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To Write Longhand, Or Not To Write Longhand

The debate among writers whether to write by hand or type has been going, I guess, since typewriters were invented and certainly has gained a new dimension with the introduction of the computer keyboard. I jot down ideas and draw mindmaps on paper, but once it comes to the actual writing I have always been the keyboard type. I realize that this promotes the risk that I will spend far too much time polishing words and grammar rather than develop the story and iron out mistakes and imperfections later.

But recently I attended an event that showed me yet another aspect of this issue. An aspect that I find quite interesting from the reader’s point of view: longhand can sometimes show us what the writer felt.

The event involved my favourite German author, Eva Demski, and the actress Leslie Malton reading and talking about letters written by a woman at the turn of the 19th century. Karoline von Günderrode was a contemporary of Goethe, Clemens Brentano and Bettine von Arnim; a head-strong, very creative and impulsive young woman, a true romantic who took her own life because of unrequited love.  (She wanted to make sure it would work and so waded into the river Rhine with stones tied in a scarf around her neck but succeeded in thrusting a dagger through her heart.)

Not only was it fascinating and entertaining to listen to the voice of this young woman from the 18th century brought to life by the actress and to hear the contemporary author’s dry remarks that, with all due respect, this was all a bit too much “teenage drama queen” for her liking. The audience had also been handed a facsimile copy of one of the letters, and at this point the argument pro writing longhand gained a new dimension for me.

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This is a letter Karoline wrote to her lover after he had dumped her for the first time, telling him in an acidly witty manner to go stuff himself. Never mind that I cannot actually read this old “Sütterlin” writing very well. The second page contained various crossed-out sections and created an overall look of messiness, but that was strangely contradictory. Karoline was distraught, yet her words are very composed; and yet again the general scrawl and the fact that she crossed out two lines – very decidedly so – indicate the confusion within her. Or so one can read this. Eva Demski offered another interpretation: that she wanted to show her ex-lover that he wasn’t even worth a clean copy to her. All this information gets lost if you just type the letters up and reprint them.

And these feelings never show in the first place in writing that is typed , deleted and rewritten until it is perfect. To be sure, the end result of your novel or screenplay has to be as perfect as you can get it. But I see a new merit in writing the first draft by hand, or at least bits of it. Crossed-out bits will show me where I struggled and remind me how I felt at the time of writing. And that can help my rewriting and revising.

So perhaps I will put actual pen to actual paper more often in the future.

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To Follow, Or Not To Follow

A post from the Hamlet series*

So many blogs, so little time. And everyone wants followers and likes. So do I.

When, in the course of a recent #wpad blog challenge,  I increased my blogging frequency, I was thrilled to see that the number of my readers went up significantly. (Okay, that was from five to forty-five, but hey.) But then I began to be suspicious.

Some likes and follows hit my inbox within two minutes of posting. Not only did this seem too short for anyone to have actually read the post. But some of the likes came from halfway around the globe, time-zones where it was 3 a.m. at the time of my posting. Now there are many night-owls out there, and I do apologize to my “serious readers”. But I began to wonder whether, just like in twitter, these were automatic follows. You know, some sort of set-up that trawls blogs for keywords and hits the “follow” button without reading the actual post. (I am fairly ignorant about the mechanics and tricks of social media – there probably is a proper term for this.)

That wouldn’t matter so much – other than deflate my recently puffed-up blogger’s ego – but herein lies the rub: it is netiquette to like or follow back, right? Well, I always go to the pages of my new followers and I read some of their stuff, and I am happy to write “thanks for posting / liking / following”. But I will only follow back if I intend to read their blogs on a more or less regular basis. No offense, but I simply do not have the time to read all, and I find it dishonest to hit “follow” just for the sake of netiquette. I do not want to receive dozens of notifications about new posts every day, because I will feel obliged to follow up, and there aren’t enough hours in the week to do my “professional” reading and my own writing to start with.

So I will not always follow back if you follow me.

Have I just lost half of my readership? I hope not. (And if my theory is correct, they don’t read this anyway, he he.) Rather, I hope that people will engage with me. Comment if and when they have actually read my post, which will always prompt me to go to their blog and check it out – and perhaps to follow. Or not. Honestly.

