Mar 5th

Still waiting for you.

By zomb00
Lying on my bed reading City of Thieves by David Benioff, my laptop remains open and awaiting its bi-chapterly 'f5' in hopes of you getting in touch. Yeah, I know you have credit on your phone, but I can't f5 mine. Besides, you can fit more in a Facebook message than in a single text. 

Maybe you'll do that. Any minute now. I'm ready for it. Please?
Mar 5th

Seven Reasons

By Joey
Dawn's pale first light,
A glowing farewell to night.
Petals tumble free,
Like perfumed rain from a cherry tree.
Salty ocean spray,
Misting my face on a stormy day.
Dappled light green,
Through a forest canopy.
Warm scented grass
Slope, beneath a sun of brass.
Orchestra tunes,
Discorded notes like summer's bloom.
Orange-streaked sun set,
Burning into darkness's dept.

Each breath of these,
Living folk like a zepher breeze,
Is just as pure
And miraculous a cure,
For any tear,
Or sigh or gloom fallen here,
As the beauties,
That shine so brightly minds,
So still feel blessed,
Despite pain and times distressed.
You too can find,
Seven reasons to stay alive.
Mar 5th

Revising vs. Editing

By EmmaD

Until recently I'd never heard of a writer editing, unless their day job happened to be with a publisher. As I've always used the words, editing is done by editors, and what I do, after I've got the first draft down on paper, is revising. But now I keep hearing aspiring writers say, "I'm editing at the moment." (Just to clarify, I tend to think of re-writing as what I'm doing when I leave behind a story which hasn't worked, and start again with some of the same ideas and characters, and approximately the same purpose, and polishing as the last pass to pick up minor slips and idiocies.)

But surely the important point is that anyone trying to write recognises that getting the first set of words down on paper is just the beginning. Does it matter what we call the next stage? I didn't think so, until I started hearing a scary number of aspiring writers saying "I've written the novel, now I've only got the editing to do and I'll be sending it out." From the talk on such threads it's clear that they see editing as a close-up process: excising unneeded words, bringing out a character more clearly, tightening up sentences. Of course, that's terribly important, and can make a huge difference to how well your story comes over; I often liken it to cleaning the windows on the Orient Express: if they're grubby enough you'll be able to tell mountains from deserts and night from day, but not much more, and who'd buy a ticket if that was all they were going to see? But it seems as if many beginner writers think this close-up attention is all that's needed once the story is basically told.

"Okay, but when did the revising happen?" I want to ask. When did you stand back and look at the whole novel? When did you really examing the structure of the bridge, counting the piers, measuring the spans, testing their structural integrity? When did you prod each character to see if they're really alive, and throw them at each other to check they really would behave as the plot requires? Now that you know what the story's really about, did you ask yourself if you've told it through the right pairs of eyes? In the right tense? Started and finished it in the right place? When did you open your ears and ask yourself if the voices are voices that a reader is willing to listen to, and for a whole novel? "Revising" is derived from Latin, to re-examine, but to me it also has a sense of "re-visit" or "re-vision". When did you revisit all those decisions you made before you began to write or on the fly so you could keep going, and make sure, with all the new knowledge you have now you've got to the end of the story, that they're still the right decisions? When, in other words, did you make sure that the train will actually start, run, stay together and arrive safely at its destination, passengers and all? What about the heavy engineering?

This kind of stuff, which I think of as revising, is what publishers call the structural edit. Since professionals have good reason to work out the most creatively and financially effective way of doing things, it's worth thinking twice before doing things differently. What beginner writers have taken to calling 'editing' is what publishers call the line edit and, if it's a separate stage, will always be the later one. And then the last stage, polishing, is not unlike the copy-edit: picking up dodgy commas, typos, wayward formatting, final checks for the minor idiocies which inevitably creep in whenever you start doing stuff. Checking the toilets, as it were, and straightening the magazines in the rack.

