Magic is Real

As a fantasy writer, magic is always a part of my worlds. I revel in designing magic systems and exploring how they might change the world around them. Nothing quite stirs the imagination as magic. Yet, with a degree in physics and a long-running fascination with the secrets of nature, I can’t help but feel a mild frustration at the whole enterprise now and again.

It is easy to find people who are obsessed with the idea of ancient lost knowledge, remedies or truths of ages past… Atlantis, Egyptian pyramids, forgotten cures, mythical secrets, etc. I get it. Mystery and magic are beautiful things, and certainly, relics of lost civilizations are ripe with both. But the problem – – the thing that frustrates me – – is that we haven’t lost magic at all. The problem is, we now dismiss the real thing as if it were banal.

Magic is real.

The truth is our ancestors did find magic. It wasn’t forgotten in obscurity, it was studied, poured over, its rules and patterns and abilities painstakingly studied for centuries. It has allowed us to bend reality to our will in ways that are totally unprecedented in our solar system, possibly our galaxy.

Look around. People are zipping by at extraordinary speed along endless smooth pathways of black pavement, encased in large metal machines. Above, thousands of people are looking down at the clouds from above – – probably bored – – as they roar through the atmosphere in airplanes, higher than any bird, faster than any living thing has a right to go. In much of the world, one need only walk to the sink and flick a metal lever, and cool, drinkable water presents itself in unthinkable supply. The marvels of medicine are a blog post of their own, from repairing small valves in the hearts of babies to replacing missing limbs with prosthetics. Phones, the internet, rockets, plastics, solar power, scuba suits, artificial intelligence … within arms reach of you now are a dozen devices or artifacts of pure magic. Things that manipulate the very roots of nature, and result from decades of arduously unfolding deep – – often inscrutable – – secrets and carefully leveraging them to serve some purpose that would make past humans gape.

And you probably don’t give it a second thought.


Yeah, the pyramids are pretty amazing. But air conditioning is unfathomably more mind-bending. We can change the temperature of entire buildings, having harnessed the magic of thermodynamics. We can do that. We don’t care for cold either, so when it gets cold outside… we can heat whole buildings as well. Buildings, by the way, are giant artificial structures of metal, concrete, and glass. I think if Pharaoh Khufu was shown his pyramid and then the Chrysler building, he would quickly declare which was the most impressive. And that’s before anyone told him one has working toilets.

We live in a culture and age of magic, but unfortunately, it’s lost its mystique… lost its sexiness. Unlike many fantasy stories, real magic is not intuitive and not all powerful. Nor does it answer to the wave of a hand. It is complex – – exceedingly so. It requires math of frightening obscurity and concepts so abstruse it makes the brain hurt. Manipulating it requires precise instruments and sensitive machines (themselves built from more rudimentary understandings of the magic) and the resulting abilities are slow to learn and even slower to leverage. Expanding the magic is incremental. Millimetric. By the time new powers arrive, they are all but taken for granted.

< / End Rant >

Every time an airplane takes off, you should fall to your knees with tears of amazement. How could anyone take for granted that doctors can see through your body, without injuring you, and determine what is wrong inside? The list of truly stupendous, every-day, examples of magic is near enough endless when you stop to reflect upon it.

I love me some history and the mystique of lost cultures deserves the fascination it inspires, but don’t lose track of the facts: We are surrounded by magic. It wasn’t lost in the past. The secrets that worked ultimately prevailed and helped uncover more secrets, and we are now light-years ahead of anywhere our species has been before. Revel in the beauty of it. You are one of the very few lucky enough to see it all happening, to see so much of it come to fruition.

Delight in the magic.

Pantsing vs. Outlining

I am an outliner. I need a plan, I need to know I can hit my beats, I need to know where my characters are going. Therefore, I plan in advance.

Yet, the further I get in this journey, the more I realize what a useless label that really is. The supposed distinction between pantsing and outlining doesn’t exist, as best I can see, and the strange worries that outlining squeezes the life/inspiration/organic chemistry from a story is total nonsense.

The truth is, even the most obsessive outliner is actually a pantser! We just pants from a different distance, before zooming in to find the details. You might say, outlining is pantsing on acid. Pantsing at such a scale and pace it makes me dizzy sometimes. After all, I don’t know anyone who sits down and recites their fully-formed outline from start to finish. In practice, the whole thing is a piecemeal jumble of ideas and scenes, a schizophrenic knitting of random connections from here to there, thoughts that inspire other thoughts that lead to cool problems that suggest fascinating backstories that uncover better connections that… BOOM. Look away, kids, stories are being made.

I build my outlines by the seat of my pants, just me and raw, unfiltered characters wrestling with sparks and conflicts. If you can organize all that over the course of 50K words, and have the patience to do so, then I sincerely applaud you. I can’t. I’m far to hyper and way too impatient. I need to make it cool NOW, so I pants and pants and pants some more until I have an epically cool story. Just one that happens to be missing all the words.

