Tag: social

writing is a solitary activity, but writers like to gather.

The Name of the Beast

I don’t hate social media.

Staying in touch with friends is nice, and low effort sites like Facebook are quite good for that.

me stepping away from Facebook

me stepping away from Facebook

Or at least they used to be.

I started using Facebook to play games — word games, specifically, but long distance board games in general. I might not even have made an account at the time if Scrabble wasn’t mired in intercontinental rights issues.

And it was fun: I kept my Legally Distinct Word Game skills fresh, and I stayed in touch with people I liked.

That continued as I reestablished contact with schoolmates and folks from other parts of my life over the years: I got to say hello to people I liked but without the considerable effort of a phone call or letter — frequent glancing contact rather than infrequent (or, more likely, absent) deep contact. This really is the genius of social networks.

And as a social network I have no issue at all with Facebook, or Twitter, or Google+ *, or any of them. You are interacting with people, you are being notified about things that people you know are doing or saying.

Honestly, I don’t even mind advertising, not really. I don’t enjoy it, and autoplay video ads with sound can die in a fire**, but I understand the need for it. Hyperefficient server farms don’t run for free.

Where I start to have trouble is with algorithmic feeds, and with forced engagement.

A Brief Digression About Time Management

I’ve tried lots of systems to manage my time and the things that I want to fill it with. The structure I am using now, Three Things, is more robust than anything else I’ve used.

Previous efforts have floundered either because they were too complex (ie there was too much overhead to maintain) or too overwhelming (ie they made explicit the existential dread that I experience when I think about how much there is for me to do). The best of these failed systems were paper-based but in trying to capture my world I ended up flooding my inbox, which triggered the existential dread.

But the worst system for me was the Palm Pilot, because not only did it make terrifyingly manifest how many things I had to do, but it automatically carried incomplete tasks forward.

That automation meant that I did not need to dig into my lists to make them: the huge lists were created for me. It also meant that I didn’t remember to look at the list. And a todo list you’re not looking at is a waste of everybody’s time.

Automation and Attention

I love automation of work. If I can write a short program to perform a task then I can repeat that work in an error-free way indefinitely.

Automation which shortcuts attention seems profoundly flawed, however. It’s too easy to lose connection with the work you’re doing or the life you’re trying to lead. That’s the problem I have with an algorithmic feed — what you see is not decided by simple rules that you can navigate (eg newest first) but by unscrutinisable knowledge systems whose rules no one understands.

Even the word “algorithm” is a misnomer here, because an algorithm is a repeatable, explicable set of steps to perform a task. The neural networks trained to show us what will keep us on the site for longest are not explicable, and they are only repeatable inasmuch as the same training inputs can be fed to them.

Algorithmic feeds are an answer to a question that users of the site were not asking, and they are too easily manipulated and subverted. I’ve heard people complain that friends thought they were dead because they hadn’t posted on Facebook in so long, when they had been posting every day but those posts weren’t being shown in the friend’s feed.

For users it is better to keep the rules simple, and have searches and filters to let people find the content they want.

Make It So

Facebook’s users are not its customers. Facebook’s customers are the advertisers and the consumers of user data.

The job of Facebook is to keep you on the site as long as possible to show you ads and gather information about you. You might have just gone in to check on your reading group page, but Facebook will show you things in your feed that will distract you from that task. If you like reading, maybe you will want to see ads for reading glasses. Or maybe you’re in your seventies: perhaps your hearing is failing? Perhaps you’re susceptible to right wing media?

That post from your old schoolfriend yesterday — you liked it, but you didn’t comment. You commented on that media story about the whales causing global warming, though. Maybe we’ll show you more of that instead of your schoolfriend’s post from today; you spent more time with the whale story, after all.

And so many of the posts you see aren’t lovely stories from your friends, or jokes, or things they’ve actually said: they’re bad memes, or reposted nonsense about how it’s the chemtrails really, or miserably derivative surveys.

I like the people I am friends with, but I want to interact with them as friends not as media repeaters.

Unsocial Media

Calling Facebook just a social network now is wrong; even the term social media is a little behind. Facebook is a digital media platform with a social component.

