Why Scrivener is every indie author’s very best friend

Two words – dynamic text.

Scrivener app by Literature & Latte. Buy on iTunes now.
Scrivener app by Literature & Latte. Buy on iTunes now.

We’ll get back to what that means.

Planning for the publication of his debut novel, Two Crows, with my friend David Dakan Allison, one question came up again and again. How do we make the ebook?

The answer, of course, is Scrivener by an app makers Literature & Latte that, if you are a writer and don’t use yet, you should purchase and start using immediately.

The first reason to use Scrivener is that it’s hierarchical “ringbinder” approach to organising a text channels you, as a writer, in to a number of useful habits. All writing is fractal in nature, and none more so than stories. Every scene in a story is itself a mini story, with it’s own beginning, middle and end. And every beat in every scene is an even more miniature story in its own right. Scrivener’s structural tools encourage you to think this way, and make organising your text easy.

“Plain text is your friend when moving your writing from one app to another.”

Scrivener’s “ringbinder” tools also make it the perfect word processor for this era of digital writing. Take a moment to think about how text works. I’ll bet good money that unless you have some experience in web design, blogging, or other areas of digital writing, you’ll be thinking in the PRINT PARADIGM.

In the days of print, the publisher determined how the reader saw the text. The publisher controled every element of typesetting, layout, fonts, titles, illustrations. The printed page of a book, magazine or newspaper means you can control exactly how the text appears. You’re working with a structural approach to text, where you determine the structure.

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The DIGITAL PARADIGM flips this over on it’s head. the person determining how a text looks is the reader, and crucially, the device the reader is reading on. Your ebook will look different on a Kindle than it does on an iPhone, than it does on an Android tablet, than it does on a laptop. And on each of these devices, the reader can choose to change elements like the size and style of font at their own whims.

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Digital publishing means thinking about text dynamically. It’s no longer vital how the text is formatted. Much more important is how the text flows on all the different devices it will be viewed upon. And Scrivener is the perfect tool for working with text in this way. Scrivener encourages you to forget about formatting, focus on writing the raw text, and determine how it will look when you actually compile your ebook.

Scrivener’s compilation tools are immensely powerful. A standard novel manuscript of some 100,000 words in 30 or so chapters, dived into a number of parts, can be exported for any digital format and to work on any device you might wish. Ebook formatting is relatively simple, but a single mistake can leave your text in chaos, as chapters collide in to one another. Scrivener’s tools allow you to make simple but strong formatting choices that will degrade gracefully, even if viewed on wildly disparate devices. And all without knowing a single formatting tag.

The idea of ‘workflow’ gets mentioned a lot in digital publishing, what does this mean?
You can simply your life immensely as a self publisher by doing things in the most efficient order. Have your text fully edited before compiling your ebook. Keep a master version of your Scrivener file, that you tweek for different ebook formats. Check your formatting is perfect before uploading to ebook stores. This sounds like common sense, but in the fear and excitement of publishing deadlines, common sense often goes right out the window. Know your workflow, and stick to it.

Do you have to work directly in Scrivener?
Not necessarily. I do much of my writing in Evernote for simple convenience, and then once I have a chunk of text I move it in to that project’s Scrivener file. The thing to be wary of is carrying formatting over from a word-processor like Microsoft Word on Pages for Mac. These apps use arcane formatting systems that can completely screw up your ebook formatting and waste a lot of time while you track down the bugs. Plain text is your friend when moving your writing from one app to another.

Can Scrivener make an illustrated book or even a comic book?
The basic answer is no. Scrivener can only deal with simple images and image formatting, but then this is true of most ebook formats, which are focused purely on text. What Scrivener can do is give you a structured text fill which you can then import to another programme, for instance iBooks Author, and create image and multimedia driven designs. But, it’s worth noting, these books will be specific to those platforms, and you’ll have to do a new design job for every platform you want to reach. If you’re looking to do graphic intensive publishing on many platforms, you’ll need Adobe InDesign, a far more expensive and time consuming option, and also total overkill for most indie authors.

Tolkien’s myths are a political fantasy

It’s a double-edged magical sword, being a fan of JRR Tolkien. On one hand we’ve had the joy of watching Lord of the Rings go from cult success to, arguably, the most successful and influential story of the last century. And we get to laugh in the face of critics who claimed LotR would never amount to anything, while watching a sumptuous (if absurdly long) adaption of The Hobbit.

