Sam van Zweden




Dreaming of New Habits

I have pretty good organisational and tracking habits. I’m a big (BIIIIIG) fan of analogue tracking – yes, there’s an app for that. There’s twenty apps for that. I like analogue.

I just got sent this amazing Japanese organisation system, which is kind of like creating an index, but much better. This system visually places markers against certain topics, habits, etc, making them easily reviewed at a glance. I’m thinking of all the things I can use it for.

Tracking habits (reading, eating, sticking to various goals), indexing bullet journal, recipes (as the post suggests)… Watch this space.

Tomely Love, Love, Love

Sing it to this tune. It works. Tomely love! Love, love…

And it must be love! Tomely is a brilliant new eBook project from the mind of technological excitement wizard Connor Tomas O’Brien. I admire Connor’s answers-based approach. Instead of moaning about the demise of bricks-n-mortar or just declaring that it’s all a bit silly and we should just adopt eBooks unquestioningly, Connor suggests that both modes have their strengths, and can live in harmony side by side. While this idea isn’t directly linked to the Tomely  project, it’s a cool aside.

Image from on Flickr
Image from on Flickr

Tomely is a way for people to sell and buy eBooks. Everything that’s on there is a bit great  – single books for sale include Neon Pilgrim, Quiet City (which has its own kinda cool project behind it), and Pinetorch. The single-title database is growing rapidly. My favourite part is the eBook bundles.

These bundles are sold on a pay-as-you-feel basis. I’ve just purchased the first bundle offer, which features:
– The Lifted Brow Ebook
– Voiceworks #92 ‘Thing’
– Review of Australian Fiction, Volume 1: Omnibus
– Tincture Journal, Issue Two (Winter 2013)
– Sincere Forms of Flattery
– Kill Your Darlings, Issue 12

Because I paid over $10, I also unlocked bonus titles:
– Review of Australian Fiction, Volume 2: Omnibus
– Tincture Journal, Issue One
– Kill Your Darlings Issue 13

And I showed some love on Twitter, and received loved back from Tomely in the form of Willow Pattern, which is a 24-hour book from if:book.

I can’t get over this bundle. There’s a lot of work from friends (and me, in Tincture 1!), which I couldn’t afford to buy all of at the time, and this is a great way to get to know lit mags. You know how you sometimes can’t afford everything when it’s first published? And also how submission guidelines always want you to know the journal well before submitting? Tomely solves problems like those.

The first eBook bundle is only available for two more days, so now’s your time to get on it!

Tomely recognizes the power of social media, and uses it. Many of the titles available include a discount, or are available free, for the price of a tweet. Tomely also gives the option to donate, at no extra cost, a percentage of your payment to charity. Tomely themselves make money from their 20% revenue share of sales.

Everybody wins.

The Tools That Save My Life

toolspicI’m a busy person. I only manage to get everything done because of some very handy tools, and I thought I’d do a post to share those tools with you. Technology could easily get in the way – between Twitter and Facebook, YouTube and Candy Crush Saga, it would be easy to lose whole days without getting anything productive done. That’s why I have the following things in my artillery:

HootSuite: Hootsuite lets you put all your social media outlets in one place. I’ve currently got four different pages connected via Hootsuite – each page has a tab of its own, and I can write status updates or tweets, and chose which of those pages it will be published on. If I like, I can schedule the same post for both Twitter and Facebook, or only one of the two. I can schedule posts ahead of time, which means that even while I’m at work, I can be letting  people know what’s happening on the blog, or in my life.

FeedlyWith the impending closure of Google Reader, I’ve had to start shopping around for a new RSS host. The first program I’m trying is Feedly and it seems to be doing the trick. RSS readers are basically an aggregate feed that pulls together all the websites that you want to follow, and any new content that goes up on those sites appears in the reader like a new email would appear in your inbox. Feedly allows me to organize blogs into groups, so that if I’m looking for a particular sort of news (or more likely, looking to SKIP a particular type of news), I can do it easily. I don’t have to visit sites individually anymore. Any the phone app syncs easily with the online service, allowing me to read my feed on public transport, too.

Flickr Creative CommonsThere are things about blogging that you aren’t told when you start. For example, copyright – if you use a photograph, you need permission to do that. And even with permission, you most often have to say where the photo comes from. It’s not like you’ll get your pants sued off if you use unattributed photos without permission, but the potential is always there, and it’s just good form to find stuff elsewhere…
Enter: Creative Commons. ‘Creative Commons’ is the name for stuff you can use without paying any royalties or worrying about people getting pissed off about you using their work. Most of the pictures I use for this blog come from the Flickr Creative Commons resource. This means I usually end up with something pretty retro-looking, because a lot of it comes from library historical archives etc, but luckily this matches my own tastes. Without Creative Commons, I’d have a lot less pictures.

I hope you can start using these tools to make your life easier. I’d also love to hear about any tools you’ve got that make your life easier!

She Works Hard for the Money (But There’s So Much More)

Something that’s come up multiple times across the Emerging Writers’ Festival is the idea that we shouldn’t be so focused on money, and I’ve really appreciated that people are raising this point. I think it’s really important.

