500th Story Milestone

Five hundred days.

Five hundred deals.

Five hundred stories.

Two thirds done with the sixteenth spread.

When I started this project, my goal was fairly simple: demonstrate that the cards work as a writing prompt by writing things. To be sure, I could have used far fewer deal per spread, stopped after a few of the obvious spreads, and called the project a success.

But somewhere along the way, it became more than just about the demonstration. I have found that the daily writing exercise has been valuable to me personally. I know it has made me a better writer, even though the majority of what I write is technical proposals and reference material.

Go draw some cards and write something!

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Aside

It will soon be possible to have a Creativity Oracle Deck of your own!

A commercially printed test batch of the next version of the deck looks really nice.

The new version of the deck introduces a few new features to make the faces more interesting to look at. The total number of cards has been reduced, but each card now holds two words so the total number of words offered as prompts has increased. The art also includes a splash of color in a geometric shape.

A few decks from the test batch will be available for sale. I expect that a larger print run will follow, possibly after a kickstarter campaign.

Watch this space for more details!

A deck of your own

Link

Inspiration

A photographer who’s work I greatly admire works on the small scale. And with models who are more than just a little plastic, they are Lego.

Here’s a piece he wrote for a Lego oriented blog about his sources of inspiration. While it is obviously focused on both Lego and photography, the advice to bring focus through a narrow scope is applicable to nearly any creative process.

Writers’ block? No problem! Introducing AutoMatton

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Document Creation

Occasionally even the most fluid creative process is interrupted by the need to actually make something tangible. Often, this can be as simple as asking Word to print your document, but when the scope exceeds what Word naturally handles, you need to turn to different tools.

If you are lucky enough to be part of a larger media team, then this is the point where you get to pass the work on to an editor and move on to other fun things, like defending your work from the editor, getting the director to not rearrange your carefully crafted world, and getting the lead actor to not make your character unrecognizable. Or just getting the blasted rabbit to learn his cues and be ready for the hat when needed.

But most of us are not doing this with a support team.

Self-publishing a longer work can be mechanically very simple. There are a number of services that will take a PDF file of your well laid out book body and convert it to bound books. I’ve personally used Lulu for a trade paperback, and have seen a number of books they printed and bound. Especially if you need a small quantity (perhaps only one, even) it is difficult to do better in price and quality.

But that presupposes you have a well laid out PDF to begin with. And cover art, and all the interesting other bits (title page, publication info, copyright declaration, author bio, etc.) that turn a batch of chapters into something that really is a book. That task can be handled by Word for simple cases. Google Drive’s Document can also do this for simple cases. But neither will make getting a professional look and feel for your book body easy.

This post will identify some tools and resources that I’ve personally found useful. But do remember that I’m an engineer and magician, and am writing mostly to support those roles. My needs may not be normal. I may not be normal. I’m okay with that, but this advice is certainly given from that perspective.

Typesetting

For professional quality typesetting, I personally turn to the extensive family of tools based on TeX. Specifically LuaTeX these days. Distributions are available on many platforms. For Windows, I like MiKTeX. These tools turn plain text with somewhat arcane markup annotations into beautifully laid out pages of PDF.

When the arcane and cryptic markup gets in the way of my writing, I turn to Pandoc which can convert marked up text in many formats into many other formats. The process I personally favor is to write in [Markdown][] because for running text it resembles the kind of marks that have been used since the invention of typewriters (things like using underscore characters to indicate italic text) and is easy on the eyes when proofreading. Pandoc supports a lot of other formats, and you may find that one of the others is better suited to your style. For output, it can produce many formats include several flavors of TeX, as well as HTML for the web or ebooks, and even RTF if you are desperate to get back into Word.

The workflow with these tools (aside from the writing itself) is a lot like programming. Your documents are written in a kind of source code which is converted into PDF (or something else) for eventual printing or display. To that end, other source code workflow tools are also handy, including Lua for automating things, make for capturing all of the details of building the end result, and fossil or another version control system for keeping a history of your document.

When a more visual workflow is needed, I turn to a graphical page layout tool, such as Scribus. While scribus is hardly the only such tool, it is one that has been field tested in the production of numerous commercially available books and posters. And it is free. The PDFs it produces are considered to be very high quality and suited for consumption by professional printers.

Real Paper

Sometimes you need a small quantity of documents quicker than an outside service, but want them to look more slick than just a staple in a corner of a stack of paper.

When the document is short enough, you can consider making a single-signature booklet. If the target page size is about half of your printer’s paper size, then the booklet will be made by printing four finished pages on each sheet, ordered so that with the sheets stacked up and folded in half, you have the logical pages reading in order from cover to cover.

The shuffling needed to place each logical page into the right position (and orientation if you use more than one fold per sheet, look up the real meaning of “folio”, “quarto” and “octavo” for example) is called “imposition” by printing press operators. Real imposition includes small shifts in each page’s image to account for the thickness of the paper as it is folded, but for a simple saddle-stitched booklet this detail can be ignored.