On the other hand, you also have to consider the serious criticisms made of Tolkien’s writing, such as Michael Moorcock’s in his 1978 essay, Epic Pooh. As a storyteller Tolkien is on a par with Homer or the anonymous bard behind Beowulf, the epic poets who so influenced his work. But as works of modern mythology, the art Tolkien called “mythopoeia”, both Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are open to serious criticism.

Read more.

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Indie authors! Is your editor wasting your money?

I only get to help two or three writers a year develop their work, but nearly all the authors I help have a tale of editing woe. And it’s nearly always the same tale. They sent their book to a freelance fiction editor, but what they got back were basic spelling and grammar corrections that any English Literature graduate could make.

With the explosion of independent publishing opportunities via the Amazon Kindle and other ebook stores, it’s now common practice for writers to employ freelance editors as part of the creative team supporting their work. For authors new to the publishing process however, finding a good editor is remarkably hard.

Can you edit your own work? The answer to this question is, can you edit your own work?

This is partly because good editors are hard to find. Many writers work on intuition and “gut feeling”. An editor needs to know exactly what works on the page and why, at every level from word choice and sentence composition, up to dramatic structure and thematic devices. And they need to be able to communicate it back to the writer in a way that will improve the book. A rare combination of skills.

There are certain tell tale signs of bad editing. It tends to focus on spelling and grammar, which while important concerns, aren’t the key focus of a good editorial process. It uses opinion and vague language; “this didn’t grab me”, “this needs more pace”. Imagine taking your car to the garage and the mechanic telling you it needs to go faster. You’re editor is there to tell you exactly what tweaks and tune-ups the engine of your story needs to “go faster”.

To get the best value for your money when employing an editor, you need to know what a good editorial process does involve. Editing is commonly divided in to three different kinds, and most books need all three at the right point in their development. These might well come from different editors – a development edit needs quite different focus from a copyedit. (I’m a useless copy editor, so I hand that work over to other people when it’s needed.)

1. Development Edit – this can happen at any point from a book’s first conception, but it’s most commonly done after the first draft. When the editor and agent have an existing relationship they might well begin collaboration at the outline stage of a novel, with the editor making suggestions before any substantial writing begins. The focus of a development edit is the story. Common editorial guidance at this stage might include tweaking where the story’s inciting incident, combining characters that share the same function in the story, developing tension and suspense in a flagging mid-story,  or flipping audience sympathies to create an explosive story climax. If there are major stylistic issues in the writing, a development edit will address those as well. For instance, if the writer’s use of point-of-view is inconsistent, an editor will point out examples and ask for it to be addressed in the next draft.

2. Deep Edit – can only happen once there is a solid first draft, but before a final draft is made. Doing it earlier can mean a lot of wasted work, as the development edit can knock out entire scenes and chapters from the story.  If the development edit is about pushing the story to its fullest potential, the deep edit is about carving the writing in to the best possible shape. Does every sentence have a good rhythm? Is the narrative voice consistent? Is this line of description a confusing mixed metaphor? Does the dialogue all relate to each character’s motivation?  Does every scene lead to a clear dramatic turning point? Do all these long passages of internal monologue add or detract from the story? These are the kinds of questions a good editor is addressing at this stage. It’s skilled and time consuming work. Consequentially, deep edits are expensive. Many professionally published authors don’t get deep editing support. But anyone who knows what they are looking for can see the difference instantly in a book which has been through deep editing.

3. Copy Edit – the last edit made on a text. A copy edit is about killing off as many textual anomalies as possible, things like spelling and grammar errors that throw a reader out of their immersion in the story. It can also include fact checking and logic errors. If a man sits down at a three legged table, he won’t feel it wobble for instance. Repeated words, repetitive sentences, repeated words, repetitive sentences, anything that might make the book look less than professional. A copy edit is never 100%. There will always be text errors. But there’s a major difference between three errors in a book and three errors per page in the impression a text makes on a reader.

Two-Crows-KINDLE-COVER
Two Crows by David Dakan Allison. Buy now.

How much editing does an independently published book need? It’s one of those piece of string questions, and it really varies from book to book. Two Crows by David Dakan Allison came to me needing a strong development edit and minor deep editing and copy editing. David’s writing style was already clear, concise and polished, and with work on the novel’s dramatic structure we were able to turn the book in to a winner through a relatively simple editorial process. In contrast, I’ve turned down two clients in the last year whose books simply weren’t ready to be edited.

One important consideration for independent authors is the more basic question, is my book ready to be edited? Employing a professional editor is a very expensive way to buy writing lessons. Realistically, even the best editorial process can only upgrade the quality of a text by one or two grades. Most editors will offer a preliminary read for a fee, and a good editor will tell you if a book isn’t ready and why.

