Writing with a tomato

The Pomodoro Technique is a method of time-management many writers find useful. It was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980’s and takes its name from the tomato-shaped kitchen timer Crillo originally used. (Pomodoro is Italian for “tomato”.)

There’s a whole website devoted to it, but you really only need three items to get started:

  • A timer of some sort.
  • A pencil.
  • A piece of paper.

You can use a timing app on your computer or cellphone, but Crillo recommends a mechanical timer – the type you twist and set – because the physical action of doing so helps you focus on the task. (And personally, I find the quiet tick-tick-tick in the background a subtle prompt to keep going.)

A pomodoro is 25 minutes. It is absolutely indivisible! There’s not such thing as a half-pomodoro or three-fifths of one. If you don’t complete a pomodoro, it’s just not counted.

Here’s how to “pomodoro”:

  1. Decide on a task; writing, revising, editing, etc.
  2. Set the timer for 25 minutes.
  3. Work on the task until the timer rings.
  4. When it rings, put a tick on the piece of paper.
  5. If you have fewer than four ticks on the page, take a five-minute break then go back to step 2.
  6. If you’ve accumulated four ticks, put a line through them to cancel them out and take a 15-20 minute break. When you return, go back to step 1.

The advantage of working this way is that it breaks time up into manageable units and helps you keep focused. (“No, I won’t check my email till the timer rings.”) What’s more, the pomodoros don’t have to be contiguous. I know of one writer who makes her four-a-day by doing two in the morning before work, one at lunchtime, and one in the evening. Writer Kat Loterzo even credits it with helping her draft a book in just three weeks.

There are plenty of reasons for not writing, but surely you can fit in a pomodoro or two…?

 

Share this ...
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on LinkedInDigg thisShare on RedditShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someonePrint this page

A novel in 25 words

There’s still time (just) to enter Bath Spa University’s Novel in 25 Words competition. Entries close on at 23.59 on Friday 30 June (that’s UK time so locals have an extra half-day.)

There’s a couple of caveats. You can’t be a published author – “someone with a track record of publications — books, stories published in magazines or elsewhere” or “employed in the field of creative writing”, but there don’t seem to be any geographical limitations.

The prize is £500 – an astonishing £20 (NZD$35) per word – plus your story will be recorded by the University’s Chancellor, Jeremy Irons. Yes, that Jeremy Irons.
There’s modest prizes for the two runners up too.

What are the judges looking for? There’s a page about that. And a page of samples. Here’s three: (The title isn’t included in the word count.)

Love Birds, by Nancy Kay Clark
The length of his spotting scope attracted me. He said I had a great pair of binoculars. Heart aflutter, I blushed like a roseate spoonbill.

A Bird Told Me, by Conor Kiely
Colourful parrot for sale. Only one previous owner. Extremely good memory for conversations, names, and voices. Also invents conversations by itself. Genuine reason for sale.

Dreams vs Reality, by Ryan Lynch
My family lay dead on the living room rug.
I wake up.
I had that dream again…
The one where I didn’t kill them.

Share this ...
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on LinkedInDigg thisShare on RedditShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someonePrint this page

Fun & Just Plain Weird Book Covers

If you’re looking for bad book covers, there’s plenty of sites specialising in just that — try or Lousy Book Covers or Kindle Cover Disasters — but some of them are funny or just plain weird. Here’s some of my favourites …

What’s odd about this one? The hands. Notice how many hands she has?

And speaking of hands, horsey has ’em …

Language changes all the time. Words take on new meanings. Sometimes unfortunate ones …

… and sometimes they have a double meaning the editor should have spotted …

Some are just interesting concepts for omnivores …

… while some are less so due to untantalising cover imagery …

And speaking of interesting concepts …

In the end it all comes down to survival. The zombie apocalypse was so 2016. Here’s the book you really need …

Share this ...
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on LinkedInDigg thisShare on RedditShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someonePrint this page

The state of the NZ book market

Last year, New Zealanders purchased 5.3 million printed books — not bad for a country of just 4.6 million people, but a long way behind Australia. While Kiwis purchased an average of 1.3 print books per person, the Aussie average was 2.3. (24.5 million people bought 56.4 million books.)

Where the figures get really interesting is in the number of ebooks sold. Almost every Aussie also bought an ebook each last year: 22.4 million sold, or the equivalent of 28% of total book sales. Ebook sales for New Zealand are harder to measure because we have no country-specific Amazon store so most of our purchases go through either amazon.com (the US) or amazon.com.au (Australia). Still, even without figures from Amazon, Apple and Kobo sold 1.3 million ebooks here in 2016 — which makes up around 20% of total book sales. Given Amazon’s market penetration overseas, I suspect the real number of ebooks sold here is at least double that figure.

