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Category: Writing

Will Write for Money

Will Write for Money

You may have noticed a new button over there on the right. Looks like a mug with a heart on it. Looks kinda like this:

Yeah, that’s the one. what’s that lil’ guy doing there?

Here’s the thing: back in the day I ran ads on my blogs. They never brought in all that much money, usually just enough to keep the lights on. But I never liked it. I’m not some fancy auteur who thinks I’m “too good” for advertising; I just don’t like feel of ads, they’re a distraction from the content.

So here’s my new solution: a tip jar. If you like this site, and you have a few bucks to spare, I’d love it if you drop me a tip.

ko-fi is great because every cent you drop in there goes directly to me. no middle men. I like that! 😆 Right now I’m playing with “ko-fi Gold” which costs me $6/month, but if three people every month chip in I’m still in good shape.

And Here’s What You Get

But this isn’t just a one-way street. When you drop me a tip in ko-fi you can make a little comment along with that tip. Why not make it an idea for a story or an essay? If it’s family friendly I’ll write it up and post it to ko-fi as a (timed) subscriber-only post.

Beyond being family friendly I really don’t have any limits. If you want me to write about you waking up as a bear in a new version of the Metamorphosis I’m game. If you like one of my stories or series and want more of that you can just yell “MOAR ANGEL LIZ” in the comments and I’ll get the hint. And you’ll have access to an Angel Liz story that won’t be on the site for at least 30 days.

Like I said, this is an experiment. Running these blogs isn’t exactly breaking the bank, but it’s not free either. I can’t wait to see what kind of weird stuff you wonderful people want me to write.

Automation for Authors

Automation for Authors

Or: Writing with Python

I really love Scrivener. I may have mentioned this before. And I really love Leanpub. And for the most part, they work really well together. But there’s always room for improvement. And tonight I have added yet another layer of sophistication to my workflow. I’m pretty excited to share this with you.

The Workflow

Here’s a high level overview of how this all works:

  1. Write in Scrivener
  2. Export text files from Scrivener
  3. Check text files into a git repository shared with Leanpub
  4. Tell Leanpub to publish the book

Scrivener: Writing and Exporting

In Scrivener, you write all your text in little individual sections that you can move around at will. This is incredibly handy. If you decide the chapter on configurations should be in Part I: Beginning instead of Part II: Refinement you just drag it to the appropriate folder and you’re good to go. You can then export all these snippets as text files, and Scrivener will keep your file structure intact, like so:

A list of topics in Scrivener

Which turns into this on export:

The exported files from Scrivener

But where did those numbers in the file names come from? They came from here:

Scrivener Export Options

So now we’ve got a directory full of directories full of text! Let’s send it to Leanpub, right? Well, we need to do a little work first.

Prep for Print: The Leanpub Stuff

If you just give the Leanpub book generator a pile of text files it doesn’t know what order they should be in. So you provide it an extra file, book.txt, that includes all of your text files and the order in which they should be put into the book. The current book.txt file for Painless Git looks like this:

1 Front Matter/1 frontmatter.txt
1 Front Matter/2 Book Status.txt
1 Front Matter/3 Preface.txt
1 Front Matter/4 Introduction.txt
1 Front Matter/5 Structure.txt
2 Main Matter/1 mainmatter.txt
2 Main Matter/2 Beginning/01 Part 1.txt
2 Main Matter/2 Beginning/02 A Brief History of Git.txt
2 Main Matter/2 Beginning/03 Installing.txt
2 Main Matter/2 Beginning/04 First Steps.txt
2 Main Matter/2 Beginning/05 Commit.txt
2 Main Matter/2 Beginning/06 Interlude Tools.txt
2 Main Matter/2 Beginning/07 Branching.txt
2 Main Matter/2 Beginning/08 Configure.txt
2 Main Matter/2 Beginning/09 Sharing.txt
2 Main Matter/2 Beginning/10 Oops.txt
2 Main Matter/3 Refinement/01 Part 2.txt
2 Main Matter/3 Refinement/02 Good Git Habits.txt
2 Main Matter/3 Refinement/03 Small Commits.txt
2 Main Matter/3 Refinement/04 Hygiene.txt
...