*This post is the first of a series where I plan to use bits and pieces from Hamlet – and perhaps other Shakespeare plays – as prompts.

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Why Are Writers So Generous?

When I timidly ventured forth into the world of writing a few years ago, I was immediately and very pleasantly surprised by how welcoming and generous other writers, including established ones, were to share their wisdom and advice.

I am usually too shy to approach people I don’t know. When I attended my first screenwriters festival, the concept of “networking” was completely unknown to me. Within ten minutes of the opening meet’n’drinks I found myself happily chatting away, drifting from one group to the next. I was networking like a pro. What had happened?

The other writers were friendly and welcoming, that’s what had happened. Those who had been around for a while introduced me to others. Those who hadn’t, like me, were happy to have found another newbie. And everybody was happy to talk about their craft.

Duh, you say, obviously a writer loves talking about his or her writing. But my point is about the craft and business of writing, not about the stories. As at the festival, so many people in various online communities and blogs I started following are incredibly generous with advice, tips and links, information, their own experiences. Bang2Write, Go Into The Story, Scriptangel, to name just a few: here’s a competition,  there’s a workshop, fifty scripts to download and study, the five to-do’s and don’ts of submitting to an agent, watch out for this kind of clause before signing on the dotted line, that production company is accepting unsolicited queries… Aren’t these people just increasing the chances of their own competition when they tell you about all these things?! So why do they do it?

Sure, one of the cardinal rules of networking is “do to others what you want them to do unto you, and best before they do it”. Be generous, it’ll pay back. But I’m sure that no investment banker will share his business secrets for the sake of good networking. Lots of money involved, you don’t want the competitor to get the deal. But again… film certainly is a big money business, and yet screenwriters (at least all the ones I know) still share. Is it because most of “us” are at the bottom rung of the financial ladder in this industry? Notoriously mistreated and deprived of credits? Underdogs must stick together? Undervaluation of self creeping in as we think, “In this weird and wonderful film biz, we get paid least, so what we do apparently isn’t worth much and then there is no need to guard our trade secrets”? (Bollocks, that one, by the way. We provide the element without which no film would exist.)

Perhaps the shared underdog-ness is one reason. But I like to think that writers are mostly motivated to be generous by their love for storytelling and the desire to enable great stories to be heard and read and seen. The appreciation of the creative process, the knowledge of what it feels like when there’s a story inside you clamouring to be let out.

Can’t wait for the upcoming London Screenwriters Festival and lots of writerly love and generosity.

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Next month I will…

Final day of the #wpad blog challenge!

This one is easy. Next month I will:

1.            Enjoy sunny Italy for two weeks. Actually, I am already there!

2.            When I get back, start posting at least once a week in this blog about all things writer. I also intend to revive  my sneezeblog – do check it out if you have a mind. I haven’t posted there for a while but am determined to change that.

3.            Endeavour to translate my blog challenge-induced writing discipline to some “real” writing – finish the re-write of one script and start investigating some of the ideas triggered by the Writesofluid logline challenge.

4.            Get VERY serious about preparing for the London Screenwriters Festival in October.

Hope to see you around!

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My Current Project

#wpad blog challenge, day 30.

I will keep this short and sweet. It is a project very dear to my heart, and while recently my screenwriting has taken over again, this is one I will not give up on.

Many years ago, an uncle of mine introduced me to the Minnesota Boundary Waters Canoe Area. It is a magical place, and I fell deeply in love with it. There are many wild places still on this planet, and so many of them are threatened – by oil drilling, fracking, tar sands pipeline, in short, by human greed. I hope the BWCA will remain safe.

By taking me canoeing, my uncle gave me a wonderful gift, one that will last a lifetime. He was also the first to encourage me to write when I confided in him that I did not want to be a lawyer any more, and he told me I had to be creative and would one day find a way to make a living of this.

So I drafted a novel set in the Twin Cities and in the Boundary Waters. The action plot involves environmental crime, and the emotional plot involves some romance and a lot of emotional healing – for that is what this place has done for me, as has my uncle.  The draft sat in my drawer for quite a few years as I felt it lacked something; then a few months ago I suddenly knew what I had to add to make it interesting (that was the environmental crime bit). So I took it out again and started re-plotting and re-writing and am quite happy with the results so far.