Can you edit your own work? The answer to this question is, can you edit your own work? Most writers can’t, but some, often those who have worked as editors as well, can do so reasonably well. But editing is a valuable creative collaboration, and your entire writing career is likely to be poorer without it.

 

Frank Herbert, legendary author of Dune, on the vital importance of story

Frank Herbert’s Dune is one of the most successful novels in history. A defining work of science fiction, Dune still outsells most new novels in the genre to this very day, almost 50 years after its publication.

“What is “story”? It’s the quality that keeps the reader following the narrative.”

While none of Herbert’s sequels, or the poorly written cash-in prequels by other writers, ever matched the quality of the original novel, in Dune Herbert proved himself to be a master novelist. In this advice originally published in the 2nd Writers of teh Future anthology, Frank Herbert discusses his most basic interest as a writer – story.

Dune.
Dune by Frank Herbert. Read now.

 

“The single most important piece of advice I ever got was to concentrate on story. What is “story”? It’s the quality that keeps the reader following the narrative. A good story makes interesting things happen to a character with whom the reader can identify. And it keeps them happening, so that the character progresses and grows in stature.

A writer’s job is to do whatever is necessary to make the reader want to read the next line. That’s what you’re supposed to be thinking about when you’re writing a story. Don’t think about money, don’t think about success; concentrate on the story—don’t waste your energy on anything else. That all takes care of itself, if you’ve done your job as a writer. If you haven’t done that, nothing helps.”

~Frank Herbert

6 signs your novel may be pretty damn good

Why do readers love some novels, but not others? Often we do hand wavy gestures at this kind of question, while intoning the magic word “subjective subjective subjective”. Yes, different people like different things. But there are a few qualities which many, many popular stories have in common.

Editors, agents and other professionals in the the publishing industry look for these qualities in the novels they choose to represent. This is as true for independently published authors as it is for those who choose the traditional route. Each year I’m only able to work with two or three writers to help edit and market their novels. So I have to choose the ones I think are likely to do the best with my help.

Two-Crows-KINDLE-COVER
Two Crows by David Dakan Allison. Buy now on Amazon.

A few chapters in to my first read through of David Dakan Allison’s novel Two Crows, I could see it had many of the core qualities of a successful novel. The book needed a strong structural edit, which I could provide, and it needed help finding its niche in the publishing market, also an area I could help with. But fundamentally, there was a strong series of commercial novels in Two Crows and its sequels.

There are six core qualities for a strong commercial novel, which I use as signs that a novel might be pretty damn good! I can’t guarantee that every writer, editor or publishing professional knows these, but I can say that if your aim is to create popular stories that reach a wide readership, hitting these markers certainly won’t hurt.

High Concept – the whole concept of a high concept has a bad reputation with some writers. But the truth is, if your book doesn’t have a singular focus that is original and engages the reader’s attention, very few people are likely to expend time and effort on reading it. This is clearly true of commercial fiction. Harry Potter is the story of an orphan boy who goes to magic school. Each volume is a new school year. It’s clear, and it frames everything else that happens in the story. But this is also true of literary fiction. Underworld by Don DeLillo is a multilayered tapestry of human life and politics. But stitching it all together is a baseball, hit on a home run on the first day of the Cold War, and the novel follows all the lives the baseball touches, through to the end of the cold war. A high concept and a half!

Larger Than Life Characters – most people, faced with a terrorist takeover of a jet liner, stay in their seat. Your characters are the people who get up and organise to take the plane back. Playwright David Mamet argues (correctly I believe) that the single most fascinating thing in the world is a strong willed human being. Most people aren’t strong willed. They conform to the world, rather than bending the world to their will. Your characters are absolutely not “most people”. When war scout Two Crows rides across the desert after being shot in the back to rejoin his tribe, he isn’t being most people! Again, this is as true in a small and intimate story as it is in an epic. Most people hang around in crappy, abusive relationships for years. Your character is the person who walks out the door, and your story is what happens next.

Inspiring Locations – one of the reasons we pick up a novel is to experience places and experiences unlike our daily life. There’s a reason why James Bond’s adventures don’t take him to Slough or Clacton-on-Sea. Or why Star Wars isn’t set in a galaxy quite close to home. On the immediate level, locations that have natural beauty, or even alienating strangeness, are the ones readers will gravitate towards. A tropical paradise, an urban metropolis, an icy moon orbiting a black hole, or the rolling prairies of Montana. These are places many people might like to experience. In a more granular analysis, inspiring locations tend to attract interesting people. If you want to write a political thriller, it’s not going to work set in a provincial town in Derbyshire. You simply won’t find many political power brokers in Bakewell. On the other hand, it’s exactly the kind of place you might find a retired crime solving lady like Miss Marple. There are no absolutes with location, but you do need a good one!

