Friday, December 16, 2011

Interview with Gord McLeod on Community Fridays

Welcome to Community Fridays! During this weekly event, I interview authors, editors, publishers, and pretty much anyone else who I can get my hands on from the writing and publishing community. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to suggest new participants. Check out current and past interviews here. Only have a minute? Click here for interviews at a glance.

Today's guest is Gord McLeod, tech blogger, fiction writer in the steampunk genre, and owner of the new site Fiction Improbable.

In the comments section on a post on your blog, we had a little mini-brawl over whether it was better to write the first draft quickly or slowly. Just kidding; it was all very civil. Honestly, I'm still on the fence on this one. What, in your opinion, are the benefits of taking your time on a first draft?

The big benefit that comes to mind first is that when you take your time on a first draft you have the time to plan it out well and make sure you’re not missing any vital pieces of the story. Rushing carries the risk that your draft will have giant holes. The potential problem is the same thing though—you have the time to cover ground. A lot of ground. So much ground that you risk not finishing at all, of getting caught up in an unending cycle of editing that leaves you unable to write and make progress.

How did your participation in my favorite writing activity - NaNoWriMo - affect your perception of the quality vs. quantity conundrum? Is it possible to have both? How does writing speed affect the editing process farther down the line?

NaNoWriMo brought with it a fundamental shift in my thinking of how to write, and that’s because it showed me that you absolutely CAN have both quality and quantity. What you do, or at least what I plan to do, is shoot for quantity first. Just get it all out and written, so that you have your first draft as a starting place. That’s your quantity. It doesn’t matter if it’s terrible, just get a lot written fast. Once you have that done you can worry about quality, take your time, go over it, chip away at it, whittle it down and refine it so that the rough kernels of goodness within the original draft are brought out to shine.

I wrote a blog post about this not long ago in which I compare writing to sculpting. Michaelangelo described his sculpting as the process of bringing forth the sculptures that were always within his marble block. Writers do that too, except that we have to create our blocks first. Our blocks are our first drafts.

Like myself, you have your hand stirring a lot of pots at the same time - fiction writing, tech blogging, photography. I've often worried that my own "multi-focus" would prevent me from really succeeding at any one activity. How has doing different things helped or hindered your success? Examples?

Much like the previous issue of quantity vs. quality, it’s a matter of tradeoffs. Doing different things opens you to different modes of thinking. It can change the way you think about and work at what you’re doing, but each type of project eats up at your time, and sadly time is finite. You can only fit so much in. Fiction writing and tech blogging—I’ll use those as examples because I really haven’t done photography in a long time—are fairly complementary in my mind, for my situation. I started blogging for GeekBeat.TV because it was a very different style of writing than what I’d been doing in my day job as a game designer. It brought a lot of mental clarity and refreshment to me as a way of getting out of a rut.

Now that I’m moving more into fiction writing, I find it still has that effect, but in addition it’s a rich source of ideas that I can mine when I’m working on science fiction concepts, and probably other genres as well if I’m a little looser in my interpretation of the ideas.

I predict that our roles as online content providers will evolve in the future to involve new media - building of websites, production of videos, designing of games and other interactive art forms - more and more. Do you think there will always be a place for people who "just" write, or will it be necessary to pick up some new skills?

I think it’s going to get harder and harder to live in a pure world of “just” writing, but I don’t think it’ll be impossible. I certainly don’t live in that world. I’m building out my own site right now, Fiction Improbable, as my writing home base, and I think you’re absolutely correct on the new media front as well. I’ve been giving some thought to starting a netcast of audio readings of my work once I have enough of it all edited and complete, which will be a very new thing for me. I’ve never done anything of the sort before.

Those who absolutely insist they want to do nothing but write will have options, but I think the route they’ll take to maintain that choice will have to involve outsourcing the parts they don’t want to do—creating sites, doing book cover art, editing manuscripts, etc, so that they can focus just on the writing side.

What advice would you give to people who want to "make it" as bloggers (as opposed to blogging only for your own benefit)?

Stay informed on whatever subject it is you want to blog about. I know it sounds obvious, but you’d be amazed at how many people out there just have this vague notion that “It’d be cool to blog about X, Y or Z” but they aren’t keeping up to speed on what’s happening in those fields. I have Google Reader set up with many hundreds of feeds that keep me informed on just about everything I’m interested in, and it’s in invaluable resource.

I’m not saying you have to go crazy on RSS like I have, but however you do it, keep up to date!

What's up with elves and lightsabers?

Star Wars was the worst thing that ever happened to the traditional North Pole manufacturing labor industry. All it took was a few years of making light sabers for children world-wide to put ideas in the elves’ minds and before you knew it, the old workshop system fell to a rebellion the likes of which Santa had never seen. Nowadays the elves have a lot more to say about what goes on up there, and even have free time to pursue other interests of their own. Lately there’s been a number of elves getting into showbiz out in LA; maybe too many. Fights have been breaking out over casting opportunities, and some of them get ugly.

If you want to know more about that, there’s a short (har har) documentary called Elf Sabers you should really check out. I can speak for its accuracy, as my friend Casey McKinnon fell to the violent battle it depicts. Last I heard she was thinking about writing a series of elf help books; I’m confident that after she writes them, they’ll bring a new hope to embattled elves everywhere.

Lastly, because this feature is about establishing bonds within the writing and publishing industries, can you name one writer, editor, publisher, etc. who's doing great things right now, and why?

My current writing hero is Scott Sigler who, along with Cory Doctorow, was one of the pioneers of the writing path I’m heading down. He was one of the earliest podcasters, and the first person to publish a book as an exclusive audio-only work. He made those book podcasts available for free, which encouraged people to take a chance on his work. That’s how he built a loyal and devoted fan base early on. Doctorow did something similar with free PDF versions of his books.

That’s what I hope to do, with a little influence from Jonathan Mann, the Song-a-Day guy—I write every day, whether it’s a post for my own blog, or a section of a story I’m working on, and I post it on my site. When I finish a story, I collect the pieces and post it as a whole. Anyone can read it free. In time, when I have enough finished, I’ll be releasing ebooks which I’m thinking will be free and also on Amazon and other paid eBook marketplaces. Sigler and Doctorow are great examples to follow, and fantastic writers even if you aren’t heading down their paths.

To learn more about Gord McLeod, connect with him on Google+ or Twitter (@GordMcLeod).
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