Monday, October 31, 2011

Fingers at the ready...

Brigade Poster

One day left! Where's my character name file? Do I have enough paper? Who moved my ribbons? For heaven's sake, how does this book start?

Pre-flight jitters here. How's everybody else?

Thursday, October 27, 2011


20111027 pencast

Our scanner at work is black and white only, so here's a photo of my ad hoc test setup. The lines you can see on the paper are shining through from a lined pad I put underneath the sheet.
Bagasse paper stress-test

Ink feathering detail:
Bagasse paper feathering

Paper texture detail:
Bagasse paper texture detail

The paper is by Sugarmade, and is acid-free, 20#, 92 brightness.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Royal Rising

This is what morning looks like
The view from last November

Wheeled el Beast out of its summering spot last night and have it set up. I think I need to wind on a fresh ribbon and clean out the typeslugs, but it's pretty much ready. Now it's a matter of sorting through my notes to find out if I'm ready.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Company I Keep

I was having a little discussion with someone on The Twitter today, recommending (again!) Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird as a great resource for writers, would-be writers, and the easily frustrated of either type. The chapter on Shitty First Drafts (PDF) should be required reading, every single November. I know that whenever I pick up my copy of the book, I wind up going back and re-reading the whole thing from the start. Every year I get more out of it.

Anyhow, the Twitter chat made me realize that I don't think I've ever collected all the titles in one place, though I know I've discussed them before. So, here's the contents of my "sage writing advice" shelf.

People much smarter than I am

In photo order:
  • Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury
    To be honest, not my favorite of the bunch, but it comes praised by many. Perhaps you'll get more out of it than I did?
  • The Elements of Style, Strunk and White
    Because I can never remember how to do quotes. Also, because I am trying to become one with the philosophy of cutting surplus words, if not in this blog, then at least in my writing.
  • The Moon & I, Betsy Byars
    Hilarious, unless you are snake-averse. Then probably seriously creepy. Writing advice disguised as autobiographical stories.
  • Self Editing for Fiction Writers, Browne & King
    The book so nice I braved the vultures circling Borders books to get my own copy. Makes a good argument for putting the extra effort into revisions of your own work, and gives real-life examples. My post-NaNo Sherpa. I reviewed this one earlier, though you may also want to check out Bell's The Artful Edit and Lyon's Manuscript Makeover. I preferred the Browne & King book.
  • No Plot? No Problem!, Chris Baty
    The pre-NaNo Sherpa. I picked this up after my first year of NaNo. Certainly not the most serious book, but then NaNo isn't the most serious creative endeavor, either. Baty's novel aftercare advice about summarizing scenes on index cards inspired my current pre-noveling process.
  • Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss
    If your blood pressure ticks up a notch every time you see an abused apostrophe, read this. Funny for Type "A" personalities like yours truly. Obnoxious to everyone else, probably. Read immediately after (or in parallel with) Strunk & White.
  • Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg
    Slightly hippy-trippy compared to the others in the stack, but her mantra -- keep your hand moving, always moving across the page -- is invaluable advice.
  • Steering the Craft, Ursula K. Le Guin
    Meant more as a workbook than a read-from-cover-to-cover work. Le Guin does get into discussions of taking criticism in a peer writing group, which is the only book I've found that does this. Type "A" people need all the advice we can get about accepting criticism gracefully and silently.
  • On Writing, Stephen King
    Also largely autobiographical, and King has led a colorful (and medicated) life. Solid advice, though, from someone who knows how to make popular, readable work. Also: a sample of before-and-after edited work.
  • Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
    Still among the very best in the pile, in my opinion, especially for writing-and-life advice. So many books that I've read were very dry, highbrow, academic books written by Serious Authors Crafting Serious Art. This is not those books, thank goodness. This is the one that gets me back in the NaNo frame of mind every year. After reading it, I'm excited about writing something terrible and bloated and meandering and occasionally surprising and subtle and wonderful.
Now obviously, one or more of these books simply won't do it for you. (Hopefully you are not also a planning-obsessed control freak, 'cause this here blog ain't big enough for the both of us...) If you're looking for some advice from smart people, though, you could do worse than this stack of paper.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Nor-Cal Mini Type-In