In other words it’s not the concept that’s a problem, it’s the automation. Having a site to send messages amongst your social group is fine — laudable, even — but having an algorithm choosing who your friends are (ie whose posts you see) is not.

[*] what a missed opportunity Google+ was!

[**] those intrusive video ads are the explicit reason I installed an ad blocker.

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Willamette Writers Conference 2018

What are conferences for?

I know what cons are for and I love them for it: fans of a medium exchange squees. Cons are also hugely important culturally — unironic enthusiasm is a joy to be shared, and the sheer glee of a good con is hard to resist.

I have usually attended cons as an aspiring author, though, and while cons often have craft tracks in their sessions providing resources to help creators to find their way, the majority of the programming is giving space for fans to appreciate the things they are there to appreciate.

Conferences, by contrast, are working spaces: peers talking to each other on technical topics, networking, and finding opportunities.

Cons can be enjoyed as a consumer only with little planning. Conferences work best with forward planning and effort.

Going into Willamette Writers this year, I didn’t really have a plan.

Last year I had specific goals around pitching, and following those goals (from the pitch workshop to the pitch sessions and the inevitable post mortems) was fruitful both in terms of pitch response and making contact with other similar-stage writers.

This year I went tired and a bit grumpy. I need to keep myself accountable when food is available and I wasn’t sure how supportive of my plan the catered meals were going to be, so I brought my breakfast with me along with my very necessary flask of tea. That was a good choice. I also finally learned that I need to bring a top-up thermos of tea to get me through the afternoon in better shape.

Despite all these intimations of disaster relating to this year’s proceedings, I ended up having a grand old time.

One serious error last year was that I didn’t know when the best times to hit the pitch sessions, and so I missed sessions I would have enjoyed. This year I wasn’t pitching which meant I only had to contend with interesting sessions being scheduled on top of each other!

I learnt a lot, though. Just on the first day I learned about maintaining momentum in a manuscript, crafting a plausible antagonist, and making credible characters in incredible situations (the last was from the marvellous Charlie Jane Anders). I also learned (as if I didn’t already know) that most of my craft is instinctual rather than conscious: I know what works, but I don’t necessarily know why.

My strategy this year was to stick to sessions which aligned with current interests. The off-beat sessions last year were interesting (and I wouldn’t have done any audio experimentation without them) but more tightly relevant sessions this year meant I learnt yet more about tension in manuscripts, for example, as well as ideas on platform building.

And I met more terrific people. The greatest strength of this conference, still, is its community. As one of my new friends said, by the end of the conference everybody knows everybody.

It’s a good place to be.

I am still processing the massive influx of new information but I do know I have a few things to follow up on, and some thinking to do about how to advance my writing career.

Until next year, then.

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The T-Shirts of NaNoWriMo: 2017 Edition

this year’s super T shirt!

This year’s shirt follows the splendid theme of writing superheroes. I’m delighted to say that I remembered to order the shirt far enough ahead that I had it to wear for the kick-off on Saturday.

I’m a little sad that I wrote last year’s story about superhumans rather than this year’s, but this year’s story will be great.

To the word mines!

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Willamette Writers Conference 2017

This year’s Willamette Writers Conference was a little over week ago. My brain is still fizzing.

My history with cons and confs is not lengthy. I went to Westercon last year and enjoyed it mightily, including the many writing track sessions that I sat in on. However Westercon is still a fan convention rather than a conference. And, in fact, most of my con-going has been to fan conventions, whether it was Wordstock a few years ago (which I somehow forgot to mention in my Westercon post) or UKCAC way back in the 90s.

And this is why I was keen to go to the Willamette Writers Conference. It has fan elements because writers tend to be fans of other writers, but it’s a conference about the business of writing rather than a celebration of the results. This will not be the last writing conference I go to, but going to a conference which is in my home town was too bic an opportunity to overlook.

There are also pitch slots available.

One of the huge differences between a con and a conf is that agents don’t usually go to cons to do business. Conferences, on the other hand, can attract agents who are looking for authors to represent, and this conference in particular offers an opportunity to pitch your story to agents in ten minute slots. Since one of my three goals for the year was to seek representation, these pitch slots were obviously a big draw for me.

