Month: March 2018

Do the Work

Late post this week because I have been mostly working on the book.

Because, when it comes right down to it, in order to finish something you have to do the work.

Writers write, painters paint, poets poe — but in all cases they had to do the work to get something at the end of it.

It is true (to a point) that you get faster… actually, not necessarily: you get more efficient rather than necessarily faster. That efficiency sometimes looks like speed because the earlier work has trained you to do the things that work for you, or at least to recognise the dead ends without having to entirely explore them. Regardless, the reason you are more efficient later is because you did the work before, but even work you do when you are more efficient still has to be done.

Characters don’t torture themselves.

Do the work.

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Making a Magic Card Library

Magic the Gathering can be an expensive game, which is why I have written before about Magic on the cheap.

I mostly play Commander, and while individual cards might cost real money you only ever need one of them for a deck.

But what if you have multiple decks?

The decks I’ve built over the years generally have pretty distinct themes. The -1/-1 counter deck is in black and green so it doesn’t share a lot of cards with the blue/white fliers deck or the mono red goblin trick deck. But there are cards that fit into all of these decks, and there are other decks which compete for cards they need (I have three big creature decks that all need green ramp spells, for example).

So what I have started to do is to build a card library. I have taken cards that could be reasonably shared between decks and put those in a special kind of sleeve that I don’t use for anything else, and replaced the original card with a proxy.

In play, you have a proxy in the deck and that is what you draw into your hand, then when you play it you place the original card on top. This is exactly the system I use for double-faced cards – it means I don’t have to continuously hoik the card out of its sleeve to flip it, preventing damage to the card. And this is an officially approved approach: Wizards prints checklist cards which act as substitutes for double-faced cards in draft games.

The proxies I use are black and white printouts of the original art for a card (ideally using the same art as the card I have). I make my proxies this way for two reasons: first, they are very obviously not real cards so there’s no question of trying to pass them off; and second the rules are readable on the card so if the original card is not available (eg you are playing two decks that contain the same card) then the deck can still be played. I back these with the ad cards you get in booster packs.

I like this system because it allows me to play the best cards I have for a purpose in all the decks that need them (although not necessarily simultaneously). I like building tribal decks which use lots of creatures of the same creature type* and most of them would benefit from cards like Urza’s Incubator or Cavern of Souls, so this way I end up with these broadly applicable cards being in all the places they are needed rather than having to pick one deck to get the good card.

There are downsides to this system:

  • it only really works for singleton formats. If I needed a playset of (say) the latest Chandra for a Modern deck this wouldn’t help because I would still need four copies of an expensive card.
  • there’s a very good chance this is not tournament-legal. But then Commander is generally a casual format, so this shouldn’t be an issue. If you happen to be playing in a tournament you might just have to put the original card into the deck, or at least substitute out basic lands for the ad cards.
  • you have to use sleeves, and they should be opaque. I noted above that I used ad cards to back the proxy which do not have the standard Magic card back. This means that if your sleeves are not substantially opaque then you can see the ad image, which amounts to a marked card.
  • some play groups may not be cool with this. There are players who are sticklers for using real cards at all times. Those players might insist that you substitute in the original card.

    Those players are gits.

    If you encounter this kind of inflexibile attitude, point out that you are saving time. Substituting actual cards for the proxies is a lot slower than getting them as you need to, and as long as you can show that you do, in fact, have the card then there doesn’t seem to be a reasonable objection.

I recommend this approach if you find that the quality of your decks is suffering because the cards you need are somewhere else in your collection.

[*] the logical conclusion of this may be the deck I have planned based around djinns, which I intend to call Djinn Palace.

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They’re Playing My Tune

The last time I touched Song was the beginning of November.

I have had to do this before: picking up a manuscript after a break of some kind is an occupational hazard of the recreational writer. For me it’s usually either a cold or another task that gets in the way of work on a draft — pausing between drafts to refresh is not what I am talking about here, but putting down a work when it is still actively being worked on.

So, I have a half-revised manuscript. How do I get back in touch with it?

Historically, I would reread the manuscript as it stands. I’ve done this with Bluehammer and Shapes, but those breaks were longer and the decay of the story in my brain more complete than here. So rereading the entire thing doesn’t seem valuable.

Another distinct thing about Song is that I have a thorough revision plan. A bit too thorough, if you know what I mean — based on my lists there is still a lot of work. The revisions in the plan are thematic, ensuring that the elements of the story and the characters that I want to express are all dealt with. This plan (as I mentioned in passing in August) consists of a set of touchstones and an enumeration of scenes.

I was working through that plan scene by scene. For chapter-by-chapter sharing (which is what we were doing in the crit group) that is the best approach; for thematic consistency I don’t think it’s very good. I also worry that I am just going too slowly because I have to keep on switching context while revising.

These factors combine to make me want to work on the plan in a different way. I have grouped the touchstones by type (relationships, POV consistency, specific character) and then I am going to drive through the whole novel working on a particular set of touchstones — driving a spike, to use software terminology. This way I get to reload my map of the whole story while still getting some work done.

But this bit is going to take time. According to my spreadsheet, I have addressed only 11.83% of the touchstones by scene.

After that I will worry about pacing.

I hope your writing is going well.

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March Things, 2018

February ended up being about one thing: finishing a short story I was committed to delivering by the end of the month. If I wasn’t working on it, I was feeling bad about not working on it.

Let’s see if anything else happened at all.

Three Things for February

  1. finish a short story – complete! There are some parts of this story which I really like, and it makes sense to me at least. We will see how other readers react.
  2. revise Song – no work.
  3. get back to doing actual crit work with the crit group – we met again as a group which was awesome, but no crit work from me.

That’s a pretty solid 1/3, so no: nothing else happened apart from the short story.

Three Things for 2018

Annual goals seem likely to be slippery this time, but let’s review anyway.

  1. finish A Turquoise Song – clearly not completing by the end of April now. I did no work on Song in February.
  2. submit my work – a goal in two parts:
    1. submit Song once it is done
    2. complete and submit short stories

    First short story of the year complete and sent off. Hopefully the next one won’t take as long.

  3. produce Livia as an audiobook – still no work. I did a quick video for something else which taught me some interesting things about how flaky Audacity is, though, so I might have to look carefully at the tools for this task.

Three Things for March

March is when I get back to Song.

  1. revise Song – specifically:
    1. complete prologue rewrite
    2. revise two more chapters
  2. do actual crit work with the crit group
  3. book some things for later in the year – retreat and Willamette Writers most relevantly here, but there is some summer holiday planning to be done too.

Spring is nearly here!

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