While there’s definitely space to be concerned about being ripped off, there’s also a need to get some perspective. As an emerging writer, I’ve had to do a fair amount of writing/working for free- but I don’t feel ripped off at all, because what I’m getting out of those experiences goes beyond money.

For example, interning – I’ve met countless wonderful people, learned about what I’m actually capable of as a person, discovered new possibilities for myself and my career as a writer. Interning is one of those experiences that can potentially pay itself off non-monetarily, in things like networking opportunities and transferable skills. You know those skills that everyone wants, but that are impossible to get without getting a job? Interning’s a great way to get those skills!

Last night at the Industry Insider panel on Indie Publishing, Sophie Black (from Crikey) made note of the fact that she appreciates that low pay-rates need to be subsidized by giving the piece(s) the time they deserve editorially, helping to make them the best pieces they can be, and arming the writer with new skills and knowledge beyond just getting paid.

So while it’s important to value your work, and make sure you’re getting what you deserve for it, also be aware that what you get for your work might not just be about money. With so many indie publishing places hard-up for cash, it’s not always going to be possible to get a high pay-rate for your work. That’s not to say that these places should be turned down or not considered – “What you deserve” might include transferable skills, networking opportunities, a forum for your work, or extra attention to making your work the best it can be. Look past the money, with the bigger picture in mind, and look at what an opportunity really has to offer you.

Putting Things Into Perspective

I’m currently working on a scrapbook for my Concept Development class, where I’m looking at the research I’ve done for my book. It’s not the most imaginative idea, but I’m having a lot of fun making this thing.

I have to say, it’s kind of heartening and terrifying at the same time. It’s really great to see what I’ve done towards my book, to pull it all together in one place, it actually validates that all this pottering around I’ve been doing is useful research. It’s stuff that’s informing my idea and strengthening my story.

It’s terrifying though, looking at this lame little scrapbook… While my idea’s becoming rounded and more solid as I go, I also have to think, “How the hell do I make a book from this!?”.

I’m glad I’ve been given this assignment though. Scrapbooking’s fun.

How do you organise your research?

Back to Exercising

I’ve let the ball drop on my one-exercise-per-day goal that I set a few months ago. I’d decided I was going to do a different writing exercise every day, and when I hit on something worth keeping, I’d work that up to something presentable, but keep doing the exercises. The point though, was to keep the brain active and challenged. It’s easy to get stuck on one project, or to find yourself writing the same story over and over again. And I know so many people that produce so much work. I’d love to be one of those people. But it takes a lot of dedication and hard work.

So today I got back into it, and mean to stick with it. It’s about routine, I think. When I get up early and write, I do well. When I push it to the end of the day, what I produce is a half-arsed nothing.

Today’s exercise was one I’d done before, but hadn’t known where it came from. I did the exercise originally in a creative non-fiction unit at school, but it was well worth repeating. The exercise was from Now Write! Non-Fiction. It involved writing down every detail I knew (without looking) about my writing space, and then boiling that down to the salient details. I was amazed by how many tiny details I knew about the space without looking, but when I did look I was surprised by the size of some of the things I’d missed: the heater. The light hanging from the ceiling, and the water damage in one corner. The fact that the mantle is coming away from the wall some. I missed these things, but I remembered some tiny tiny details, like what notes were on my pinboard, and what was in my box of stationery.

The salient, tangible and telling details I kept about my writing space:
– The heater’s missing a caster, and is propped up by a thick book so that the heat doesn’t direct at the floor and set all my words on fire.
– There’s a Chinese charm hanging above the door (which we call Narnia) between our house and the shop we share the building with. This door is part of my study. My partner hung the charm there when we moved in, but won’t tell me what it means.
–  Notebooks spanning about eleven years have their own pigeon-hole in my bookshelf, and another for writing books and dictionaries. The rest is fiction, A-Mo, and on the mantle is Mo-Z. There are still books which don’t have a space. Non-fiction is on a steel shelf, $17 from Ikea, the kind you’d find in a garage. I love my books the way chumps love their cars.
– Unused notebooks, waiting.
– WRITERS ARE MADE, NOT BORN is hanging above my desk.

I worked these details up into a scene, and put some action in there.

I’m sharing this exercise because I found it useful. I realised that I sometimes miss some really, really prominent details, and that some details can say a lot about someone.

What does your writing space say about you?

Flexing the Writing Muscles

It’s been a week since I made my recent writing goals, and that means I’ve done a week’s worth of writing exercises. A lot of people have shown interest in what I’ve been doing… So here’s a list of the last week’s work. I’ve included where the exercises come from, if you notice a heap coming form good sources in future, you might find it worthwhile chasing these books down.

