Sunday report: August week #1

I have just started writing a short sci-fi story about robots. It is the first time I write a story without having a title first. We’ll have to call it… Robot Dialogs #1, since this might be one of the stories for a short story book on robots.

The numbers

Here is the word count for the week. This doesn’t account for the any of the blogging. This is just fiction writing.

  • Monday: 1283
  • Tuesday: 1586 (763 + 823)
  • Wednesday: 1470 (930 + 540)
  • Thursday: 1776 (983 + 793)
  • Friday: 1458 (835 + 623)

Total: 7,573 words

Fiction writing classification by word count

Wikipedia specifies the word lengths for each category of fiction writing as follows:

Short story under 7,500 words
Novelette 7,500 to 17,500 words
Novella 17,500 to 40,000 words
Novel over 40,000 words

I already have what technically constitutes a short story. Of course, I barely wrote pass Act I, so I am probably looking at another 10-20K word.I’ve been saying that I was writing a short story for a while now but It looks like I’m on my way to writing a Novella. I might be able to cut it down when I take this first draft and rewrite it all. James Patterson Bookshots seem to be about 30K words so that could be a good number to aim for.

If I write 7k a week, it will take me 4 weeks to write this novella. Which is too long I think. On top of that I have to add editing, etc. Hopefully I speed up this week.

Speaking of, I am off to write my 500 words.

If you struggle to write, cut out the crap.

Cut the superfluous out of your life

Taran Matharu on using Wattpad for Fiction Writing

“Wattpad is basically the YouTube of books”
—Taran Matharu

Taran Matharu is a fantasy writer who published his first book on Wattpad before anywhere else.

Taran Matharu

Wattpad is basically the YouTube of books where people can write their chapters and upload them to this website and then people from all over the world are able to access them. They can comment, read and vote on your writing, and you can see how many people have read a book or chapter. […] I uploaded a sample of The Novice onto Wattpad and after the first month it had been read 100,000 times, after four months it had been read one million times and now it’s almost seven million. […] I was very excited about the feedback that I was getting as no one other than family and friends had read anything that I’d ever written until I put my work on Wattpad. As an author it’s very hard to tell if you’re any good at first, so when people are responding it’s all very encouraging”

Taran also talks about what worked for him to hook his readers in Wattpad. Specially how compared to most authors whose chapters are about 8,000 words long, his are “between 1200 words at the shortest and about 2500 at the longest.”

First of all I was uploading a chapter a day on Wattpad for that first month. That meant that I needed to have a finished chapter by the end of the day, so I needed to write shorter chapters in order to do that. That’s why my chapters are so short to this day! It’ become a writing style of mine which people particularly enjoy it seems as I get a lot of reviews saying “I love how short the chapters are as you can just pick it up and put it down whenever you like”. Cliffhangers are a useful tool to use in Wattpad because if readers need to know what happens next they will wait until the next day to read or the next week to find out. It’s important to keep them hooked and I think that’s true in books as well, especially the first chapter where someone might read it in a bookshop so they say “I need to buy this and go and read the rest” so I think that Wattpad really helped me in that regard.
Taran Matharu: ‘I think writing is like reading a story that you can decide’

Advice very useful for starting writers. The format of short content is something I find particularly relevant when reaching out to audiences exposed to the endless flow of the web. The whole interview is quite interesting.

Ira Glass on Being a Newbie

It sucks being a total beginner, starting something new and having high expectations that you can’t meet. On the other hand being inexperienced at something is the perfect excuse to experiment and take risks without major consequences.

Ira Glass' yearbook - high school senior portrait

Ira gives some down to earth (and not very commonly heard) advice for the new artist/writer:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit.”
—Ira Glass

I like Ira’s honesty and directness. Here is the full animated quote regarding beginners:

It’s Written in the Stars

“Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”
― Carl Sagan

It's written in the stars

Watching the earth rise from the moon made humans finally understand what a small little fragile planet we live on. If we could keep more of that sentiment we would approach life and our relationships to one another very differently.

We, humans, believe us to be way, way more important than we really are. Both, as a species and as individuals. I have the theory that this is so because we live in cities. Large, noisy cities, which light obscures the stars at night. We have forgotten that there is a large, spectacular cosmos out there. An immutable universe that’s not concerned in the least with us. We could destroy ourselves down here, and the stars would notice nothing.

If we could not only understand, but feel like the astronauts did how small we are, we would look at the world with a very different perspective. And maybe, most likely, be a little better to one another.