There are also many tracks of craft sessions over the three days. I tried to go to a variety of sessions covering both things I think I need to know and things I don’t know that I need to know yet. So, I went to sessions about editing and genre, but I also went to sessions about nonfiction queries and writing love stories. The speaker quality was generally high, in some cases rising to the level of deeply inspiring. I am thinking that I will actually have to do the audiobook of Livia, now*.

The best bit of this conf was the community, though. Being around other writers, being in an atmosphere of acceptance for the odd pursuit, and meeting other writers who are making a living off it, was wonderful: it was validating and transformative. I will be going to some of the Willamette Writers sessions in Portland over the next year too.

Going to a conference like this is not a cheap option, but it was an enormously valuable weekend for me, and I am very glad I was able to attend.

I will return.

[*] producing the Livia audiobook is probably the goal that will replace publishing A New Dawn on my list of things for the year.

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The T-Shirts of NaNoWriMo: 2016 Edition – The Year of Two T-Shirts

Portland's awesome logo shirt

Portland’s awesome logo shirt

The 2016 NaNoWriMo shirt has been tremendously popular. I wasn’t able to get my one until just before the month itself began – it missed the kick-off – and the store is still having trouble keeping it in stock!

… and it’s easy to see why. That image is so perfectly composed, with the page lines distorting to indicate spatial rupture, the spaceship soaring towards its far destination. I find this evocation of the launch of the imagination that NaNoWriMo represents reaches deep into me. This is my favourite NaNoWriMo shirt, hands down.

the out-of-this-world 2016 shirt

the out-of-this-world 2016 shirt

The NaNo Portland group is a vibrant community of Portland area writers, and one of its MLs is a talented graphic designer. This example of his work really grabbed my attention, so I was proud to buy one of the shirts with it on. It’s a Cafe Press shirt which means the printing is heavy, but it looks gorgeous in person.

2016 is a vintage year for T-shirts!

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Kicking Off

Being Social

I’m really bad at write-ins.

I like them, don’t get me wrong – I think they’re useful, and I always like meeting other writers – but they tend to be in the evening and my evenings are already pretty full. I find I write most consistently in the mornings, on the bus, and over lunch. I know that for some folks write-ins are a way of gaining focus and motivation to put words on the page, and that has not generally been my problem.

But because I am so bad at getting to write-ins I always try to get to the regional kick-off party to connect with other Portland-area WriMos. This year’s event was at the Central Library in downtown Portland, and it was very good. There were a number of things about it that were improvements:

  • tables – the room was arranged with tables to sit at. This was such a big improvement over the rows of chairs, however they were arranged. You were face to face with a small group of writers and it was a much more comfortable structure than the serried ranks. The only down side was having to turn your chair for the intro segment when the MLs were speaking from the front of the room. My neck didn’t like that bit.
  • time limit – there was an explicit one minute time limit per speaker in the going-round-the-room-introducing-yourself part, and that was so successful that no one exceeded it. Things haven’t been too rambly in previous years either, but having a firm time limit focussed everyone’s attention.
  • plot ninjas – one of my favourite bits of the kick-offs has always been the opportunity to write down plot twists and hand them to other writers to use for inspiration. These plot ninjas are often silly but can help in shaking loose something from your skull that moves the story forward. However, they can also sometimes be irrelevant to your story: having a plot ninja that suggests a magic mirror be discovered in your high stakes legal drama doesn’t really help.
    Hence this year’s exercise, which was to write a short summary of your story at the top of the page and then have others make plot suggestions that are tailored to that story. I’ve got a couple of plot ideas from that already, so I’m quite excited about it. This exercise was also a lot more fun to engage in than the usual form.

Bravo, Theo and Max. Thank you.

Being Solitary

Ultimately though, like dying, you always write alone.

I’ve been chewing through the steps to prep for November, and it’s been hard: I realised that one of the reasons I didn’t do well with this story ten years ago is that I didn’t have a good ending.

Fortunately, it turns out that one of the characters I have added is actually going to be the main character – certainly, she’s more interesting than the perfect god-like character I had at the centre of things before. I should still be ready to go for next Tuesday.

Back to the outlines.

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Livia Book Party

A very exciting arrival yesterday: a box of books arrived from Create Space!

it's a box with something inside...

it’s a box with something inside…

look! It's Livia!

look! It’s Livia!

