Getting Shit Done

My fascination with doing all the things is matched only by my fear of them, which means that I have approximately four hundred and sixty eight projects I’m giving the side eye to, and none of them are quite done.

They only person I know with a shorter attention span is my three year old nephew, but even he can sustain a life long obsession with wooden trains to the point of frequently completing an entire track and pushing trains around it for what feels like forever.

I want to complete my train track.

One of the more irritating things about the way my attention works is that it doesn’t actually like attention itself. It’s like an imperious cat who sits in the window rather than on your lap, no matter how many kissy-kitty sounds you make.

It goes back to being at school, when trying hard to do anything was deeply uncool. Because, I don’t know? Trying was equivalent to saying it mattered, and saying it mattered meant that failure was suddenly a very real and very frightening option.

To get around this, I have, over the years, designed productivity systems and schedules for myself so complex, they required expertise in fractal mathematics to figure them out. But most of them ended up collapsing under the insolvable nature of their constraint equations. And the ones that didn’t collapse consumed so much attention that they needed their own

But recently, I have started to treat my attention span like a feature, not a bug.

You want to work on five different projects a day? Fine. You want to draw, and write stories, and visualise data, and possibly figure out how to do all of those things inside the same project? Fine, let’s work with that.

So now, I do two things. I work on projects that range in size, from five minute sketches through to the deep space adventure novel I'm writing, so that even with a tiny amount of work, I can still get that little buzz of achievement that comes with completing something and sending it out into the world. And I set goals in small increments.

This is where I tell you how great #300wordpact* is. It’s about writing 300 words every day, on any project, and when you’re done, you’re done. Three hundred words a day? That’s totally achievable. Well, for me it was achievable on 42 days of the 50 days, or 84% of the time. (I kept a spreadsheet, obvs.)

It feels pretty good to look back and see how hitting that small daily task has built up to 10k new novel words and two short stories planned out.

Here’s to the next fifty days.

*shout out to the lovely Sara Saab and her Clarion 2015 class who came up with the idea which I happily adopted.

TV Writing for Novelists

Work on the novel has been slow recently, so I’ve been stealing from the structure and clarity of TV writing to help move it forward. I picked up *tons* of useful energy from this approach. Below are some of the great links that helped me figure out the process.

Often TV shows are structured with A, B, and C storylines. They intertwine and influence each other to varying degrees. Each story line premise is broken into beats (called ‘breaking the episode’) and is plotted out step by step, to create a beat sheet. These are then blended together and fleshed out in an outline document. This is a simple prose version of the script.

From low to high levels of detail, the outputs on the writing journey are: Premise > A,B,C storylines > beat sheet > outline > script.

This great blogpost breaks down an episode of Community into its storylines and creates a beat sheet, to show you what it looks like. The most important thing i took from this, is that:

A point on the beat sheet isn’t just an action happening. It’s action + the character’s response.

Once I started outlining my story in this way, it moved so fast! No more dawdling around with characters not going anywhere.

Mike DiMartino also has a great series of posts that go through the process of writing a Korra episode:

Get a website, quick!

First things first, you need a domain name. That is, you want to find a website address that is available, and meaningful to you and your audience. Generally shorter is better, and if you're an author or artist, grabbing your name is the best. Registering and paying for this is totally separate to whatever you put on the website itself. You can find out what names are available at www.hover.com —type the name you want into the search field, and it will come back and tell you what extensions are available for that name. i.e. .com, .org etc. Generally, .coms are a bit more expensive than other extensions, but they do have a professional ring about them. Registration with hover costs around $13/year, and you will need to pay that every year you want to keep the website.

Separately you can try wordpress.com for easy hosting and website set up. This will hold all the content on your site.

Hit the register website button and fill in the form. In the blog address field, enter the name you registered at hover, but leave the .wordpress.com extension for now. You can point Wordpress to your new domain when it has finished registering. This is called domain mapping, and instructions on how do that are here. It involves going back to your domain registrar (Hover) and telling them you want that domain to look at wordpress for the content. It currently costs $13/year at Wordpress.