Clearly, macro and micro - engineering and window-cleaning, wood and trees, revising and editing in my terminology - are different conceptually, even if they coil tightly together in the final novel, and some writers would say they do them together.  One writer even suggests that it's only in the close-up work that he uncovers any major structural problems. It's certainly true that if you're struggling to write how a character does something something the plot needs it may be that the character shouldn't do it, and is doing his best to tell you that: you're going to have to change either plot, or character. But the talented and/or experienced writer works with a feedback loop, whether it loops once an hour or once ever six months: big thematic changes, for example, need to be carried through at the level of sentences, while a change of tone which evolves in a particular scene may make you realise that there's something awry in the novel as a whole.

What worries me is to hear so many would-be writers using a word which suggests to me that they simply don't know that the chances of the wood being the right shape from the beginning are small, that it almost certainly will need chainsaw work, and that no amount of trimming twigs is going to make it the right shape if it isn't. I think it's because so much writing-teaching focuses on the small scale. That's partly because prose is easier stuff to read and write and teach on in class-sized chunks, than structure is. And it's partly because of the focus, in teaching beginners, is on how to find material inside and outside yourself, and then learning some tools to shape a single little piece.  So writers embarking on their first novel are often quite aware of the micro-work it takes, but much less aware of the macro: in the Writers Workshop one-day courses I teach, our exercise making people write a two-sentence summary of each of the first five chapters is an absolute revelation to many students.

But if the smaller stuff is easier for teachers to handle, I'd suggest that it's also easier for the writer to face dealing with, and that's where you need to take your Anti-Writing Demon by the throat and kick him out of the room. It's frightening for a beginner writer to stand back and try to recognise if some of those fundamental decisions have turned out not to be right. Taking a long, hard look at the heavy engineering may mean you realise that a) you've got the wrong train for the route, or the wrong route for the train and b) you may need a consulting engineer to work out what to do next. It's much easier to concentrate on excising passive constructions, and whether they really did use 'wonder' to mean 'speculate' in 1710. Unfortunately, there's no point in polishing the windows for the best view of the approach to Venice, if the train won't pull your passengers up the first incline out of Victoria, let alone get them safely and happily to Istanbul.

Mar 5th

Marine Land

By Jason
What's your favourite fish? Enjoy.

Confined below water, the fish become fodder,
Trapped under the seas, to be food for me,
Destined to breathe the oceans full of debris,
Only food for me, for no one else.

Covered with scales, this defense fails,
The tools of man destroy, the weakened koi,
And the fish I retrieve from my ocean farm,
Only to hurt me, and no one else.
Mar 5th

Question, urgently need an answer! Help!

By zomb00

 Twelve robots water the flowers in our front garden. They measure out exactly how much water each particular patch of dirt requires in order to gain maximum productivity out of the land.

However, it soon begins to rain heavily and this messes everything up. Some of the robots begin to cuss and splutter about, furious at Mother Nature for pissing on their coldly calculated work. Some of them wander off, neither angry nor distressed over their last hour of work being made redundant. Some start to cry, and wallow in their own self pity.

The last of the robots, however, decides to take things into his own hands. He decides to activate his "Destruction" mode, and twin-linked auto-cannons sprout from each of his shoulders, he then proceeds to exclaim the phrase "KILL, MAIM, BURN!" and parades around the garden threatening the other robots and passing neighbours.

This could turn nasty, fast. What is your course of action? Answer in the comment section below!

Mar 4th

The taxman cometh

By AlanP
Weens' blog about passpot applications reminded me of this, which is rumoured to be a genuine letter from the tax inspectors to a disgruntled tax payer. Certainly I haven't written any of it myself and it's offered merely for an entertainment.

Those with self assessment tax returns may empathise.


Dear Mr Addison,

I am writing to you to express our thanks for your more than prompt reply to our latest communication, and also to answer some of the points you raise. I will address them, as ever, in order.