Sadly, though, my uncle passed away a month ago, far too young and totally unexpectedly. I miss him greatly. I will finish this novel for him.

PS I am on holiday and have pre-scheduled this so I won’t respond to any comments until late August.

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A Piece of My Writing

#wpad blog challenge, day 29. Nearly there.

Oh hum. What can I inflict upon you? Screenplays are clumsy to post here. But luckily my shortest short story is actually properly short – have I mentioned that my short stories are always too long? – well, this one is only about 2,100 words and also happens to be one I am quite happy with. (I won’t be offended if you find it too long for reading here after all.)

PS I am on holiday and have pre-scheduled this so I won’t respond to any comments until late August.

Skipping Armageddon

 Everything dies, someday.

Everything has a life cycle – born from seed, egg or thought; growing, maturing, gaining strength, size and maturity; declining, gradual or fast, until the end, when all becomes star dust again, only to travel on and form new life somewhere else.

Everything on earth goes through this cycle. Everything in the universe as we know it goes through this cycle, albeit on a much larger scale. Ever since the very first molecule clusters formed more than 13 billion years ago, right after (or before, who can say) the Big Bang, infinitely small particles have joined forces to create stars and planets, over and over again – and always the same, original particles from the beginning of time.

The majority of these stellar bodies consist of lifeless matter – a core of iron and nickel, for example, wrapped in layers of silicate and carbon. In this context, Earth is a real rarity. Even considering the unimaginable numbers of galaxies out there, with even less imaginable numbers of planets, the chances of these original particles coming up with something as complex as terrestrial life are small. Very, very small indeed. Oh, to be sure, there is life elsewhere. It would be arrogant to claim that there isn’t. But what does this life look like? Does it “look” at all, meaning would we see it? Or if we did, would we recognise it as “life”? Our minds are so ill equipped to think in these dimensions…

Our ancestors peopled the vast skies with supernatural beings. Gods, mostly, and a few select heroes; the Ojibwe Indians see the souls of dead warriors dancing in the Aurora Borealis. With the advent of astronomy and then modern technology, many of these myths were discarded as just that – legends and stories invented to explain the inexplicable. Now that we know we are all made of star dust, we don’t need gods any more; those that are still revered among the technologically advanced cultures have been removed to a symbolical level. They are ideas and ideals, not beings.

But halt, let’s tread with caution. We know so little about even our own galaxy. How can we be sure that those ancient gods aren’t real…?

Stars and planets have life cycles, set within the bigger life cycles of the galaxies they belong to. Molecular clouds created by colliding galaxies collapse under their own gravity and give birth to new galaxies. Gigantic stars burn out, explode and thus become supernovae, providing fodder for stellar nurseries – heavy metals, carbon, oxygen.

After a few million or billion years, a select few of the huge magma clumps so created develop habitable environments. Not habitats we’d be familiar with or could survive in, most likely. But habitats that enable life, in some form. And then, after another few aeons, these planets start to grow old. Sometimes they become ill, or are hit by large-scale catastrophes. Eventually they all die. They become hostile, temperatures rise or drop dramatically, atmospheres become toxic. What then happens to the life forms on those planets? Surely, they die along with, or rather, long before the planet itself. That’s what will happen with life on this Earth in another six billion years or so – independently of all our efforts to speed up the process.

But again, it would be arrogant to assume that the same rules apply to all other life forms out there in the unfathomably vast universe.

They don’t.

What if some highly developed species had found a way to skip their home planet’s Armageddon? To leave before it is too late, to travel like star dust – before they disintegrate into particles? Pure science-fiction, yes. Yet with time, some science fiction becomes science becomes reality.

Take, for example, Albert Einstein, undoubtedly one of the greatest minds who ever inhabited this planet. Einstein was adamant in his refusal to believe that anything could travel faster than light – no particles, no information, no matter, nothing. He was proved wrong. Not by Captain Kirk and his star ship Enterprise, but by contemporary scientists in real-life experiments who showed that there is immediate interaction at a distance. We now have good reason to believe that quantum leaps – in the sense of instantaneous displacement over distances – are possible at sub-atomic level.

