30 September 2012

OctoberQuest 2012

OctoberQuest 2012. What is it? An open-to-anyone, DIY, photo-essay project based on the artistic essence of haiga. 

What's it for? To take a short journey in search of your vision of the world. You can do it just as you are, and have fun, and feel proud at the end of it. It has a little challenge and structure built in, to provide a matrix for your creative development.

"Erm.... w
hat's haiga, anyway?" I hear you say. Traditionally haiga is a painting and a haiku on the same piece of paper or canvas. For this non-traditional project, it's a photo plus a short writing in any style.

Why is haiga's essence important for this project? 
 A haiga has a reflective feel when the subject is nature, and an ironic or funny feel when the subject is people. A haiga makes a real connection between image and words, and it does it simply, subtly.

By bringing in haiga's essence, and by planning to do project activities on certain days throughout October, the project will bring out the best of your creative nature - even if you're not sure you're really creative (trust me - if you've read this far, you are).

If you're still on board, here's what's involved:
  • Take 1 photo every weekday from October 1 through October 26.
  • Every weekend in October, upload to a private place, and add captions, plus poems or prose, to the pics.
  • Finalize everything during the last three days of October
  • On November 1, share your finished album with others.

Still wanna do it? Here's how...


  1. Preparation - on October 1, 2012:
    • Make an album in Google+ Photos:
      • Use the UPLOAD NEW PHOTOS feature to upload an old photo.
      • Call the album OctoberQuest2012.
      • By default the album will be private. Leave it that way for now.
      • Practice uploading an additional old photo or two, adding them to the newly-existing album OctoberQuest2012.
      • Once you've got the hang of uploading to the new album, delete the old photos from it.
    • If you don't have a Google account, or don't want to use Google+, try a Blogger, WordPress or other private blog, or a Pinterest board. Caveats:
      • If you want to use a private blog, you may find you'll tend to write more because of the blog format - consider how much time you're willing to give to this project.
      • You cannot make a Pinterest board private, and there is a tight restriction on the length of Pinterest captions - so unless you're comfortable working under the public eye and you're economical with words, I don't recommend Pinterest for this project.
  2. During the week - from October 1 through October 26, take at least 1 photo every weekday.
  3. On the weekends - Oct 6-7, Oct 13-14, Oct 20-21 and Oct 27-28:
    • Upload a photo for each weekday into existing album OctoberQuest2012   
    • Optional: use PhotoShop or other graphics app to resize and/or style a copy of the photo before uploading.
    • Caption each photo with location, and if you want, subject, time and weather.
    • Write something short to go with each photo - I recommend using haiku, senryū or haibun forms, which are short by design. (If you're not sure what these are, check the Wiki links at the bottom of this post.) But you can use any form. Just think about the connection between image and words. Be simple, casual, easy. Be funny, too, if it works. Above all, remember what made you take the pic, and try to put that feeling into words. 
    • Any or all of this can be done on weekdays, if you prefer.
  4. Finalizing - on the three last days of the month - Monday through Wednesday, Oct 29-31 - review captions and writing, and make any final changes.
  5. Finishing - on Thursday, November 1, change the Share status of your OctoberQuest 2012 album or blog to from Private to Public, and share it via FaceBook, Google+ and/or Twitter - if you have accounts for all three, I recommend sharing on all three.
American gray squirrel
American Gray Squirrel
Queens, NY
Oct 2010, rainy afternoon

Tweeting Your WIP and Finished Work:

Still game, and on Twitter, too? Here are some hashtags you can use: #octoberquest2012 #photography #amwriting

Wikipedia References:

Haikai - the basic ancient form of Japanese poetry from which all present-day haiku-related arts evolved:

Haiku - brief poems, usually three lines long, usually about nature, with 17 on (sound groupings something like syllables), one cutting word, and one season word: 

Senryū - like haiku, but about people, not nature; often funny; no cutting word, and usually no season word:

Haibun - haiku or senryū plus prose:

Haiga - a painting plus a haiku - the OctoberQuest 2012 project is about creating a photo-illustrated haiga album:

Questions? Comments? Fire away.

22 July 2012

Prepping for NaNoWriMo 2012

This November, I will do NaNoWriMo 2012. It will be NaNoWriMo try three for me.

November is a month of busyness, and, in the Northern hemisphere, a month of change, with a sun that's more angular and far away, and winds that flow down from the Arctic Circle, bringing cold, darkness, high clear skies and dramatic storms. Annual plants, tender plants, die. Outside colors fade. The rattling of branches makes more noise than birdsong – those winds are strong, and many birds have flown south.

In November, we bring missing colors and light and warmth inside. The melancholic outdoors makes a high contrast with the new richness of indoors. The month's quiet challenges of festival preparations – secular and religious – and family reconnections lend both tension and energy to associated responsibilities. November engages me. It's one of my favorite months.

Yet because of all this, November's not a good month to take on a marathon writing project. In my two past NaNoWriMo attempts, my efforts would go dead by November 10th, leaving me in a down state suffused with sensations of embarrassment and failure. And that is a less-than-optimal mood for meeting November's challenges. So why would I try again? Actually, until yesterday, I sure wasn't thinking of doing NaNoWriMo 2012.

But then I was lucky enough to read a Livia Blackburne retweet of a Rachel Aaron tweet pointing to a Rachel Aaron post on the differences between plot and story. That post mentioned another post on Aaron's 5-step approach to planning a novel. And that planning post included an enthusiastic recommendation for an app designed to support creative writing. The app is called Scrivener, and therein lies my story today.