If that isn’t pantsing, I don’t know what is. When it is time to write, sure I’m mostly following my plan. You could say I’m just expanding each point it from sentences to pages. I still discover the precise ways and means, the details of the conversations and the intimate feelings that appear at each turn, but I already did my pantsing. This doesn’t mean I’ve stopped myself from having any fun or I’ve taken the life from the story. Why should it? It just means I was too impatient to deal with all that along the way, and had to pants it out ahead of time.

I am an outliner and my outlines are pantsed-AF.

What makes a story… a story?

I’ve spent a great deal of time wondering about the difference between “a story” and, “a sequence of events that happen to a character.” Those might appear to be synonyms, but they are not. A story — a good one, anyway — is more than just a slice of someone’s life. It does more for the reader: it comes together, it builds, it is ultimately satisfying. Each step in the story matters, and only together, do they create the outcome. A story is made up of a series of events, but not all series of events rise to the level of a story. I have a growing sense of this, and yet, I have a terribly hard time understanding how to separate the two. I often stare at my freshly-scribbled chapters unsure if I’ve just built onto my story… or if I’ve merely extended some lifeless “sequence of events.”


A lot of my writing (more so earlier, I like to think) suffers from what you might call, “outline steering.” I’m sure there is an actual industry term for this, but I don’t know it. What I mean is: my characters undergo a specific journey because the plot demands it, even if the character does not.

This is mainly a consequence of being an inexperienced writer. My intuition for how much a character can and will change through certain events is not perfect, so I often expect to be ready for these scenes, only to find I’m not (or rather, the character is not).

The solution I’ve found is to let my characters take more of a driver’s seat. Trust their nature. If I reach a fork in the road that doesn’t make sense for them (and isn’t a small matter of revision in the chapters leading up), I’ll go with the character and shift the outline.

This is how I first came across the problem of defining a story. Without my outline in charge, I was doing more pantsing, inventing scenes and events to move things forward… and more and more I would find that the result seemed to be missing something. Did this scene really need to happen that way? Is this just a scene for the sake of the next scene, or does this advance the story?

So what makes a story… a story?

In case you are hoping for an answer at the end of this, I’m afraid there isn’t one coming. I don’t know what makes a story, and this post is more of a rant than a guide. In any case, I do have some ideas and I’ve spotted some patterns, but there is still a mystery to all this. Here are the things I can offer:


Each chapter should act on the character in such a way that something has changed. In other words, you can step back and say, “I needed this chapter because it changed X,” where X is either the stakes or the character. One of those two needs movement.

Maybe new information has made the situation more dire; thus, we have greater stakes. Maybe a romance took a step forward; thus, a character has moved along their arc. Such changes can be small, forward, or backward, but they must be enough to leave the character in a different state than they began.

Moving a character from one town to another doesn’t do this, unless (for example) they learn something along the way. Solving one problem only to face another doesn’t do this, unless (for example) the stakes have also changed.

When you start comparing your character’s state of mind on the first page of your chapter to the last page of your chapter, it should become clear if something actually happened within them, as opposed to merely happening to them. I’ve found this a very useful guide.

I think the dichotomy between a story and a mere sequence of events comes down to that. If every chapter causes a change, building on the previous change, you end up with a sequence you can’t really break or substitute. You end up with a sequence that is also telling the story of a character’s changes. This helps to create the ending that ties it all together, instead of just adding words or scenes that didn’t carry their weight.

The Ending

Endings are an important aspect in this as well. A story has a climax and a conclusion, and those two need to reward the reader (in one way or another) for the effort they’ve dedicated to reading. Without something to tie together what came before, you may well find your exciting and action-packed chapters fizzle into nothing when considered as a whole.

I’ve identified three items that have a place in almost all good endings, each for intuitive reasons. I speak in absolute terms below for simplicity, but obviously, exceptions to each point readily exist.


The plot needs to reach a point of no return, one that forces the ramp up into the climax and the inevitable fallout after.

This makes sense. You don’t want your characters to be able to walk away. If they can, why don’t they? Something about their nature, or about the situation, ought to lock them on their course. You are telling a story about something, after all, and as you approach that key essence, you want the tension to escalate and the stakes to escalate in order to do it justice. How can you do that if the entire sequence was optional to the invested characters?

This ties back to the idea of every chapter making some change. The changes are working towards a goal, and after a while, there is no turning back from slamming into that goal for better or worse. If you haven’t reached that sense of “no return,” then maybe your chapters aren’t changing enough or else they aren’t converging.  Which leads to…..


At some point, your character arcs need to align with the plot arc to converge on a common cause (or on various sides of that common cause). This is the essence of the climax, the “it all comes down to this” moment. More than that, all this work to build your characters was in order to deliver a payoff scene at the end where they succeed (or fail), learn (or don’t) and ultimately face those consequences at the end of their arc. If nothing in the character’s personal journey relates to the overall motion of the story, then instead of complimenting each other, the two arcs miss.