God does not play dice, Einstein said, and that was it for him. Ironic, really, that he reverted to his faith to disprove the possibility of quantum leaps. Ironic, yes, because his Christian God may not play dice. But some other gods play quantum hopscotch.

Far, immeasurably far away in time, there was a planet on the outskirts of a galaxy approximately the size of our own. It was a hospitable planet, host to a great multitude of life forms which would seem quite fantastic to us. It was also one of a series of host planets to a species that would look less fantastic to us. In fact, if we could see them, we would not notice anything strange or special about them.

No, we cannot see them, although they can see us and can move among us if they choose. Unnoticed by us, like ghosts or spirits.

But I digress.

This planet, as I said, was a hospitable place, until about 600,000 years ago, give or take a few millennia, when it slowly began to spin out of control. Literally. The angle at which it travelled around its galaxy’s twin suns tilted, and gradually it moved further and further away from these life-supporting stars. The lower life forms on this planet were doomed.

Not so the “spirit species”.

They had made their preparations, as they had already done a number of times. They had identified the next planet that would provide adequate life conditions for them, and made the jump – the quantum leap from their freezing home to Earth. Quantum leaps were not much of an issue for them, at least on a smaller scale. But admittedly leaving a planet and travelling several million light years required some special effort. However, since they knew well in advance what was coming, they used the time well to collect the enormous amounts of energy necessary for the leap, and arrived on Earth when our human ancestors were still primitive hunters and gatherers.

Although for the next few ten thousand years Earth did not offer much of a distraction to their highly sophisticated minds, they were quite content. For them, time does not matter in the same way it matters to the human species.

That is because basically, they do not die.

On Earth, all multicellular life forms die. Single-cell bacteria will go on multiplying for ever unless checked in some way; not so the highly specialised cells in complex life forms. At the beginning of their existence, these cells are blank pages, multiplying happily. Soon though, they are imprinted with detailed information and develop specific forms and functions. They become part of an arm, a leg, a visual nerve respectively a leaf, a branch or a root. But they cannot split ad infinitum any more. The price for this specialisation, which paved the way for the wonderfully diverse life forms on Earth, is mortality.

Not so for the Guests from far away.

Call it never-ending cell multiplication, call it infinite replacement of dead cells. Call it immortality. Somewhere during their evolutionary process, their body cells found a way to do it.

Choose your country, your culture, your religion, and then call them by the names of the respective God or gods, if you like. Many great thinkers have done it. Einstein, as mentioned, Galileo or Newton, although they had a different type in mind; Plato, Socrates, you name them. In fact, let’s go along with the ancient Greeks, who had among them brilliant mathematicians, physicists and astronomers, and let’s name the Guests after the Greek gods. For indeed, their characters, functions, behaviours and mannerisms can easily be detected in the inhabitants of MountOlympus; such as Zeus, the capo di tutti capi, Hera, his jealous wife, Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, or Ares, the bloodthirsty warrior.

So with their arrival on Earth, everything was safe again for our guests, begging your pardon, the Greek gods. After a short while (from the point of view of immortals) humans developed into a slightly more intelligent species, so that the gods – especially Zeus – could have some fun with them. Life expectancy for the new host planet isn’t bad either, a good six billion years until the central star of the host galaxy, the sun, will have burnt up most of the hydrogen in its core and will start expanding, gradually raising temperatures on Earth until the oceans boil. Plenty of time to gather energy for making the next leap.

Interesting point. How do they do that, gather energy? How do they store it? Well, it varies from one host planet to the next, just like the life forms on these planets vary. Our Earth’s natural resources could not provide nearly enough – just look at how much energy human scientists pour into high-speed particle accelerators for research of particles on sub-atomic level. Research, mind you, and sub-atomic level. It’s hard to imagine that there could be a source to provide enough energy to actually move matter across the universe.

But there is.

In the human soul.

You have heard that the human body loses 21 grams of weight at the exact moment of death? Those 21 grams are claimed to be the weight of the soul that leaves the dead body. Well, that isn’t quite all.

Those 21 grams are also the purest energy imaginable. Highly concentrated, powerful energy. And our guests collect it.

