31 October 2010

Shameless Plugging

Life is about choices. There are times when you will have to make a decision, no matter how hard you try to avoid it, or how difficult the choice might be. Sometimes the path you choose will be littered with heartache; sometimes the path will bring infinite joy. There's even the path that leads to happiness, but not without a few bumps along the way.

The question is, what should we choose? Should we pick the easy path, or the harder route? Is happiness sweeter if we have struggled for it? Maybe, maybe not.

Either way, the choice is yours.

Huh? What's this? Well, this is a drabble that I wrote for The Burrow's Prismatic Feature for October, but it ended up being surplus to requirements. Today the last drabble will be available for viewing, and will bring the total number of drabbles to thirty-one for the month of October (one for every day, aren't we good?). The feature will be on our home page for all of November, so please visit if you haven't done so already. I'm sure there's something to suit everyone's tastes, with the added advantage of being able to view any and all at your leisure.

See you tomorrow, which is the start of a new month, and also the start of a slightly different Burrowers, Books & Balderdash!

30 October 2010

Drabble Dare Results and New Schedule

We swooned collectively when Jason posted this painting of a swashbuckling pirate-

It took us a couple of weeks to stop swooning long enough to judge the results. But we finally managed.

So without further ado, we present the winner of Drabble Dare # 10-

Congratulations, Rekha. For winning Drabble Dare # 10, you earn a standing ovation and permanent bragging rights!!!

Here's Rekha's winning entry-
He surveyed the scene before him… the men in plume bravely waging a hopeless battle, muttered darkly, “Spanish Armada, more like foolish Armada’. He grinned savagely as limbs flew, blood spluttered everywhere, inhuman anguished cries were heard.
Blackbeard waited for the exact moment, his signature stroke to be unleashed... the young man beside him muttered ” slipping”…
He turned a blank eye, with gymnastic perfection somersaulted over the railing …
The opponent caught unaware, a swift plunge, the victory complete. “Hold on, your time will come” Alec Guinness to Errol Flynn with twinkling eyes and grin, as the curtains fell, audience clapped.

And now for something completely different.

As most of you who have been following this blog would be aware, we are tweaking the schedule slightly. Starting November, this is the schedule we would be following -

  • Reading Monday - when we ramble about books, characters, lists and plots
  • Topical Tuesday - when we write about something topical, or something we feel very passionately about
  • Writing Wednesday - which also includes motivation
  • Delusional Thursday - we met on a fan-fic forum - need I say more?
  • Who am I Friday - when we talk about our world, our interests and our passions

After going through your suggestions regarding the Drabble Dare, we have decided to post an image on the first Sunday of the month, and announce the results on the last Saturday of the month. Watch this space for a new image on November 7, 2010.

29 October 2010

Motivational Friday - What keeps us Writing?

In his 1943 paper, 'A Theory of Human Motivation', Abraham Maslow proposed that all human beings have a hierarchy of needs-

- Physiological needs
- Safety needs
- Love and belonging
- Esteem
- Self-actualization

These needs are arranged in the form of a pyramid with the physiological needs at the base, and self actualization at the apex. When each level of needs is achieved, we crave the next level of needs.

Physiological needs are the fundamental requirements for survival - food, clothing and shelter. Safety needs are required for the person to feel secure - financial security, personal safety, good health and insurance to take care of anticipated calamities. Once these two needs are met, a person craves acceptance, intimacy, and a sense of belonging - in small and larger social groups.

Esteem and Self-actualization are harder to define. Esteem is the need to be respected and valued by others and by self. It includes the need for recognition, fame, status and acceptance. It also includes the need for competence, mastery, independence and freedom. Self-actualization is the need for a person to understand what the person wants to be, and to move towards achieving that potential.

If you are reading this blog, you have almost definitely gone beyond the two basic needs - for survival and for safety. You may still be struggling with health insurance, and paying your bills on time, but unless you have proceeded to the third level, you are not likely to be in the blogosphere. Blogging, by its very nature, fulfills either your need for belonging to a larger social community, or the need for recognition, status and acceptance.

Many of you are also writers or aspire to be writers, which in all likelihood indicates that you are on the journey towards self-actualization. Few people choose writing as a career to meet their basic survival and safety needs. Writing comes out of a need to put down your thoughts in writing, to connect with readers, to tell a story which you know only you can tell. The compulsion to write is driven out of a need to achieve your full potential, which includes creating a work that engages others.

Why then do so many of us struggle with Motivation? Why are we not able to give to our writing as much as we give to our other jobs (including that of a parent, a householder, a spouse or a child). We meet our deadlines in our day jobs, but struggle to do so with our writing.

Perhaps because that is the nature of the beast. Writing is fraught with risks. You may pour your heart and soul into your writing, but that is no guarantee that anyone will like what you have written. And when you finish the book that your friends like, you have the entire publication process to conquer before your book even makes it to the shelves. And of all the hundreds of thousands of books published every year, how many actually sell?

No wonder it is harder to stay motivated while writing than it is with most other things.

How do you stay motivated? No answers, only an analysis.

I believe that how easy or difficult you find to motivate yourself depends on where you are on Maslow's hierarchy.

If you write because of your need for belonging, you are probably satisfied with having your friends and critique partners appreciate your writing. You know you want to reach a wider audience, but as long as your friends are with you, you allow life to catch up with you. Several of us Burrowers fall in this category.

If you write to fulfill a need for esteem, it is enough for you to know you write well, and that if you do finish what you have started, it will be as good as the better books in the genre. You are willing to judge your own work, and as long as you know you measure up to your standards, you allow yourself to be easily distracted. I can think of one Burrower who definitely falls in this category - she excels at so many things, writing ends up taking a back seat with her.

But if, like the soon-to-be-published Burrower, you write because of a need for self-actualization, you approach writing with the dedication you bring to your day job, and you do not give up till you succeed.

Moral of the story - do all you can to ensure that writing fulfills the highest possible need on your need hierarchy.
As you can see, when it comes to Writing, most of us struggle with Motivation. Since we keep doing all we can to motivate ourselves, we have a basket full of tricks we are happy to share, but none of them really does too good a job for us, and we are always reluctant to ask someone else to apply them. We therefore decided to merge the Motivational post into our Writing one, since for most of us the two go together.

So, starting next month, we will be having a new weekday blog schedule:

Reading Monday - when we ramble about books, characters, lists and plots
Topical Tuesday - when we write about something topical, or something we feel very passionately about
Writing Wednesday - which also includes motivation
Delusional Thursday - we met on a fan-fic forum - need I say more?
Who am I Friday - when we talk about our world, our interests and our passions

Be sure to be a part of it.

And I leave you with the best 100 words I have read this week-
What mandate impelled thousands of people to design and build this intricate device, a robot capable of receiving instructions from millions of miles away? Was it conquest?