Close Relationships – one of the reasons I saw potential in Two Crows was because, despite crossing almost two centuries of time, the half-dozen characters at the centre of the story were all very closely related, by family, friendships and rivalries. Think very hard about your life. How many people are you really, deeply and truly related to? A dozen? At their most fundamental 99.99% of the stories people love are about relationships between siblings, children and parents, best friends, lovers or lifelong rival. And if they aren’t, they are about relationships that gain equal intensity. In Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, the lead detective and the serial killer he is pursuing barely meet. But they share elements of the same pathological personality, that manifest in different ways. A profound and intense relationship.

High Stakes – is your story about saving the world? Lord of the Rings is. Every life in Middle Earth turns on Frodo’s mission to destroy the One Ring. Epic stories turn either on the fate of the world, or of a city or community of another kind. The heroes actions avert a disaster, or bring a gift, that improves everyone else’s life. And the stakes must be equally high within the context of a smaller story. Jane Austen isn’t talking trivia when she describes Elizabeth Bennets quest for a happy marriage in Pride and Prejudice. Every other moment of her heroines life turns on her marriage, at a time when most women were trapped in loveless unions of economic advantage. What would not have worked is if Jane Austen had based the story around Lizzy’s regular sewing circle evenings, which while fun, had little bearing on her fate. You get the point.

Multiple Points-of-View – we all see the world through our own eyes, but the world is crowded with many points of view. It’s a fundamental aspect of human psychology that our view is fundamentally self centred, and therefore inaccurate. To show us the full picture then, stories need to take us through multiple character’s points of view. Many novels do this literally, such as the hyper-succesful Game of Thrones books by George R R Martin, which dedicate one chapter at a time to each of a half dozen POV characters. Other novels stay in a single POV, through which we encounter numerous other characters who see the events of the story very differently. Either choice is fine. The important issue is that, one way or another, we see the world of the book through more than one limited, subjective set of eyes.

(It’s worth noting that these six points can also make a brilliant structure when pitching a story idea. Don’t try describing a convoluted plot in a few sentences. Set-up the concept, introduce the location, pin down the characters and their relationships, then hit your audience with the stakes. You’ll see film trailers do this over and over again, because it works.)

Writing is the best therapy

Perhaps I overstate my case. If writing isn’t THE best therapy. It’s a very good one. And an excellent article at Harvard Business Review sheds some light on why.

I am not alone in believing that writing can have a stress reducing and revelatory effect. A research psychologist at the University of Texas, James Pennebaker, has conducted a number of controlled experiments that confirm the effectiveness of writing as a therapeutic tool. He found that writing about thoughts and feelings arising from a traumatic or stressful event—what he calls expressive writing—helped many people cope with the emotional fallout of the events, and they experienced less mental and physical damage in the long run.

Pennebaker also found that writing had long-term effects on diseases such as asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, and arthritis. It turns out that when people write (or use dictation) approximately twenty minutes a day for three to four consecutive days (preferably at the end of the day), they will likely have fewer medical visits (half the rate of the people who don’t write or use dictation).

The Wave in the Mind by Ursula K Le Guin
The Wave in the Mind by Ursula K Le Guin

I worked with writing for many years in therapeutic settings, and can add some first hand observations on the therapeutic value of writing. Have you ever imagined a story in deep, immersive detail and then sat down to write it, only to find that all you have are a few shredded images and shades of emotion? (This is, incidentally, why writers learn to dream on the page, as dreaming done off it is largely wasted effort.) We’re wired to believe that our thoughts are whole and complete. But my experience is that our minds befuddle us with mere fragments of ideas. It’s only when you sit to write them down that the thoughts take on concrete form in words. Writing is, in the most literal terms, thinking.

The problem with those fragmentary, illusory thoughts is that the mind can turn them over and over forever without reaching any useful conclusion. If that’s true with stories, it’s twice as true with worries. Bad memories and fears for the future sit in our mind, half born, but filling us with anxiety. Which becomes stress. Which in turn becomes all of the chronic physical conditions noted above, and many more.

The act of writing our worries down forces them to take form. 9 times out of 10 we realise the worry has no form, or that missed essential facts make it irrelevant. Your mind is worrying on a trip to the dentist that will be terribly painful. When you write the worry down, you realise the dentist won’t hurt at all, and will actually relieve the pain you are already feeling. On the occasions the worry is real, writing it down can help place the problem in the context of our life as a whole, and achieve kinds of healing that are much harder when the fear is unexpressed.

