Jeff James

Blog

Writing in January went pretty well overall. I started by writing a little bit of fiction every day and I eventually pulled off a streak that lasted through the end of the month.

Right near the end I decided that I needed to figure out a way to count working on an outline, because I spent that last Friday and Saturday getting ready for my screenwriting class and all of my energies were devoted to my outline instead of writing or rewriting.

I updated my spreadsheet so that I could count the hours I spent in class or working on my outline. Problem is, it feels a bit like cheating even though it’s a pretty important part of the process.

Unfortunately, I think I lost a bit of momentum after two days of not adding new words or pages to my counts. I’m sure it’s just a mental hang-up, but I think if I do devote more days to nothing but outlining, it would help me feel better if I also did something like writing a journal entry so that I have some writing progress to count.

Also, I think if I go too many days without taking at crack at writing fiction, I get too much in my head about it and I tend to write a blog post or a journal entry as an avoidance tactic.

And, of course, I have work that I need to do for class. I need to read a script so that I can give feedback, and I need to make some measurable progress on my outline.

When I took screenwriting classes in Austin, I never produced anything. I don’t want to repeat that mistake.

My final counts for January 2016 were:

  • 6 hours of related work
  • 4 script pages
  • 5136 words of fiction
  • 7601 words of non-fiction
  • 12737 total words

Here’s to a solid February full of writing!

I signed up for the 201 level of Tom Vaughan’s Story and Plot class a few weeks ago, and I’m really looking forward to it. The class starts next Saturday, and this time around we’re actually going to be writing script pages. I enjoyed the 101 class a lot, but it’s definitely time I started writing a script of my own instead of limiting my creative energies to short stories and The Leet World.

I have two ideas that feel like feature films, but of course I’m planning on using the idea I didn’t bring to class last time around just because I want to make things difficult for myself.

The idea I brought last time is a contained sci-fi thriller about what might happen if teleporters existed and garage inventors started tinkering with them. The problem is that I couldn’t figure out what the character arcs needed to be; it was more of a philosophical premise than an actual character-based story. I never spent the time necessary to develop it into an actual working script, but I don’t plan on abandoning it entirely. I’ll just come back to it some other time.

This time around, I’ve decided to focus on an idea that I originally thought might work best as a web series. It’s a story about a home-brewer who stumbles into a world of magical beer recipes and secret societies. I have a much clearer idea of the main character’s story arc, so I think I’ll be able to come up with a decent outline pretty quickly and start producing pages.

As for the outline, I’m using Amazon Storybuilder to create a corkboard version. I feel like I have a pretty solid first act mapped out, but I’m not sure where the script needs to go from there. I’m planning on using the rest of this week to complete the handouts from the 101 class and fill out the outline as much as possible before class begins.

After much tinkering, I finally figured out how to make a decent static backup of my old Wordpress site. I kept running into problems no matter my approach - whether I tried the web interface or wget - but I had a brainstorm recently that solved a lot of my issues.

The main problem with trying to create a backup in the Wordpress web interface is that my site is on shared hosting and Wordpress is a resource hog. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to switch to Jekyll in the first place. I’m unlikely to ever be able to afford dedicated hosting, so switching to a static site was definitely an economic choice.

It’s also just a matter of impatience. If you try to do anything involved in Wordpress on shared hosting, you’ll probably hit the upper limit of your server’s memory and your site will crap out.

That’s what happened every time I tried to generate a static copy of my site with a plugin called Simply Static. The plugin would load for a few long minutes and then return an error message.

As for wget, it might just be too convoluted for my purposes. I could never quite figure out the right combination of options to download my site without also downloading a bunch of unnecessary garbage. It was also a pretty slow process. Whenever I inevitably realized halfway through that I’d included the wrong options, it meant I had to start over from the beginning.

My brainstorm was when I realizes that I could use AMPPS (or MAMP, if you prefer) to create my own dedicated server. See, I really only need the server for as long as it takes to spit out a static copy, so it would be absurd to pay for hosting.

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OK, so: I’m writing every day, and doing my best to maintain my streak, which means I have a few different irons in the fire at all times. Options are good! That’s how I’ve met my reading goals year after year - by reading at least a half-dozen books at the same time.

I have three (maybe four) stories that I would currently consider “active” right now. What I mean by active is that I’m actually trying to complete them and get them ready for submission. On days when I’m not ready to dive in to one of my stories, I’ve been trying to prioritize blog posts, although there are a handful of days when I’ve fallen back on writing a journal or rewriting an existing story.

