Post A Day 2011 – The Grand Finale

Ok so here is the final assessment including the questions posted by WP.

Why did you start the Post a Day/Week Challenge?
I was a new blogger and needed the practice and motivation to get into the swing of things. I write fiction and hadn’t written anything in a while, I thought blogging might help.

Describe the state of your blog at the time you started the challenge.
New blog, average hits of about 5 per day, no subscribers. Lots of ideas for what I wanted to do as I had spent the last few months thinking about it.

How did your blog evolve over the course of the challenge?
I stopped doing all of the Post A Day after two weeks because I didn’t feel it was for me. I wanted people to read my work, ponder it and contribute… quality not volume.

Did you post as often as you had hoped? Why or why not?
I’m posting something roughly every two days and this is better than I was hoping for so, yes.

What type of blogging strategy works best for you?
Doing it as the muse takes me but planning content to be spread out so that I don’t have six posts in a single day and then nothing for a few weeks. With my “Site of the Week” feature, I stack up about four or five on the trot so each is posted about a month after I have found the site. This usually allows me time to investigate the site and write a good review. I hope next year’s “Site of the Week” posts to be more thorough.

If you could go back to the beginning, what would you do differently?

What are you most proud of accomplishing this year?
Over 20 subscribers, most of whom have signed up in the last 2-3 months.

Name 3 great blogs you discovered through the challenge.
Unfortunately I don’t think I found any through Post A Day. All of those I interact with came through “tag surfer” which WordPress now seems to have discarded from the dashboard.

What surprised you about the challenge?
The lack of direction from WordPress. Too much repetition, too many missed days and calls for ideas from bloggers that were never used (some good ideas too).

I followed the suggestions daily and I noticed that few people tended to do all of them. Most seemed to do it a few months as a new blogger and then drift away.

What advice would you give to others who want to blog regularly?
Pick a specific subject and stick to it. Write the sort of blog that you would want to read.

What are your blogging goals for 2012?
World domination mwuhahahahahahaha!

Carry on doing my thing. I hope to spend more time fiction writing next year so my blog will increasingly be used to promote my work.

To those who stuck with post a day in 2011, congratulations and all the best for next year!

Too much or not enough?

I commented on this post a day subject yesterday. I do feel that there comes a point where the narrative is too much.

Aside from science fiction, I also like reading historical fiction. A few years ago I tried to get into Patrick O’Brian but found his prose dense and information heavy. Don’t get me wrong, I love well-researched historical drama but if I get to the stage where I can skip 10 or 20 pages and know I will only be skipping the description of one ship or an explanation of breakfast at the Captain’s table, my interest will start to wane.

Yet I do make exceptions. The thing I love most about the Earth’s Children series is Auel’s research. Some find her endless description of fashioning tools, foraging and hunting too heavy but it works for me because of how central to Ayla’s daily life these events are. It isn’t important to know the name of every single bolt and plank on a 19th century sloop and only detracts from the plot.

In short, if description detracts from the plot then it is a big turn off for me. You can have too much of a good thing.

I realise that I have neglected historical fiction outside of my book reviews. I’ll try to get around to posting a lengthy discussion piece soon.

Bad Science – Post A Day #296

I know I vowed at the beginning of the year that I wouldn’t do off topic posts after the first couple of weeks but this is one issue I feel so strongly about that I have to comment. Well it is slightly on topic because it concerns two books that I have already written reviews about (HERE) and (HERE).

At first glance it may appear that bad science is harmless, that we should just let it wash over us and leave people to believe whatever they want to believe. Generally, yes we should but when we delve deeper, we see the potential for harm in some cases. Misinformation by oil companies for example, sowing doubt in the minds of those who don’t know any better regarding the impact of CO2 emission has led to a great deal of inaction, causing more damage in the process.

I blame the media for a lot of bad science out there. The problem comes in two forms. Firstly, as passive information. The idea that we must give equal airtime to bizarre beliefs, no matter how out there gives a false impression of parity… the idea that an issue is split down the middle when it is not. Who would know without researching that over 97% of active climate researchers accept the evidence that human activity is changing our planet’s ecosystem? And that of the remaining 3%, 2% are undecided and 1% are active deniers? Who would know that homeopathic remedies consistently fail rigid clinical tests?

The second is malignant information. Fox News in the US, The Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph in the UK regularly push the idea that the global warming movement is a conspiracy orchestrated by wicked anti-capitalists determined to push a liberal agenda of a vague description for unspecified purposes. These media outlets deliberately and aggressively flood their audience with one-sided information and give no balance giving the impression that this is mainstream belief fighting back against an elitist minority who spread their lies for (unclear) political motives.