I ordered these books because we’re having a low key book party for Livia and the Corpuscles – an opportunity to talk about how the book came into being, and maybe to read a bit from it. It’s on Sunday, 25th September at the Multnomah Arts Center in Multnomah Village – here’s the Facebook event. I know it’s Facebook, but…  well.

This process of getting a book out the door has been very interesting. I’m not expecting to qualify for SFWA membership off it or anything, but I hope people enjoy the story.

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Westercon 69

It’s been too long since I went to a con.

I’m not talking about tech conferences. I’ve been to those but fan conventions are something special and I have not been to one since 1990 when I wore my Zenith costume on the stage at the UK Comic Arts Convention.

I have many friends who go to cons. One in particular has been suggesting I go to Orycon but it’s usually in November which collides with NaNoWriMo. But I decided at the end of 2015 that I should try to go to at least one con this year.

So Westercon 69 is the first fan con I have attended in more than 25 years. And it’s been great.

I mostly focussed on the writing track. There’s been some fascinating panels on publication, revision, writing groups, dialogue and more. It is terrific to hear established writers talking about their process and their experience, as well as to make contact with other writers at similar stages to myself.

There are also a great many opportunities to hear authors expounding on related topics. Mr Scalzi is always entertaining, although I mostly followed Charles Stross in his panels and he’s been fascinating to hear on topics ranging from hells and netherworlds to anthropogenic extinction.

Looking around, I saw so many excellent cosplayers and wildly creative costumes. Westercon 69 has been co-located with Gearcon 2016 so the steampunk undercurrents were deep. I was also struck by how safe a space this is: there are a lot of kids around, and a lot of folks with mobility assistance. I’m very impressed by how mellow this place is. Not all of the panels I’ve attended have been kid-safe, but that’s also pretty clear from the topic.

I’ve been told that many of the folks here are also part of the scene at Orycon, so I think I have to go to that now. With any luck I can bring my family.

I hope to see you in November!

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The T-Shirts of NaNoWriMo: 2015 Edition

the 2015 NaNoWriMo T-shirt!

the 2015 NaNoWriMo T-shirt!

Here we have the very splendid 2015 NaNoWriMo T shirt. Like last year’s, the logo and typography are joyous. Not so pleased withe the shirt quality itself, but the price hasn’t changed so something probably had to give.

I’m glad to say that I have the shirt in plenty of time for the kick-off this year, but I won’t be able to go to this year’s kick-off – the timing of the events just don’t permit to attend. I will certainly be donning this T shirt for the NaNoWriMo talk at the day job, though, so it will get a good public outing (apart from wearing it several times during the month).

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Apologies That Matter

Q: How do you make an Englishman apologise?
A: Stand on his foot.

Being British, I say “sorry” a lot as a reflexive action whenever I need to get by, or if I feel like I have impeded someone else in their urgent mission to get to the spoon drawer, but those “sorries” are just basic social lubrication – those are not apologies.

A real apology can be hard and it can be painful, but if it’s worth doing then it should be done properly:

  • acknowledge the pain you’ve caused.
  • accept that it’s your fault. Whatever your intent, your actions caused harm. Explaining that intent may be useful, but it does not excuse or justify the harm.
  • say how you will change your behaviour. An important step often omitted, but significant: if the victim knows that you are trying to change they may be more willing to continue talking to you.

There are also a few things that your apology should not contain:

  • blaming the victim.
  • any further expectation on the victim. Understand that you can only offer the apology: the recipient is not required to accept it, nor do you have the right to require or even request forgiveness.

Coming to a place where you can make a real apology may take time. I don’t know anyone who enjoys having their errors pointed out to them. My reflex reaction to such information can be anger, so if I can I will take time to organise my thoughts and sort through my feelings.

Hank Green covers many of these points in this video, but something he doesn’t mention is walking back an apology – just don’t. Qualifying an apology after the fact undermines it.

Finally, sometimes an apology isn’t enough. If the damage is too great, the person you hurt may not be able to accept your apology. Alternatively, if the apology costs you more than you can give or if you cannot make a good faith effort to change your behaviour towards that person, then the right thing to do might be to withdraw.

Anyway, I hope you do not have to make too many apologies, but when you do make them count for something.

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