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If you’ve met me, you probably know that I love tracking things.

  1. I’ve kept track of my reading habits on Goodreads (and other services) since 2006. That’s almost a decade at this point.
  2. I’ve owned three Fitbits over the years and am constantly trying to figure out ways to get more steps so that I can reach 10,000 steps a day.
  3. Whenever I decide that it’s time to lose weight, I use apps like Lose It or MyFitnessPal to track calories (until I get frustrated and eat all of the calories I can find).
  4. One of the main ways I’ve tried to get serious about my writing is by tracking my daily output. I’ve had some success with this in the past, but whenever I’ve failed, I’ve failed spectacularly and gone months without writing a word.

This year I’m making an effort to track all of those things again because I’m a masochist. They’re basically listed in order of how difficult I find them to achieve.

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After much tinkering, I’ve finally decided to replace my Wordpress site with a brand-spanking new static version generated in Jekyll.

The Jekyll installation currently lives on an Amazon EC2 instance so that I can rebuild it from anywhere, but if EC2 starts costing too much money, I’ll probably configure it on one of my Macs instead.

I generally use a shell script to deploy the site; first, it does a Jekyll build, then it uses rsync to transfer the files from EC2 to Dreamhost via ssh/sftp. It took a little bit to figure out how to get ssh keys set up on both so that rsync wouldn’t prompt for a password, but in the end it all came down to file permissions. I’ve also configured Rake so that I can test my build with html_proofer and deploy the site using my Rakefile.

The coolest part? Thanks to Panic’s Coda for iOS, I can deploy the whole thing from my iPhone - start to finish!

The current template is called Skinny Bones. I’ve tweaked it a little bit here and there, but it’s mostly the same.

An archival version of my old site currently lives on at old.unsquare.com. I’ve only ported over a selection of my old posts, and I may eventually take the old site down completely.

I’ve only barely watched Girls, but it’s clear from what I’ve seen of it that realistic, awkward sexuality is an important part of the show’s DNA.

Accordingly, when Tim Malloy from The Wrap discussed Lena Dunham’s nudity at a recent Television Critics Association panel for the show, he set off a miniature firestorm when he said he didn’t “get the purpose” of all that clothes-free acting.

Although I definitely don’t want to add to the dog-pile that inevitably occurs when someone makes a faux pas that goes viral, I would like to discuss some aspects of Malloy’s “question” that may help explain why this incident rubbed so many people the wrong way.

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I’ve been reading a lot of unproduced screenplays recently, and a few things have been jumping out at me.

First off: a lot of writers fumble on structure. A lot of what I’ve read has shown clear signs of competence but wandered around plotless for upwards of fifty pages. Some writers can pull off plotless, but most of them are novelists.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of writers are really bad at swearing.

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The Onion Logo

The 2013 Academy Awards ceremony was last night, February 24th, and critics both amateur and professional are weighing in with various post-ceremony reactions. There weren’t any huge upsets – Argo won Best Picture, as the buzz had predicted – and most commentators agree that Seth McFarlane relied on too much crass humor and approached the ceremony as if it was a roast instead of a celebration.

However, the most lingering controversy originated from outside the event, when The Onion’s Twitter account tweeted (and later deleted) a joke that referred to nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis as a “c—”.

The Onion quickly posted an out-of-character apology from their CEO first thing this morning, but memories are long on the internet, and there are some people who will never forgive them for this incident.

The interesting thing is that The Onion has a long history of posting edgy satire, but as far as I know, this is the only time they’ve ever chosen to publicly apologize for one of their jokes missing the mark.

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Last year I bought a giant wall calendar that I used to track my writing habits. I used a green check to indicate days when I wrote, and red checks on days that I didn’t. I bought the calendar a few months into the year, so one of the first things I did was put red checks through those months. This was not a good beginning.

I ended up writing only intermittently, usually one or two days here and there followed by weeks of nothing. Lots of red Xs, easy to see from across the room. It didn’t take long before I only updated the calendar occasionally, and usually only to add a bunch of red Xs. I did have success late in the year when I wrote a story and had it accepted for publication, but after that I struggled with all of my follow-up work, and pretty soon I stopped updating the calendar at all. It was clear that my system wasn’t working.

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