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Saturday, 4 April 2015

I just finished writing a novel!

I just finished writing a novel (the one I mentioned in my previous post), and boy is this feeling exhilarating! Also, there is this overwhelming sense of relief. Word count: 55,827 words. Warning: Anybody who says it is too short to be considered a novel, will be shot. In the genitals.

To say I'm excited is a little bit of an understatement. I've written novels before of course, and they've been monsters that have reached almost 100,000 words, but they've all been stinkers and worse, they've all been unfinished. Unfinished in the sense that I managed to get to the first draft stage, then decided it wasn't worth it to plow on with them. A polished turd is still a turd. This novel, I can say with some confidence, has the potential of being not a stinking turd.

It's just a first draft of course and there's still a lot of work to be done to get it shiny and polished well enough for publication. There are names to be changed, MacGuffins to be inserted and Chekhov's Guns to be fired. I'll be spending the next month or so rewriting and editing and whatnot but before that happens, I'm taking a break by writing a short story simply because I owe a short story for April.

I haven't mentioned it before but for 2015, I'm again taking on my resolutions I made for 2008, which is to write a new short story every month and end up with twelve by the end of the year. I've successfully written one each month so far and have three awesome stories, one of which has already found a home in a soon-to-be-announced science fiction anthology. (Side note: if you read that blog post I linked to, you'll notice the other resolution is to finish a novel. Guess who totally just aced that resolution *wink wink nudge nudge*)

And when that's done, I'll dive back into my novel and hopefully work out the kinks enough so I can be confident in sending them to my beta readers who are already excited (or so they say) to read it. Well, I hope I can live up to their expectations.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Marathon Writer: Writing 20,000 Words in 4 Days.



I wrote 20,000 words quite recently. And I did it within 4 days. Why did I do it? And how? That's what this blog is all about, friends!

Some time in the middle of January, I got an idea that I felt would make an interesting writing project. Something light and easy for me to start my writing year with. The elevator pitch I came up with was something that went along the lines of: "First Blood, Part II, but with robots. Or Predator, without aliens."

I started writing a synopsis of what the novella would be. Spoiler warning: it's First Blood, Part II, but with robots. I planned out a beginning, a middle and an end, all plot points blatantly and shamelessly stolen from the awesome movie that is First Blood, Part II. I figured the beginning would be 5000 words, the middle would be 10,000 words, and the end would be 5000 words. Then I realised something, HEY! That's 20,000 words. Just nice for a novella.

Then I started thinking how much time it would take for me to actually write it. The previous week I had taken part in a Twitter challenge that required writing 1000 words in an hour. I managed to successfully complete the challenge and realised that an hour was a great way to time as well as measure my writing progress. If I could write an hour for a day, I could write 1000 words a day. And the Twitter challenge had proven I could indeed write 1000 words for an hour.

But what if I could write for five hours a day? That's five thousand words a day! If I could write for five hours a day, four days in a row, I'd get my 20,000 bloody words! Crazy talk, you say? Yes, I agree. Even I thought that would be a crazy thing to attempt. But not impossible. If only I had five free hours of the day to spend writing... not an easy thing to obtain when you're an adult working a 9-to-6 job with two kids waiting for you at home.

It so happened that there would be four days of holiday approaching that was perfect for me to attempt this crazy #20k4d marathon. From the 19th to the 22nd of February, Malaysia would be on holiday for Chinese New Year, a celebration I personally don't celebrate (not because I am Chinese Ebenezer Scrooge but because I am of a different culture).

I began preparing for the four day writing marathon like a runner preparing for a marathon. I made sure I had my plot points and story beats all worked out so I wouldn't get stuck during the five hour sprints. I made sure to tell my wife and kids of my plan. No disturbing me between the hours of 7am to 12pm, the five-hour block of time that I would spend non-stop writing. This is important because without family cooperation, my writing marathon would fail miserably.

Suffice to say, I succeeded. I ended my four-day holiday with 20,000 words of a story. Was it a complete novella though? Unfortunately, no. By the end of the writing marathon, I had completely fell in love with the story that I decided I would expand it to a 50,000 word novel instead. I've since expanded the story that has become totally different from my original plan. It's no longer "First Blood, Part II, but with robots". It's... well, I'll tell you all about it when it's ready to be revealed, kay?