Dedicated followers of the Typosphere know that for a while, I seemed to be the only California-based typecaster out there (or at least the only one willing to blog about it.) Cameron of Living in the Woods joined up this year, and when he said he'd be nearby, we arranged for the First Ever Type-In of the Northern California Branch of the Typosphere. We met today for lunch and typing, and some inspection of a couple of sick machines in Cameron's care: an Olympia SM3 with more than the usual amount of smooshed bushings, and a de-badged Olivetti with a loose top, letting me at last tell a fellow typecaster that he had a few screws loose.

My original meeting place of a coffee shop was passed up for the far larger table space in the adjoining courtyard: the same place where I filmed my one-man Typewriter Day celebration. Whether it was the sight of the mighty spread of machines (five between the two of us) or the the music of the typing as it echoed around the court, we talked with several passers-by about typewriters, the 'sphere, and this crazy thing of blogging on a typewriter and fielded many questions from an over-friendly security guard asking the worth of his old Underwood portable. Sigh. Note to graphic designers: we need to start passing out business cards with the Typosphere URL on it. Seriously.

As always, the live-typing seems incomplete compared to the amount of actual socializing we managed to squeeze into my lunch hour: Cameron did more typing than I did, as I got to look over the problem machines he brought along. I'm rather camera-shy, and didn't want to put Cameron on the spot by taking his picture, so you'll have to settle for my typecast and these photos, and imagine two dashing gentlemen typing away on a pleasant sunny day.

20111013 typecast Tippa Versus Baby Cameron brought a Tippa at my request, and it's a cool little machine. I have a real soft spot for travel-size typewriters, and this one is very full-featured and well built. A little skip-prone with a "soft" left margin, but a fine machine nonetheless. Plus, it came with the manual and a load of accessories, including a ruler with which I demonstrated the magic "Olympia elite" typeface (11 characters per inch.) Gossen means business German Precision Mystery Knob Touch control? I forgot to look this one up. But there's a clever "stencil" knob on the right-hand side. Both are features I haven't seen on a travel machine before. Shield your eyes! Love the plastic eraser shield that was in the case. Just outstanding. Love the Germans No space is wasted: a place to file everything. And leather! Not cheap vinyl. Importer The back of Cameron's sick SM3. I took this to check against my own machines, which are newer. Fallen Olivetti The other patient: a $5 Olivetti with a little rust and a loose top. Four screws will fix the top, cleaning is needed for the guts, and some Liquid Wrench or other penetrating oil is needed to loosen one of the spool nuts. It's just a Valentine, without the $200 plastic trash can attached. Noisemakers My view of the proceedings. Clockwise from lower left: Tippa, Skyriter, Baby, SM3, and Olivetti, hiding under the stack of lids. The Mighty Spread Cameron's view. Note the pile of smooshed bushings to the left of the Olympia. Kids! Always check your rubber. (ahem) Baby and Rhino, With Hands Even the Nano Rhino got into the act, coming out at the promise of a meal. Cameron's joining the Typewriter Brigade for his first ever NaNoWriMo this year. What about you?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Just like clockwork, the website is up and running, this time sporting a new technology that may withstand the press of writers. I haven't noticed any major problems, though there's the usual assortment of new-platform bugs that the development team is shaking out. Of course there's a Typewriter Brigade topic for anyone considering joining up this year and using a typewriter to draft their work, even just for part of it. And the Brigade accepts all well-wishers and assorted hangers-on as needed. If you've done NaNo before, stop on by and say hello. If you haven't done it before, consider it! It's a lot of work and a lot of fun at the same time. You don't have to be an overplanner like me: the only secret I have to "winning" is to be regular. Write a little bit, every single day. If you can make that a habit for thirty days, even if you're not making the average word-count, you're a winner. If you can write a little on the days when you absolutely do not want to write, and your brain feels slushy and thick, then you've Won Everything. Simple as that.