There are software tools that take a finished book in a PDF in reading order, and write out a PDF containing the images of printer pages such that after printing, stacking, and folding according to the imposition plan, the result is a signature of pages, in order, and right side up. Two I plan to spend some time attempting to make work for me are PoDoFo and PDF Bookbinder

Binding

Once you have a stack of physical printed sheets, you need to fold and stack them into signatures according to your imposition plan, then collect the signatures together inside covers. Book binding is an art and craft all its own, but some simple techniques are accessible without much (if any) special equipment or tools.

The simplest binding to create at home is a single saddle-stitched signature. A typical comic book is produced this way. A number of sheets are printed on both sides with four pages of the finished book. A single sheet of cover stock is similarly printed with the front and back covers. All the sheets are folded, and then stacked so that the cover sheet contains all the rest of the pages. Staples at the fold hold the stack together. A standard office stapler does not have a deep enough throat to saddle stitch a booklet made from standard letter-sized paper, but a special stapler can be found that has a deep enough throat to saddle-stitch tabloid sized signatures.

Of course, you can also use a waxed thread and sew the pages together along the fold. Use an actual saddle stitch for that for a strong joint, but experiment with various hand sewing techniques and find a stitch that works for you and allows for a neat finish.

Hop!

As a near birthday present, I was informed by Aspirations of Flight that I was nominated for the One Lovely Blog Hop. After a bit of research, I’ve decided to play along. It has been more than a couple of weeks since then. In my defense, I’ve been busy with silly real life things that soaked up a bunch of time and energy.

When I embarked on the project that became the Creativity Oracle Cards, I didn’t have any of this in mind. The plan at the time was to build a prop for an exercise for a group of magicians, with an expectation that we would present the exercise a few times to other local groups of magicians, but it wouldn’t have much life beyond that.

Then an odd thing happened. I decided to not just put my deck in box until the next opportunity came along, but to consciously use it regularly as a creativity prompt. I decided that blogging about it would at least create a record for posterity, if not keep me honest by creating a public record of my progress.

But an even odder thing happened. A few people stumbled upon my blog, and they seemed to like it enough to follow and read and very occasionally comment. And to tweet and facebook about it. And their friends followed it too. The most surprising thing to me is that some of my most shared and liked posts are not my own writing. They are the early morning scheduled posts where I provide today’s card deal without comment.

And now we come around to today, when I’ve been noticed by “real writers”, and asked to participate in this game.


The rules for One Lovely Blog Hop are as follows: list 7 interesting facts about myself and nominate a dozen or so other blogs I find awesome to join the blog hop.

So first, 7 interesting things about myself:

  1. I’m not really a writer, I just play one for fun.

  2. I’m an Engineer, specifically of the software flavor, and a consultant. I’m also a bit of a typography geek, and am reasonably picky about documentation. Being an engineer, I like to dissect broken things to understand why they failed.

  3. I’m also a Magician, but not the flashy sort you see on TV specials. I work in the realm of mentalism and story, and most often as a resource to other magicians. Magic done well is all about storytelling. If you don’t know what story your props and effects are telling your audience, you don’t have control of what they are thinking. Because they are hearing a story even if you don’t know you are telling one.

  4. I’m occasionally a photographer, but never professionally. Thanks to the internet, Creative Commons licenses, and Flickr, my work has turned up on the wall in my local diner, in a wide range of blogs, and even a book or two.

  5. A photo of one of our cats stealing pizza is hanging on the wall at our favorite source of pizza, who also made the pie she is stealing.

  6. My wife and I are currently co-owned by three cats who have accepted me as one of their people. I’ve lived with cats, dogs, rabbits, gerbils, snakes, frogs, and fish around the house as long as I can remember, and we’ve had cats in our house almost as long as we’ve been married.

  7. I’m a non-obsessed foodie. I eat fluently in nearly any language. I also make a mean cream puff, and decent omelets.


And to make sure this crazy game continues to be noticed occasionally, here are my somewhat eclectic blog shoutouts, which the sharp-eyed reader might notice are not all about words, and in some cases aren’t really blogs per se.

(I really should apologize ahead of time for asking any of you to do stuff. Do it or not, there are no wrong answers, and certainly no obligations. Day jobs and real life should be assumed to take priority.)

These are some blogs and other web media that I find interesting to read and enjoy. In no particular order:

  • Writes in Seattle My sister-in-law writes about writing along with a partner.
  • Charlotte Cuevas, Author One of the first to notice the Oracle when I had just started, and now a published poet due to her year of a poem a day, and no small amount of talent as well.
  • Thinking Magically A blog about finding your potential by a magical friend and fellow Elder.
  • The Flying Cloud An alternative history south seas airship swashbuckler in installments. The operational and navigation details of airship handling seem frighteningly precise, not to mention way too accurate.
  • Girl Genius A long form comic set in a steam punk alternative Europe complete with airships and mad scientists along with a little magic they think of as hyperactive technology.
  • Gunnerkrigg Court A long form fantasy graphic novel set in a world blending Faerie, Magic, and Technology, with a boarding school at the center.
  • Schlock Mercenary A long form and remarkably long running (more than a decade without a single missed day) comic space opera published as a daily strip and full page on Sundays. Not to mention books and at least one spin-off roll playing game.
  • Gaia A fantasy graphic novel drawn in a style that reminds me of the best work by Hergé in his Tintin albums. The story so far is interesting and well told, set in a Europe-ish world infused with multiple incompatible kinds of magic. And politics. And treachery.