Friday, October 31, 2014

Meanwhile, in the Barracks of the Typewriter Brigade

November dreaming

All right, you sorry excuses for novelists, time for a SPOT INSPECTION! Everybody fallllll in! Atten-HUT!

Rhino: Brigadiers! I have this here memo from HQ saying that I've got less than 24 hours to whip you into noveling shape! We have 30 days to take 50K Hill. Are you ready?

Brigade: Yes, sir.

Rhino: What was that? I can't heeearrr you!

Brigade: SIR, YES SIR!

Rhino: That's more like it. Private Pantser, front-and-center!

[Private Pantser slouches forward, rumpled and coffee-stained. A fine snow of post-it notes falls like leaves. Panster's fingertips are covered in ink.]

Panster: S-s-sir? I mean, SIR!

Rhino: Just look at yourself, soldier! And in heaven's name, WHERE ARE YOUR PANTS?

Panster: Just enjoying the breeze, SIR!

Rhino: All right, then. You're going into this battle unprepared, unorganized, and direction-less, is that correct?

Pantser: Sir, yes sir!

Rhino: You will turn whichever way the wind blows, writing whatever pops into that little precious snowflake of a mind, won't you?

Pantser: Sir, yes sir!

Rhino: Now, Panster. I don't want to hear any stories about you being riddled with doubt and uncertainty, do you understand? They are the enemy!

Panster: Yes sir! The enemy!

Rhino: If you write yourself into a foxhole in the middle of the month, what will you do?

Panster: Write my way out by any means necessary, sir!

Rhino: Cor-rect. Now tell me, soldier, do you see Private Planner over there? How would you describe the good Private?

Pantser: Sir! Neat and trim, sir! Slightly smug, sir! Alphabetized and organized, sir!

Rhino: Exactly what I see. And does this make Planner a better writer?

Panster: Sir? No... sir?

Rhino: You're damn tootin' it don't! Private Planner has just as much chance out there as any of you! Erase that doubt! What is doubt, soldier?

Pantser: The enemy, sir!

Rhino: Right again. You'll do fine, Private. But for heaven's sake, put down a towel when you sit.

Pantser: I shall, sir! Hygiene shall be my watchword, sir!

Rhino: All right, dismissed, Pantser.

# # #

Rhino: Private Planner, front-and-center-on-the-double-I-mean-it!

[Private Planner marches forward, chin up, knees forward, ramrod straight. A tidy file is tucked under each arm. Color-coded index cards are neatly rubber-banded and in each hand.]

Planner: Sir! Yes sir!

Rhino: So, Private Planner... looks to me like you have every contingency mapped out, don't you?

Planner: Sir, yes sir! In triplicate!

Rhino: You're a real go-getter, aren't you, Private? A real big thinker?

Planner: Sir! Don't want to fail the unit, sir! Eliminating all doubt as it is the enemy, as you rightly pointed out, sir!

Rhino: Pretty organized, I'll give you that. But let me paint you a picture, soldier. Let's say it's the 16th of November, and you're on the downhill side of your wordcount. All according to plan, right?

Planner: Sir, yes sir! Conflict resolution expected in five days, sir! Denouement in seven, and done early in time for pie, sir!

Rhino: I see what Pantser means, soldier, you *are* a little smug. But novels can get ugly, and they can get ugly fast! What happens when you discover that the cable guy is actually the protagonist's sister's ex high-school sweetheart who was supposed to die in that hovercraft accident but instead washed up ashore at the Buddhist temple with his memory gone, only to be nursed back to health where he regained his memory at last?

Planner: S-s-sir? I don't think I have a cable guy in my notes...

Rhino: Doesn't matter, soldier! Your characters can turn on you at any moment! You need to be prepared... to pants it! An outline's all nice and tidy in the forums, but when it's just you and the keys, you need to be ready! Ready to wing it, for the good of the novel!

Planner: Sir! Yes, sir!

Rhino: Now tell me, soldier, you see Private Pantser over there? Just look from the waist up.

Planner: Sir! yes, sir!

Rhino: Pantser would laugh off the unexpected cable guy, wouldn't you, Pantser?

Private Pantser: Sir! And would make the Buddhist monks ninjas as well, sir! Just for color, sir!

Rhino: You see what I mean, Planner? You can be careful and you can make a plan, but novels are messy! Dangerous! Unexpected! You won't know what you'll find until you write it! Be flexible, Planner!

Planner: Sir, yes sir!

Rhino: Remember: there's no hole you write yourself into that you can't write back out of. Maybe you have to detour a little. Maybe your chapters come out of order. But you get yourself up that Hill no matter what it takes!

Planner: Sir, yes sir!

Rhino: All right, Planner. Dismissed.

# # #

Rhino: Now then, Typewriter Mafia... falllllllll in!

[Typewriter Mafia comes to a loose semblance of order. A few are carrying mysterious laptop-shaped bundles under their arms.]

Mafia: Sir! Yo, whadaya want, sir!

Rhino: Now it says here that many of you folks are over on this end of the barracks on account of "mysterious typewriter accidents" and "circumstances outside of your control." Do I have that correct?