What, then, was the point of all that building? How does your climax pay the reader for the struggles the character has faced? How can you possibly tie things together and justify their common inclusion in your story if they don’t mesh in any way? Without some sense of payoff for these subplots, the ending won’t be very satisfying. Which leads to…..


Just as a story needs to start at the right place and make the right stops along the way, it has to end at the right place as well. When it does, the result is satisfying. A story leaves you with something, and every part of the story contributed to that resonance. What makes an ending satisfying? This is a broad topic on its own, and one I don’t claim any qualifications to answer in a satisfying way (see what I did there?).

For starters, you need to address the promises you laid out in the book. Close your arcs, address your themes, and resolve your conflicts (as appropriate). I suspect the really satisfying endings feel that way BECAUSE of the above attributes. Chapters moved the characters, the climax was part of an inevitable spiral, and the arcs converged for payoffs after the climax. If each chapter was an indispensable part of the journey of changes that brought about the ending, I expect it will hit with a lot more punch.

Final thoughts

If only there was a simple formula to create compelling stories, but alas, there is not. This is a topic that continues to fascinate me as I experiment with situations, twists, and complexities, only to find out after the fact what worked and what did not. In any case, the above bullets are quite helpful to keep in mind while plotting and have helped me spot opportunities for convergence and moments of change. It remains to be seen if the end results of this effort will reach the lofty goal of “satisfying” but we’ll see. In the meantime, I intend to just keep swimming.

Bitcoin: How to claim your BitcoinCash after the Hard Fork

Before the August 1st, 2017 hard fork, I moved all of my Bitcoins (BTC) to cold storage on various paper wallets, each protected by BIP0038. The fork itself was relatively uneventful, which is a testament to the technology underlying Bitcoin. The currency has survived, not because it has never yet been attacked, but rather because it is designed to survive DESPITE continuous attacks. This proved true once more after the fork.

And then the truly strange happened: everyone with Bitcoins suddenly got free money. Like, actual free money. The new alt coin BitcoinCash (BCH) emerged and has been trading with steady volume and support at about 7% of BTC’s value at the time of this writing. That is a free 7% return on your holdings.

So how do you actually get that cash? How do you access the coins on the new blockchain?

Who this tutorial is for:

  1. If you had Bitcoins in paper wallet cold storage prior to the fork
  2. If you leverage BIP0038 to encrypt your paper wallet private keys
  3. If you are a USA citizen

There are a thousand combinations of Bitcoin users, but I fell into the above category and had a hard time figuring out how — exactly — to actually do something with my BCH. Thanks to some Reddit users and google searches, I eventually managed and decided to make a quick how-to for anyone in a similar situation. Despite the specificity, other cold-storage forms and other countries of citizenship may find parts of this useful.

A few basics

Things get a little confusing when we start talking about forks and multiple blockchains. It is important to understand what is going on behind the scenes so you do not expose Private Keys or otherwise cause your Bitcoins to be non-secured. Let me summarize the key understanding before we go on.

Bitcoins all exist on the blockchain. There is no way to “download” your coins or to truly take them “offline,” despite terms like hardware wallet or cold storage imply. Every single coin that exists is noted in the blockchain and is owned by a particular public key. In order for a transaction to include a particular coin (e.g., to be spent), the transaction need to have the private key that corresponds to the public key on that coin in order to prove ownership. I can randomly pick a thousand coins and make a transaction sending them all to me, but the Bitcoin network will reject the transaction when I am not able to provide the proper private key needed to unlock the coins in question. Like a password, but orders of magnitude more secure, I won’t be able to get the needed private keys if I am not the true owner, barring theft or hacking or intervention from a deity.

When you talk about cold storage or hardware wallets, you are talking about keeping that unlocking private key offline so it can’t be stolen, but the coins themselves are always still in the chain and are always still publically assigned to your particular key.

When someone comes along and clones the Bitcoin network and gives it a new name (which is the essence of a fork) they will have the same record of all existing coins, and the same record of all coin assignments. This means your same private key works on the new network, just as it did on the old one.

What happened on August 1st, 2017?

A two-year disagreement between developers of Bitcoin came to a parting of ways. When differences could not be reconciled, a portion of the community decided to just go their own direction. They installed an incompatible version of the Bitcoin network code onto their mining platforms and local machines, took a copy of the existing blockchain, and carried on.

This new code was such that it rejected any blocks coming from the old network, and the old network rejected any blocks coming from the new network. As a result, the two immediately went their own way, each blockchain ignoring the other.

The result is that all coins connected to private keys you control were duplicated. One version sat on the old network, and another version sat on the new network. It also meant that spending and receiving money suddenly forked as well, because now transferring money on one chain has no effect on the other chain.

