Monthly Archives: October 2009

Making Friends

There are lots of great things about the iPhone. The killer feature is the internet access. The fact that you can really actually browse the internet on the move is a huge thing. Like the mobile phone before it, this is such a huge feature that people don’t know they need it before they get it, and once they have it, could never go back.

But that isn’t the feature people talk about. The feature that people interrupt me to talk to me about is the ability to watch TV shows on the train. It’s really simple to get a TV show onto your iPhone. I have Friends and The IT Crowd on mine and there’s plenty of room for whole series. You don’t need a TV screen larger than the one on the iPhone to watch these kinds of shows. It works great. Once, when I was watching Friends, I heard two people talking next to me about how, having seen that, they were going to get iPhones. And on two separate occasions, people have asked me how difficult it is to get shows on there. And the answer is – it’s simple.

Come for the TV shows, stay for the internet.

Are there an even number of even numbers?

The other day, I was suddenly struck by the question, “Are there an even number of even numbers?”. I mean, is it something that is known?, can it be calculated?, and then I went on to worry about the rather obvious follow-up question involving odd numbers.

There has actually been a lot of confusion about this over the years. The mathematics of evenness and oddness is called Parity. And it was really confused by the Greeks. The rule is pretty simple: if you pick a number and divide it by 2, and there is no remainder, it is even. So 4 is even because 4 divided 2 is 2. 3 is not even (and therefore odd) because 3 divided by 2 is 1 and a half. 2 divided by 2 is 1 and so 2 is even…

‘Whoops, hold on’, said the Greeks. ‘1 isn’t a number. So 2 can’t be even.’

Why didn’t the Greeks think that 1 was a number? Because they hadn’t discovered the concept of zero yet.

Basically, because the Greeks didn’t understand the concept of zero, they had to make 1 do all kinds of complicated stuff to try and get around the fact that zero didn’t exist. So they figured the simplest way to get around this was to declare 1 not a number. Therefore the Greeks believed that neither 1 or 2 were odd or even.

But then some smartypants in India started saying zero was a number for sure, and they had the maths to prove it. So if zero was a number then 1 was definitely a number, so suddenly 2 became even and 1 became odd.

But what about zero? Presumably, some of the previous concern about whether zero was a number led to many thinking that it was neither odd nor even. But a lot of people still believe, for some hard wired reason, (perhaps because it is lower than 2) that it must be odd. But it isn’t, it is even. If you take 0 and divide it by 2 then you get no remainder, you get zero.

Also, it helps with the symmetry. If you line the numbers up including minus numbers you will see that it’s really good to have an even number there between -1 and 1.

So now we know that, we can answer the question. Between 1 and infinity and between minus 1 and minus infinity there are the same number of even and odd numbers. There must be. So everything is in pairs (or parity). But we know there is 1 extra number, the number zero. And zero is even.

This means that there are an odd number of even numbers and an even number of odd numbers. Weird huh?

Creativity isn’t all big shirts and flouncing around Italy

Katherine has been being creative over on her blog. Please check out these two posts before you continue reading all of this: and I wrote a comment on her site that got a bit out of hand. So here it is – it’s the creative process, writ large.

I am not sure I agree about the creative process. But it is hard to know. I write in two different ways depending on the context. Sometimes I just keep writing sentence after sentence with little idea of where I am going and hope that will get sorted in the edit. And that works fine in a short thing, and you imagine that when you are going to go and write a novel you are going to do it properly – come up with a plot and fill in the details.

However… That doesn’t seem to be the real truth. Sometimes I write and I find myself coming up with the whole story. Sometimes I know I want to write, but I have no idea what is coming next. The sense of painting oneself into a corner is hugely exciting and motivates you through the slog of writing, and it is a slog. I would say that I always find writing less exciting when I know the end before I get there. But the question is – does knowing make the end result a better or worse thing?

It is hard to know whether the excitement of keeping you guessing distracts you. Does it stop you from seeing the wood for the trees? Do you end up with something hideously unbalanced? And yet the question remains – does it matter if, on the other hand, you enjoy the process so little that you can’t get to the end?

The issue with this is that the process of creation is somewhat mechanical. This is like parts of the edit for me. The sad news is that you can’t have creativity without hard work and a bit of boring mechanical processing. Other people don’t do it because of the hard work, and that’s part of what makes it worth while.

Just think, you could imagine monster, would that be as good as holding monster? I make up a story with every spare five minutes I have. But it is the ones I turn into reality that satisfy me.

Sometimes, you have to overcome your enjoyment of the process to achieve results. My novel, when it is in my head, is perfect, writing it reveals the faults. In my head, nine years ago, it was a perfect story I told myself one rainy evening. I loved it, and now as people read it, I’ll realise the faults and I’ll have to be told about them, because, at the end, the achievement is worth it. Maybe we will see more of monster around the house than your collage?

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do collage, of course, but that part of all creative work involves the horrible difficult part where you have to learn all the new things, create rubbish, fail and learn. And part of that is challenging yourself. Making a collage out of materials you’ve never used before, knitting with a new material, writing a much longer story.