The belief among ancient Greeks was that the god Hermes, the winged messenger, accompanied the dead to the river Styx, from where they were ferried across to Hades, the Underworld. Again, that isn’t quite all.

For Hades is nothing else than a gigantic storage space for Soul Energy.

In contrast to the particles that make up bodily matter and have been recycled for 13 billion years, every single human soul is born anew. Your body may be made up from parts of Shakespeare, perhaps mixed with some Genghis Khan and a bit of Marlene Dietrich, but your soul is yours and yours alone.

Imagine the billions of souls accumulated since the dawn of humanity, and still coming. Only 21 grams each. Adding up to megatons of concentrated energy. All waiting to be used as fuel for our guest’s quantum travel when Armageddon finally comes.

Frightening, isn’t it? But when that happens, our conscience (and probably our human species) will long have been extinguished. Six billion years is a hell of a long time.

That’s what the gods thought, too, when they chose Earth.

They didn’t do their check-up properly.

About 650,000 years ago, quite a while before the gods’ arrival on this planet, a volcano erupted in an area that is now a highly popular tourist attraction. This eruption tore a hole in the planet’s crust, forming a caldera, a basin of 85 by 45 kilometres, and sending massive clouds of ash, dust and sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere. The sun’s rays were blocked for several years, and average temperature dropped as much as ten degrees worldwide – a global catastrophe that killed many species and drove others to the edge of extinction.

Causing this disaster was no ordinary volcano, no cone-shaped mountain like Mount St. Helens, which blasted two cubic kilometres of ash into the sky near the end of the last century. This was a vast reservoir of molten lava collecting in a hot spot underneath the Earth’s crust, building more and more pressure until it finally exploded, spewing forth thousands of cubic kilometres of dust and ash.

And this is where the gods’ research was a little sloppy.

They hadn’t checked whether this was a one-time eruption or a regular occurrence. Unfortunately, this particular supervolcano, which is located underneath YellowstoneNational Park in Northern Wyoming, USA, is on a cycle. A cycle of approximately 600,000 years.

Yellowstone is way overdue.

Human geologists and other scientists are watching and warning. Not that there’s much we can do about it. When it happens, the world as we know it will cease to exist. A large percentage of life on this planet will be wiped out in the immediate aftermath of the eruption, and long-time survival chances for the rest are poor.

The gods are lucky. They can pack up and leave. They have already identified the next target planet. And they have another advantage over the humans: they know the exact date that the Yellowstone supervolcano will blow. Oh yes, once they became aware of their mistake they made sure to find out. A bit late, but now they know.

A bit too late, perhaps. For now that the clock is ticking, will they still be able to accumulate enough Soul Energy for their little quantum trick…?

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Marketing Strategy

#wpad blog challenge, day 28.

Who, me?

Seriously, I wish I had one. So just a few thoughts based on what I’ve gathered from others much more versed in this:

Online Presence

Seems that this is something no writer can afford not to have. Well, perhaps someone like J.K. Rowling could. But all the established ones do, anyway.

So you have to blog, tweet (but please make it interesting and instructive – if you can’t, retweet somebody else’s instructive tweets but spare us details about the consistency of your breakfast egg). Maintain a facebook author page (note to self: make facebook author page and maintain.) Secure a domain with your name. Be recognizable – don’t hide behind an alias or fancy pen name (there are, of course, successful exceptions to this).

Be out there. And be generous – if you consistently promote others in a useful and appropriate way, good things will come back to you.

When you have a specific piece of work to market – a novel, a script, a collection of poems:

Polish Your Story and Know Your Pitch

First, whatever you’ve written must be the best it can possibly be before you offer it to the world (i.e. an agent, publisher or producer). That means have it read by a professional and incorporate their feedback.

Then, you must know who best to pitch it to, i.e. you must know the market for this kind of story and/or format. It should be obvious that you don’t offer a spy story to a publisher specializing in chick lit. And once you have identified who to pitch to, know your USP, come up with a pithy summary (loglines are excellent practise) and rehearse pitching that until you can recite it backwards in your sleep.

For further information, check out the professionals. Seth Godin and Copyblogger are very good places to start, not to forget Bang2Write.

PS I am on holiday and have pre-scheduled this so I won’t respond to any comments until late August.

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