Medical science is also under attack by the merchants of nonsense. We forget in vain the name of Andrew Wakefield. We also forget in vain how certain elements in the media championed him and said nothing of the alarm being expressed at his motives and methods in the academic community. Funny that those media outlets who did champion him later on forgot their own complicity in giving him unfettered free speech. What he did now has serious implications for children today all because he put his corporate interests above his integrity to the scientific method.

And then we come to evolution – that demon of the religious right. As evolution underpins so much science (LINK), take a moment to think about the implications of creation myth being taught alongside or even instead of evolution.

I don’t want this to become an esssay but if you want to know more about the dangers of bad science, read Ben Goldacre’s book Bad Science. If you want to know more about the insidious nature of the climate denial movement, read Conway and Oreskes Merhcants of Doubt (both links above).

Site of the Week: yWriter

If you know of any useful websites or perhaps run one yourself, feel free to recommend it. If I find your site suitable for my weekly feature then I will do my utmost to accommodate it. In return I might merely ask that you link to my blog. But please (and I mean this in the politest possible terms) do not ask me to advertise your commercial service.

I was unimpressed with StoryBook in an earlier site of the week but I was determined to keep looking for a package that would be more relevant and useful for my needs. I like planning and plotting and always conscious of the need to keep checking back to make sure the writing is consistent.

At first glance, yWriter seems more useful for the sort of problems I come across when writing longer projects. It has a storyboard to add quick notes so you can check back to when certain events occurred and you can break down your plan by chapter or individual scene. I find this a highly useful tool for novel writing.

Another useful feature is the ability to go back to view earlier versions, something that normal wordprocessors would require multiple copies to compare versions.

The complete list of features:
Organise your novel using a ‘project’.
Add chapters to the project.
Add scenes, characters, items and locations.
Display the word count for every file in the project, along with a total.
Saves a log file every day, showing words per file and the total. (Tracks your progress)
Saves automatic backups at user-specified intervals.
Allows multiple scenes within chapters
Viewpoint character, goal, conflict and outcome fields for each scene.
Multiple characters per scene.
Storyboard view, a visual layout of your work.
Re-order scenes within chapters.
Drag and drop of chapters, scenes, characters, items and locations.
Automatic chapter renumbering.

I think this is suitable for this post a day so I’m cheating a tying it in posthumously :D

November is NaNoWriMo

As writers may or may not know, November is NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month).

The concept is straightforward enough, to write 50,000 words of a novel throughout the course of the month. Participants must register at the site, fill in a short profile and detail what their novel is about.

Last week, The Daily Post had this to say about the project. I’m inclined to agree that the project’s major flaw is that it encourages sheer volume of words over quality of writing. I’m a compulsive editor and double_checker and I just know if I didn’t go back to trim once in a while my work would end up a confusing mess. I won’t be entering because I really don’t think that the project is a good approach for me.

But that is just my opinion. Millions of people clearly get pleasure from it and presumably find it a useful catalyst. As far as I am concerned, anything that encourages people to write can only be a good thing.

Anyway, here is the NaNoWriMo website. If anybody is entering, good luck with your efforts!

Flash fiction challenge starting with this sentence – Post a Day #252

Another fiction challenge from The Daily Post. As with the last one I’ve set myself an arbitrary word limit of 300. Let’s see how this goes…

I told him where I was going, and he hurried me out, pointing to the door with the gun, but what he didn’t know was I couldn’t go that way. I shook my head.

‘You said…’

‘Not that way.’

‘Why not?’

‘Didn’t you hear the screams?’

He shrugged, exasperated. ‘Then which way?’

I gestured at the front door. ‘I saw a car. I can drive it.’

‘There’s lots of them that way.’

‘There’s more out the back.’ I insisted.

He sighed in defeat, shoved the dresser out of the way and finally opened the door.

It was very dark and I could see a dozen of them at the end of the street. I ignored the car and crept into the alley.

At the end I climbed an escape ladder attached to a block of flats. Every footstep clunked on the metal, loud against the urban silence.

When I reached the top I breathed in the cold winter air and waited.

I was there about a minute when I heard a flutter and the soft landing of claws on concrete.

I couldn’t go out the back because the moonlight of this world interfered with our shapeshifting ability. It would have revealed my true form to him. At the front, the building was tall enough to shield me. Now bathed in sunlight our true images were clear. We looked like Earth bats, true, but we were not from this planet though the comparison added to the fear.

‘Have you discovered why he is immune?’ asked my leader.

‘Not yet.’

‘We need to find out. We are too few-’

I nodded. ‘So long as he thinks I’m his sister, we’re safe.’ I flipped open my phone and typed a quick text: At the exchange. Calling for help. Hold on my brother x.

Not a bad little horror story there if I do say so myself!

