List of Writing Posts

5 Software Development Skills That Make Me A Better Writer

It’s no secret that I don’t earn much money from book sales. The bulk of my income comes from my day job: I’m a software developer for a big Canadian health care organization. If you’ve been in a hospital in British Columbia in the past eight years or so, there’s a good chance your doctor used the app I work on.

I don’t talk about my software job much, mainly because it’s not that interesting from the outside looking in. Still, I’m glad to be doing it. It’s challenging without being overly stressful, the people I work with are great, the pay is good by almost any standard, and it leaves me with just enough free time to bash out a book every year.

The importance of a good day job was recently highlighted by Robert Jackson Bennett, a talented, award-winning author who also works a nine-to-five. In particular, Robert suggests you need a steady day job while you’re building your backlist. I agree — in fact, I’ll go one step further and say a good day job might even teach you how to be a better writer.

Looking back on Winterwakers, I notice that a lot of the things I did right involved skills I acquired from the software biz. I’ve compiled (nerd pun intended) the most important ones here. Some are quite obvious, but some may surprise you. Continue Reading

You Have the Right to be Stupid

UPDATED March 27, 9:36 AM: New information about Clean Reader’s status as a book reseller has come to light … see footnote.
UPDATED AGAIN March 27, 10:43 AM: The point has been raised that Clean Reader is marketed as a way to censor books for kids, which raises a lot of thorny issues … see footnote.

A lot of online ink has already been spilled over a controversial new app called Clean Reader. It aims to get naughty words out of your eBooks, and it works by substituting these words with “cleaner” alternatives. “Fuck,” for example, gets replaced by “freak,” which would make Freaks and Geeks a totally different TV show if this were reversed. It also replaces “Jesus Christ,” apparently, which would probably make The Bible a confusing read, especially with all the “damns” and “hells” in there.

In response to the existence of this absurd thing, authors are sharpening their pitchforks en masse. Nothing gets an author’s back up quite like censorship, to the point that even the insinuation of it causes blood to boil. Some are corresponding with Clean Reader, ripping the app developer a new one and demanding to have their books de-listed (Clean Reader, for the record, seems to be taking these requests seriously and acting on them). Others are posting persuasive legal arguments on why Clean Reader’s actions are against the spirit of the law, if not the letter. Here’s a good summary by Chuck Wendig, a man whose books would be rendered completely illegible by the app.

I’ll summarize my view right off the bat: I think Clean Reader is fucking stupid (yes, the wording there is intentional). And of course I am opposed to censorship of creative works. But what Clean Reader does is not illegal, immoral, or any of the other hyperbole being thrown around right now. Continue Reading

My First Published Book: a Retrospective and FAQ

By now, you’re probably aware that Winterwakers Part 1: Cold Hands is officially up for sale on the big online book stores. Or maybe you weren’t aware, perhaps because you don’t follow me on Twitter, or like me on Facebook.

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*clears throat* anyway … Winterwakers is my first book, so this is definitely a huge milestone for me. And yet, there is still so much left to do, not only for the Winterwakers epic itself, but for my writing career as a whole. Publishing Part 1 was big, for sure, but I’ve really only just begun.

I visited with a lot of friends and relatives over the holidays, and many of them were curious about the book, and how it came to be. Over the course of blathering on, some of the same questions came up a few times from different people. Chatting with folks about the book turned out to be a good way to look back at what I’d accomplished, and look ahead at what’s to come.

Thus, here is my FAQ about writing, Winterwakers, or whatever.

1. How long did it take you to write? Well, that depends on your definition of “write.” Typing out the words that make up the book is only one aspect of writing a book. I started that in January 2014 and finished in early March. In terms of hours, I’d guess I spent between ten and twenty hours a week writing during that time.

There’s a lot more to finishing a book than writing the first draft, though. Before I even typed a single word, I made an outline — a note card for each chapter and scene in the book describing what I wanted to happen. That took a few weeks by itself, and it was a very important step. I’m 100% certain I would have never finished writing Part 1 without that outline in place.

Then there was editing, more editing, and even more editing. I spent a couple weeks doing a first pass edit of my first draft, then sent it out to my test readers, a brilliant group of volunteers who read my book in a pretty rough state and gave me notes on it (side note: love you guys!). I gave them two months to submit their feedback (during which time I started writing Part 2), then I did another round of editing, and then another. By this point, it was late August. Continue Reading

Every Writer Deserves a Mechanical Keyboard

keyboard_cmstorm2 One of the great things about writing, when compared to other artistic pursuits, is that it doesn’t cost much. As I said a while back, anyone with a half decent computer has everything they need to write a book. Compare that to the cost of working in the visual arts, music, or film, and writing looks like a pretty sweet deal. (I should know–I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of money on music equipment over the years.)

However, in my experience, there are definitely two things a writer can buy to make writing easier and just … nicer. One is an outstanding software product called Scrivener. There are plenty of blogs out there already singing its praises, so I’ll just say that it’s wonderful, and that I’ll never, ever, ever go back to writing in That Blue Application Which Shall Not Be Named. Today, I’ll focus on the other great writing tool I’ve bought: my CM Storm Quickfire TK mechanical keyboard. It’s wonderful, and I’ll never, ever, ever go back to typing on cheap, squishy keys.

Okay, I’ll bite, Matt: What’s a mechanical keyboard?

The simple explanation: it’s a fancy keyboard for people who type a lot, or people who demand a high degree of accuracy from a keyboard. Writers fit both those categories, especially the typing a lot one.

You can also think of it this way: it’s a high-end keyboard for people who aren’t satisfied with the mushy feel, imprecise action, and slow speed of your typical came-with-the-computer slab. Said people might even remember when keyboards were somehow intangibly better, and yearn for those days. Those people aren’t just crotchety old nutjobs–they’re actually on to something. (Seriously though, you should probably get off their lawns before they throw their canes at you.)

You see, many years ago, every computer keyboard was mechanical. They were much more durable, and noticeably more pleasant to type on. Today’s keyboards are–and I’m not exaggerating in the slightest here–utter garbage in comparison. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say the keyboard is the only piece of computer hardware that has gotten demonstrably worse since it was invented. Continue Reading

I Learn More From a Bad Book Than a Good One

A week ago I finished Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig.  He does some great blogging about the craft of writing, so I went into it with a mindset along the lines of: “you talk a big game, Chucky–let’s see if you have the word-smithing cred to back it up.”

I’m pleased to report that he does, in fact, possess said cred.  Empyrean is a great read; a haves-and-have-nots dystopian tale in the vein of Hunger Games.  It’s that rare, perfect blend of concept and execution.  I plowed through the entire thing in a single weekend, which is pretty fast for me, then picked up the sequel Blightborn without hesitation.

Given that Wendig has a lot to teach us about writing, you’d think that his actual novel would be inspiring, leading me to new insights about the craft.  In fact, I was somewhat excited to read it for that reason alone. Continue Reading