What madness drove them to pick at the alien surface, heat a soil sample, and delve into the mystery of its chemistry? A misplaced survival instinct?

And what force propelled a 350 kilogram machine through the vacuum of space before gently backing it into an alien planet's gravity well?

The answer to all: Curiosity!

There may be no evidence of intelligent life on Mars. But on Mars, there is evidence of intelligent life.
If you want more such drabbles, do visit us at the-burrow dot org.
Image credit - Phoenix digs for clues on Mars
All other photographs, writer's own

28 October 2010

Delusions of... crafteur?

Some of you may have gotten the impression that I'm one of those crafty types. *glances around at shelves of yarn, basket of fabric, and more kinds of needles than you can shake a crochet hook at* I suppose that's putting it mildly.

Anyway, due to a certain upcoming American tradition starting to overrun the rest of the world, I think it's pretty safe to say we all know what happens this weekend. Yep. You got it.


And being all craft-tastic and stuff, of course I'm making my own costume. Er, costumes. And props. Like rats.

That probably needs an explanation or two.

So, last week several of us decided to go take in the local Renaissance faire - it's fun, it's a good excuse to go geek out, and let's face it, where else can you see a barbarian horde in full battle gear wandering around eating turkey legs the size of their heads? As anyone who's ever been to one knows, however, dressing up is at least half the fun, so about 6 weeks ago we popped over to the fabric store, got patterns and materials, and have spent much of our free time since then whirling together suitably elaborate outfits.

With me so far? Okay, so at said faire (it's too much fun to add the extra "e", sorry) there were really insanely ridiculous amounts of boobage on display, mostly due to corsetry. So what do I do? Well duh, I go to the corset shop. Let's be honest, it is a major ego boost when the shop chick wraps a measuring tape around your waist and says, "Oh hell, I don't know if we have anything small enough!" Heh. That was fun. Anyway, so despite my lovely purple gown (with silver dragons {you didn't really think I wouldn't put dragons on it, did you?}), now I want to wear the corset for this weekend's Halloween party.

Said party is held annually by my friend Jenn, and there's always a theme. Last year it was monsters, so I went as Nessie. This year, it's pandemic - do you see where the rats fit in now? So my original plan was to use my Ren faire gown and just be all sorceress/princess/whatever and have a prop rat to cast bubonic plague at people who piss me off (or get in front of me in the keg line). But now... well, between the corset and the fact that Jenn's fiancé is terrified of gypsies, I seem to have morphed into a gypsy woman (still casting plague curses, though). So off I go to the sewing machine again - and I seem to have forgotten to mention that I suck rocks at the sewing machine. We're talking manage-to-make-it-make-horrid-noises, get-every-possible-thing-tangled, fabric-gets-eaten suckage here.

The puffy blouse pattern has a total of 6 seams and 4 hems. Now taking bets on how many I screw up... leave your guess in the comments and I'll let you know who wins. Guarantee I'm losing, though. Here goes nothing...

(We're not even going to talk about the mountain of knitting I'm supposed to be completing for impending babies, birthdays, or those other holidays... okay?)

Image: Brother Sewing Machine

27 October 2010

Random Wednesday: Music

Every morning, I place my iTunes on shuffle because I need some type of motivation to get my butt to work. Don't get me wrong, I love my job. It would just be easier if I could be there at 9:00 a.m. rather than 7:30 am. This later start time would mean that I could leave home and travel to the city while there is daylight rather than the cold bleary darkness of the wee hours of the morning.

I have a little over 7,000 songs on my iTunes, ranging from the 1950s to the present. Today I had a feeling for the 70s. I sorted the songs according to release date and clicked play. KC and the Sunshine band began crooning to a familiar song from my childhood. I had no idea that KC and the Sunshine band sang "That's the Way (I Like It)." First of all, I thought this was a song from the early 1980's, since I used to play patty cake in the school yard with my friends using this very song.

Second of all, I never heard my mother play this record on her record player. Remember those? The square box that played circular, plastic discs placed on a flat, spinning circle, with a long rectangular appendage that has a needle on it. I remember stealing the little red plastic disc for 45s and playing skellsies (an urban game played with bottle tops, filled with gum, and knocking your opponent out of a large chalk-drawn grid), then getting grounded when she wanted to play a record.

But I am going off on a tangent now. Music is more than just beats put together with vocals. For me, music is an irrefutable connection to others, it is a way of identifying those feelings that I thought were lost, and finally, it is a sentient entity that transports me to a different time and place. I often hear these songs and think of my mother with her bell bottom polyester pants, tube top and her high heeled wedges. She would pick her hair out so it looked like one big puff ball. I remember the aluminum foil covered ceilings and the brightly colored moons and stars on the living room walls. Yup, my mom was definitely a Disco Diva.

And in reverence of my mother's eclectic tastes in 1970's music, these are my ten top favorite 70s songs:

  1. Roberta Flack- "Killing Me Softly"
  2. Diana Ross- "I'm Coming Out"
  3. Donna Summers- "Last Chance"
  4. Jackson 5- "The Love You Save"
  5. Marvin Gaye- "What's Going On?"
  6. Don McLean- "American Pie"
  7. Diana Ross- The Theme from Mahogany "Do You Know Where You're Going To?"
  8. Labelle- "Lady Marmalade"
  9. Elton John and Kiki Dee- "Don't Go Breaking My Heart"
  10. Queen- "Somebody to Love"
Mommy, this was for you!

What's your favorite song of the 1970's? Was it the Bee Gee's Staying Alive? Or perhaps Walk This Way by Aerosmith before they mashed it with Run DMC's rap? Share with us, we would like to know.

26 October 2010

WriMo Strategy

So nobody is surprised to hear I'm insane... I know that... but I am committed to NaNoWriMo in November. I've successfully completed TWO WriMos (one NaNoWriMo and then BuNoWriMo in June) so I am not SUPER freaked (except about the bear Mr. Tart becomes when I go under—that part is no fun). But both of the books I completed in WriMos STILL are sitting with a bunch of holes in them... (Oh, I have other books sitting with holes, BUT...)

*cough *

My point is, I'd rather finish THIS ONE without a bunch of holes... (well, holes are okay, but not HOLES) So I thought I'd make a PLAN!!!

And the NICE thing is, since my last WriMo, I tried something... and it WORKED! What's more, I used it to write a MYSTERY and my WriMo idea is ALSO a MYSTERY (did you hear the cha*ching?).


[This was the last one; isn't it pertiful!?] each square is a DAY and each column within the squares are separate chapters... it seemed to work for the pacing... about three new pieces of info a chapter... I am currently trying to incorporate feedback from my readers on the edited draft, and they seem to be mostly pleased... So what about for the WriMo?

Storyboarding Prep

For a mystery, we need to KNOW a couple things before we begin.