Firstly, I must take issue with your description of our last letter as a "begging letter". It might perhaps more properly be referred to as a "tax demand". This is how we, at the Inland Revenue have always, for reasons of accuracy, traditionally referred to such documents. Secondly, your frustration at our adding to the "endless stream of crapulent whining and panhandling vomited daily through the letterbox on to the doormat" has been noted. However, whilst I have naturally not seen the other letters to which you refer I would cautiously suggest that their being from "pauper councils, Lombardy pirate banking houses and pissant gas-mongerers" might indicate that your decision to "file them next to the toilet in case of emergencies" is at best a little ill- advised. In common with my own organisation, it is unlikely that the senders of these letters do see you as a "lackwit bumpkin or, come to that, a "sodding charity". More likely they see you as a citizen of Great Britain, with a responsibility to contribute to the upkeep of the nation as a whole.

Which, brings me to my next point. Whilst there may be some spirit of truth in your assertion that the taxes you pay "go to shore up the canker-blighted, toppling folly that is the Public Services", a moment's rudimentary calculation ought to disabuse you of the notion that the government in any way expects you to "stump up for the whole damned party" yourself. The estimates you provide for the Chancellor's disbursement of the funds levied by taxation, whilst colourful, are, in fairness, a little off the mark. Less than you seem to imagine is spent on "junkets for Bunterish lickspittles" and "dancing whores" whilst far more than you have accounted for is allocated to, for example, "that box-ticking facade of a university system."

A couple of technical points arising from direct queries:
1. The reason we don't simply write "Muggins" on the envelope has to do with the vagaries of the postal system;
2. You can rest assured that "sucking the very marrows of those with nothing else to give" has never been considered as a practice because even if the Personal Allowance didn't render it irrelevant, the sheer medical logistics involved would make it financially unviable.

I trust this has helped. In the meantime, whilst I would not in any way wish to influence your decision one way or the other, I ought to point out that even if you did choose to "give the whole foul jamboree up and go and live in India" you would still owe us the money.

Please forward it by Friday.

Yours Sincerely,
H J Lee Customer Relations
Mar 4th

Letter to the Passport Department

By Weens
Further to the letter from the Times, this is a letter to the passport office.

This was actually taken from a UK
> > passport application
> > and a member of staff
> > copied it,
> > as it made her laugh all day.
> >
> > Subject: Passport Application
> >
> >
> > Dear Minister,
> > I'm in the process of renewing my passport but I am a total loss to
> understand or believe the hoops I am being asked to jump through.
> >
> > How is it that Bert Smith of T.V. Rentals Basingstoke has my address and
> telephone number and knows that I bought a satellite dish from them back in
> 1994, and yet, the Government is still asking me where I was born and on
> what date?
> >
> > How come that nice West African immigrant chappy who comes round every
> Thursday night with his DVD rentals van can tell me every film or video I
> have had out since he started his business up eleven years ago, yet you
> still want me to remind you of my last three jobs, two of which were with
> contractors working for the government?
> >
> > How come the T.V. detector van can tell if my T.V. is on, what channel I
> am watching and whether I have paid my licence or not, and yet if I win the
> government run lottery they have no idea I have won or where I am and will
> keep the bloody money to themselves if I fail to claim in good time.
> > Do you people do this by hand?
> >
> > You have my birth date on numerous files you hold on me, including the one
> with all the income tax forms I've filed for the past 30-odd years. It's on
> my health insurance card, my driver's licence, on the last four passports
> I've had, on all those stupid customs declaration forms I've had to fill out
> before being allowed off the planes and boats over the last 30 years, and
> all those insufferable census forms that are done every ten years and the
> electoral registration forms I have to complete, by law, every time our
> lords and masters are up for re-election.
> >
> > Would somebody please take note, once and for all, I was born in
> Maidenhead on the 4th of March 1957, my mother's name is Mary, her maiden
> name was Reynolds, my father's name is Robert, and I'd be absolutely
> astounded if that ever changed between now and the day I die!
> >
> > I apologise Minister. I'm obviously not myself this morning. But between
> you and me, I have simply had enough! You mail the application to my house,
> then you ask me for my address. What is going on? Do you have a gang of
> Neanderthals working there? Look at my damn picture... Do I look like Bin
> Laden? I don't want to activate the Fifth Reich for God's sake! I just want
> to go and park my weary backside on a sunny, sandy beach for a couple of
> week's well-earned rest away from all this crap.
> >
> > Well, I have to go now, because I have to go to back to Salisbury and get
> another copy of my birth certificate because you lost the last one. AND to
> the tune of 60 quid! What a racket THAT is!! Would it be so complicated to
> have all the services in the same spot to assist in the issuance of a new
> passport the same day? But nooooo, that'd be too damn easy and maybe make
> sense. You'd rather have us running all over the place like chickens with
> our heads cut off, then find some tosser to confirm that it's really me on
> the goddamn picture - you know... the one where we're not allowed to smile
> in in case we look as if we are enjoying the process!
> > Hey, you know why we can't smile? 'Cause we're totally jacked off!
> >
> > I served in the armed forces for more than 25 years including over ten
> years at the Ministry of Defence in London. I have had security clearances
> which allowed me to sit in the Cabinet Office, five seats away from the
> Prime Minister while he was being briefed on the first Gulf War and I have
> been doing volunteer work for the British Red Cross ever since I left the
> Services. However, I have to get someone 'important' to verify who I am --
> you know, someone like my doctor...
> > who, before he got his medical degree 6 months ago WAS LIVING IN
> >
> > Yours sincerely,
> > An Irate British Citizen.
Mar 4th