In some ways, if the impending sense of doom and failure are absent, the process isn’t going to be exciting. That’s why to me, here, the collage is more interesting because you had to do something, and publish it, and that’s scary for you. Maybe the next thing is constructing a knitting pattern for yourself, or maybe it’s just pushing the boundaries of the scary and knowing that whatever you did, four things are true:

1) You did it
2) Not many people do
3) You started, which is hard enough
4) You finished

Proud isn’t enough of a word, for what I feel about you. Now keep starting and finishing.

P.S. If you would like to suggest a topic for Katherine to be creative about then send in your ideas here.

Who edits the editors?

Christine asked two important questions in the comments on the Draft Dodgers post:

I’m curious who you select to read your work along with you – friends, family, perfect strangers?

Is it hard for them to be brutally honest?

I know how I chose the set of people I am using but I’m not sure how to advise anyone anyone else to find people like this in their set of friends. So maybe I’ll describe them and that might help.

Reviewer 1 – Nick Ollivere

I’ve known Nick since we were 12. We were also flatmates for around 4 years. So we have a secure friendship. Nick is also a writer. During most of the time we’ve known each other we’ve worked on projects together. Writing with somebody else means, to a certain extent, having to try and get your bit in ahead of what the other one wrote. And part of doing that involves being able to criticise the other. So we have a long and secure relationship, and because he’s a writer he tends to read it in a slightly different way. Brutal honesty is guaranteed. We’re used to it, because I guess when writing together we are making something together and so he’s used to changing my writing to make our project better.

Reviewer 2 – Katherine Hall

Well most people in a relationship know where their best critic is – their partner. Fair, balanced, truthful and unwilling to let you get away with cheating yourself. The only problem is that while you imagine you don’t write with your own voice, of course it’s all in there – and Katherine has to hear my voice a lot! This is going to make reading something this long a bit tricky. I mean Katherine is editing this
article before it is published too. But on the other hand that familiarity means she is used to giving me the feedback I need. So brutal honesty – check, secure relationship – check.

Reviewer 3 – Adrian Lightly (fourstar)

I spend a lot of time with Adrian as we are friends and we work together for about 11 hours a day, and we have been doing so for about 5 years. We don’t write together but we do create software together. This means that a large part of what we spend our days doing is a kind of critical creativity. We are finding problems and solutions together. When you hear the word criticsise you imagine it as a horrible slight to the receiver of it. Constructive criticism is such an abused phrase by people who want to dress up their mean criticism. But constructive criticism is our
trade I guess. “This button should be blue and be over here because when people press it they are thinking of the kind of actions that go with these other blue buttons, rather than these orange ones over there”. There is no malice in there, it’s making the whole thing better, and how was I supposed to remember the users were that crazy? So brutal, practiced honesty and long-term secure friendship.

Side note

The group so far are the reviewers who helped with the Book with the Missing First Page. We got the band back together. But because of the length of the novel I have decided to bring in some new eyes.

Reviewer 4 – Dei

Another friend and colleague, Dei is an actual editor for a living. Even though I have known her for less time than the others, it is her job to tell people the truth for a living. So this should be pretty easy for her.

And two others who haven’t reviewed for me before, are both good friends, but I haven’t asked – so I can’t really announce. It will be interesting to see if they will be able to tell me the truth as well as the others, but they will give me a fresh perspective.

My muse is like Sharon Stone

I totally subscribe to the Elizabeth Gilbert theory that it is much healthier to act as the Roman and Greeks did and imagine that genius and inspiration are seperate to yourself. Obviously we know that this isn’t true in reality. We know that when we sit down to a piece of work we sit down on our own. But it’s hard to deal with what happens when things don’t really flow. Who’s fault is it? Well it’s obviously some internal thing. This is the same mind that was able to produce ten pages yesterday. But is it helpful to go down that avenue? You may have had a glass too many of wine last night, you may have just got some bad news on e-mail this morning. You are out of the zone.

I’ve always felt that it’s better to just pretend that it’s nothing to do with you. I’m not saying that it’s okay to have that extra glass of wine. No there are some things that are in your control. Try and have the same breakfast, the same order of things before you start writing. You create little rituals which can get you in the zone. But be careful with these. You want to be able to write standing on your head if the inspiration hits. Remember these things are to help the inspiration hit. Once it has hit you are supposed to drop everything and go for it. Don’t get these things mixed up. If you start saying that you can’t write without your 2B pencil you’re going to miss things – and have very hard to read writing.

I’ve always felt that my muse was like Sharon Stone in the pretty poor Albert Brooks film – The Muse. She goes off and runs around the world picking up inspirational things. She’s that part of your mind that daydreams the fantastical. That part of your mind that hates the practicalities, the harsh realities of drudgery.

You have to entertain your muse. You have to take it out and experience things you don’t normally experience. You have to allow it its flights of fancy. But there are two reasons your muse will leave you, if you’re too serious, or if you’re not serious enough. Remember your muse is here for you to do your creative thing. You can’t just daydream you have to start.

I am a rational person and the muse is of course a part of your own mind. But just like Feng Shui works in some regards because imagining how a dragon would flow through your living room will stop you making the design mistake of parking something in the middle of your living room. This is the same, imagining your muse like a person who needs entertaining but wants results will give you what you need without feeling like the formal drag of a system. It might feel a but silly, but a willingness to embrace a feeling of silliness is a big part of being creative.

Last thing – for reasons I don’t fully understand my actual muse might be like Sharon Stone in the Muse but she looks like Jenna Elfman.