All writing has therapeutic value, but sitting to write about traumatic experiences can be in itself traumatic.

You have to be careful about using the tool, however. Pennebaker cautions that writing about trauma may initially trigger temporary distress. He also emphasizes that the timing of the writing matters. Studies have shown that people who write about a traumatic event immediately after it has occurred may actually feel worse after writing about it, possibly because they are not yet ready to face it. Pennebaker advises his clients to wait at least one or two months after a traumatic event before writing about it.

Therapeutic writing is best done with some guidance from a fellow writer, or if alone, at a time and place where you can banish the negative emotions after you have raised them. I do my own writing practice in the early morning, when the clear light of a new day can burn away feelings of anger, hurt or other suffering that the “morning pages” might bring up.

Read more about writing and the art of creative recovery in the work of Julia Cameron or explore meditation and wordplay with Gail Sher’s One Contnuous Mistake

The less secure I am, the happier I become

Almost two years ago I ditched all my worldly goods, except for a backpack and a laptop, and went travelling. I suspect many people would assume an experience of that kind would be a little scary and make them feel rather insecure. But for me, the opposite is true. Getting rid of the physical possessions that most people rely on for a sense of security has made me feel much happier. But why?

Alan Watts was very close to my age of 37 when he published The Wisdom of Insecurity, the book that first brought him to widespread public attention. Today Watt’s philosophy of Zen buddhism and Eastern wisdom is more familiar, but in the first half of the 20th century, before the counter culture, his worldview was radically different from mainstream society.

alanwatts_wisdomofinsecurity
The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts

 

Most of us believe that we become more secure by protecting our self. The world, we believe, is an aggressive place, so the more we can separate our self from the world, the safer we will become. So we walls and houses, make laws, employ police and security guards and imprison people who break the rules. We separate ourselves from nature, and panic when dirt or insect life invade our artificial spaces. And we hoard things, we fill our houses with stuff because it makes us feel secure. And most of all, we crave money. We live our entire lives in relation to financial calculations of what will make us richer or poorer.

The irony, as Watt’s adroitly points out, is that the very things that make us feel secure, actually increase the risks and problems in our life. Cut off in our houses, watching our tvs, we lose the community, family and friendships that actually make us secure. Divorced from the natural world we plunge in to depression and behaviours like overeating, which create so many of the health  problems from heart disease to cancer that cripple our lives. We pursue money, but lose sight of real wealth. Our bank balances swell, but we miss all the experiences that make life valuable.

“the working inhabitants of a modern city are people who live inside a machine to be batted around by its wheels”

The wise alternative, as the title of Watt’s short book make clear,  is to actively choose insecurity. We’re actually more secure with fewer material possessions, because we are more flexible and better able to adapt to change. We are more secure living in a community than walled away from other people in our houses. We are more secure if money is distributed around the community, rather than hoarded by the most fearful individuals, so that no one is hungry or has reason to steal. These things seem obvious when considered openly. And yet we continue to repeat the same mistaken drive for security over and over again.

The Wisdom of Insecurity is a wonderful expression of Zen buddhist philosophy, addressed to the modern desire for security and the plague of anxiety that dogs modern life. Our material circumstances seem better than ever, and yet we live in states of anxiety that are barely comprehensible. Watt’s makes the cause of that anxiety blindingly clear, and his book is an essential read for anyone attempting to unpick their terror in the machinery of modern life.

“The externalised symbol of this way of thinking is that almost entirely rational and inorganic object, the machine, which gives us the sense of being able to approach infinity. For the machine can submit to strains far beyond the capacity of the human body. and to monotonous rhythms which the human being could never stand. Useful as it would be as a tool and a servant, we worship its rationality, its efficiency, and its power to abolish limitations of time and space, and thus permit it to regulate our ives. Thus the working inhabitants of a modern city are people who live inside a machine to be batted around by its wheels. They spend their days in activities which largely boil down to counting and measuring, living in a world of rationalised abstraction which has little relation to or harmony with the great biological rhythms and processes.” 

If you recognise yourself,  batted around by the machine’s wheels and pushed in to action by your iPhone status alerts, the The Wisdom of Insecurity is one step towards finding a different way of being.

Alan Watt’s Zen buddhist wisdom is matched by Thich Nhat Hanh’s five principle of spiritual power and the intelligent insights in to wholehearted living of Brene Brown.