Flash fiction using a word I’ve not used before – Post a Day #236

Post a Day has set a flash fiction challenge. Here is my effort. Word limit: 300

“New to this?” Asked the site foreman with a knowing grin, passing me a coffee.

I sipped it and watched the drill descend. It wasn’t quite at the deepest permissible point but it was close.

“You learn not to care about the tree-huggers or their stupid stories.”

Lush forest covered this moon and some trees were so large and ancient that the population had adapted their lifestyle to the environment and become dendrofilous, much to the annoyance of those who wanted to industrialise the place and grab the resources.

I am an Ombudsman posing as a deputy foreman and I had the power to shut down the operation if anything was amiss, so yes I had to care about the “tree-huggers”. The ecology was delicate and other interest groups had to be catered for. There was a lot of bad feeling about the drilling and not just from the locals with their anecdotes of giant subterranean creatures that nobody had yet photographed.

The drill suddenly lurched forward, falling over a hundred metres in three seconds.

“Cavern!” Hollered the foreman and immediately the drilling ceased. “Damn it, there’s no oil. We’ll have to keep going until we find it.” He waved for the drill to carry on and it started up almost immediately.

That was the cue to produce my badge. “This drill will stop now.”

His face dropped but he failed to react to my order. “We can’t!”

“Stop drilling now or your contract is terminated.”

He shoved me against the metal railing and I gave the signal to stop drilling. “There might be important fauna and flora down there; you’re breaking the contract and will be fined.”

When the drill finally ceased, silence lasted only a few seconds. Then, somewhere beneath us I heard what sounded like a roar.

This took me about an hour and it wasn’t easy to create a story with a definite beginning, middle and end in just 300 words. I’ve never meticulously edited anything as much as I did with that and it makes you realise just how easy it is to over-write. I wrote the story, not worrying about length and then edited and edited until I’d shaved it down to 300 or fewer, quibbling over every word.

The word I’d never heard before is, of course, dendrofilous. It means “liking trees so much that you choose to live in them”.

As for the ending, I deliberately chose “roar” because it could be interpreted either way. Large creatures roar and so does fast-moving fluid moving through a vent. Interpret it how you will :D

I think I could really get into flash fiction and it might be useful training if I can submit a piece for The James White Award in January.

Which universe would you like to spend time in? – Post a Day #235

This post a day was my suggestion so I guess I ought to answer it. I asked “which book would you like to spend a day in as an incidental character?”

I would most like to visit the planet of Dune and to watch the type of sandstorm that can strip flesh from bones, to fly over a migrating sandworm and visit a market in one of the cities.

I would also like to go travelling with The Doctor and see the universe, get shot at by daleks and see how long I can go without blinking when confronted with one of the stone angels.

If that sort of fiction appeals to yoiu then cam I recommend The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. The main character gets sucked into Jane Eyre. It is such a weird and wonderful world that it has to be seen to be believed.

At the moment I also wish I could have a walk around my steam city in order to get some inspiration!

Six word story – Post a Day #227

Challenging post a daytoday. I’ve seen on other blogs that some writers rise to the challenge of flash and micro fiction. These are incredibly short stories typically, 1000 words or (far) fewer for flash fiction, 500 characters or fewer for micro fiction. There is no formal set limit, different websites have different ideas about what is flash and what is micro, some don’t make a distinction.

Though I’ve never tried it, I have researched it and it seems quite a challenge. I’d like to give it a go sometime in the future, time permitting.

For today, WordPress has set a challenge to write a whole story in six words. I wanted to see how many I could do, so here are my efforts:

He facepalmed: The butler did it!

The message read: its a boy!

Sobbing, I watched his car leave.

That last punch made me champion.

SETI finally translated: We are coming

The forest echoed a demonic roar

Becoming a vampire prevented my suicide.

That was the most difficult 42 words I’ve ever written and I’m pleased to have included seven major genres in there (crime, romance, chic lit, sport drama, sci fi, horror and young adult fantasy/horror).

I’m going to seek out some flash fiction prompts in the coming months. I’m not sure that I would post one every week as I have my sights set on several goals right now; I’m about to submit The Weight of Reason to the L. Ron Hubbard Award and I’m aiming to enter into the James White Award too. I can see the value of very short fiction, mostly keeping writing tight and punchy. It has been a long time since I’ve written a story as short as 3000 words (which I think is the limit for the James White Award) so perhaps flash fiction might help me keep the words down. Watch this space!

Blogging is excellent mental exercise – Post a Day #221

At least as far as fiction writing is concerned. Researching ideas, discussing themes and posting book reviews I feel has really helped spur me on to write more fiction and get me out of the rut I was on for far too long.

I recommend it for anybody stuck in a rut with their fiction. Even if you do not post publicly, setting yourself non-fiction writing exercises, such as a blog (or a diary or journal whichever you prefer) is excellent practice.