If that sounds too challenging, you *can* just register a domain with wordpress, but it makes it harder to move around when down the line you decide you want to move away from their hosting, or manage multiple sites.

Once you’ve set it up, you can select a theme from the hundreds available, and start customizing the look. Some are free, others cost money. I recommend starting with a free one to figure things out like, uploading pictures, and how to add pages to list your publications, or ‘about’ details.

There’s a quick start guide here: https://learn.wordpress.com/

Good luck!

Learning New Tricks

The last couple weeks I've been playing around with some new software, Adobe After Effects. Generally used for post production special effects and motion graphics, I used it to make a trailer for our SF Anthology, the red volume. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=If4ZI3oNZmM&w=854&h=510]

If you want to learn After Effects, I went from no experience, to making this trailer using the tutorials at edfilms. Great work, guys, thanks!

A Month of London Stories

We moved to London last month.

It’s beautiful, and full of stories, and people, and amazing food, and great coffee, and joy, and the weather is so much cooler than Saigon, I can really feel my brain flowing faster than before. So we are diving into as many stories as we can. These are some of the ones I’ve loved this month.

Writeclub @ The King’s Head, W1
A laid back group of writers who meet with no particular goal other than to talk shit and have fun. Delightful! Go: any time you want to laugh and chat to new people.

David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth @ The British Museum
Part of the BFI Science Fiction season, screening outside at the British Museum. It’s not for the story, or particularly for the acting, nor even the script that you might want to see this movie. In fact, there is little i can point to that explains why i enjoyed it. It’s twice as long as it needs to be, drowns under the attempted significance of its imagery and in parts is a third rate B movie. But it’s also an interesting examination of a man disjointed and out of place, and it’s kind of beautiful. Watch when: you’re doing the ironing.

Super Relaxed Fantasy Club @ Holborn somewhere
Okay, I admit it. I didn’t go to this one. Tiredness got the better of me. But it’s drinks and author readings, and it looks ace, and I’m totally going to the next on on the 30th. Organised by author Den Patrick, it promises laidbackness, so I'm in. Go: yes, I will. Promise.

Book Slam @ The Grand, Clapham
I love Josie Long. She’s funny and cool in the dorkiest of ways. She did some stand up, Simon Rich and Mark Watson read from their latest books, Sophia Thakur performed some poetry. Also, go for the amazing Australian MC Felicity Ward. She held the whole thing together with a kind of casual grace that got everyone relaxed and laughing. It looks easy when she does it, but I know it’s not. Go: every time you can drag yourself south of the river.

Liars League @ The Phoenix, nr Oxford Circus
A vague acquaintance had a story being read here, so we went, and it was beautiful! Six different actors reading six different stories, all were funny and charming and at least two mentioned the Britishness of tea. Go: every time it’s on (second Tuesday of the month)

Finally, did you know that London is now the centre of anthropomorphic animals? Move over Joan Aitkin and Brian Jacques, we have no time for your pastoral scenes here. This place is full to the brim of chubby foxes and bolder than fuck squirrels. Case in point: this morning’s visitor. He came to the third floor just to say hello.

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Writing Cafes in Saigon

Requirements for a good writing coffee shop:1. Great coffee. 2. A cozy atmosphere. Or maybe a fresh one? The kind of relaxing vibe where I don’t feel stressed or hurried. 3. Pretty things for my wandering mind. 4. Less than five minutes from home.

These entirely subjective criteria, and an even less objective evaluation leads me to a little list: My top three (ish) writing cafes in Ho Chi Minh City (in no particular order and verified by no-one).

1. La Rotonde (77B Ham Nghi, 2nd Floor, D1) A deliciously light and bright space that overlooks a busy intersection and street market. The Vietnamese coffee is smooth and silky, there is an excellent lunch buffet every day, and a special vegan option for those with eating requirements.

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2. 14 Thon That Dam, D1 This place is wonderfully different. Faded old Saigon meets the exuberance of young Ho Chi Minh City. A French colonial structure opposite the imposing National Bank, you enter through a grubby alley stuffed with motorbikes and climb a stairwell straight out of an Irvine Welsh novel. Don’t be put off: each floor holds little jewels of hope and modernity.