“The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.”
― Carl Sagan

On Failing and Being a Failure

Janelle Monae - On failing and being a failure

“You fail only if you stop writing.”
― Ray Bradbury

I hear so much about failing. In the startup world, in the tech world and in the writing world. I feel I have to address the topic. Look, there is no failing. It’s all in your head. Failing is just succeeding at a smaller scale. You can quote on me on that.

Writers we suffer from great deal of insecurity. So what if you didn’t sell as many books as you expected? Write another book and promote it more. Your next book will sell better. Believe me. Didn’t it sell more? Write another book and start again.

When thinking about success don’t think in absolute terms. Did I sell as much as that indie author sold with his first book? That’s a self-selecting, useless question. Think in relative terms. Did your first book sell? At all? That’s a success. After your second, third book look back. Did your overall earnings exceed your first book? Yes. So that’s a success as well.

Again, when thinking of about failure don’t think in absolute terms. Think about the investment concept of compounding. Success compounds. It doesn’t come overnight but it is built on top of all the efforts that came before it.

Same thing applies to that favorite, self publishing author you admire. That first success of them is not their first effort nor their first try. It is only the first success that we talk about.

Success is nothing but the golden child of failure.

Look at your own efforts and work as you would look a career. You wouldn’t expect a student of law to win a trial after his first semester of classes. Nor after his second or third. Not even his first trial after graduating. You are that student. You are on a path, success is at the end of the path, not at the first crossroad.

You won’t succeed until you have failed many times before.

Hustle your ass and good luck.

“Dream Big and Dare To Fail”
—Norman Vaughan

Final words

Here is where I bring the heavy artillery. If you ever feel overwhelmed with failure, remember to never give up and just let Janelle remind you of the power of yet:

Frances Stroh on Writing

Frances Stroh author of Beer Money gives great advice for new writers.

“Find the voice that wants to tell your story. Once your narrator is there, the book will essentially write itself. All you have to do is show up at your desk, every day, and give that voice free reign. And don’t think about any kind of an end goal. Following that voice, and the writing itself, is the real reward.”

Frances Stroh on Writing, Getting Published, Beer, and Beer Money

Frances Stroh

Hugh Howey on the Health of the Writing Industry

I prefer the term “writing industry”, rather than “publishing industry”. It’s about time we focus on what’s important in the larger picture. Writing is about storytelling, publishing is one component of that.

Storytelling is a critical component of what makes us human. The world of publishing is all about matching up storytellers with audiences, and this power has moved to the left coast and the world of ones and zeros. What matters most is what happens on either end, not in the middle. Can writers write? More than ever. Can they publish? Easier than ever. Can readers find and access stories? Like no other time in human history.

The State of the Industry

photo by Christopher Michel (https://www.flickr.com/photos/cmichel67/20061930470/)



photo by Christopher Michel (https://www.flickr.com/photos/cmichel67/20061930470/)

10 Lessons from the Kings of Lowbrow Cinema, A Writer’s Confession

“If you make an American film with a beginning, a middle and an end, with a budget of less than five million dollars, you must be an idiot to lose money.”
—Menahem Golan

10 Lessons from the Kings of Lowbrow Cinema - A Writer's Confession

If you think you don’t know the Cannon Group, let me tell you, you do. The Cannon is the reason we have Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson, and gave us indelible film gems such as Masters of the Universe, American Ninja, Life Force, and Cobra.

Cannon Films was an american film production company most famously known thanks to Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, two Israeli film producers who bought the company in 1979 with the dream of making Hollywood movies. They succeeded at making movies, alright. In its 27 years of existence, Cannon produced over two hundred films.

It’s too bad neither of these two guys knew that much about managing money (or about making quality movies for that matter) and have become a text-book example of how to run a company down. Cannon closed down on 1994, but before they closed down, Menahem and Yoram were extremely successful at producing and selling their movies (and not always in that order).

At the very core of it, one can say that the Cannon group sold their ideas and did it extremely well. Here it is what any professional in the creative arts looking to reach their audience can learn from these geniuses of popular trash.

Cannon - Invasion U.S.A.

Lesson #1 – Choose a genre

Menahem and Yoram choose action and all it’s variants. They tried other genres (dancing, historical fiction, teen comedy), but their true love and success came from exploitation movies with lots of sexual scenes and even more violence.