The teachings of Alan Watts animated by the makers of South Park

Yes, the creators of South Park have given many gifts to the world. Now they’ve turned their attention to Buddhism and Zen philosopher Alan Watts by animating a selection of his teachings, in their usually hilarious and irreverent style. It’s wonderful. Press play and enjoy.

And match Watt’s spoken word with his written thoughts in The Way of Zen and This Is It.

Are video games the end for sci-fi novels?

The megastructure is one of science fiction’s most enjoyable guilty pleasures. There is no other genre of literature that takes quite such glee in describing buildings, whether made by the hand of man or alien. Arthur C Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama is little more than a guided tour of the titular spacecraft through the eyes of its human explorers. Only in science fiction can an entire novel be dedicated, in immense descriptive detail, to conveying the spectacle of an imaginary structure to the reader.

SFs most famous megastructure is the ringworld, a stripe of artificially-constructed land encircling a star, first envisioned by author Larry Niven in his 1970 novel Ringworld. The idea made Niven one of the most famous SF authors of his day, at a time when the novel was still the most powerful way of casting the full spectacle of sci-fi into the imaginations of the audience. Movies and television reached a far larger audience, but too often fell short of the spectacle sci-fi readers created for themselves.

Read more.

The shitty #vatmoss laws mirror our shitty piracy laws

If you haven’t encountered it already #VATMOSS refers to a bloody awful new law passed by the European Union on the taxation via VAT of digital goods – which includes things like ebooks and online courses. The aim of the law is to stop Amazon and other big digital retailers from running all their VAT through Luxembourg and hence dodging taxes. The outcome – intended or otherwise – is that every single person or business selling any digital product to anyone in the EU has to register for VAT. A massive and expensive admin burden, so expensive it will stop most of those people trading.

Crappy huh? It’s certainly in the running for shittiest law ever written. There’s a petition to stop it here, you should go and sign it.

“All of us, us citizens of this world, need to get much better at seeing the big picture of laws made to govern digital technology.”

There is also a lesson to be taken from #VATMOSS, one we all need to start learning. In reality, unless tax authorities aggressively enforce these new laws, most people will ignore them. In this regard, #vatmoss is very similar to the current laws on digital file sharing, commonly called piracy. Potentially huge fines and prison sentences can be used against people who pirate digital goods, but because so many people do just that, in practice the laws are not enforced, except in largely futile “show cases” that inflict horrific damage on a few individuals, in defence of laws that no sane government would every pass, let alone enforce.

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Information Doesn’t Want To Be Free by Cory Doctorow

 

#VATMOSS and our piracy laws both exist for the same reason. The attempt to treat digital goods in the same way we treat physical goods. Everyone knows that digital goods AREN’T the same as physical goods, so why are our governments proceeding as though they are. In both cases it’s because of vested interests, who want to hold back progress to defend the status quo that happens to benefit them (and their bank balance).

Our piracy laws have been heavily lobbied for by media corporations, including major publishers. Those businesses have an established business model, and they want digital goods to fit in to it. Creators tend to support these laws. Most writers I know are against piracy, and consider it theft. There are notable exceptions of course. I’m quite outspoken in favour of file sharing. Not because I want to hurt the careers of writers, but because I want to see laws that are in line with reality. And the reality is digital music, films and books etc can and will always be shared and pirated by people. We need laws that work WITH those facts, not laws that IGNORE facts in favour of vested interests.

The facts are that millions of people now make small, or occasionally large, sums of money selling digital goods online. Making a law to make all of those people sign up for VAT in a dozens of countries is patently ridiculous. And yet, here we are. Because once again, our law makers are treating digital goods like physical goods. In the case of #VATMOSS this seems to be primarily a matter of ignorance, and governments who simply don’t understand that millions of their citizens are exercising their entrepreneurial talents and generating wealth by making and selling digital products. But I would not be surprised if any number of vested interests have nudged the #VATMOSS laws in their current absurd direction.

All of us, us citizens of this world, need to get much better at seeing the big picture of laws made to govern digital technology. I’ve offended no small number of my fellow writers by telling them bluntly I think they are selfish to support existing piracy laws. Yes, I understand the pain of people copying your books without paying. But that’s simply the world we live in now, and supporting laws that aren’t in line with that reality are not a solution. And in the mid to long term, it leads to laws like #VATMOSS, that most writers will be against. We all need to start prioritising the common good in digital law making, otherwise the digital commons will quickly be divided between more powerful vested interests.

Why has the imagination been sidelined in literature?

Imagination is a powerful force for progress. So why has it been sidelined in the one place it should be most welcome – literature.