The key here is this: The same private key now unlocks two coins, but those coins are not otherwise linked or connected. Depending which network your wallet/site uses will decide which of those two coins you are handling at a given time.

How do I get BTC or USD from my cold BCH?

If you’ve followed along so far, you probably can anticipate the steps we need to take. I’ll outline them here, then go into detail:

  1. Sweep BTC in cold storage to a new address
  2. Import your Private Keys into a wallet that talks to the BCH network
  3. Transfer your BCH funds to
  4. Trade using BTC/BCC exchange
  5. Send the BTC funds to your normal exchange for cash out, or else back to cold storage

Nice and easy.

Step 1: Sweep

In order to access your BCH, you will need to expose the private key corresponding to the coins you wish to claim. The problem is, as noted above, this same private key will also unlock your Bitcoins on the main chain. Exposing your private key is, therefore, a significant security risk. To get around this, you should first move your existing cold Bitcoins to a brand new address with its own Private Key. This will only affect the coins on the Bitcoin network side, but it will ensure that when you expose your private key in the next step on the BCH network, there is no risk of an attacker trying to unlock corresponding BTC coins. If they do try, they will find a zero balance since that version of the coin has been moved.

I do this through, but any wallet software will do. In, go to Settings->Addresses, and under Imported Addresses, click [+] Import Address. Here you will enter the public address of you current paper wallet, the one containing coins you need to move.

Once you’ve added this “watch address,” return to the main interface and choose “SEND.” Use the drop-down next to “My Bitcoin Wallet” to select the address you just added, and in the TO field, enter the NEW paper wallet address you want to use.

This TO address should be brand new, and thus using a private key that is not associated with any of your coins on the BCH network. You will need to expose your private key now, but your risk is reduced by 15x since the coin on the BCH side is worth that much less.

Note: supports BIP0038 encryption. If your paper wallet private key is encrypted, as mine are, you will be prompted for the encryption password in order to complete the sweep. This is safe to do.

Repeat this for any other paper wallets you control. At the end of this step, all of your coins will belong to NEW private keys on the main blockchain, but on the new BCH blockchain, all of the same keys we just used still control the corresponding coins there.

2. Import your private keys

Now that your Bitcoins are safe, you want to unlock your BitcoinCash still stored at those old paper wallet addresses. For this, you need a wallet software that knows how to connect to the new network. I used this:

Launch the software and create a new standard wallet. Once that is setup, you will have an empty wallet that is connected to the BCH network. Now you need to import the private keys you just used on blockchain in order to access the corresponding coins on this side.

If you use BIP0038, ElectronCash does not allow you to import the encrypted private key the way does. An extra step is required!

2.a. Decrypt your BIP0038 Private Key

Navigate to

Move the mouse around until the %’s reach 100%, just so the interface doesn’t screw with you. Once that is done, click on “Wallet Details” on the right.

Paste in your Private Key, and provide the passphrase. Click the Decrypt button, and let it spin, then your unencrypted Private Key will be printed down below. You can copy the WIF compressed format or the standard noncompressed format.

Note: entering your private key into a website is typically a bad idea. Since we already secured our Bitcoins and are about to move our BCH from this key, the procedure is relatively safe. The password is not uploaded to the server, but there is always a risk that the site is hacked and manipulated. If you use this same password on other cold wallets or are otherwise security paranoid, you can disconnect your network once the site is loaded. Everything will run with javascript offline, leaving you free to do what you need to do, then wipe out the session/cookies before reconnecting. Even better, get a USB-bootable Ubuntu and complete this step in an offline virgin OS (as you should have done when you created your paper wallets in the first place!). I didn’t bother since my private keys and BIP0038 passwords would both be garbage after this operation anyway.

2.b. Sweep into ElectronCash

Once you have non-encrypted private keys, open your wallet in ElectronCash and go to Wallet->Private keys->Sweep.

Enter your non-encrypted private key in the text box (or multiple, if applicable, one per line). Do not change the “Address” field — that is your local wallet address and is a safe place to receive the contents of the old paper wallet. Complete the sweep and wait for confirmation, and now your coins are safely moved to new/distinct addresses on BOTH chains.

3. Transfer to ViaBTC

I had a lot of trouble finding an exchange for BCH that would let me do anything as a US citizen. Coinbase does not support BCH, Bitstamp does not support BCH, Kraken does not validate US citizens, BTC.COM does not validate US citizens, etc.

ViaBTC, however, does allow you to complete a simple automated ID verification. It requires your actual name and a driver’s license ID number (or passport), as well as set a few passwords (you’ll need to setup the asset password, for instance). Once that is done, you can immediately use ViaBTC as a go-between from BCH to BTC. Create the free account, complete the validation, then you want to transfer your money into the platform. I recommend doing a small amount initially and stepping through the entire process before you send large quantities of funds.