When I wrote Painless Vim and Painless Tmux I kept this book.txt file up to date by hand. It was just another text file in Scrivener. So when I added a new section to the book I would go into book.txt and add each new section. The benefit to doing it that was was that I could work on a new section for a while before it got added to the book. The downside, of course, is human error. Sometimes I would add a new file in the wrong place, so chapter two came before chapter one. Or I would update the order in Scrivener and not update it in book.txt, which meant that when I published a new version it didn’t include my new chapter, and I had to fix book.txt, then publish again immediately. Whatever the case, sometimes book.txt got out of sync with reality.

It’s so easy to get files lined up in Scrivener and once you’ve done it in Scriv you shouldn’t have to do it again in book.txt. If you’re a developer the words “write a script” are already foremost in your mind, aren’t they? What if we could hook into git’s workflow to generate book.txt just before we commit?

Oh right, we can.

Python and Git Hooks

So now you need to create book.txt programmatically from your actual file structure. You’ve got numbered everything, so you can just recurse through the directory, find each leaf node and then prepend its path, and you’ve got a file path, right?

You just did too much work. Python is made to make things easy. os.walk will find every file in your directory and all subdirectories. I wrote a short python script that finds all the files, puts them in order, and then calls git add book.txt. Make that executable and save it as /painless_git/.git/hooks/pre-commit and you’re in business, my friend.

So now I no longer have to manage book.txt by hand. Using the features in Scrivener and in git, I’ve made it that much more painless to write Painless Git.

I’ve also come up with a good excuse for why I haven’t added any actual text to Painless Git today.

Introducing Painless Git

Introducing Painless Git

I have a three week break between summer and fall terms in my MBA program, so naturally I decided to write a new Painless book. I’m excited to announce Painless Git, the third [1] book in the Painless series.

The most common request I have received is for a book on something people actually use. And I’m well positioned to write this one. Unlike Painless Vim, which I wrote to help me learn vim, or Painless Tmux, which I wrote to help me learn Tmux, I’m actually already pretty good with git.

At my last job I helped move the entire 600+ developers in our organization from subversion to git, and spent months training individual teams on the new system. Then I switched jobs and moved our team here from subversion to git, and trained them on it. In my time as the “git guy” I’ve seen just about every git mess people can cause and found my way back out of most of them.

So Why Are you Writing This Book Now?

For years I’ve resisted writing Painless Git. I kept coming up with excuses like “I want to write novels!” Or “My wife just had another baby!” Or “I’m getting an MBA and it’s really hard!”

But then a wonderful thing happened: I have been put in charge of a brand new team of developers and guess what? It’s time to teach them git. Faced with this prospect I thought “I could dig up all my old presentations and cheat sheets and teach this team git over the course of a few weeks, or I could spend the next year or so finally writing Painless Git. As I’ve already demonstrated, it doesn’t take much to push me over the edge.

I’m very exited to share this one. Painless Git is a distillation of the tips, tricks, methods, and patterns that I’ve been teaching to teams from one part of Salt Lake City all the way to a suburb twenty miles outside of Salt Lake City. These are patterns and recommendations that have been battle hardened and stood up to old SVN pros and brand new interns alike.


  1. and final. I mean it this time!  ↩
Prism, Not Mirror

Prism, Not Mirror

My story, To: The Lady on the Train has gotten a lot of praise, for some reason. I’m still learning what people actually like in my writing, and sometimes things just catch.

But the criticism that has been leveled against it is that it’s not really fiction, because it’s so clearly based on something that really happened. This is somewhat confusing to me, because everything I’ve ever written is based on things that have really happened. Sometimes I put dragons or spaceships (or dragons on spaceships) in the mix because I like dragons and spaceships. But the core of every story is the world around me.

It’s been said that art holds a mirror up to life, but I disagree. If I had tried to directly reflect the experiences that seeded To: The Lady on the Train the piece would have been a lot longer and a lot less focused. It would have contained all the little pauses and moments where I had to say “I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you, what was that?” Things like that are real but not good fiction. I took a forty-five minute conversation, edited out all the parts that didn’t fit the narrative I was trying to relate, simplified and clarified the things that made my point, and that’s what you got.

Instead of a mirror, I would say that art acts as a prism. Any work of art refracts out a part of the artists’s experiences. Life doesn’t fit on the canvas or the page. Ideas, feelings, themes; those are things you can distill out and communicate. If an artist of any stripe has done their job the authenticity of that idea, feeling, or theme will resonate with you and you will feel the truth of it.