The things I have already worked out are these:

-Who dies?
-Who SOLVES IT (and who are her primary helpers?)
-Who are the suspects?
-What is the MOTIVE of each suspect? (yes, they all get a motive... it would be rude to make them suspects, otherwise).

What I want to work out BEFORE storyboarding and writing that I HAVEN'T yet worked out... (hey, I have a week)

-The CLUES that the sleuth needs that POINT TO the suspects and motives.
-Elegant CONNECTIONS between suspects (and the murder victim) and clues so that there REALLY are only about 3 loops of what might have happened, even if a few of those loops are associated with a couple different suspects. It gets too confusing if there are separate strands for each suspect, and it is too trite if there is basically ONE motive that all the suspects share.

Once THESE are set, I write my clues (with who reveals them to whom or how they are discovered) on POST-IT NOTES!


They are multicolored—and pretty (see?), and I even have a rainbow set of sharpies to use with them!

So that is my plan...

How about the rest of you? Any more WriMos? Anyone have a PLAN?

25 October 2010

Reading Monday: Prequeloquence

When someone tells the first part of a story, they generally refer to it as "the first part of the story". If that sounds plain, you can dress it up as "part one" or "volume one".

Sometimes, however, the "one" has been prematurely expended when the storyteller realizes it wasn't, strictly speaking, the very beginning. Enter the prequel.

Prequels are a handy way to fill in some back story, expand a created milieu, and make a few more bucks off an established audience after the potential for sequels has been thoroughly exhausted.

Movie prequels stink. Several reasons were discussed in a recent article on cracked.com (a humor site of keen insight and questionable taste). Greggory Basore observes that prequels lack suspense, because the most important outcomes are already known. The unknown details, meanwhile, are competing with some version established in the viewer's mind-- "Instead of getting swallowed up by the film, the audience is passively judging it."

Yet another obstacle arises from the fact that movies stink in general, because producers demand a high level of suckiness before they'll commit money to production. This problem, at least, can be overcome by a well-established and/or stubborn writer.

David Eddings' Belgarath the Sorcerer (prequel to The Belgeriad & The Malloreon) is top-filled with the complete absence of suspense. But the book is intended for readers who've already plowed through ten volumes of the story. What they're getting from Belgarath is a collection of vaguely-related anecdotes and a last chance to hang out with some well-liked characters. Hopefully, that's all they're expecting.

Isaac Asimov's Prelude to Foundation (idem) takes the absence of suspense to even higher levels. The time period covered is already known to readers of the Foundation trilogy, and they already know that nothing really happens. The prequel is at least factually consistent: nothing really happens. This snoozer is a rare dud from the talented Asimov, who produced much more interesting stories with the Foundation sequels, and also with sort-of prequels that were set thousands of years in the past with independent characters and stories (Pebble in the Sky, the robot novels, etc.).

A well-known "rule", as often cited by readers, is that you should read books in published order rather than chronological order. That is certainly true for Belgarath the Sorcerer, which would spoil much of the preceding (following) epic. But one novel that challenges this notion is New Spring, the prequel to Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time. It was published between the 10th and 11th books of the series, but there is reason to believe that Jordan meant for it to be read first. New Spring re-introduces characters who arrived late in the series (e.g. Cadsuane), and who thus had not been alluded to in any of the early novels. As such, it's kind of a cheap trick (but one of which I approve) for making the series more cohesive. If you ever decide to pick it up, I recommend taking in New Spring sometime after you read the original first volume (Eye of the World) but before you start on the fourth (The Shadow Rising).

Which brings us to another important point. Not all volumes zero are late-game prequels. The most famous exception is Tolkein's The Hobbit. It was actually written prior to Lord of the Rings, and, with a few post-Rings adaptations, it constitutes pretty much the ideal prequel. It incorporates major Lord of the Rings characters in more minor roles (Elrond, Gollum, and Sauron), and visa versa (Bilbo, Gloin). Only Gandalf is a major character in both works, but wizards are mysterious and subtle, so he isn't stretched too thin. It gives the reader an introduction to the realm of Middle Earth, but an introduction which is not vital to the following trilogy. Most importantly, the plot is both highly relevant to Lord of the Rings and almost completely independent. As such, The Hobbit can easily be read before or after the main trilogy. Or you can just keep reading them both in a never-ending circle.

Reading Monday: Mistborn

That part above was a prequel. Get it?

Mistborn is a fantasy trilogy by Brandon Sanderson (comprising The Final Empire (also titled as simply "Mistborn"), The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of Ages). It is set in a somewhat-dystopian realm: Volcanic ash continuously rains down on a brown, desolate world; the peasantry (ska) live miserable lives in grinding poverty, and fear the mists which come out each night; and the immortal Lord Ruler governs with an iron fist, as he has for a thousand years, leaving almost no hope for change.

Sanderson deserves his first kudos for developing an interesting, yet fairly straightforward system of magic. Those with the ability to use Allomancy typically have access to but one of eight specific powers, and the rare "Mistborn" Allomancer can employ all eight (plus one or two more). Right away, the specialized Allomancy provides for a number of distinct characters who have specialized functions (within their respective endeavors). But Sanderson's best accomplishment is to consider the availability of magic (which is notably weaker than in more typical fantasy works) and extend it to its logical consequences. He does not simply throw in some magic to make a scene more interesting. Rather, the inhabitants of the Final Empire employ Allomancy creatively and sometimes ruthlessly, and the ability has profound implications for social status.

My own favorite quality is the mystery. Mistborn: The Final Empire has a perfectly adequate story, with plenty of suspense, involving an attempt to bring about revolutionary change within the Empire. But, running parallel to that story is the enigmatic nature of the Lord Ruler: Who is he? What is he? The book is filled with enough clues that a savvy reader should be able to figure it out (for the record, I did not), and those who don't will have that of-course-it-was-obvious moment of revelation when they reach the end.

So, er... weren't we talking (wasn't I writing) about prequels?

Yes, indeed. Mistborn: The Final Empire is not a prequel, but it could have been an excellent one. Just like The Hobbit to Lord of the Rings, the events that happen are vital to the story that follows. But the first volume is not a cliffhanger, nor does it trail off in the incomplete manner of an arbitrarily-divided epic. It reaches a full and satisfying conclusion. Some of the characters remain, and new conflicts arise (and do so in a very organic manner).

If the book has a flaw, we'll need to take a side trip to investigate it.

Sidebar: Immersion, Routine, and Location

Writers, take note. Or come back tomorrow if your brain is temporally compartmentalized.

In the fantasy genre (and much of science fiction), you not only have to immerse the reader in the story, you have to immerse them in the world. Most obviously, this is necessary so they can appreciate the impact that the created world has on the plot. In this regard, Sanderson does an outstanding job. The reader is constantly aware of what kind of world the story takes place in, and how its nature affects the actions and attitudes of the characters.