In his now famous quote, Albert Einstein claimed that imagination was more important than knowledge. When Einstein wrote those words in 1929, those who knew about such things might have said putting a man on the moon was impossible. But those who imagined more, including writers of science fiction, knew better. We know that imagination is a powerful force for progress in our lives and in society. And yet it seems that in the place imagination should be most celebrated – in stories, fiction and literature – it has long been sidelined.

The Wave in the Mind by Ursula K Le Guin
The Wave in the Mind by Ursula K Le Guin

Ursula K Le Guin, arguably the greatest living writer of imaginative literature, made a powerful defence of imagination in her speech to the National Book Awards on Thursday, at which she was presented a lifetime achievement award. Le Guin dedicated her win to the “the realists of a larger reality” who for 50 years had been excluded from literature’s awards, her “fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction – writers of the imagination.”

It’s hard to dispute the exclusion of writers of imagination from mainstream literature, not simply from its prizes but from every part of literary culture. But why has this happened? The standard explanation draws on one part quality – genres like science fiction simply aren’t “well written” enough – and two parts the idea that imagination is in some way childish. Writers of imagination are fine when they address children and adolescents, but adults are meant to get their head out of the clouds and keep their feet firmly planted in reality.

This idea reaches further than literature of course. Over the same five decade period Le Guin references, our education system has systematically sidelined the imaginative disciplines of the arts and humanities, until we find ourselves at the position today where any non STEM subject has seen a de facto obliteration of its status and funding. That’s not a criticism of STEM subjects or their creative potential, but as Einstein was trying to tell us, those subjects are at their strongest when honed by a powerful imagination.

Such an imagination can look at our world today and see the vast potential for it’s future, and the terrible risks that threaten progress. It’s no coincidence that the imaginative literature of science fiction has made utopia – the discussion of how to make a better world (a discussion Le Guin has played no small part in) – one of its core themes. It seems more than credible that the forces that might lead us to a dystopian future might tend to surpress those powerful imaginations that can envision their defeat.

Imaginative literature itself has been in a virtual civil war in recent years. When fantasy novelist N K Jemisin called for a global literature of imagination, in a speech that echoes Le Guin’s both in its meaning and its passionate intensity, it was a recognition that imagination can not be limited by gender or race. But the venomous, racist attacks made on Jemisin in response suggest that some, a small but bitter minority, do not agree. When that same, bitter minority were involved with block voting at this years Hugo awards, they were sent packing by award voters outraged at an attempt to limit and politicise imaginative fiction.

Anne Leckie’s clean sweep of this years major awards for science fiction, and Sofia Samatar’s victory at the World Fantasy Award, suggest imaginative literature is indeed becoming global and starting to overcome boundaries that had held it back. Despite, or perhaps because, of the barriers placed in its path, imaginative literature arrives in 2014 far stronger than it has been for decades. Ursula Le Guin’s honouring at the National Book Awards is one of many indications that, far from being excluded any more, imaginative literature is now at the very heart of literary life.

But if anyone is responsible for that change it is not publishers, or even writers, but readers. The internet and it’s massive disruption of the traditional publishing industry has allowed readers not just to vote with their wallets, but to evangelise for imaginative literature across thousands of blogs and fan forums, to support diverse new writing through crowdfunding and other platforms, and to become the new writers, editors and independent publishers of imaginative literature. There’s a grass routes revolution in publishing, and the power of imagination is at its heart.

Can you name Arthur C. Clarke’s top 5 astounding predictions?

An excellent guest post today from Jared Hill, a blogger living in Chicago who reads science fiction avidly, and who is also keen on sports and film. Arthur C Clarke was a visionary ahead of his time, but do you agree with Jared’s picks for the great sci-fi writer’s top 5 astounding predictions? Follow Jared on Twitter @JaredHill341

“Arthur C Clarke accurately predicted the rise of the internet, and even further, online banking almost to the year.”

When famed science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke passed away in 2008, he left behind an immense and multi-faceted legacy. Clarke, alongside contemporaries such as Isaac Asimov, demonstrated that science-fiction literature can enrich public discourse about the role of technology in society. Clarke was the son of a radio operator and his early exposure to the rapidly developing field of electronics led to a preternatural ability to imagine applications for future technology. His reputation as a visionary author was so powerful that when film auteur Stanley Kubrick was looking for a screenwriter for a science fiction film in 1964, he reached out to Clarke, who was living in seclusion in Sri Lanka at the time. The script he wrote would end up becoming 2001: A Space Odyssey and it would contain some of his boldest, and most precise, predictions.