Cannon - Breakin'

Lesson #2 – Be relevant to your time

Writing is a reflection of the context of its author, and so is movie making.
Menahem and Yoram (I’ll call them “the Cannon guys” from here on) were inspired by popular culture and current events. In many occasions they tried to be first to market with their chosen topics, be it break dancing, lambada (yeah, remember that?), martial arts, ninjas, the hippie movement, etc.

Cannon - King Solomon's Mines

Lesson #3 – Mix and mash of popular topics and proven tropes

Something Cannon guys succeed most at was taking and mixing (ie. appropriating) other people’s ideas. If good artists steal, these guys should be crowned kings of artistdom (yeah, I made that term up and I’m sticking to it).

The Cannon guys used and abused every film trope and idea they could lay their hands on: Flashdance, The Exorcist, Laurence of Arabia, Blue Lagoon and Tommy, are all movies that can be found copied (“homage” is too euphemistic here) all over the Cannon catalog.

Cannon assembled parts of other movies and formed a disaster. They were the ultimate movie remixers.

Cannon - The Last American Virgin

Lesson #4 – Start with low budged

You don’t need a $100 million to make a movie. These guys didn’t even need $1 million. Many of their earlier movies were produced on a budget. I am a firm believer that constrains (economical or otherwise, are the best fuel for creativity).

Cannon - Masters of the Universe

Lesson #5 – Have impactful cover art

Ah, here. Cannon would like you to judge a book by its cover. They sold movies by the pound. Movies that hadn’t been produced, casted or even written for that mater. And they sold them based only… on a movie poster. It kinda drives home the power of a good cover, doesn’t it?

Cannon - American Ninja

Lesson #6 – Produce as quickly as possible

If there is something Cannon excelled at was producing movies at lighting speed. Some years they got to produce over 30 films, getting close to a movie a week. If you think that producing a book is hard work, imagine a movie! Ok, they had a crew to produce all that work, but they did manage to create movies like there was no tomorrow, and that takes us to the next point.

Cannon - Death Wish 3

Lesson #7 – Build a catalog of work

Menahem was obsessed with building an extensive catalog. Their goal was to produce cheap movies as fast as possible, to build a body of work in as short amount of time as possible. Some of the movies of such large catalog would become successful and their profits offset the costs of the rest of the movies. This was easy since the production costs were so low. By having a large catalog they could “package up” their flops with their successes and make money even with the movies that were complete failures.

Cannon - Over The Top

Lesson #8 – Distribute at large

This might seem obvious but once you have a hit, run with it. Take it to every market you can sell it to and keep the dollars rolling.

Cannon - Superman IV -  The Quest for Peace

Lesson #9 – Make sequels to bank on previous success

Same as above. You know you have a hit, cash on it by leveraging its name and releasing a sequel (or two or three like they did). Almost every hit Cannon released was followed by a sequel and, as we saw in lesson #5, the production was done as quick as possible to bank on the relevancy of the previous hit.

Cannon - Cobra

Lesson #10 – Be bold, be relentless and, over all, be a dreamer

Lastly, it should come without saying, but one can’t drive a business like Cannon did without being a bit deranged. Crazy is good (you know it is), but more than crazy, one can’t produce over 30 movies a year without being somewhat delusional and having a crazy amount of confidence.


Menahem and Yoram weren’t great at movie making, but their confidence pushed them to produce true icons of cinema1.

Always remember that hard work beats talent every time.

“We are motion picture makers, and the world knows about it, sometimes we make better films, sometimes we don’t make such good films, but we do make film.”
—Menahem Golan

Reflect on the successes and failures of those that came before you. Take all that hard work, and go out there and hustle your ass.

“Ok, we fucked up, what’s next?”
—Menahem Golan


  1. Their confidence also drove them to bankruptcy, but that was mostly due to the fact that they weren’t good at accounting either. 

The 9 Most Inspiring TED Talks for Novice (and Expert) Writers

Top 9 Most Inspirational TED Talks for Writers

 

1. How to write a story

by John Dufresne

American author and writing teacher, John Dufresne talks about the essence of storytelling. What I love the most about this talk is that Dufresne (I was about to call him John but I corrected my mistake), explains the intricacies of how to write a story by telling a story himself. His talk is amazing, moving and inspiring talk.

”Stories aren’t written are rewritten.”
—John Dufresne

 

2. The mystery of storytelling

by Julian Friedmann

Mr. Friedmann, who enjoys introducing himself as an agent giving literary advice, gives a very humorous talk about storytelling and writing entertaining stories.