Less obviously, the reader should have a general impression of how the characters are living their lives when not involved in the immediate plot. I see this routine living as the rhythm and/or harmony, over which the melody of the story is played. Establishing the rhythm is a valuable aid for humor, romance, and character growth. It's one thing to say "Hank practiced casting spells every day", but you can get a lot more mileage out of that if you say "Hank practiced casting spells every day after lunch", and then proceed to tell the rest of the story in the context of Hank's day. One day, you could write a detailed scene where Hank enjoys lunch with Sir Barney, "and then went to practice spells" (adding nothing more to the spell part). The next day, you could begin writing with "as he was leaving his afternoon spell practice, Hank was attacked by an ogre." The magical practice gets established as a rhythm, and the reader has a sense that it is continues without the writer having to invent a series of detailed practice incidents.

Let's take a quick look at some of the techniques used to establish rhythm and/or immersion:

The Robert Jordan method: Detail Jordan (Wheel of Time) achieves immersion by virtue of sheer volume. In a story that spans several years, he often devotes a chapter (or more) to a single day. If there is a Hank who practices spell-casting, Jordan will show several practices in detail. If he cannot establish Hank's routine by virtue of Hank having a routine, then Jordan will give medium- and short-length descriptions of Hank's renewed practice efforts while at the West Wall Tavern, then again on the road to Zakoland, again while Hank is hiding out in the Swamps of Sloth, etc.

The Quest method: Hiking & Riding The most common technique is to keep the characters on the move, as happens in Lord of the Rings, for example. Once it's established that Gimli and Legolas are traveling together, the reader's mind fills in the daily rhythm of conversation and walking. It is not necessary to say, "Legolas and Gimli spent ninety minutes discussing fish and various cuisine; Gimli said he liked pepper. Then they rowed to the banks of Anduin and made camp for the night. Legolas dropped a few hints about the making of Lembas, but did not give away any secrets." Bleah. You just write they made camp for the night, throw in a few key incidents, and when it's later revealed that Gimli and Legolas are now close friends the reader should be thinking "well, duh... after all that time together".

The Harry Potter method: Famous for its popularity, archetypal myth, and utterly silly controversy, one of the most powerful literary tools of J.K. Rowling's Potter series has been largely overlooked: Location. Harry doesn't go on lengthy quests (in the first six books), and if you consider the ratio of text-to-time, there isn't much detail. Instead, Harry has the two-five-one* of classes, Quidditch practice, and hanging out in the Gryffindor common room.

With a fixed location, the ongoing plot developments can be easily scattered at various times in Harry's routine. In this way, the reader always has the sense that a lot of things are happening, and that certain things happen repeatedly, without having to dredge through repetitive descriptions. Furthermore, any given day can (and often does) proceed without Harry encountering mortal danger or a life-changing experience, but with the implied themes continuing in the background. These "ordinary" days provide a forum for character growth, humor, and exposition.

End sidebar.

In Mistborn: The Final Empire, the lives of the ska are so darned depressing that you wouldn't really want to follow the story from their point of view. There is a plot line that follows the protagonist through some of the routine lives of the nobility, but most of the main characters don't fall into this category either. They're a group of rebels and thieves, living significantly better than the ska, but without a notable daily rhythm or any location of interest.

If this constitutes a weakness in story, I hesitate to call it a failure on Sanderson's part. In this case, the story dictates the available tools. Mistborn has a plot that moves at a steady clip, and one that's relevant to the entire world in which the characters live. The most notable consequence of this lack of routine is that the entertaining banter among the characters sometimes seems forced, as Sanderson has to create or extend scenes to squeeze it in.

Okay, enough of that. Some more of the goodies: The book is full of action. Some of that is fighting, but there's also plenty of chasing, running, maneuvering, and sneaking, all enhanced by the setting's established magic. It has some excellent character development exploring themes of trust, vengeance, romance, prejudice, and purpose, all without coming across as emotive or overly introspective. There's only one strong female character in the first volume, but she's the main point-of-view character, so it's hard to fault it for gender balance. And the banter I mentioned previously, when it does come out, can be downright hilarious. Finally, to reiterate, the laws governing the world's magic are very thoroughly developed, and, far from being a gadget to make things more interesting, they are central to the main plot.

If you're a big fan of fantasy, or a slight fan of fantasy who likes action, I highly recommend Mistborn. I've given it the highest honor in literature, which is to inspire the name of my 2010 Fantasy Football team (the "Allomancers"). Previous laureates so honored include Asimov ("Auroran Automatons", from the robot novels), Tolkein ("Hothnar", meaning "fire horde" in Quenya), and A.A. Milne ("Kanga, Pooh, Owl & Roo").

I'd say it's in good company.


* Yes, that's a deliberately obscure allusion. I'm curious to see if anyone gets it.

24 October 2010

Drabble Dare Shout Out

This is a reminder about the Drabble Dare Challenge.  Use the image to create a story written in exactly 100 words.  As Hart put it so eloquently:"This particular image is STILL in effect... (because we've been under review as to how this would go) and you still have until this Thursday to write a pirating drabble...At least one Sunday between we will REPOST and REMIND. But we will also give some prods mid week, as we think weekend readership is lower and weekday readers may just not know what all the fuss is about.."

We look forward to your entries!

23 October 2010

Drabble Dare Poll Results

We asked!
You answered!
We analyzed!

And here is what we've come up with (or thereabouts... the reliability of my reporting has periodically been questioned, as Misattributing IS my superpower)...

Keep or Toss? KEEP!

Like or Not? LIKE!

(so those are very good news)

As to frequency... responses varied, but in conjunction as to WHY you sometimes didn't participate (the time involved, the TIMING involved, sometimes lack of inspirationality of the image...) But it just seemed wiser to reduce frequency. What we plan is a monthly challenge with some in-between reminders, so people who missed the ONE day, get another chance if they want it (or can do it later if a certain week is bad) and then between we'll talk about some of our other projects, maybe give you some samples of our various projects...

So, as of now...

We will post a NEW IMAGE the first Sunday of each month, then the LAST SATURDAY, post results (which are subject to whim and whimsy, because that is how we roll... or not... maybe it is just that we haven't yet clarified how that will go exactly...)

This particular image is STILL in effect... (because we've been under review as to how this would go) and you still have until next Thursday to write a pirating drabble...

At least one Sunday between we will REPOST and REMIND. But we will also give some prods mid week, as we think weekend readership is lower and weekday readers may just not know what all the fuss is about...

And so it has been declared! (you may get naked now! Or... curtsey now! Or eat lunch now!) Erm. Or not. (but we do hope you'll join us in a drabble now and again...)

22 October 2010

Get Prepared, Get Motivated, Get Writing!

Get yourself some shiny new pens and paper, or a decent computer,or you will be doomed before you even start.

Enjoy the last few precious days of relative calmness and prepare yourself for thirty days of sleep-deprived madness.