Mafia: Sir! What's it to you, sir!

Rhino: Now I'm no stranger to being a victim of life circumstances. I know some of you fine folks are like Pantser or Planner over there, keen to get started, but having to associate with the... lower elements of life. Laptop users. Hand-writers. Alphasmarties.

[A shudder ripples through the barracks]

Rhino: Steady, Brigade, steady. Now all of you, look at one another! Take a good, long look! Yes, even at Pantser over there. Any of you could be on the other side at any time! This is NaNoWriMo, people! Your machine could throw a mainspring and put you into the Mafia! Or, you could find a machine at Goodwill and bammo! You're typing again!

Mafia: Sir! Ain't much for philosophy nor hypotheticals, sir!

Rhino: All right then, I'll keep this simple. Any of you, and I mean *all* of you, are in this here Brigade, whether you're typing or not! And we are going to take 50K Hill together!

All: Sir! Yes sir!

Rhino: What's our battle cry?

All: Sir! Coffee-extra-strong-with-cream-and-two-sugars, sir!

Rhino: What's our *other* battle cry?


Rhino: You're damn right. I'll be honest with you, Brigadiers. All of you will be facing Doubt and Uncertainty this month. There's a little bit of the enemy in all of us! But if you start to waver, if your courage starts to fail, just remember: old General Rhino is right there behind you, to give you what you need. And what is that, Brigadiers?

All: A sharp poke in the butt, sir!

Rhino: Correct! You're an inspiration, all of you. Now! Line up in time-zone order, get your machines at the ready, and I want to see you come out writing! Is that clear?


Rhino: Where are we going?


Rhino: When are we going?


Rhino: All right, then, Brigade. Dissssssss-missed! Get out there and WRITE!


Wednesday, October 29, 2014


So have you seen the Hemingwrite? Here's a rendering:

 In a nutshell:
  • "Mechanical" keyboard (meaning using switches like the coveted IBM Model M)
  • e-ink screen
  • Aluminum body
  • Aiming for 6-week battery life
  • Magic hand-waving about saving to the cloud (Google Docs, Evernote?) over WiFi
Knowing my gadgetry predilections, my well-meaning family keeps emailing me stories about this mockup/prototype/thingus.

My honest take: I don't like it.

Or more specifically, I don't like what it touts itself to be: some kind of a return to the "simplicity of a 90s era word processor" (their words.) Really, I think it's just trying too hard, like the highly-priced reproductions of vintage technology from Restoration Hardware. It's just so... twee. And I remember the word processors of the 90s, and they were far from simple. Disk drives, endless functions and modes and styles and so on. Hateful things.

But why stop at the 90s? Why not go back another decade or so? What's that old quote about failing to learn from history?

Tandy Model 100

Cambridge Z88/Sinclair Z88

And of course the modern incarnation, evolved from decades of being in the single-purpose device market. A market that has shrunk drastically, alas.

Neo Rhino

This is a well-worn path, and I'm just a shade skeptical of the Hemingwrite, if it ever comes to pass at all. Six weeks of battery life, you say? Yeah... maybe. The Neo claims about 700+ hours on AA batteries, with no WiFi on board. Oh, and it's light, durable, and dead simple.

But maybe Hemingway would have thrived on a more high-tech typewriter? Ruben Bolling speculates...

(click to read on Boing Boing)

Thursday, October 23, 2014


First: NaNoWriMo starts in ten days -- less, actually. So I'm freaking out, because of this year's pledge to Lack a Plan and just to Go With It Come What May.

I'm drowning the panic in tasty snacks...

Planning versus pudding

and getting the Beast in its usual spot...

NaNoWriMo: the niche

...and for some reason, this year, I have decided that a board game needs to be designed, allowing the hapless reader to re-live the dramatic point of the plot when [REDACTED], which I'm sure you'll agree might be kind of interesting. And this means that I need to archive a link to this hex graph paper PDF generator. Because, you know, it's not like I'm going to be writing a novel or anything during this time.

So this is how my brain rewards me for joining the "Team Pantsless" crowd this year. Yay brain!

Monday, October 13, 2014


Holy crap this year, guys. It's just been... and then this summer... I have no words. Honestly.

Normally this is the point of the year where I humblebrag about outlining and plotting and prepping for NaNoWriMo. It's become something of a thing.

This year? Nothing. I really have nothing at all. The muse? She is silent.

I have no outline, no notes, no cards. Nada. Zip. Zilch. I'm fully and squarely in the Pantser Club this November for the first time ever. Even my inaugural year way back in 2007 had a loose outline cobbled together on Halloween night. Never mind that I rapidly diverged from it and wound up skipping whole sections when I got stuck. I'm older and wiser now.

Older, anyway.

The forums are reset, the Typewriter Brigade rises again...

...and I've got a set of "Rory's Story Cubes" that my kids gave me some years back to provide impromptu inspiration.

Rory's Story Cubes

This could go well, this could go horribly, but I need a little crash of rhinos this year (or a crash of little rhinos.) Who's in?