The first cafe you come to is Banksy’s. An ode to the British graffiti artist, decorated with intricate tiling and bold typography, it’s a design-lover’s dream. The americanos are tasty, there are plenty of art and design books for you to peruse and you can often watch young couples having their wedding photos taken here.

Alternatively, you can turn left in front of Banksy’s and follow the chalkboard pointing to Things. Cross a walkway between buildings and enter through a flapping yellow shutter. Adorably covered in Charlie Chaplin portraits and wall murals. It’s so relaxed, one of the seating areas is a double bed. This is a cafe to lounge in as long as you wish. I cannot vouch for the coffee, but it’s a beautiful place for your mind to drift.

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Up one floor is Dan Tran’s vintage shop. Find unique clothes, bags and shoes in this delightful space and get the added bonus of saying, ‘Where did I get this? A little retro shop in Saigon, dahling’ every time you wear your purchase out.

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Across the landing is the Other Person Cafe. A maid cafe where staff cosplay manga characters and frilly maids with pink hair. They address you as master/mistress. Maid cafes are wildly popular in Japan, and starting to catch on here in Vietnam. If you’ve never been to one, imagine walking into a cartoon where you take coffee in a giant cat bus, or sit at a table that’s built like an enormous cake. Weird and dissociating? Yes. But something you should definitely try.

Mockingbird Cafe

Make it to the top of the building, and Mockingbird rewards you with a breezy balcony and views of the water

3. Velo de Piste Cafe (10 Pasteur, D1) You can’t miss the bicycles hanging outside and the huge moustaches gratified on the walls around. Open 24 hours for those in constant need of mountain biking magazines. Go after dark and be charmed by the fairy lights and friendly service. Try the passion fruit juice for instant refreshment.

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You can find other great recommendations for Ho Chi Minh cafes at Nomadic Notes and The Hungry Suitcase.

Poetic discoveries

Two wonderful discoveries. First, I'm reading Carol Ann Duffy's collection, Rapture. It is gorgeous, lyrical and rich as butter. Read reviews at the Guardian and The Rumpus, or just go ahead and buy it now. You won't regret it.

Second, the poemhunter website, a repository of thousands of wonderful poems has a 'random poem' function. I have set this link to be my browser homepage. Every time I open my browser, I have the wonderful gift of a new poem to read.

You can use this link to do the same: RandomPoem

Novel Writing & A Sense Of Achievement

The sense of achievement I gain from completing projects is huge. When I worked as an analyst, this was fairly easy to come by. My internal id monologue on a typical day in the office: Plan the thing, do the thing, (yay!) do the thing again, do it better! (double yay!) Didn't work? Don't worry, do the next thing. (Woohoo, new thing!)

But in writing a novel, there's not really the same sense of discrete tasks. There was a planning phase, for sure. But now I'm into the writing phase it's just a long, lonely race with myself until the end.

Mix that with the boredom threshold of a grasshopper with ADHD and it makes long projects somewhat challenging.

So I create way markers. Things that give me a sense of achievement even though they are purely arbitrary. Every day, a thousand words. Bing! Achievement unlocked.

But today was special.

Today my manuscript hit ten thousand words in total.

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Only ten more of those to go for this draft. And then only *mumblecough* drafts to go until submission. These things are the things that keep me focused.

(Yes, I do update a spreadsheet with my daily word count every day, that in turn updates this pie chart. I like spreadsheets. They're pretty and orderly, and they never want to give you an update on the gestational progress of the British royal lineage.)

And then one day, I got in

I'd heard about Clarion, about the boot camp for writers that takes place each Summer in San Diego. I'd read about some of my favourite authors like Neil Gaiman and John Scalzi teaching there.

I had literally dreamed about getting in. (That particular dream was a gruelling interview, followed by Wipeout assault course which  I totally killed by the way.) For a few moments after I woke up I believed I had been accepted. I was crushed when I came to.

It seemed... unobtainable... other.

In a pipe dream moment, I applied.

And then one day, I got in.

 

Roll on June 24th.