Come join up.

The rest of this post is mostly reference for me, so I can document what I did this year to clean up my transcription. If it's helpful to you, hooray! But save a copy of your file before following any of this advice. The Word examples were untested at the time I wrote this, but I can refine it if there's interest.

I have already extolled the virtues of having your draft read aloud (see the last bullet point on this post) and I am seriously looking at voice transcription for this year's draft. What both of these miss, though, is subtle issues of punctuation and spacing. Good news, though: your word processor can help you out. These are the things that I get caught up on.
  • Double-spacing is out of fashion. This is bad news for those of us who originally learned to type on a typewriter, or who were taught by someone who learned that way. You may still double-space on the computer, but if you're posting on the Web (at least), that extra space is being absorbed anyway. Modern use appears to be leading us to single space ├╝ber alles, so in your word processor's box, type two spaces in the "Find" box, and a single space in the "Replace With" box (or whatever your program calls them.) Click "replace all" and then marvel at the number of excess spaces that have crept in. You may have to click this a couple times if you triple-spaced anything.
  • Indent with styles, not tabs. Another typewriter holdover. All your indents should be done automatically by the style set in your text. If you're still tabbing or spacing over to indent or center things, you're in for a world of grief. I tend to do those only after typecasting something and then moving over to the keyboard. I also lose where the apostrophe key is, but that's just my own mental shortcoming.
  • Underline is out, italics are in. Same reason as above, really. Underlining is what you do on a typewriter because you can't do italics. I mess this up all the time.
  • Passive voice. Your English teacher was right; this is bad stuff. Passive voice is the air my novel breathes in November.
Finding styles -- like finding underlines, when it should have been italics -- can be done right in the find/replace box. This article explains how it's done in Word. In LibreOffice, it's similar, except underlining is treated as a "Font Effect" and not a "Style" (The reasoning, I think, is that italics actually changes the font to an italic version, underlining enhances the existing font.) In LibreOffice, choose "Find/Replace > More Options > Format... > Font Effects" to get to the proper place.
Beyond that, my find/replace magic pixies are something called "regular expressions," which are clever little ways to write things that you can't normally type in a find/replace box. Here be dragons.

In OpenOffice/LibreOffice, there is an option in the Find/Replace box to use them. In Word, these are called "wildcards," and work in a similar way. For example, if I normally press the Tab key in the find box (like to find a tab), the cursor moves. To actually find a tab in my work in LibreOffice, I can use the magical regular expression:  \t

That's a "backslash-tee" for those reading aloud. In Word, the characters are slightly different: ^t ("carat-tee")

To look for a lowercase letter following a period -- which shouldn't ever happen -- I search for:

\. [a-z] (In LibreOffice: "backslash-dot-space-square bracket-a-dash-z")
 . [a-z] (In Word: the dot is not a wildcard character, "dot-space-square bracket-a-dash-z")

[a-z] means "match any letters from a to z" here, so you want search-and-replace to be case-sensitive. Otherwise, you'll get altered to every single end-of-sentence. Annoying.

I mess up dialog a lot: I can never remember on which side of the quote the punctuation goes (inside, for U.S. style.) Also, I've been known to put commas when I mean periods, or vice versa. So:

"[\.,:;?!] in LibreOffice, to find the juxtaposed quote/punctuation

"[.,:;^?!]  in Word

To look for commas at the end of dialog when there should have been a period... assuming that I capitalized correctly:

," [A-Z] in both LibreOffice and Word

To look for periods that should have been commas:

\." [a-z] in  LibreOffice
." [a-z]  in Word

Passive voice is a killer. I am particular fond of using the could (verb) construct instead of the more active form, as in "She could see the gorilla" instead of the far better "She saw the gorilla." So:

could [a-z]

Also, was (verb)ing shows up a lot in my writing. "She was running" versus "She ran." This is a strange one. It looks for "was", followed by a space, and a bunch of stuff that's not a space that ends in "ing" So:

was [^ ]+ing in LibreOffice
was ?@(ing)> in Word (I think: untested!)