Perhaps, if you take all the creative output of our entire species, every story, every song, every sculpture, every YouTube video, every podcast, every painting, every drawing, every poem, every hastily scribbled love letter; perhaps then you would get something approaching a “mirror”. But, like a reflection, it would still be a shallow, flat copy of an infinitely deep reality.

Daft

Daft

You used to be witty and wise? Me too!
But now I’m so daft it’s depressing.

Pull up a chair, let’s sit here and share
A laugh at how fast we’re regressing.

NaNoWriMo Year Nine

NaNoWriMo Year Nine

I’ve been participating in National Novel Writing Month so long they needed a second row for a

nano-history
Purple means “won”, teal means “participated.” The Halo means I donated.

ll the icons. Next year I hit double digits. And what have I gotten out of it? Have I published any novels? Am I famous? Or am I just wasting my time?

Well, neither. No, I haven’t published a novel, but that’s not because I haven’t been writing, or because NaNoWriMo is useless to me. But I have written a lot, and have sharpened my skills, and kept my hand in as I go through a lot of life stuff.

And I’ve written and self-published a couple of tech books, something I never thought I’d do. I’ve loved that experience as well.

I’ve found the confidence to keep writing even when it feels like it might just be pointless, even when the book I’m working on feels like a train wreck. And I’ve found a large community of helpful people and resources that help me see the value in pressing forward in my noveling even if it never will make me rich and/or famous.

I honestly believe that creativity is its own reward. I’m greateful to NaNoWriMo for encouraging that belief.

Byline, Meet Front Page

Byline, Meet Front Page

The inside of Field Notes' new "Front Page" reporter's notebook.
The colors are a little different, but the awesomeness is the same.

Field Notes just turned their wonderful Byline Quarterly Edition into a permanent edition named “Front Page“.

I’m genuinely excited about this. I have four Byline notebooks from my Field Notes subscription, and they have rapidly become indespensible to me. The reporter’s notebooks work so nicely in so many ways. The fact that they lay flat and stay open means they’re far more useful for presenting out of than regular memo books. I’ve used them for lessons and talks a number of times now, and they are my go-to way to take notes in meetings. So I was sad knowing that my dependence on the Byline books would come to an end. Now I know that it’ll just switch from serious blue covers to serious gray ones, and I can live with that.

Welcome Home

Welcome Home

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Four years ago I set out with the lofty goal of migrating away from WordPress to the heady, nerdy world of Jekyll. And then I realized that as much as I love doing everything command-line style it was actually slowing me down quite a bit. So now I’m moving back to something that actually, you know, works.

I’ve got a blog for short fiction over at Monday Stories. And I’ve got my books. And even a Tumblr. But I’ve been realizing that I don’t have a nice place to ramble like a crazy ol’ grampa. So I’m bringing this blog back out of the mothballs.

IT’s good to see you again. Thanks for stopping by.

Admit it. You’ve always wanted to be a super hero.

Admit it. You’ve always wanted to be a super hero.

Thrusts of justice coverMatt Youngmark’s Thrusts of Justice is out today, in paperback and on the Kindle! It’s a Choose Your Own Adventure book that allows you to take on one of three awesome superhero personas and fight crime, and admit it; you’ve always wanted to do that. Click on the text link above to check it out!

I’ve only just started the book, but it’s much like Matt’s other works, which is to say well written, funny, and full of action and awesome characters. Seriously. Click the pretty picture or the text link and buy your copy right now. If enough people buy the book today, the very day it’s released, the world will be a better, freer place; where independently published books can challenge the big publishing houses and all of us can choose which ending we like the best.

A Superhero is You!

How To Make a Stupid 80’s Movie

How To Make a Stupid 80’s Movie

Once the 80’s misfit teenager ranged far and free across the American landscape. from John Cusack to Molly Ringwald, if you could pretend you were a high school outcast who had big dreams and a desire to win you were on top of the world.
However, I’ve noticed that ever since 1989 people have stopped making stupid 80’s teenager movies. Oh sure, people tried to make a similar film in the 90’s, movies like Chasing Amy and Mallrats, but these movies didn’t have the same flair, the same élan, or the same bone-headedness of the classic 80’s film. To help remedy this situation and to inspire all the budding filmmakers with a desire to make something truly brain-dead I humbly offer this guide to making stupid 80’s movies.