It's all about me, me, me

By KateD

Right. Deep breath. Here goes...

This is partly to test the cloud’s blogosphere and an experiment for me to see how and if I’ve got it right.  So do correct me if you see this in the wrong place and please feel free to direct me on the right path.

My writing this is partly to exercise my writing muscle (which I keep being told to exercise), and partly to elicit information and advice from fellow clouders .

I do agree with the advice – I do need to exercise. I spent years as a technical author, writing software and hardware guides, on-line help systems then on-line tutorials and courses. All good stuff in its own place but as dull as ditchwater and I was ready to pop my eyes out with pencils by the end of a project.

Then I had a baby. The baby is now five years old and happily ensconced in school.  He has been my full-time work (and love) for the last five years and now I want to/need to get back into flexing my brain in the pursuit of something that a) I love and b) can get paid for and c) allows me to be there for my son as much as possible.

I’ve spent at least the last year exploring the possibilities of writing for a living. Sorry, I will re-write that as it’s untrue. I’ve spent nearly 18 months now procrastinating about how I can get back into writing for a living but not as a technical writer.

I wondered if I could write for the entertainment of others. I have been told by teachers/friends/employers that I have a good turn of phrase and why don’t I try it. My closest friends suggest I write something auto-biographical. They know most of the ins and outs of my childhood and life so far which would put the grittiest of soaps in the shade. Cue lonesome violin. But I couldn’t do that. Too ‘woe is me’ for me. Even if I did inject some humour along the way.  No, I think if I could get into writing short, useful stories or articles then that would satisfy me (to begin with). I have a constant storyline running in my head and usually some kind of strong opinion to go with it. I have the skills to structure a piece of informative writing so why not give it a go.

I attended a talk by Maureen Rice (ex-editor of Psychologies) on how to be a freelance writer,  got all fired up and then was hit by the insecurity bug. The ‘everyone -else-is- so- much- better- than- me’ bug. It’s a killer. But one of the things she did advise was to write something every day and have a blog going. Something you can point prospective employers to. However I’m not sure you can point people to the blog on this site, or can you? Should I have my own separate website?

Writing for free was also mentioned. Although not to do it for too long, but just until you had a decent portfolio of work built up. What do others think about this? And how big does your portfolio of ‘free’ work have to be before you can begin asking for money?

Any pointers or advice most gratefully received.  

Thank you for listening.

Mar 3rd

Waiting for you.

By zomb00

Just sitting in front of my laptop, with an unread book begging for me to open it. I won't start it any time soon, but I'll keep it here. I'm just far too busy refreshing my internet browser: they might message me any minute now.

They won't message me.