Upper 20’s into work this morning

The street outside my house looked like white velvet under the street light. I crossed my driveway and scuffed my boots across the fuzzy white surface to see if it was slippery. Although it looked intimidating, it felt like bare pavement.

I decided to give it a try.

The temperature was in the upper 20’s when I rolled my bike out of the garage and started it up. Although we had a little bit of freezing fog during the night, the mist had dissipated and I could see stars overhead. My pre-dawn commute would be the first of the week; I had errands each day that demanded use of my car. I flipped my visor down, squeezed in the clutch, dropped it into first gear, gave it some gas and began to roll forward.

It barked far worse than it bit. Although I rode gingerly until I got to the main highway — which is sprayed with de-icer — I never lost traction or felt like I was about to. Once I was on the main highway westbound I knew I was in the clear.

There was an east wind in town that actually warmed things up several degrees. When riding, I can feel even minor temperature differences. The only part of my body that was cold was my cheekbones from the air swirling inside my helmet. Once at work, I dismounted and walked around the dark exterior of the office building and unlocked the front door and entered the warm lobby, ready for another day’s work.

Review: The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction

The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction

by Philip Athans and R. A. Salvatore, 2010

$9.99 (iTunes bookstore) or $11 (paperback from Amazon.com)

When writing a fantasy novel, coming up with a great story is only part of the equation. You could say that’s the roast beef of the meal, but there’s a lot of mashed potatoes and green beans that still need to go with it. If you want to know how to cook the whole meal, The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, by Philip Athans and R. A. Salvatore, is a great cookbook to read.

I purchased the $9.99 electronic edition from the iTunes Bookstore and read it on my iPad. The chapters follow a linear path through the process of writing a fantasy or science fiction novel, from how to come up with ideas to getting it published. The book specifically covers the business and marketing aspect of getting your book published, which is the primary reason I bought it. Athans and Salvatore don’t pull punches when it comes to letting the reader know their chances of making money as an author. That honesty is exactly what aspiring authors need.

There are a lot of books that can help you improve the mechanics of your writing. Writing Worth Reading by Nancy Huddleston Packer (which I’ll review later) is an outstanding example. There are even some books available that focus on getting published. This book, however, is a concise source of both. Consider it a crash course on the gamut of writing and publishing your first fantasy or science fiction novel.

This book is worth far more than the purchase price, making it an outstanding value to beginning novelists like me.

Riding across the metro area

Saturday I rode to Beaverton on the other side of the Portland metropolitan area to visit my good friend, Keith. We used to work together at a dot-com and haven’t seen each other for nine years. He’s thinking about getting into motorcycling so in addition to the visit among friends it was also a chance to have a little Q&A about bikes, riding, safety, training, etc.

The ride itself was about what you’d expect. I took expressways (Highway 26, I-84, I-405, and Highway 26 again) to get there as it was the fastest way across the city. Traffic was thick but wasn’t slow. Riding a motorcycle in an urban environment like that is both stressful and kind of fun in a sick sort of way. There is zero margin for error if you crash — emergency responders would be using sponges to get you off the pavement — but you can maneuver amongst the cars a lot easier. I’m fortunate that my bike is rather tall so I have excellent visibility, and cars see me easier, too. Plus, my jacket and bike combination makes me look similar to a police officer, so that helps as well.

It was foggy and cold going there mid-day, and even foggier and colder on the way home. I got back to my house in Sandy just before dark amidst very thick fog, cold but safe. It’s tiring to ride a motorcycle in the city, and doing so when the weather isn’t 65 degrees and sunny makes it even more of a challenge.

Writing to an outline vs. freestyle

Something unexpected happened to me as I’ve been writing my book. The first three chapters were a stream of consciousness, everything just came out of me as a pure expression of my own creativity. At the end of those three chapters, I read what I had written and thought, “This is pretty good. I’d like to carry on with it and see where it goes, but take it seriously.” So instead of just writing for fun, I decided to make it a formal effort.

As a web developer, I have worked on some very large projects in my career, and have had to use a lot of project management techniques to stay on top of things. Otherwise the project would be too large and I would become overwhelmed. So I outline what needs to be accomplished at a high level and then go back in and fill in the details. I decided to do the same thing with my book. After the first three chapters, I spent several days coming up with the overall plot line and main events. This, too, was a purely creative effort.

The problem came when I tried to sit down and continue writing the additional chapters. I had to fit my writing to the outline that I had created. Without realizing it, I had inadvertently constrained myself within my own boundaries. My creativity was no longer free, and I found it very difficult to write.

It seems counterintuitive; having a guideline of what I’m supposed to create should make the creation process easier. But for me, it doesn’t.

If I write freestyle without any constraints and just let my creativity flow, I think I produce good works but I have no idea if I am going to write myself into a plot hole or create inconsistent character descriptions, etc. in essence I am only looking at the ground immediately in front of my feet. I have no roadmap or destination in mind. If I work with a map (my plot outline) I have a clear idea of where I am going and how to get there, but I lose my creative motivation to take each step necessary to make the journey.