Stick to the Recipe

To make a stupid 80’s movie you have to stick to the recipe. If your main character isn’t a high school student having a hard time fitting in your movie will fail. If the parents in the movie have brains, or even anything resembling a serious part in the film people will suspect your masterwork of being something introspective or even deep, and nobody wants that. No, like a great sonnet, you must work within the framework, and only use the plot elements that have been so well-tested over the years. Specifically:

High School Students

Even if your main actors are old enough to be PhD candidates, you need to portray them in high school. And not just any high school. Your 80’s movie high school is covered in graffiti, the halls perpetually packed with an assortment of punks (colorful hair), preppies(colorful sweaters draped over their shoulders) and jocks (wearing team colors, of course). If anyone is not wearing bright colors they will be your nerds. They must laugh at space jokes, wear brown pants above their navels, and be generally looked upon with either scorn or pity, depending on the character looking upon them.
Against this backdrop you will place your protagonist. If male, your protagonist will wear a tie that is less than 2 inches wide at its widest point and a sports jacket. If female, your protagonist’s hair must be no less than 3 inches taller than her actual skull. In terms of wardrobe you have more freedom with a female lead, but remember that she has to clean up nicely for the big dance, where she will wear something with shoulder pads that would frighten a linebacker.
Your antagonist may be one of the following: The school administration, the jock boyfriend of your male protagonist’s love interest, or the preppie ice queen that actively seeks to destroy your female protagonist’s dreams of finally being socially accepted.

The Dilemma

Again, your dilemma is tightly proscribed, and must fit within the high school milieu. Perhaps your main character needs a date to the prom, or maybe they will be denied some life goal if they don’t get their grades in line by the end of the semester. Either way, your protagonist must solve this problem within one week, two at the outside.
Once you have truly mastered the art of stupid 80’s movies you may consider the third-party dilemma. This is where the romantic interest has a problem and the protagonist must help them solve it, usually in a way that would make no sense at all. Saving an old house from being torn down by winning a boat race, for example. The third-party dilemma gives you more room to experiment, but also walks the line between stupid 80’s movie and standard romantic comedy, and should be used sparingly.

The Cast

While your main couple are fine and all, you can’t really have a stupid 80’s movie without a good supporting cast. Your main character’s best friend, for example, will often define the tone of the movie, and should get the lion’s share of the memorable lines. There should be a younger brother who is either silent and brilliant, or insanely talkative and vapid. In either case the younger brother will be obsessed with finding an attractive female companion. His success in this endeavor is immaterial, so long his antics are sufficiently comic.
It is not uncommon for the love interest to already be romantically involved with someone at the beginning of the movie, and that someone should be an intensely shallow, self-centered icon. Male or female, they should wear pink and have blond hair. You may worry that the audience won’t accept the fact that your love interest, whom you have written as a sensitive, intelligent, and caring person, has willingly paired off with such a dud. For the most part, as long as the romantic interest ends up with your protagonist all will be forgiven, but if you feel the need to have the romantic interest explain their choice, the standard “[He/She] used to be different, before [he/she] became head of the [basketball team/cheerleading squad]” formula is sufficient.

The Music

The music in a stupid 80’s movie should be from the 80’s, of course, and no pains should be spared to emphasize the 80’s-ness of it. Any piece that doesn’t have a synthesizer should be rejected out of hand. Themes ranging from new love to lost love may be used. At some point, usually at the prom, there should be a live band, who should endeavor to look as Californian as possible. Brightly colored suits with white loafers are acceptable. There should be two keyboards on stage, a Roland and a Yamaha. If you have a female singer in your live band she should look as much like Cindi Lauper as your budget allows.

Product Placement

Speaking of your budget, a large portion of your production budget can be covered by a few well-placed pizza boxes or soda cans. There’s no reason to write the names of these products into your script–that would be too obvious–but any time a group of friends is gathered to celebrate some minor success be sure that they do so with Coca-Cola and Pizza Hut. Particularly savvy producers can even get either Roland or Yamaha to pay for the Cindi Lauper impersonator, but be aware that they will ask for a long keyboard solo in the middle of your dramatic-conflict-resolution-at-the-dance scene.

Conclusion

And there you have it. Follow these steps and you will be on your way to making quickly forgotten teen movies like a pro. Join us next time when we take a look at making nightmare-inducing children’s fantasy movies using rubber masks and puppets.