What exactly is a blog?

GonzoThere was some discussion on Twitter the other day, about how a blog differed from a journal; that many blogs were in fact mere journals, filled with the personal thoughts and observations, and that there should be a different nomenclature for them.

You know what though, the differentiation is at best paper-thin. Unless you’re writing a commercial listicle for salary, ad revenue or exposure, a blogpost is no different from a journal entry. At the end of the day, it’s gonzo self-published article, and that’s a good thing.

Gonzo journalism, popularised by Hunter S. Thompson, puts paid to the fallacy that any writing can be purely objective. There will always be an element of subjectivity, to a greater or lesser extent. One might pretend otherwise, claim the writing is devoid of such trappings, but unless it’s the driest recount of facts, that’s nigh-impossible. Gonzo takes that idea to it’s logical opposite: if you can’t remove the writer from the writing, why not embrace that entirely?

Blogposts frequently instinctually blur this divide, as per the original observation, where a factual post is heavily tinged with the personality and prejudices of the writer. And why not? The blog is after all a personal domain. It may not be a safe space, it is public after all, but it is the digital yard of the writer. Those interested can visit, but none are compelled to stay.

So why not embrace this attitude, this gonzo sensibility? Why not accept that facts and guidance are useful, but do we really need another article telling us, for example, which rules of writing we should or should not follow? More interesting is what the topic means to an individual, what their perspective is, how it makes them feel. That’s where the individuality comes in: Everyone’s tastes and perspectives will be like nobody else’s. What’s interesting is when those tastes and perspectives appeal to the reader, making them think or empathise or just enjoy the ride while it’s happening.

So, embrace the gonzo, I say. Don’t try to write a dry recitation in a failed attempt at objectivity. Even if nobody ever partakes of your creations, find the joy of the writer in the written word, regardless of what you end up calling the result.

Outlining And The Inner Five-Year-Old

Two days in an empty house, one of which spent beating my head against the wall of exhaustion masking as writer’s block, four colours of Sharpie, 107 index cards and a pot of goulash. That’s what it took to completely re-outline Underworld Calling, my supernatural thriller, from scratch. Into that rewrite went notes from members of the London Writers’ Circle, friends on Twitter and excellent paid feedback from Drew Hilton, the Screenplay Mechanic.

As much as I loved the ideas and characters, and the last draft and story as a whole, I knew it had major issues: Dangling plotlines, insufficient visual and commercial appeal, redundant characters and poor structure. Most of it was due to not outlining from the get-go, then re-tinkering with it over and over, rather than just biting the bullet and outlining it all over again. My key tool to ensure the story was nice and tight this time around was to enquire of my inner five-year old. Every index card was greeted with a plaintive ‘But whyyyy?!’. And if I couldn’t answer it simply on the index card, it got shuffled off until I had either an answer or a better plot point. And by that method, many darlings were murdered, sometimes literally, always brutally.

I’m a long way from done, of course. There are currently oodles of index cards on the floor, in columns by sequence. I’ve taken photos, but I need to write them up, and then turn them into a treatment. And when all that’s done, then starts the actual writing wherein there’s a decent chance the plot and characters and outline will shift a little. But I have a solid starting point, an outline that has managed to survive my most brutal self-criticism, and the relentless enquiries of said inner five-year old. And that’s no bad thing at all.

Mobile Apps for Writers

These days many writers rely on their mobile devices, their phones and tablets, rather than (or in addition to) more analogue stationary. Anything to get ideas down on the move with a minimum of effort and inconvenience. So I’ve gathered a list of mobile apps that I find useful to this end. I’ll apologise for the slight iOS bias in these, it’s not that I think one platform is necessarily superior to any other, but it just happens to be the one that works for me. Some these aren’t free, and there are cheaper alternatives for most, but again they’re the ones that work for me.

Dropbox

(Cost £0. Available for IOS/Android/Windows Phone/Windows/Mac)

Dropbox is really just your basic minimum, it’s a syncing, backup and file storage solution. Install it on your computer(s) and it’ll keep the folder synchronised across everything and make the files available to your on all your mobile devices. You can also share people links to files or entire folders, rather than sending documents backwards and forwards. Importantly, some apps listed below also allow direct access to Dropbox, meaning you’re not linked into any device specific ecosystems for file access and sharing. While the basic Dropbox package is free for 2Gb of storage, you can get 1Tb of storage for £7.99 per month.

Drafts

(Cost £7.99. Available for iOS only)

Drafts is sadly iOS only. All Drafts does is give you a blank page to create text notes, and that really is all. It gets you in fast, files your snippets away, and then gives you the opportunity to transfer the notes to social networks, Dropbox, Evernote or a variety of other destinations by a powerful series of tools. Drafts also support Markdown, for those people who use that. Use it when you need minimal friction between your device and the words battering away at your brain.

Evernote

(Cost £0. Available for IOS/Android/Windows Phone/Windows/Mac)

Evernote is a great way of organising all those little snippets you acquire over time, the little notes and photos and ideas and documents. All can be tagged and sorted and organised, making it easy to find those ideas again when you’re looking for a specific note or some inspiration. I use it by using the web clipper to clip web pages I find as I browse, sending notes from Drafts and using IFTTT to sync favourited tweets and photos.

Microsoft Word

(Cost £0. Available for IOS/Android/Windows)

As opposed to Drafts, Microsoft Word is a fully fledged word processor, and the mobile implementation, especially for tablets, is pretty good. It can even open documents from Dropbox and save them back there. Much as some would like to leave the hegemony of MS word, people are still going to use it and so we need to be able to open and edit the documents.

iAnnotate

(Cost £7.99. Available for IOS/Android)

There is a lot of competition amongst mobile PDF annotation apps, but my vote goes to iAnnotate. It does the job well, and is incredibly useful when someone inevitably send you a PDF of their work to review. It too can open from Dropbox.

Fade In Mobile

(Cost £3.99. Available for IOS/Android)

I’m a big fan of Fade In screenwriting software, and the mobile implementation is pretty good as well. And, it too can open from and sync with Dropbox.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary & Thesaurus

(Cost £2.99. Available for IOS/Android/Windows)

The M-W dictionary and thesaurus app is excellent. There are cheaper versions out there, and even British English specialised dictionaries, but I find that M-W blows them away, and also differentiates between British and American usages.

Do you have any others you can’t live without? Any replacements for any of the above, or comments on the ones I’ve chosen? Let me know!

Screenwriting Back To Basics

Last year, Scott Myers of Go Into The Story posted up a series of articles that were useful but I felt didn’t get as much traction as I thought they deserved. So, for your reading pleasure, I present to you Scott’s complete Screenwriting Back To Basics series.

Screenwriting Back to Basics, Day 1: Writing Scenes

Screenwriting Back to Basics, Day 2: Protagonist Metamorphosis Arc

Screenwriting Back to Basics, Day 3: Plot = Structure

Screenwriting Back to Basics, Day 4: Character = Function

Screenwriting Back to Basics, Day 5: Reader Identification