1. Write something you’ve been putting off – imagine you’re telling someone about this article/letter/essay you’ve been meaning to write, but can’t start. Write down what you’d tell them. (from Mark Tredinnick’s “The Little Red Writing Book”)
2. Write a list of 10 things you know to be true. (from Sarah Kay’s TED talk)
3. What are three things that could never be photographed? (From John Marsden’s “Everything I Know About Writing”)
4. Write a letter to yourself to be read in five years. (From John Marsden’s “Everything I Know About Writing”)
5. Write a character sketch of someone you’ve seen on public transport (suggested by Tiggy Johnson)
6. Observe someone’s hands (this can be in memory or imagination. Describe them as fully as possible. Notice shape, skin texture, any jewelry or disfiguration. What clues do these hands give you about the person’s life? (from Meredith Sue Willis’ blog)
7. Today was a mash-up, to create new exercises out of something else. In doing this, I found some really interesting connections. More of this tomorrow. Or Tuesday. One day soon, I promise.

A Perfect Day

Yeah, the sky’s blessedly blue outside for the first time in forever, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

It’s the end of the holidays for me – I’ve found them to be long, but productive. It’s only taken me about 7 weeks, but I’ve finally figured out how I would (try to) spend each and every working day if I were a full-time professional writer, in order to get shit done. For the last week or so, on days when I haven’t worked, this is what I’ve done.

I’d wake up early. Well, early for me: 8am, maybe 8.30. This still gives me two hours of quiet writing time before my boyfriend even thinks about consciousness. I check my email and Facebook, but only out of the neurological need – I don’t spend a long time on there. If there’s stuff to reply to, I do that later in the day. I update my GoodReads account with what I’d read the night before.

I read a short story. This week I’ve been chewing through the contents of Tiny Epics, which has been sitting on my shelf for over a year now. I regret not reading it earlier. Likewise with Bel Woods’ Get Smart which I read last week in page seventeen #8. That girl can write! What do your days look like to produce such brilliance, Bel?

After my short story, as per my writing goals, I read an essay. It’s not always pertinent to what I’m writing, but I’ve been learning an awful lot. Did you know that stabbing a lobster in the head doesn’t actually kill it? And that lobster deaths are a big point of concern for the RSPCA? And I never knew anything about Peter Porter, but now I do, thanks to Clive James – weird to read a dying great write about a dying great.

I write morning pages. These are at least three pages (so, for those of you who can’t convert longhand ideas into tech-speak, that’s about 750w) of whatever. They’re the pages where I supposedly get my brain warmed up to write my way into brilliance. Usually it’s just me pondering story ideas, brainstorming or bitching about how I can’t be arsed doing the dishes.

I do a writing exercise. Also, as per my writing goals, I’ve done one every day so far. It’s been fun. Out of six days, I’ve only had one day turn into something I feel I could follow up. But that’s still a higher hit-rate than when I wasn’t doing an exercise every day.

I work on a WIP.

I work on something that potentially can make me some money. I know that writing for money isn’t the point; I’m not trying to turn all my writing into a money-making scheme – that’s dumb, and would take the enjoyment out of it. I’m trying to find places that I can make money for doing something I enjoy more than my current job. I’ve been writing some copy for Weekendnotes, a guide to things you can do on weekends in Melbourne. It’s fun – it’s not exactly lucrative, but I’m enjoying the experience, and it’s really good exercise for banging things out on demand.

I do any business stuff I need to do. These last few weeks that’s involved getting an ABN, making an invoice template, posting submissions. Looking for comps and new publications I’d like to submit to happens during this time too.

Lastly, I catch up on my Google Reader feed (which is looking comparatively clean at the moment), and I blog, if I’ve got something worth saying or sharing.

Usually this whole routine takes up most of a day. Some days I don’t get around to all of it. As you can imagine, I sometimes get stuck in one piece or another – if it’s a good exercise, or a long story or essay, or if I find myself venting something worthwhile in Morning Pages…

But I feel like finally, after faffing about for six weeks, I’ve figured out how to execute a truly productive day. Now I go back to uni and that’ll jumble everything up a bit, but I’ll be trying to keep at least a few days a week like this.

What do your writing days look like?

Goals: Making Them, Kicking Them, Putting Them Out in Public

In the spirit of oversharing, which I’m very fond of (and fond of the internet for), I’m posting some of my latest writing goals here so that you can all keep me accountable if I try to let them slide away into the abyss.

Having (just five minutes ago) finished timetabling my next uni semester, I’ve realised I’m committing to some big things here:

– I plan on reading at least one essay a week. This is pretty easy to do during the semester, but outside of it I tend to let this slide. I really want to expand my short non-fiction knowledge base, as it’s something I’m interested in writing a fair bit of myself. So. That.
– This second point is bigger: I’m committing to doing at least one writing exercise every day. Furious Horses style, only without the public sharing. Perhaps at the end of each week I’ll post on here the exercises I’ve done, and whether they’ve been helpful or not, because I know a lot of this site’s readers are writers, and you never can have enough ideas for writing exercises.
– Competitions! I want to start entering competitions. There’s money to be made, folks. And recognition to be given. Might as well give it a crack. If I don’t, crap people might win. And we can’t have that.
– Every quarter, I plan on sending off a piece to a publication which I don’t really honestly believe will accept me. This is how we make impossible things real. This is what happened with The Big Issue, and it’s inspired me.

I’m hoping that making these plans public will create some extra accountability. If I try to pretend this post never happened, give me hell.


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