These magic spells go a long way towards polishing out the really rough spots on a draft.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Speak and be heard

20111004 speechcast
Obviously, there are issues in the text. A few dropped words here and there, and "nano rhino" is an excellent malapropism. I would prefer numbers and ordinals to be spelled out ("2 daughters", "but 1st"). Frankly, I haven't even begun to plumb the depths of the documentation. This feels like it could be a configuration option somewhere. I'm also not sure how to introduce capitalization in the middle of a sentence, though the software is clever enough to pick up some proper nouns on its own: Google, and Elizabeth, and its own name.

Speaking of names, there was a question of how it would do with proper names, especially when dealing with character names. Elizabeth suggested using uncommon substitute words in the text ("rutabaga") and then running a find/replace operation afterwards. This isn't a bad idea. Just to test things, here's a list of baby names in the U.S., pulled from the Social Security Administration's web site:

Popularity Male name Dictated Different? Female name Dictated Different?
1 Jacob Jacob
Isabella Isabella
2 Ethan Ethan
Sophia Sophia
3 Michael Michael
Emma Emma
4 Jayden Jason Yes Olivia Olivia
5 William William
Ava Ava
6 Alexander Alexander
Emily Emily
7 Noah Noah
Abigail Abigail
8 Daniel Daniel
Madison Madison
9 Aiden Stephen Yes Chloe Chloe
10 Anthony Anthony
Mia Nina Yes

100 Brian Brian
Rachel Rachel
101 Bentley Bentley
Mya Maye Yes
102 Alejandro Alejandra Yes Rylee Riley Yes
103 Sean Sean
Katelyn Caitlin Yes
104 Nolan Nolan
Ellie Ellie
105 Riley Riley
Isabelle Isabel Yes
106 Kaden Kayden, Yes Vanessa Vanessa
107 Kyle L Yes Lilly Lily Yes
108 Micah Mica Yes London London
109 Vincent Vincent
Mary Mary
110 Antonio Antonia Yes Kennedy Kennedy

250 Corbin Corbin
Alondra A longer Yes
251 Simon Simon
Jazmin jazzman Yes
252 Clayton Clayton
Breanna Rihanna Yes
253 Myles Miles Yes Quinn Quinn
254 Xander Xander
Christina Christina
255 Dante Dante
Kyla Kyler Yes
256 Erik Eric Yes Adalyn paddling Yes
257 Rafael Rafael
Fiona Fiona
258 Martin Martin
Kaydence cadence Yes
259 Dominick Dominick
Allyson Alison Yes

In general, it did better than I expected, and may do better still with additional training on my part. Homophones will surely give the software fits, though. It claims to be context-aware, which may be why it did so well on these name lists. But unless you're planning on writing about a longer jazzman named Breanna Jazmin, search/replace should be your friend.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Bannation For The Win

One month to NaNoWriMo, and I have had a brilliant idea. October first marks the end of this year's national Banned Books Week, a time to think about all the books that have been denounced due to theme or content or because they upset one group or another. The local library and bookstores always set up a big display of the titles. "READ A BANNED BOOK TODAY" they say.

Guys, this is a total win.

Having trouble thinking up ideas for your book this year? Totally aim to get on the banned list. With a little work on your part, you can be sure that somebody, somewhere, will be upset enough to make a big public stink about it. Maybe, if you're lucky, they'll even hold a bonfire. Bonfires make great TV.

Struggling with being literary? Having trouble being refined and classy? Pfft. Write something titillating or shocking or just plain depraved and wait for fame to come knocking.