turn translates to more readers. The eFiction Book Club is one such ‘music blog’. We need more like them. But, more importantly, we need to be clear on the form and function of our reviewer class, and we shouldn’t get too presumptuous over what the reviewer can achieve. Reviewers don’t improve the quality of our medium. We do. Let’s not mix the two up.