”The story is much more about the audience than it is about the storyteller.”
—Julian Friedmann

 

3. How to write an award-winning bestselling first novel

by Nathan Filer

Nathan Filer is an awarded British writer (The Shock of the Fall). He offers some actionable and realistic steps to write a successful novel.

Do you want to abridge version? I’ll give it to you, but do watch the talk, it’s worth every minute. Here it goes:

  • Have specific goals
  • Make sure your goals are achievable
  • Be prepared to fail
  • Base your affirmations on fact
  • Be flexible in how you get there
  • Take responsibility
  • Focus on what you can control

“Being a writer is always a work in progress”
—Nathan Filer

 

4. Why I Write about Elves

by Terry Brooks

If you are into epic fantasy fiction, no doubt you have read Terry Brooks. Listen to him talk about using writing to explore the questions that trouble the writer.

“Every time I sit down to begin another book, or I sit down to continue a book or I sit down to write, it’s exciting to know that I get a chance to look at something dressed up in different clothes, and find a way to make it come alive in a different way. And that’s the thing that keeps me doing this and that’s why I write about elves because I find the answers to life’s mysteries in that fashion.”
—Terry Brooks

 

5. Why you should write

by Misan Sagay

Ok, enough about white men delivering wisdom, let’s switch it up. Misan Sagay is an Anglo-Nigerian screenwriter that talks about blackness, storytelling, female leads and filmmaking. All the things that we need more of.

“What story do you have to tell? Because your story will also never be made unless you choose to put it out there.”
—Misan Sagay

 

6. Writing your future, revising your past, moving forward

by Yvonne Battle-Felton

Yvonne Battle-Felton is “a mother, a writer, a sister, a teacher, an associate professor” and much more. Battle-Felton talks about all this and about finding oneself on our stories and telling our own story.

“Claim your story before somebody else does.”
—Yvonne Battle-Felton

 

7. Writing as an act of tribute

by Briony Goffin

Briony Goffin is a writer and teacher who talks about writing from our own experience and historical roots.

“As writers, by paying attention to the details of a given moment—remembered or imagined—we are allowing ourselves and our writing to come into definition.”
—Briony Goffin

 

8. Faith and the Writer: When Life Meets Art

by Dinah Lenney

Dinah Lenney, an american actress and writer, declares to being “spiritually challenged” and sees writing as confessions, and guilt as the needed catalysts for writers.

“What do [writers] want? As with any relationship, we want to be known we want to see our selves reflected. We want answers, sure, but if we can’t have answers at least we want to know that other people are asking the same questions.”
—Dinah Lenney

 

9. Why you will fail to have a great career

by Larry Smith

Ok, so this talk is not specifically about writing, but it is about pursuing a passion and having a great career. Larry Smith is a professor of economics and a great speaker, persuasive and motivating. Smith gives us all a kick in the butt, to shake us into action and to give us that extra push we need to beat our insecurities.

You know what you are. You’re afraid to pursue your passion. You’re afraid to look ridiculous. You’re afraid to try. You’re afraid you may fail. […] And that’s why you’re not going to have a great career. […] Unless…
Unless.
—Larry Smith

 

End notes

I hope you enjoyed this list. I watched about a hundred TED talks about writing so I don’t think I will write about any TED talk any time soon. I really enjoyed the talks but I’ve OD’d on TED now.

So, what do you think about the talks above? And tell me, did I miss any good one?

Extra Credit

In the selected list above women outweighed men 5 to 4 (The future is female my coworkers say. And I agree.) Do you think there are differences between the two groups? Are there common threads between them? Do they focus on similar or different topics?

What do you think? Does writing have a gender?

Abby Rosmarin on Aspiring Writers

No nonsense writing advice from Abby Rose.

Want to be a writer? Own it, live it, be it.

Aspiring writers: get the f*ck up. Lace up those proverbial dance shoes and just do it. Stop telling everyone that you have the idea for the next Great American Novel in your head and take the steps to get there. Pick up the pen — start up the computer — and write down what’s going on in your head….

Do not be an “aspiring writer”. Be a writer who aspires for greatness. Or simply be a writer who aspires to let the art of writing affect them, personally and privately, as a human being. Aspire to change the world or aspire to simply change how you interact with the world.

But, for the love of God, do not “aspire to write”.

If You ‘Aspire To Write,’ You’re Doing It Wrong

Abby Rose