Tell everyone - including spouse, children, family and friends - that unless someone is dying, you are pulling a Garbo and would like to be left alone for the whole of November.

Will your brain into writing mode, and tell it to ignore all of the usual signals that it sends through your body. Food and toilet breaks are to be scheduled in every four hours, no more, no less. Sleeping isn't allowed. This will take practice, so start early.

Resist all urges to play Bejewleled Blitz (or any other pointless game, for that matter). Again, this may take some time, so practicing now would be good.

Ignore the phone. This is a good idea even when you aren't working on a NaNoWriMo challenge.

Talking will be banned (unless you are giving yourself a pep talk, or you are sounding out something you have written), so if, like me, you are a Chatty Cathy, get your fill of tongue-wagging in now, before it's too late.

Invest in ear-plugs. Essential for ignoring the phone and other distractions.

Nuts are essential. Typically, you have to be nuts to attempt NaNo, but you also should really buy some too. Nibbly snacks are an important tool to have when you will probably forget to stop and eat.

Giving up is not an option! You can do this! You will do this! The NaNoWriMo 2010 Winner's Badge will be yours!

21 October 2010

Delusional Thursday: Of Piracy and men in Pink

You are JK Rowling. You have just landed in New Delhi after a grueling flight. It took you more than an hour to clear the customs and immigration formalities. Never a very public person, you are not looking forward to the party in your honour at the British High Commissioners' residence - plastering a smile on your face always leaves your facial muscles sore for a few hours. You want nothing more than a steaming cup of coffee, and to stretch out those back muscles for a couple of hours. You are dreaming of the hotel room, when the car you are travelling in grinds to a halt at a traffic jam.
Almost by magic, a boy materialises at the car window, and thrusts a book with a suspiciously familiar cover at you.
"Madam, yeah book leh lo," he says. "Bahut acchi book hai."
You turn to your interpreter. "What's he saying?"
"He's trying to sell you the book," your interpreter says, before rolling down the window and asking the guy to move on.
The boy refuses to budge - he can sense interest better than anyone else. "Bahut acchi book hai. Sab log pad rahe hain. Aur bhi char books hai isi author ke." He pulls out all the other books and thrusts them at you.
You turn to the interpreter, she shrugs, and tries to shoo him away.
"Bahut acche book hai. Sabse fast moving," he persists.
The interpreter threatens to hit him, but you restrain her. "No, don't. I want to know what he is saying."
"He's saying your books are very popular. That everyone is buying them." She turns back to the youth. "Go away, or else..."
"Ask him how many copies he sells?" you ask your interpreter. She reluctantly complies.
"Every day five-six," the boy replies in broken English. "Very good book, Madam. You buy?"
He looks so hopeful that you can't resist. You pull out a couple of pound notes and thrust them at him. "Thank you," you say. It may be pirated books that the boy is selling, but what he says about the popularity of the books is music to your ears.
Urban legend has it that JK Rowling did indeed buy a copy of Philosopher's Stone from the guy at the traffic light. She insists she only got her picture taken with him. I tend to believe her, because however rich and famous she may be, which writer would want to condone piracy by picking up a pirated copy of her own book?

Jeffery Archer, who visits India once a year to coincide with the release of his latest book, insists that the measure of an author's popularity in India is not the official sales figures, but the number of boys hawking the book at traffic lights. He definitely knows what he is talking about - when I was looking for a copy of "First Among Equals" a few years back, I found it not at any of the three bookstores I searched, but at a pavement bookstall selling pirated books.

Book piracy is a big issue in India. And not without reason. Books, even paperbacks, are EXPENSIVE in the country. A boxed set of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Saga costs Rs. 1,599/-. Pirated copies of each of the three books can be picked up for Rs. 100 at any street corner or traffic light. Give me one good reason why anyone would want to buy an original?

But the economics do not always work out. Chetan Bhagat's mega popular "Two States" costs Rs. 95 for the original and Rs. 65 for a pirated copy. Once you bring the book-distribution economics into the picture, the gap narrows even more. Wholesale retailers typically make a margin of 30% on the book- if they pass on even 25% (as many of the online booksellers did), the cost differential between the original and the pirated copy becomes as low as Rs. 5. Why would anyone want to buy a pirated copy when an original costs a quarter of a bar of chocolate more?

Yet, pirated books rule. Simply because of a much better distribution network. Commuters in India spend more than an hour a day at traffic lights - buying books is a more productive way to use that time than sending yet another pointless text message.

Which brings me to the obvious question - why hasn't anyone come up with a business plan to bring the vendors of pirated books into the official bookselling network? Wouldn't that be a Win-win for everyone - most so the Writer?


Man or Mannequin?
In case you do not think my plan delusional enough, here's something else.

Last week, I had posed the question - "Men in Pink. Hot or Not?

The results were interesting to say the least- some said yes, some said no, and almost all said it depended on the man. Mari, though the first to post, summed it up best- "As for men in pink shirts, I say it is a tie. 33,3% HOT for guys who wear it either because they have a sense of fashion, or because they wear it like any other piece of clothing. 33,3% NOT for men who wear it because they think they have a sense of fashion, but in reality all they want is to show off their Patek Phillippe. And 33,3% ADORABLE for those who simply put their white shirt in the washer with a red sock..."

Mari rocks in her bright red socks, and she also gets first shot at the next question - "Men in Pink. Who's hotter - man or mannequin?"

Photograph of JK Rowling taken from Goodreads, other photographs are self taken.
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20 October 2010

Traffic Rant

Traffic. It's just one of those words that makes you want to hunch up your shoulders and go "BLARGH!", isn't it? And goodness knows that the rules and patterns of it vary immensely from city to city, country to country, and especially by the time of day.


Note the use of the word "Rant" in the post title. Yep, you got it - when it comes to certain trafficky annoyances, I turn into a real crankypants. (The Tart will tell you that all pants are cranky-making, but that's beside the point.) However, which things will set off my inner Masshole vary wildly by where (or even whether) I'm driving. Let me remind you that I live in Boston - a city where the joke has it that the roads are simply paved cowpaths. While that may be a slight exaggeration, it's certainly fact that right angles are few and far between, rotaries (they're called roundabouts most other places...) are plentiful, and you can drive straight down what you think is just one street and yet have it change its name three times in four miles.

For example, say I'm setting off on a Target run, something that takes place every couple of months. The way to the nearest one goes through some pretty rough neighborhoods (in a few cases, that's putting it very kindly), and you're taking your life in your hands just trying to navigate an intersection where the rules seem to be "whoever peels out the fastest has the right of way". Even if they don't. Which (surprise!) is usually the case. Trying to anticipate every person, their (lack of) knowledge or (equal lack of) caring of the rules of the road - it's nerve-wracking, to say the least. Driving defensively? Oh hell yeah. It doesn't help that the buses seem to think they always get to turn first at every intersection, no matter whether they're turning right or left (I admit it, I've been tempted to let one smush me when it's trying to take a left while I have the right-of-way... but I've always chickened out). In any case, people who usurp the right-of-way are dangerous. And they make me mad.