In honor of Sir Arthur C. Clarke, his most noteworthy predictions have been compiled below:

Communications Satellites

In a 1964 BBC Special entitled Horizon, Clarke enumerated his personal predictions for the world of 2000 in honor of the 1964 New York World’s Fair. In the special he stated that satellites would “make possible a world where we can be in instant contact with each other, wherever we may be” and for those of us living in the present, Clarke had no idea how correct he really was. Strangely enough, Clarke’s predictions for a global telecommunications network were spawned in 1945 by a 28-year old Clarke in an article that he wrote for Wireless World entitled “Extra-Terrestrial Relays: Can Rocket Stations Give World-Wide Radio Coverage?”, regarding the potential uses of geostationary satellites. Clarke theorized that :rocket which achieved a sufficiently great speed in flight outside the earth’s atmosphere would never return.” Once the rocket reached orbital velocity, it would become “an artificial satellite, circling the world forever with no expenditure of power — a second moon, in fact.” Bear in mind that Clarke’s paper was written well over a decade before the former U.S.S.R. sent Sputnik into orbit. Today, telecommunications satellites in geostationary orbits have made the wireless information age possible and it was theorized and predicted in its entirety by Clarke decades in advance.

The Internet

As mentioned previously, Clarke’s mother was a radio operator and in this light it becomes clear why Clarke was so intuitive regarding wireless communications, but his theories extended beyond just communications, but also to the internet as a whole. Clarke’s article on geosynchronous satellite networks helped spur interest in the subject, and NASA actually began collaborating with Howard Hughes on the Telstar project in the early sixties (which ultimately set the path for everything from satellite television broadcasts to HughesNet internet plans as we know them today). As the technology was being developed, Clarke became a mainstay on televisions shows, and when speaking to an Australian news program in 1974 he told the host that by the turn of the century, people would be able to access “all the information needed for everyday life: bank statements, theater reservations, all the information you need over the course of living in a complex modern society.” For comparison, online banking services weren’t popularized until the late 1990’s and by 2000 80% of banks offered online banking, showing that Clarke accurately predicted the rise of the internet, and even further, online banking almost to the year.

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2001 A Space Odyssey by Arthur C Clarke

Personal Computers

Clarke understood how quickly computers were advancing in the 1960’s and 70’s and when he made his predictions about the internet and future society, he also described much smaller computer consoles that would allow users to access infinite information. But the most salient issue he pointed out, at least in this author’s opinion, was that Clarke added that people would “take it as much for granted as we take the telephone.” Clarke envisioned a world where people would use a console at home to communicate with a computer hub, of one kind or another, that would relay pertinent information back to them. Clarke had correctly anticipated that ultimately, home computers would enable humanity to do everything from checking their bank accounts to retrieving theater reservations. Clarke had also made allusions to this concept of a connected web that the whole of civilization was tapped into in his book Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible, when he talks about generations far into the future as “our remote descendants as living in isolated cells, scarcely ever leaving them, but being able to establish instant TV contact with anyone, anywhere else on Earth.”

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The iPad

Following Samsung’s entrance into the touchscreen and tablet arena, Apple furiously pursued their alleged copyright infringements as Steve Jobs had submitted dozens of patents involving the iPhone’s technology. In a desperate move, Samsung cited the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey’s “Newspads” as proof that the design was not originally Apple’s. Clarke’s “Newspads” are practically identical to the popular Apple devices and smartphones and tablets have become fixations in practically the exact same way they were depicted in the film. There was a passage from the 2001 novel that may even cause you to look at iPads in a more whimsical way: “Here he was, far out in space, speeding away from Earth at thousands of miles an hour, yet in a few milliseconds he could see the headlines of any newspaper he pleased. (That very word “newspaper,” of course, was an anachronistic hangover into the age of electronics).”

“men will no longer commute, they will communicate”

Telecommuting

Clarke made several outlandish and inaccurate predictions including bio-engineered ape servants and the dissolution of cities, but the mechanism that Clarke believed would hasten the fall of urban areas did come true: telecommuting. In his 1964 World’s Fair television special, he predicted that by 2000, “men will no longer commute, they will communicate” and that a person could “conduct his business from Tahiti or Bali just as well as he could from London”. Clarke said that telecommuting would ultimately prove to be a “wonderful thing,” if only in that it meant that people “won’t have to be stuck in cities,” and they’d be able to live “out in the country” or wherever they want. Anyone in international business will attest that telecommuting and videoconferencing has saved countless hours of travel and agony as well as millions of dollars and that it is almost exactly as Clarke described.

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