Friday, March 23, 2012

Close the Facebook, forget about Twitter and write something more than 140 characters

My last post was extolling the virtues of the internet as it helped me crowdsource answers for my novel that I wouldn't have had otherwise. Today, I'm gonna talk about how the Internet sucks for writers sometimes.

The most important refrain I hear from published (and successful!) writers is that they made it, not because of talent, or the effort put into marketing, but rather that they write EVERY.SINGLE.DAY. There is nothing else that will be key to your success as a writer than always working to put words on paper (or as it is in our modern era, moving that blinking line to the right).

Getting published is difficult. Why do you want to make it harder by not writing? Facebook will still be there after you throw down a thousand words, so will Twitter. Conceivably, people who read my blog remember when the most advanced thing we had were turntables and AM/FM radios. Twitter, the Internet, and Facebook weren't even on our radars. We survived.

You can survive without Facebook for five hours a day too.

It's tempting, I'll admit. When I get stuck, or need to look up a bit of trivia, I'm more than a little tempted to check Facebook, Twitter, or Fark to see if there's anything new I haven't seen. Studies have shown that the reward response in serotonin levels when you see the red flag on your FB profile are similar to that of a heroin addict.


Or I could be making that up. You'll never know.

So the question becomes, how do you break those habits of constantly checking Facebook/Twitter? It's not easy, but it's like any other bad habit you need to break and that means it's all about breaking patterns. Here are a few tips that have helped me over the last few weeks.

1) When you get stuck on a particular sentence or scene in your book, don't switch to Chrome... look outside the window, get up, stretch, do something that gets you out of your chair and away from the internet/keyboard.

2) Scroll your word doc back to where you began the day and begin rewriting what you've already done. Even if all you've gotten done was one paragraph, the exercise should help refresh why you were writing the scene in the first place. You might also find a better way to phrase things, clarify a character's motivation, scene or situation in a better way.

3) Drink more coffee. Or barring that, something with a high dose of caffeine. It's a proven fact that caffeine helps your concentration. Avoid soda or anything with high doses of sugar. You don't want to crash halfway through your writing session.

4) Start keeping track of your progress. I use Google Calendar for this and it's a great way to keep track of how much you wrote in one day. Similar to how a food journal works, if you see your progress, or if you make yourself responsible for tracking just how much you got done in one day, then you're more invested in seeing that progress get larger over time, and you'll feel more motivated on the days when it feels like nothing is springing forth from your fingers.

5) Write. Write no matter what kind of crap comes out on the page. The important thing is getting words on a page and exercising that muscle in your mind of creating on a daily basis. The metaphors of Marathons, or regular exercise are very apt when it comes to writing in your book. Use it or lose it. The more you do it, the easier it will come to you. Hard work beats talent EVERY SINGLE TIME.

Those are some of the things that have worked for me over the last few weeks. Some might work for you, some might not. The most important thing to take away from this is that you are responsible for your own success and you don't lose sight of your goals. With the internet and its infinite number of distractions, that has become easier than ever. Don't let Facebook win. Write your book instead.

Monday, March 19, 2012

This is why I love the internet

If I have no idea how to describe something or what it might look like, I can crowdsource the answer.

Below is the question I posed to r/askscience on

I'm writing a novel that takes place on a large (fictional) asteroid in orbit just outside (but still within the boundaries of) the Asteroid belt. My real question for the sake of description is how large would Jupiter look from this perspective? - assuming that Jupiter is at the perigee and aligned with my fictional asteroid's orbit. Would you be able to make out the Red Spot or any of the moons with the naked eye? Would it be the size of the moon? Larger? Smaller?
I posted this in [1] /r/astronomy and someone was very helpful in pointing out that Trig is a good way to find this sort of thing, but I'm a writer and haven't the foggiest idea where to start with that.

And the answer quickly sent back for me:

I think this sort of thing is generally measured in [1] minutes of arc.
Now, I've probably messed up my math (read: it wouldn't hurt to do this math for yourself), but if you put your asteroid at about 4.2 AU and Jupiter at perihelion (4.9 AU), Jupiter will have an angular diameter of about 4.6 arc minutes. At the same distance (0.7 AU from you to Jupiter), the Red Spot has an angular diameter of 1.3 arc minutes (taking its true diameter to be approximately 40000 km -- note I took the maximum value that Wikipedia offered).
In comparison, the moon has an angular diameter of about 34.1 arc minutes at perigee. The star (other than the Sun) with largest angular diameter has a diameter of about 0.05 arc seconds (although this number gets somewhat inflated due to atmosphere when viewing from Earth's surface).
Using midnightbaconz' number of about 1.2 AU puts Jupiter's diameter at 2.7 arc minutes, and the red spot's diameter at 0.76 arc minutes.
To give you an idea what minutes of arc mean for the naked eye: the 'nominal' 20/20 vision row on an eye chart has letters which subtend 5 arc minutes (each). As I said, I've probably messed up the math, so I will leave out my conclusions and let you draw your own.

It's awesome what you can do with the internet these days as a writer. Research has become infinitely easier.