However, I teach in a very affluent suburb of Boston - so you can all picture it, let's stipulate that every other car is at least an SUV, and you'll actually spot ridiculous things like Hummers and Land Rovers (seriously, folks, tooling around town does not actually require a vehicle designed for warfare or safaris...). My pet peeve here? People who yield their right-of-way. They think, "oh, I'll be nice and let this person go" - which ends up causing more problems than it solves, usually because someone behind them, who can't see around them due to the aforementioned massive size of their vehicle, will cut around and (hopefully) narrowly miss slamming into the person who was just "allowed" to enter the traffic stream. Or you need to cut across both lanes of traffic, and someone leaving a spot for you in just one doesn't do any good - but they get all huffy because you don't take advantage of their generosity in allotting you a hole. This also makes me mad.

What both situations have in common is subverting the accustomed and predictable patterns of traffic. At least, predictable by the rules we were supposed to learn in drivers' ed, commit to memory, pass a test on, and continue to follow for as long as we are legally licensed drivers - yeah?

Shall we have a bash at the stereotypes? The crazy taxi drivers, perhaps? They're an international phenomenon, in case anyone was wondering (it's not a coincidence that one of the Italian sentences I remember learning translates as "if you don't slow down, I'm going to puke"). I have a friend who was born and raised in Taiwan who insists that Asians really are lousy drivers, herself included - though she asserts she's better since her daughter was born. I don't even want to talk about the fact that it seems to be necessary to pass laws making texting while driving illegal - shouldn't that be a no-brainer? Drunks behind the wheel, ohhhhhhh, don't go there. Old people? There were certainly a rash of news stories last year about senior citizens doing everything from mixing up the gas and the brake (which, to be fair, one of my 16-year-old students admitted to doing as well) to smashing into storefronts or pedestrians in crosswalks.

What about the speed demon hot-dogging it down the left lane? It's one thing on a freeway, but it's thoroughly stupid on a road where you might get stopped at a signal two blocks down, having made the grand gesture of getting stuck there moments before the person they just blew past. Then again, the ones who are really dangerous are the ones who go well under the speed limit - they're even less expected, and you frequently run up quite close behind them before realizing how slowly they're actually progressing. Stopping where there's not a STOP sign? Bad. Not stopping where there's a crosswalk? Also bad. Pulling random U-eys in front of the train station? Bad. Blocking an intersection so that even when the light changes, cars from the cross street can't enter? Really bad. Tailgating? Bad. Slowing down when you're being tailgated? Errrrrm...

And then there are those places where they insist on driving on the left side of the road. You know, Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, Japan... they can get away with it 'cause, duh, they're islands. Don't get me wrong, I actually prefer it that way - despite having lived my whole life in a country where we drive on the right, and having previously only visited countries that also drive on the right, it only took me two days to flip all my perceptions when the Burrowers invaded the UK. But it took me two weeks to feel comfortable on the right again when I got home. (I'm going to get yelled at for avoiding the fact that places like, say, India and Nepal also drive on the left - or, at least they're supposed to... I hear that the easiest way to commit suicide in Kathmandu is to take a walk anywhere near a road.)

Now, despite the fact that I came awfully close to being guard-rail pizza today (giant SUV ignoring a YIELD sign... apparently those don't apply when your car weighs over a certain amount...), I feel lots better just for having ranted. It's like I keep saying, people are like microwave food. Ever read the warnings on the containers? The ones that say "May explode if not properly vented."? So go out and behave on the roads, people - after all, you never know when some eidetiker like me is looking at your plate number...

For further reading, may I recommend the excellent and thought-provoking (and aptly named) Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt.

19 October 2010

Writing Tuesdays: Novel Writing Strategies and Links

I have found that I am a methodical writer. I need time frames, outlines, charts, graphs and most of all - a nice hot cup of coffee with two creams and four sugars. Not everyone is like this, I know. Many of my students are not like this. They are "spur of the moment" writers. My students are very much the latter but need some of the former.

Last week, I gave an assignment for a prompted journal writing session. I gave the students the prompt, "When I look out the window I see . . . I hear . . . I feel . . ." The lesson focused around imagery and descriptive language. Some students wrote about the scaffolding around the school and how it makes them feel closed in while listening to the disruptive construction workers outside. Other students wrote about the skyscrapers and how they were reminded of the affluent residents of the neighborhood while listening to the sirens of the police cars, fire trucks and ambulances. Yet one student spoke of how she saw a sea of opportunity, the hopes of acquiring the "American Dream" and listened to the beat of the city that would feed her dreams one day. These were stories that were worthy of their own novels.

Unfortunately, many of the stories lacked descriptive language. Granted, many of my students lack the skills to write an effectively rich story due to deficiencies in syntax, grammar and a good command of the English language. But these same students have a creativity that leaves me flabbergasted most days. Many of them left last week, with a better understanding of one of the principles of becoming a good reader and writer. They also taught me something, too - take something small and expand it to make it big.

Like I said, I need structure as do most of my students. So I turned to some of the following sites to get some ideas:

The Snowflake Method- http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/art/snowflake.php

This method is good for those of us who need to break up a large project into manageable pieces. The shapes are significant in that each polygon, from triangle to snowflake, has a designated writing element assigned to each vertex. It then delineates essential steps in the writing process that assures people, like me, some structure to their writing. This site has tips for the novice to the expert writer.

Novel Writing for Beginners - http://www.writerswrite.com/journal/sept97/keegan.htm

This next link is wonderful for those who have not been published, who have the beginnings of a novel or just need help in getting started. This site discusses writing in manageable chunks by beginning with short stories and then lengthening your writing over time. Please do not misunderstand the title. The author of this article simply wants people not to become discouraged by attempting to write at the level of Stephen King or J. R. R. Tolkien with their first novel. Not that no one can write at this level of expertise! I am pretty sure there are many who can.

For the novel writer who is in revision, here are some tips - http://www.writersdigest.com/article/4-steps-to-take-your-novel-to-the-finish-line/

I am not at this level but I am sure there is someone out there who is. *winks at the Naked Tart* I found these four simple tips to be really invaluable. I discovered that the tip, "Identify lulls in action where you can insert mini-scenes," to be really helpful. Take a look and try some of these strategies.

Where are you as a writer? What are some helpful tips that would facilitate the writing process? Inquiring minds want to know.

All images taken from Wikimedia Commons

18 October 2010

Serendipitous Reading

First, before I get to today's blog content, I need to give a big shout out and say HAPPY BIRTHDAY JORIS!!! Joris is a Burrow Buddy who helps us with all sorts of complimentary artistic endeavors, and today... he is old enough that if he visited me, I could buy him a beer plus ONE... though he doesn't drink, so I am sending him a Coke instead.