  Population Reported
Print Book Sales
(annual units)
Ebook Sales
(annual units)
Ebooks as
% of
all book sales
  U.S.A.   325,700,000  675,000,000  487,298,000  42%
  U.K.     65,400,000 187,500,000  95,623,000  34%
  Canada     36,500,000  50,500,000  26,017,000  34%
  Australia     24,500,000  56,400,000  22,463,000  28%
  New Zealand       4,600,000  5,300,000  *1,306,000  20%*
         
  5-Country Total:  456,700,000  974,700,000  632,707,000  39%

*(New Zealand ebook total only includes Apple & Kobo stores; Because Amazon has no country-specific store for New Zealand, Kindle ebooks are purchased in NZ through Amazon.com and thus included in the US total)

The figures above come from yet another brilliant Author Earnings survey, this time of the top five English-language countries the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

As usual, there’s tons of fascinating data in the report for both writers and publishers. It’s all clearly illustrated and presented from a non-partisan perspective, but one graph in particular caught my eye:

The report’s authors note:

That represents a wildly dramatic shift in fortune for non-Big Five traditional publishers; three years ago, their combined $ ebook sales were less than half of what the Big Five’s were.

A detailed breakdown of precisely who those “small or medium publishers” really are is promised in a future report.

Share this ...
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on LinkedInDigg thisShare on RedditShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someonePrint this page

“A little lesbian joke …”

The Bechdel Test
The Bechdel test — sometimes called the Bechdel-Wallace test — began as “a little lesbian joke in an alternative feminist newspaper” back in 1985. Posed in a comic strip by cartoonist Alison Bechdel, it asks three simple questions:

  1. Does the story have at least two women in it?
  2. Do they talk to each other?
  3. About something besides a man?

At first it seems a little silly — until you start looking at the data. In one study of almost 900 successful US films from 1950 to 2006, the ratio of male to female characters remained stable for more than half a century: 2:1. But women were portrayed as being involved in sex twice as often as their male counterparts.

A 2014 study of 120 films made worldwide showed only 31% of the named characters were women, a figure reflected in another study of 700 films made between 2007 and 2014. Only 30% of the speaking characters were women.

Why does this matter? According to US National Public Radio’s Neda Ulaby:

“it articulates something often missing in popular culture: not the number of women we see on screen, but the depth of their stories, and the range of their concerns.”

It’s still largely applied to films, but it’s equally applicable to books. Goodreads has lists of crime, SF, YA and general fiction that pass the Bechdel test and it’s also been applied to the classics.

The Finkbeiner test

The Finkbeiner test  is a checklist to help journalists avoid gender bias in articles about women in science. Proposed in 2013 by Christie Aschwanden, a health columnist for the Washington Post, it was named after Ann Finkbeiner, one of her colleagues, who decided to write about an impressive astronomer and “not once mention that she’s a woman” because “when you emphasize a woman’s sex, you inevitably end up dismissing her science”.

The pair were concerned about this sort of thing:

“Jill makes a fantastic role model…because she is married, has two children and has been able to keep up with her research.”

(In a profile of biologist Jill Bargonetti in the New York Times.)

“No matter how much she bends time, there’s no escaping the fact that she’s just turned 43 and that if she wants to have kids she’s going to have to get on with it soon.”

(In a profile of pre-eminent physicist Lisa Randall in the Guardian.)

“She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children”

(The New York Times again, in an obituary of rocket scientist Yvonne Brill.)

So Aschwanden proposed seven rules for stories to pass the Finkbeiner test. The story cannot mention:

  • The fact that she’s a woman
  • Her husband’s job
  • Her child care arrangements
  • How she nurtures her underlings
  • How she was taken aback by the competitiveness in her field
  • How she’s such a role model for other women
  • How she’s the “first woman to …”

She adds:

Here’s another trick. Take the things that are said about a female subject and flip them around as if they were said about a male. If they sound ridiculous, then chances are good they have no business in the story.

Apply that trick to the examples above and you’ll see exactly what she means!

Share this ...
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on LinkedInDigg thisShare on RedditShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someonePrint this page

Advice from J K Rowling

When J K Rowling spotted a Twitter comment from @beauty_jackson that read:

“HEY! YOU! You’re working on something and you’re thinking ‘Nobody’s gonna watch, read, listen’. Finish it anyway.”

she responded with a memorable series of tweets:


That text in full:

There were so many times in the early 90s when I needed somebody to say this to me.

Even if it isn’t the piece of work that finds an audience, it will teach you things you could have learned no other way. (And by the way, just because it didn’t find an audience, that doesn’t mean it’s bad work.)

The discipline involved in finishing a piece of creative work is something on which you can truly pride yourself. You’ll have turned yourself from somebody who’s ‘thinking of’, who ‘might’, who’s ‘trying’, to someone who DID. And once you’ve done it … you’ll know you can do it again. That is an extraordinarily empowering piece of knowledge. So do not ever quit out of fear of rejection.