I downloaded the app last night. Went through the slightly-confusing registration and activation process. Started in on the interactive tutorial. Then – predictably for me – I cut over to my own way of doing things, starting my own project, a re-do of the fantasy novel I've been working on.

I started by putting in the series title (the book will be one of a three-book series), and a few of the characters. I put in a note about the book's major McGuffin, and, per Rachel Aaron's 5-step novel planning advice, a note about the ending. Then I left it alone till this morning, as I was mentally full-up with thoughts of in-depth planning before writing, a new concept for me to wrestle with in real time.

This morning I pasted in completed scenes and chapters from last year's draft of the book. I added in more of the characters, and some of the place settings. And I attached character sketch sheet templates to the character notes. And lo and behold, Scrivener showed me what it's good for.

Take character development, for example. You know how you have an idea of a character? And the character has a name, an age, a history, a personality, an appearance, and other dimensions? And you know how you have to keep that character well-defined, but not mummified – alive in the story, consistent yet changeable? And you know how you have to do that for multiple characters? And how each layer of each character is intertwined with the story and with other characters, not to mention settings, and conflicts, and action and so on? Well, Scrivener supports that complicated structure. And it does it simply and intuitively.

On the other hand, you know when you want to get away from structure and just write? Scrivener lets you do that, too, with no destruction of the structures you've created.

And it formats your draft in the standard accepted style, and it counts words for the book, and for sections, such as chapters, and it estimates how many pages the work would be if printed as a hard-cover book or a paperback. Moreover, it can be used for screenplays, and non-fiction work as well. Whew! And wow!

So, hey! I bless Livia and Rachel for their wise approach to writing. Their generous sharing of the reality  –  not the idea, guys  the reality that planning before actually writing is how to do it, is going to make a huge difference for my attempts to write a three-book fiction series. Thanks to them, and that reality, and to how Scrivener supports an organized approach to creative writing, I'm going to give NaNoWriMo another try this coming November. Because I realized today that I get stuck after ten days because I don't know how to push the story forward, so I edit what I've written (stupid tactic when doing a writing marathon) and stress about the story and end up mired in confusion.

Having spent a couple of hours on planning so far, it's a revelation to me that the planning takes so much work, so much time. Here I am in mid-July, preparing to write in November, when I never ever thought I'd be anything other than a "pantster" when it came to writing. Experience, which is, perhaps, just a simple word that really means humiliation+persistence+openness to changing tacks (sailing term), wins every time.

When I realized in full force how complicated a novel's structure is, I also had to acknowledge that my pantster approach to writing fiction has been simply shallow, lazy and uncommitted. I learned long ago that editing is crucial to all good writing, even poetry. But until now, I had not learned that the structure of a novel is critically important to its success.

What I'm gearing up for is to get as much planning done as possible before November. Review my writing from last year, fix it a little, then throw it out. Then, for NaNoWriMo 2012, start with the planning portion only, and write completely fresh work. Yay! Is how I feel this morning. So yay that I took three hours away from other stuff to write this, in case anyone else could benefit from what I've learned.


Livia Blackburne is a neuroscientist, and a published fantasy and YA novelist.
Livia Blackburne on Twitter
Livia Blackburne's writing blog – fresh takes on process, creativity, and how the mind works

Rachel Aaron is a published fantasy novelist.
Rachel Aaron on Twitter
Rachel Aaron's writing blog – good tips, with a special focus on writing efficiency and logistics
Rachel Aaron's website – free chapters of selected books, plus more

Scrivener - an app that supports the organizational, formatting and writing process needs for complex works such as novels, screenplays, and long-form stories and non-fiction pieces.

NaNoWriMo - NaNoWriMo means National Novel Writing Month. It has evolved into an international event, a writing marathon in which participants attempt to finish at least 50,000 words of a novel or non-fiction work, in first-draft form, in the month of November. One is allowed to plan the work before November, but not actually write any of it until NaNoWriMo officially starts.

14 March 2012

Story nodes

  • He was proud and secretive, and died early therefore. Pride kept his head too high. Secrecy shrouded the corrections that realities bring to the fantastical mind. He tripped, thought he was OK, and found, too late, that he was wrong.  (viz. HL)
  • In a running stream, a pool: transparent, reflecting blue and green. A woman, invisible, immerses herself. From a heart fall droplets of blood. Currents swirl and lift the cooling droplets, carrying them a little way off, where they fall in heaps. There they lie now, corruscating gems.
  • Baptized, by wind.

28 February 2012

Ego corrections

To those who think quiet ones are born to listen: chup! That's not a strangulated bird sound. It's Hindi. Use Google Translate.

To those whose breasts and chests swell every time they order others around: tsk-tsk. Stand up and work.

To those who tread on others' toes when they go looking for boundaries: stop soft, look around, listen.

To those peering through runnels of blood flowing from self-inflicted wounds: take a walk in the wind.

To those who think forebearance is laughably weak: see you in the next lifetime, shayad.

To those who think their insomnia is special: nahin. Only, no one taught you that humans evolved with a dual-period daily sleep habit. Read this.

* * *

To my farishta-ji, who sometimes takes on others' sins, as well as his own: none of these are you. Nor do you have anything to apologize for. xxx.

To those who sleep when far-away countries do and see far-away cities' night stars: hi, ji. That's me, too. xxx.