Once you have an account, go to the Asset->Deposit->BCC section. ViaBTC uses the older ticker symbol BCC to represent BitcoinCash, even though the rest of the community has moved to BCH since BCC was used for another alt coin. In any case, on this page, you will see a recipient address that you can use to transfer your BitcoinCash into the system. Copy that address.

In Electron Cash, go to the “SEND” tab. Paste the address in the “PAY TO” field, leave description blank, and then select an “AMOUNT” to send. When you are ready, hit SEND. You will need to SIGN the transaction and hit BROADCAST.

You can track the progress of the deposit using any blockchain browser for BCH. I prefer Blockdozer since it is most similar to The address is this format:

It takes some time to get confirmations since the hash power on the BCH network is much lower than the main BTC network, so be patient. Wait until you get 20 confirmations since ViaBTC prevents you from withdrawing prior to that anyway (even though they let you trade earlier).

4. Trade BCH to BTC

When you have your confirmations, you can go to the Trading tab and select BCC/BTC. Select your full balance by clicking on the “Available balance: xxxx” label, and hit “Sell BCC”.

In my experience, selling was instant. If you return to the Asset tab, you should now see no BCC, but some lesser amount of BTC depending what exchange rate you received.

5. Withdraw your BTC

Now that you have BTC funds, you can withdraw them to your normal exchange, such as Coinbase, or else send them to your paper wallet. You need to configure a recipient address, which is done from the Asset->Card/Address menu.

Under “BTC Address Settings” heading add a new address:

Provide the address of your paper wallet, or else the recipient address from your exchange. Save this then return to the Asset->Withdraw->BTC tab. Here you can send the funds you traded out to the address you just added above:

And that is it! Be patient — the withdrawal will sit in the “processing” state for a short time, then go to “verified” and sit there for a while… all without broadcasting to the Bitcoin network. But within the hour, it will change to “Sent,” at which time you can track it on the normal blockchain.

And that is it! You just collected your free money.


Or, maybe you cheated yourself out of a fortune if BCH gains dominance and BTC falls by the wayside. Nobody can predict what might happen. In any case, if you decide not to sell some (or all) of your BCH, you should still sweep it to a new address, just like we did for the BTC.

If you followed steps 1 & 2 above, your BCH should be safely moved to an address in your ElectronCash software wallet, so if you take the proper backup/password precautions, that is a safe place to retain the funds. Otherwise, you can use ElectronCash to send the coins to a new paper wallet, created the same way you would for a normal Bitcoin paper wallet. The process is the same as outlined in the latter half of step 3, but replace ViaBTC’s recipient address with your own.

Hope this helped to demystify some of the confusion around BCH and BTC of late. Happy trading, fellow crypto hodl’er.

Just Keep Swimming

Time for a(nother) quick writer’s block rant.

There is a fair amount of wisdom in Finding Nemo, believe it or not. As a new father confronting the world of hyper-protective parenting and we-don’t-keep-score-at-games-so-nobody-ever-has-to-lose mentality, etc, I’ve given a little thought to Dory:

Marlin: I promised I’d never let anything happen to him.

Dory: Hmm. That’s a funny thing to promise.

Marlin: What?

Dory: Well you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.

Right indeed.

But this is not a parenting blog entry. I’ve been back and forth through a strange fog of writer’s block the last few weeks, partially due to an overloaded schedule, and partially due to an inability to break into new chapters. A creative chasm I can’t seem to leap. I frequent a number of writing blogs and hardly a week goes by when someone doesn’t voice a similar issue. The creativity just isn’t there, or it’s an off week, or they just can’t find the best way to come at their scene or chapter. I posted a similar thread myself on one forum a little over a year ago, and yet here I am again.

Well, there is another bit of wisdom in Finding Nemo that I’ve found quite useful, and so long as I remember to keep it in mind, I can push through. Most recently when I reminded myself of the magic formula, I managed to break out a 10K+ word charge!

The magic formula? Here it is:

Dory had it right.

Howard Taylor and his crew over on Writing Excuses refer to this as BIC HOK: Butt in chair, Hands on keyboard.

The instruction is simple enough, and the concept, but I am more interested in the mindset.

Why the stumble?

For me, there is a lot of inertia when beginning a new chapter. Some of this comes down to how I outline. I have a huge piece of paper that lists all of the arcs unfolding in my story and the key scenes that take them from start to finish. Each character might have two or three lines down this chart, non-character movement might get a line, a mystery plot or discovery plot will be there. Together, the chart represents all the strands of DNA that will eventually form the living, breathing story. Once I have that worked out, I start organizing these key scenes into chapters and identify where I need additional scenes to bridge two points on this map. I’ll try to combine things in ways that make sense and hammer out the order. When it is all said and done I have a list of chapters for my story along with bullet points of what each arc looks like going into each chapter, and what each arc looks like going out of each chapter.