Maybe your third, fourth, fiftieth song/novel/painting will be the one that ‘makes it’, that wins the plaudits, but you’d never have got there without finishing the others (all of which will now be of more interest to your audience).

— J K Rowling, April 2017

 

Share this ...
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on LinkedInDigg thisShare on RedditShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someonePrint this page

The hard facts …

… from Joe Konrath:

No matter how talented you are, no matter how hard working, no matter how awesome and committed your publisher might be, statistically you are far more likely to lose the game of publishing than you are to win it. This isn’t a bad thing. Nor is it good. It’s just the nature of the beast. You could argue it’s the nature of life itself. Our job is to do what we can to influence the odds, but it’s foolish at best to argue the odds don’t matter, or don’t even exist.

(Incidentally, the whole (long) post is worth reading.)

Share this ...
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on LinkedInDigg thisShare on RedditShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someonePrint this page

Context is everything! Cats and dogs in the Bible

I spotted this quote in a magazine this week …

“The dog is mentioned in the Bible 18 times — the cat not even once.”
–W E Farbstein, on the Old Testament

… so I thought I’d check it out with a quick free download from Project Gutenberg, and a text processing tool that’s built into Linux (called AWK, if you’re interested). I discovered that dogs actually get mentioned 41 times in the Bible. Here’s the breakdown:

  Old Testament:  
     “dogs” 18
     “dog” 14
  New Testament:  
     “dogs”   8
     “dog”   1

But Farbstein is right about cats; not a single mention. There’s a lot of cattle (153) and even nine caterpillars, but no cats.

The quote seems to suggest that this is a good thing — for dogs — but the unsavoury context of many of the mentions I found led me to investigate further. Here’s what Wikipedia’s List of Animals in the Bible says about the subject:

Dog — The dog in the East does not enjoy the companionship and friendship of man as in the western countries. Its instinct has been cultivated only insofar as the protecting of the flocks and camps against wild animals is concerned. In the towns and villages it roams in the streets and places, of which it is the ordinary scavenger; packs of dogs in a half-wild state are met with in the cities and are not infrequently dangerous for men. For this reason the dog has always been, and is still looked upon with loathing and aversion, as filthy and unclean. With a very few exceptions, whenever the dog is spoken of in the Bible (where it is mentioned over 40 times), it is with contempt, to remark either its voracious instincts, or its fierceness, or its loathsomeness; it was regarded as the emblem of lust, and of uncleanness in general. As some Muslims, to the present day, term Christians “dogs”, so did the Jews of old apply that infamous name to Gentiles. A greyhound is mentioned in Proverbs 30:31.

To which Bible History Daily adds:

Dogs in the Bible were not well loved. To be called a dog was to be associated with evil and low status.
There is evidence in the Bible that physical violence toward dogs was considered acceptable (1 Samuel 17:43; Proverbs 26:17). To compare a human to a dog or to call them a dog was to imply that they were of very low status (2 Kings 8:13; Exodus 22:31; Deuteronomy 23:18; 2 Samuel 3:8; Proverbs 26:11; Ecclesiastes 9:4; 2 Samuel 9:8; 1 Samuel 24:14). In the New Testament, calling a human a dog meant that the person was considered evil (Philemon 3:2; Revelation 22:15).

So mention of dogs in the Bible isn’t a positive thing at all. In fact, it’s quite the reverse!

 

 

 

My cat says she could’ve told me so.

Share this ...
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on LinkedInDigg thisShare on RedditShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someonePrint this page

Literary Putdowns

In America, only the successful writer is important, in France all writers are important, in England no writer is important, and in Australia you have to explain what a writer is.
Geoffrey Cottrell

It was one of the dullest speeches I ever heard. The Agee woman told us for three quarters of an hour how she came to write her beastly book, when a simple apology was all that was required.
P.G. Wodehouse

He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.
William Faulkner (on Ernest Hemingway)

To say that Agatha Christie’s characters are cardboard cut-outs is an insult to cardboard cut-outs.
Ruth Rendell

If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.
Dorothy Parker

What a man Balzac would have been if he had known how to write.
Gustave Flaubert (on Honoré de Balzac)

An editor should have a pimp for a brother so he’d have someone to look up to.
Gene Fowler

From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.
Groucho Marx

A great many people now reading and writing would be better employed keeping rabbits.
Edith Sitwell

You’ve got the brain of a four-year-old boy, and I bet he was glad to get rid of it.
Groucho Marx

This is not a book that should be tossed lightly aside. It should be hurled with great force.
Dorothy Parker

Thank you for sending me a copy of your book. I’ll waste no time reading it.
Moses Hadas

Share this ...
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on LinkedInDigg thisShare on RedditShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someonePrint this page