Now back to today's regularly scheduled Reading Blog

THIS is my to be read pile... And all these books have something in common. I didn't buy them.

Some of you may know... but I try to keep it mostly quiet. I am both POOR and CHEAP. It isn't that I don't think authors deserve a lot of money (heck I want to BE one who supports herself) but I have supported a family of four by myself for a long time... layered on top of a childhood of relative poverty... A deep-seated belief in reusing and recycling... a love of old stuff. So here we have it... This tends to be how I acquire my reading material.

I think two of these books were gifts and the two from L.Diane Wolfe I WON (YAY! I love winning!)--those are the ones I intend to get to next (the top 4 on the hard cover stack). Now I am not Leanne—if I were, this would make a nice two weeks of reading. Instead, I am me, and take about a week a book... when I am not reading one of my OWN or critiquing for a friend (for the edit)...

When it comes to reading for free, I moved to the right place... I live in a college town, where people and the library GIVE AWAY the books they are done with. I try not to be greedy—I take them one at a time, but if there is a box of free books, I nearly NEVER pass it by. The titles you see, I intend to get to... I've decided I acquired them through the fates... that they were offered up when I walked by for a reason. It keeps my reading more varied than it might otherwise be... You'll note the pile has a fair few thrillers, mysteries, and dark suspense. But there are also some literary options, a little fantasy.

I've had past jobs where there was an exchange, and I LOVED that (and came across some of my favorite books EVER that way--The Poisonwood Bible and the Red Tent come to mind)--it gave my coworkers and I common material to talk about--I read some FABULOUS books that way. This way though, my reading is far more varied than it might otherwise be, and... you know... it's free...

17 October 2010

Drabble Poll

So we... Burrowistically speaking... were sure when we started this venture, that we would attract thousands... or maybe dozens... of people THRILLED with the idea of drabbling weekly... that a competition of sorts would draw LOTS of readers and writers to enter and recruit all of them to a lifetime of drabbling...

It isn't clear to me now why we thought it was so seductive... except that somehow the idea seduced all of US—but I'm pretty easy to seduce... a nice man-thigh in a lovely garter and I'm sold... but y'all knew I was easy...

Anyway... as far as our public outing... we've had lukewarm to moderate participation at best. That is not to say the entrants haven't been fabulous, because mostly they HAVE, but they have NOT been as numerous as we expected. So today we are trying to do a bit of analysis (or rather data collection to be FOLLOWED by analysis) to see what we might do to improve our popularity. *pushes up boobs to improve illusion of cleavage*

SO PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE help us out with the following questions...

1) Have you participated? (How often? Once or more?)
2) Are there any who like reading and pondering the image but are not interested in participating?
3) If (when) you DON'T participate, why not?
4) Would you participate (be more or less likely) if you could post on your blog and link directly?
5) Would you like to see us continue?
6) How often? (weekly, 2X a month, once a month, special occasions?)
7) As a contest, or just as a fun activity (no judging)?

This blog is a collective identity for the Burrow, but we also need to navigate our collective existence, so your help is very appreciated in figuring out if readers LIKE this and/OR want it to continue.

I'd like to promise that if drabbling discontinued, it would be replaced by Naked World Domination, but there are a few clothed sticklers, so the replacement will surely be more traditional... just in case that was why any of you were holding out...

16 October 2010

The Burrowers' Prismatic Feature

At the Burrow, we are featuring a lovely and vibrant myriad of color images accompanied by drabbles. Here is a little glimpse from our resident Burrower who will not hesitate to peel off layers and proclaim from the mountaintops that nudity allows a freedom beyond all transcendence. She is truly a free spirit.

Skips a Generation

I was a purple freak as a kid, but I adored my grandpa. The facts about my grandpa were clear: his favorite food was cheese, he fell asleep in the recliner after dinner (and three Manhattans), he drove my grandma crazy, and he LOVED RED. For his twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, he got a ruby ring as a reward for not taking off that pesky wedding ring in all those years.

Ten years ago my son took up a fixation with Po
the red Teletubby. His wardrobe has been filled with red ever since. I think he comes by it naturally.

The next insightful literary work is done by a Burrower who is master of many talents - writer, runner, mother, gardener, photographer and so much more. She devotes her time to all these aspects and still has time to be a profit sector professional. She is amazing.

The Impetuousness of Youth. The Belief that Violence could Right a Wrong. I Picked up a Gun. Shot down Innocents in a Random Act of Violence. Witnesses Swore I was Elsewhere. The Law could pin Nothing on Me. I am Free. Free to Do Whatever I Choose.
She will Not Leave Me. Her Eyes Follow me Everywhere. Pleading with Me to Save her Child. Burning in Anger after I Gunned Him Down. From Her, there is No Escape.
She is my Jailer. I am Stuck in a Prison Cell of my own Making. Forever Looking Out. Forever Hoping for Redemption.

The next drabble is written by our Taffy resident Burrower who incorporates humor, empathy, zaniness and honesty into all of her work.

In Your Shoes

Like all little girls, I used to love playing dress-up. I had a box filled with old clothes, scraps of fabric, and a few hats. Everything you needed to play pretend. The only things missing were the shoes, which Id have to sneak from my mothers closet. Pointy toes, shiny shoes, high heels, strappy sandals, sparkly shoes; all found their way to my feet at some point, and Id teeter and totter all over the place. Thirty years later, you can still find me balancing in inappropriate footwear. Some things you never grow out of. And really... who wants to?

The last glimpse is from our philosophical resident Burrower. He is witty and a comedic genius who is also thoroughly creative and analytical when it comes to writing. Here is one of his wonderful contributions . . .

No, there's nothing in my hands. Still.

Oh, you remember last time you asked? I explained that it was an exercise to develop the power for crushing my enemies.

"Tiny enemies," ha ha. Very funny. The exercise is not physical, but rather intended to fine-tune the necessary mental state.

What's that? You don't understand the necessity, because you don't see any of these "alleged" foes? You're laughing, aren't you?

Actually, you're right. I'm not doing that exercise because I haven't seen any such enemies for quite a while. Right now, I'm massaging my calloused palms.

And I'm laughing, too.

So check us out at The Burrow Home.

Take care,


15 October 2010

Motivational Friday: Geek Lords

If you've ever stepped into an online gaming arena and gotten a thorough butt-kicking, you know what a Geek Lord is. They're the guys (and gals) who reach the new max level for World of Warcraft in the span of a few hours; they've got a legacy of unearthly high scores in the Civilization Hall of Fame; and if you tune in to ESPN2 on a slow day, you can see them playing NFL Madden: 2011 against actual, professional football players, and winning by a score of 100-0.