That sounds just delightful I’m sure, but there is one little problem: Nowhere have I figured out how I’m supposed to get from the input to the output. This is where my discovery writer wakes up and helps keep my story organic.

Or at least, he’s supposed to wake up. Turns out he’s more the wildly indecisive procrastinating type.

As I stare at the blank Scrivener document–the bullets noted over on the right–I start trying to find the best way to get from A to B. The problem is, there are a million ways to get from A to B. How do I find the right one? How do I find the one that will serve my story best? The one that also brings in world building and tension? The one whose setting most captivates the reader? The one that hits every beat just right?

I know what you are thinking: “But you are such a brilliant writer, you probably find the best solution on your first shot!”

Oh, you weren’t thinking that? How rude.

In any case, moving right along to…

How to write your scene perfectly.

You can’t. Quit writing and get another hobby.

How to write your scene.

This is the tough bit, the part that stops people from making headway. The story in your head feels like the perfect story. It feels like you just need to find the right words to get it out. It feels like the wrong words won’t do the story justice.

None of that is true, I’m sorry to say. There might be concepts in your head, movie-like scenes even, a sense of the characters… but until you write something down, there is no story, in your head or otherwise.


The story is only what you can get on the page. So what happens when the version you write doesn’t seem to fulfill your conceptual expectations?

Just keep swimming.

That comes back to the crux of the issue. In order to write your scene, you have to be okay with writing a crappy version of it first. Give yourself permission to have a little literary indigestion, and don’t worry about it. The way forward–the ONLY way forward–is to accept that much of your first draft will stink. The ideas will be overdone, off the mark, the characters will act inconsistently, you’ll leave out things you meant to include, you’ll include things you meant to leave out, you’ll pick crappy settings, your tension will be off the mark, etc.

That doesn’t mean you’ve sabotaged your story. It doesn’t mean much of anything, except that you are a little closer to your goal.

This cannot be understated. The key to writing your scene is to just write it and don’t give a damn if the thing you end up with stinks like yesterday’s garbage.

I know I went with the Finding Nemo thing, but let’s switch quickly to golf.

Think of your first draft as your driver. You’ll cover more yards with that first swing than any subsequent hit, but there is no expectation that you’ll land in the hole. That is no excuse not to swing. You take the shot, you see where it lands, then you start from there and figure out how to get closer. It might take a few hits, each with a slightly different tool, each employing a slightly different technique. Each hit will also take you closer and closer until you end up right where you want to be.

So what does it matter, really, if you botch the drive? Who really cares if you accidentally send the damn thing for a swim fifty yards off the course? When it’s time for the next shot you’ll just pull out your nine-iron and hit it again, in the right direction this time. Maybe there are a few scenes you’ll have to hit pretty hard in that second draft, but so what? On this course, there is no par. Play until you run out of bird-names to grade the strokes. Doesn’t matter at all.

Give yourself permission to not be perfect. Accept the fact that your second draft will be way better. Your third, better than that. No matter how you feel or how impenetrable a new chapter might seem… Just. Keep. Swimming.

A page stuffed with crappy, amateur words, in a big stinking messy pile, is nothing at all to worry about. It is closer to the goal than you were before, and that’s what you want.

… Even if you are writing in Whale.

Readback with Scrivener on iOS

On the Mac, text-to-speech is built into the operating system. This means you can highlight just about anything in most programs, right click, and go to Speech->Start Speaking and at once a flat Skynet robot will begin reading to you. As mechanical as the voices tend to be, I’ve found readback an indispensable part of my editing process. I catch spelling errors, strange phrasing, and all sorts of things that just don’t stand out on the written page.

Furthermore, writing is currently a backseat passenger in this runaway train that is my life, so I am often trying to squeeze it in amidst other things. The fact the computer can read to me while my attention is (ostensibly) on other things is fantastic and it lets me get some actual utility out of various chores, such as cleaning the dishes, cooking, etc.


I’ve kicked out a couple blogs about Scrivener for iOS. Long story short, most of my writing is on mobile (iPad specifically). Were it not for the mobile app, I’d get hardly a word down these days. For a long time this has meant no more readbacks, or so I thought!

Turns out the same functionality is available on iOS, it just takes a few steps to turn on.

To begin, navigate to your Settings -> General -> Accessibility

Then find the menu item called Speech

Turn on “Speak Selection” then click on “Highlight Content.”

Here, choose to highlight both sentences and words. This is very helpful when you hear your device read something wrong and you need to see where it is in the text to correct it.

Finally, you can click on voices if you want to adjust how the robot sounds. I’m reasonably happy with Samantha Enhanced (which is a separate download, all managed right from the voices screen. The enhanced version has a bit more natural tonal variation as she speaks).

How to use it

Ok! Your iPad or iPhone is ready to go. Using the feature is simple. Pull up Scrivener and press and hold to get the context menu, then select all for the chapter/scene you want to hear (or highlight just the part you need).

Now you may notice a new option comes up in the context menu called “Speak.” Go ahead and give that a tap, and you’re off to the races:

As you can see it highlights the sentences as it goes, with the currently spoken word in blue.


I found one other cool trick with this feature. I noticed it doesn’t say some of my made up words properly — an unsurprising problem, in a fantasy book. If you return to the “Speech” screen under Settings->General->Accessibility, you will notice at the bottom is a section called “Pronunciation.” Click into there.

What this lets you do is enter words and provide a phonetic spelling for the readback to use instead. I did it for one of my main characters, as well as an in-world term I created for doctors, both of which the default voice botches.

To add one of your own, hit the little (+) icon and you get a screen like below. Put the word as it will be found in your Manuscript in the “phrase” section, then under substitution, enter the same word phonetically. Use the “Play” button in the upper right to test it out until you get it right. Once this is setup, the readback will use these pronunciations automatically as it moves through your Scrivener documents. Quick aside: I’ve noticed the sentence highlighting sometimes gets quirky when it hits a word for which you’ve defined a replacement. I’d keep this feature’s use to a minimum.

Hopefully someone out there finds this helpful.

All right then, back to procrastinating!

On Motives and Failure

A recent post on The Guardian has been making some rounds in the writing community, and a few of the forums I frequent (including Chrons and Fantasy Faction). The short depressing tail from “anonymous” is stirring up frustration from some, and sympathy from others. It got me thinking about this thing we do called writing and the lofty goals we hold so dear: getting published.

Haven’t ranted in a while, so here I go.

Firstly, if you didn’t want to read the link, here is the summary: Anonymous showed every sign of being a writer, even from a young age. She called writing her destiny. She excelled at the craft, finished a manuscript, secured an agent… and then floundered. In her words:

I defiantly started a second novel. It was my masterpiece, but it bombed, too. Years of work and emotional investment wasted, I finally gave up, to save my sanity.

I have two comments I’d like to make about this, the first regards process and the second regards motivation.

Process behind success

A couple years ago I read the book the Millionaire Fastlane by MJ DeMarco. It is one of these self-empowering, feel-good books but with a few more practical actionable items for thinking about and achieving success. On the whole, the book isn’t particularly relevant to this discussion except for one bit: the author spent a great deal of time talking about process.

Success is the end result in a long unseen process of trials, errors, headaches, hours, and investment. It is very easy to look at someone else’s moment of success and fixate on that event itself, and think the event is what made the person. The moment an author is signed. The moment an author reaches the bestseller list, etc. It is natural to see that event wonder why the same thing isn’t happening to you.

Success isn’t the result of an event, it is the result of a long-unseen process marked my a multitude of failures. Maybe an event pops up along the way, maybe not. This is true in business and it is true in writing as well. Would-be authors ought not forget this. Getting an agent is great, but look at it as just another step in your ongoing process towards success. The moment you fixate on the event itself and lose track of the journey, you set yourself up for disappointment.

That friend of yours who self-published and is selling 50K books a month may have a million+ words in failure novels under their belt. Success was only the very last step.

Ok, enough about that. I think Anonymous made the mistake of assuming an event meant success, and when they signed an agent, they lost sight of the process. This is the wrong mentality to be successful. Every up might have a down and you either keep pushing, or you are better off not even getting started.


Another issue with Ms. Anonymous was thinking publishing was her fate. This immediately signals a problem: was she in this just to be published? Was she in this just because she wanted to “be a writer?”

Unfortunately, that is not good enough. The wrong motivation and the wrong reasons won’t carry the day. It is like picking up a guitar because you want to be a famous musician, not because you have music to share with the world.

You’ve probably heard people say they write because the love it. Maybe you agree, or maybe deep down you think, I enjoy it, but I really just want to make money at it. If so, best of luck to you, but I think you are in the wrong game. Breaking out is a huge amount of work and the only way you can possibly keep the momentum going is if you genuinely love what you are doing. There are easier ways to make money.

Anonymous seems to have fallen into this trap somewhere along the way. Anyone writing only with an end goal in mind is missing the point. Write because you love it. Write because you’d do so anyway, even if you’d seen the future and knew nobody would ever pay you a dollar for it. If you do this, and you end up making money, well that is about as good as it gets. If you don’t end up making money, who cares? You are doing something that makes you happy.

/End rant

Those are the ingredients I think almost all successful writers must have:

  • A true motivation to want to share stories, no matter what.
  • An understanding that success in any field is the result of a very long process, and not the result of achieving any one event

Anonymous, if you are out there, don’t give up. Rediscover what it was that first excited you about writing, and return to that. Forget about being published, forget about the rest of it. Feed on the excitement of telling stories, and see what comes.