And back in the ancient days, when the Internet was used to chat about games rather than playing them, the Geek Lords could be found in comic book shops devastating their opponents at Magic: The Gathering, or some similar customizable card game. That was me, actually, but my favorite was the Star Trek version.

Yep, he's holding Star Trek cards.
Best Easter Egg ever.

More on that in a bit. The question we should be asking ourselves, in relation to more lucrative endeavors, is: How do these people get so good?

The most obvious answer is that they play a lot. And by "a lot" I mean "obsessively to the point of foregoing trips to the bathroom". The slightly less obvious answer is that they're having fun. But is it the promise of fun that motivates them to work on their skills, or is it the process of fun that develops them?

The gamer's dilemma.

And if the latter, is that even relevant to more serious projects that, eventually, will require some work?

The Law of Diminishing Returns

Everyone's heard of the Law of Diminishing Returns (having read this sentence, you can't deny it). But the name can be misleading. It does not refer to returns that diminish over time. Rather, the law describes a decrease in marginal return coinciding with the increase of a fungible factor of production while other factors are constant.

Er... what?

Okay, let's say that Farmer Brown (all hypothetical farmers are named "Brown"-- another law of economics) has ten acres of land and a half dozen workers. Brown and the farm hands work hard, but can only plow a little over nine acres of the land. So farmer Brown decides to buy an ox.

Brown isn't stupid, so he's going to use that ox as efficiently as possible. He's going to take his slowest, weakest worker (and/or best ox handler) and put him to work driving a plow behind said ox. As a result, Brown can now get all ten acres plowed, and he's saved enough time that another farm hand can spend half his day plowing and half the day pulling weeds (a task which was previously neglected).

Follow me so far? Ox #1 = very useful.

Next, Farmer Brown checks his portfolio and decides he can afford another ox. The oxen are the "fungible factor of production". Fungible just means that there's no significant difference between one ox and another. So Brown puts his second-slowest hand (and/or second-best ox handler) to work driving the second ox. His crop yield (returns) will increase again, but not as much as they did from the first ox. The acreage is already plowed, the production difference for ox handler #2 is not as great, and the extra weed-pulling time is spent searching for smaller and smaller weeds.

With three or four oxen, nobody needs to work a plow by hand, everything is covered, and the farm hands are running out of useful things to do. Beyond four, the oxen are only useful for making fertilizer.

Diminishing returns. Q.E.D.

Based on this rather simple notion, we can conclude that, at some point, Brown should stop spending money on oxen and acquire some more acreage. Interestingly, the Law of Diminishing Returns can then be applied to the added land. The first couple of (additional) acres will be plowed and weeded. Adding a bit more, Brown can still plow everything but he'll have to cut back on the weeding. If he keeps adding land without bringing in more labor, he won't be able to work it at all.

Applying the Law Elsewhere

Now let's say you're a novelist-- Novelist Brown, if you like.

Novelist Brown is looking at a first draft, and decides to give it a good read-through so he can edit the work and improve it. Kinda like buying an ox, right? A second editing (of the second draft) will improve the work some more, but not as much as the first edit. Eventually, Novelist Brown should start on a new novel.

Conversely, if Brown keeps starting new projects without ever going back for an edit, he's never going to produce anything worthy of publication. Kinda like buying more acreage, right? Of course, it's not all writing and editing. Brown might need to brush up on his grammar, expand his vocabulary, do some research, or market his book. For every one of those tasks, more is better, but the returns (in quality and quantity of writing) diminish with each successive unit of input.

So there we are. Writing is work-- just like farming. If you want to produce, you have to spend time on a variety of tasks, even though you won't enjoy two thirds of them.

Hold That Depressing Thought!

Not so fast, Pessimist Brown.

The key word in the Law of Diminishing Returns is "fungible". Oxen, land, and farm hands are all likely to be fungible. The next ox won't be any better than the last. But the time investments of a creative, skilled individual are another matter.

I mentioned customizable card games. These required two substantially different skill sets: Building a deck and actually playing the game. I certainly enjoyed playing, but I loved, loved, loved building the decks. I would spend hours sorting through cards, looking at combinations, and designing precise deck ratios. I was good at it because I was having fun, and I kept getting better. Eventually, I could go to most local tournaments and expect to take first or second place despite sloppy play. And, just as importantly, my play didn't stay sloppy for long. Thanks to all the time and mental energy I'd invested in any given deck design, once I started playing, my effective learning rate was much higher than it would have been if I'd simply thrown something together the night before.

Therein lies the secret of the Geek Lords. When the World of Warcraft fanatic spends so many hours getting up to level 70, he's not just improving his character, he's improving his skills.

Smartness. Of a kind.

Is that curve impressive? No? Realistic, then? I've applied diminishing returns, you see, because (presumably) the first 1000 hours you spend will teach you more than the next 1000 hours, and so on. That graph might represent the function f(x) = 4x^(1/2) + x.

But. But!

But it's not just our skill level we're concerned with, it's our overall quality & quantity of production. The production for a unit of time is equal to the skill level times the time, which means that the aggregate production equals the area under the curve. I won't insult you by implying that you don't know how to do a simple polynomial integral, but I'll write it out just to be thorough: [integral] f(x) = (8/3)(x^(3/2)) + 1/2(x^2) + c


Woo hoo!

You already knew (I hope) that people are at their most productive when they enjoy what they're doing. So now you have even more reason to follow the happy path. If this were applied to the farming metaphor, then Brown would keep acquiring oxen, but the newer oxen would be stronger; then the next few oxen would be smarter; somewhere around the 100th oxen he'd be getting animals with opposable thumbs who could genetically re-engineer his crops. His yield over time would be impressive, even if he failed to acquire more acreage, and when he finally did get a bit more land, his production would leap dramatically.

Take careful note of the shape of that curve. Doing one (or a few) things consistently isn't going to produce high yields right away. Those come with time.

For a real-life example, look at Isaac Asimov. He never studied literature or literary technique (as far as I know), and he never put much effort into developing a broad range of interesting characters. Rather, he would be skimming over the latest scientific journal on astrophysics or chemistry, get an idea, and rush to his typewriter to bang it out in story form. Over time, he got better and better at his craft, and became one of the most prolific authors in history. And on those rare occasions when he did put some effort into character development, the payoff was greatly magnified.

If you dare, look at Stephanie Meyer. The Twilight series is a fantastical, self-indulgent romance. Meyer didn't beat herself up adding literary quality or applicable lessons to the book, but amplified the indulgence with sparkling vampires, sexy werewolves, and a protagonist who seduces the underworld by virtue of nothing more than her blood type. The result was moderately successful.

Then there's J.R.R. Tolkein, the antithesis of Asimov. Tolkein didn't want to write a lot of books. He just kept doing what he loved, developing a mythology for Middle Earth and inventing an entirely new language each time he had to wait for his tea to finish brewing. The result is one of the most celebrated works in English literature.

Pursue thy happiness, and be thou fruitful.