Oculus Rift

I had my first foray into the world of virtual reality with an Oculus Rift, and I thought it warranted a few words of review. I’ve been unusually tight on both time and energy to work on writing, but VR turns out to be another easy way to slip into a secondary world when I’m just too spent to be creating my own.

The Rig

Quick origins story: I built my first rig as a freshman in college. My buddy and I decided we didn’t have enough to do, what with a full load of courses, so we started a (now defunct) hosting company. It was a modest venture, but we did have about 300 customers billing monthly at one time. I don’t have much tangible to show from all the time I sank into that, but it did provide the funding for the first rig I ever built. I don’t even remember the hardware I used, so much having changed since those days. In any case, ever since then I’ve always carried the itch to build my own gaming system.

I fell out of touch with such things for many years, in part because I switched my home and work platform to OSX, in part because gaming fell by the wayside between my later college years and the corporate working world, and in part because I didn’t have the money to maintain a dedicating gaming machine. The itch remained and festered for well over a decade, then finally last Christmas I decided to scratch. I spent more than I should, but what the hell, it’s only money. Or maybe, hash-tag y-o-l-o? Business write-off as long as I develop on there too? Whatever, it’s done now.

Got a snazzy SSD PCI-e HDD that I’ve deployed in some of my database servers, got a Titan X Pascal in there, intel i7, and a gigantic case because I’d forgotten what “full ATX” meant. Wired it up nice and clean to my OCD’s delight, and fired it up:

Virtual Reality

So I had this thing since Christmas and I’ve been utterly amazed by how far games have progressed since the early 2000s, particularly when played on a curved 21:9 monitor (which actually was a work purchase. If you are a developer, look into one of these… seriously). Maybe I should have been content there, but it got me thinking… what else have I been missing in the world of gaming? The last console I owned was an early PS2. The most advanced game I ever played on my iPhone was Bike Race. What else has passed me by?

These idle musing came to a point over on the Fantasy Faction website, where I sometimes dwell in the writing forums. One of the users on there is a VR enthusiast. I’d heard of HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, but I didn’t know anything about them. I didn’t really know if they’d matured as products, or if they were just expensive gimmicks. In any case, a thread led to a few PMs which led to a few YouTube videos which led to yet another slap in the face.

This VR thing is widely adopted and quite mature, and everyone who has used the hardware swears it is the future. Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and others are all fighting to win this market… the following is unusually dedicated, and the reviews unusually unanimous. Well, who am I to argue with the might of the internet? Thee command and I obey.

Oculus Rift

I decided to grab the hardware for this thing and see for myself. It arrived last week:

It took an hour to setup and configure, and just going through the initialization steps, I knew this thing was going to blow my mind. Next I downloaded a few games (Steam has a VR module so it all works pretty easily… you just have to enable “all sources” in the Oculus app). The first one I tried was called Eve: Valkyrie. It’s a space-ship flying game.

And it absolutely blew my fucking mind.

I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. You start out sitting in the cockpit of your little ship. You can look down and see yourself… well your virtual avatar. Your legs, arms, chest. If you move your head around, your body moves too as if your head is actually attached. You can look down and see the foot pedals, look left and see the glass beside you, even turn around and see the back of the pilot seat and the equipment stashed in the back. The response to my movements was 100%, completely natural. As you turn your head, the sounds even track left to right, as they really should. I was THERE.

Then outside the ship the lights come on and the controller starts vibrating. I’m in a launch bay and it’s counting down. When it hits zero my ship gets jettisoned down this enormous track and out into space. It felt like an actual rollercoaster, everything moving all around me. This thing was worth it just for that experience, though of course I’ve played several games since then to try and get the full experience. Some are better than others, but one thing is clear to me: this is the future of entertainment consumption.

Sim Sickness

There is one drawback I’ve noticed, that I can only hope improves. It is very easy to get motion sick using this thing. I’m not one easily pushed to the spins… I made it through a flight in NASA’s Vomit Comet without blowing chunks, after all. I’ve never been car sick or ill from a rollercoaster.

Yet Oculus almost got me there. After an hour, my stomach feels weak and my head is spinning, and I have to get out. Even the next day I felt a little off-balance. I’ve since learned that you need to acclimate to VR, start with games that let you stay stationary, and limit the extent to which you swivel your head around. More frequent breaks are also required, compared to conventional games. This is certainly a disappointing side effect that keeps breaking me out of the immersion, but it is a minor nit to pick compared to the overall experience. I still highly recommend Oculus to anyone, gaming enthusiast or otherwise… just make note of the “comfort level” rating on games, and be sure to start at the low end of the spectrum.

Well anyway, that is my little rant of the day. Hopefully I can get myself back on track with Lunhina, but for the moment I’m allowing this little diversion.

Oh, and Happy new year to y’all. Hope 2017 has great things in store for everyone.