Here are some lessons I learned along the way:
  • Get enough sleep the night before. No point being too tired to write when you're about to begin in the morning.
  • Stay healthy. Exercise and eat well. No point if you're dead right? If you need breakfast beforehand, get it prepared. If you need coffee, have lots at the ready.
  • Stay on target. It's very easy to get tempted and divert from your path. I suppose you can take a little diversion now and then, but for me, that's putting you in the dangerous territory of potentially getting stuck and not knowing what to write later on. Write what you planned, because there's still the five-hour time limit to consider. Sticking to a plan also means you get into a routine, which helps make the writing easier and the words flowing.
  • If you do get stuck, remember Anne Lamott and take it bird-by-bird. Sometimes your brain will just refuse to work and you'll have no idea what to write even though you know what will happen next in your story. Take a breather, then just start writing a word, then another, then another. Eventually, you'll have a sentence! Repeat the process, and you'll have enough sentences to form paragraphs! And before you know it, you'll be getting into your groove again.
  • After a five-hour writing block is completed, rest and recuperate. Take the rest of the day off to relax and not think about writing. Watch a movie. Play with your kids. Take them to the park. It'll help your brain rest so it can perform again the next day.
Would I do this again? Absolutely! It was the most fun I ever had writing, and it was also definitely the most productive writing session I ever had. I'd love to do it again with another novella project.

Monday, 19 January 2015

The Dangers of Having a Really Long Title for a Short Story.


So now my latest short story e-book is out for the consumption of the masses! Don't everybody rush to the bookstores at once! There's enough for everyone! Because they're e-books dammit!

Here's a summary of what you're in for:
When Sayyid opted to become an organic Volkswagen farmer, he did not expect the Volkswagens to misbehave and break out of his backyard. Now those crazy air-cooled vehicles are running loose in the neighborhood and only Sayyid can stop them. But the situation gets even more out of hand when they invade the home of cranky old Mrs. Winters and take her hostage. In this action-packed and absurd short story, all bets are off as to whether humans or air-cooled Volkswagens survive to see another day.
The Dangers of Growing Air-cooled Volkswagens in Your Backyard can currently be found at the following outlets:
 and Barbra Streisand knows where else.

Every time I push out an e-book I inadvertently learn a lesson. This time, I learned that you must always remember your title. In my previous post, you may have noticed the cover I posted had a slightly different title than the one on the image above.

Yep, I missed out the word "air-cooled". How embarrassing! Lesson learned. Next time, no more ridiculously long titles inspired by the Pet Shop Boys.

I'm sure this story will have the usual all-over-the-place reactions like my previous stories. I've already had one gushing review claiming "it's Ted Mahsun's best story yet!!!" and another basically saying "eh, it's all right, I guess. Ted put it in the wrong category though". I'm sure it won't be long before a hater will come along and say something like, "It falls into every left wing idiot's rant about how repubs, right wing people hate muslims and how muslims are innocent. i actually had to stop reading it because it was not entertaining, but mind numbing."

In the meantime, hey! I have a story out. How nice.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Four Years to Completion.

It only took four years but I've finally finished writing a short story that I never thought I would finish. As I mentioned in the previous post, on the very last page of Zombies Ate My Muslim, I had promised that the next story would be The Dangers of Growing Volkswagens in Your Backyard. I didn't think anybody would be interested in reading it due to its ridiculously silly title, and so I never was motivated to finish writing it.

Yet here I am, basking in the glow of a freshly completed short story. By complete, I mean first draft complete and not rewritten-umpteen-million-times-and-edited-to-hell complete. That process would probably take several more weeks and after that I'll self-publish it on all the major e-book outlets. That's still an achievement though.

I shan't be bothered submitting this one to any pubs; it's way too silly for the likes of them. Like Zombies Ate My Muslim, it doesn't take itself seriously and it doesn't even want to try. Unlike Zombies Ate My Muslim, it doesn't have gratuitous sex. Alhamdullilah.

I'll let you know when it's out. Meanwhile, here's a preliminary version of the cover:


What do you think?

Thursday, 8 January 2015

A New Year and a New Reaffirmation.

You know, I'm feeling inspired again. Inspired again to write.

I'll be the first to admit I've been a little slack in my writing. Writing only a short story per year, for the past five or six years. Most of them aren't even complete. I kept abandoning what I started because I kept second guessing myself. Is this good? Ugh. No, it isn't. I never want to see this piece of crap again. And so I wrote at a glacial pace and only when I felt like it. Until 2014...

2014 was a bit of a strange year for me. Mainly because in a year full of horrible tragedies, so many good things happened to me. Career-wise I was hitting it off. Kids too had finally grown old enough that they stopped trying to commit acts of random suicide every few minutes.

And, in terms of my writing, I had finally gotten round to putting up Zombies Ate My Muslim on Smashwords and Google Play. It was no longer an Amazon exclusive! (Pat on back, Ted.)

Putting it up on Smashwords is a big deal for me because that means it's no longer region exclusive and when a fellow Malaysian asks where one could buy my silly zombie story, I have a place to send them. Plus, Smashwords also pushes the title to other ebook markets such as iTunes, Kobo and B&N so that's great too!

I did not expect Google Play to have any effect though. It was just another place to publish a book and not see any sales. But an odd thing happened. My colleagues, avid Android users that they are, randomly discovered Zombies Ate My Muslim on the Google Play store, and actually left me some good reviews, unsolicited. Naturally, I was psyched! And I knew they had actually read the story because on the very last page I had promised I would deliver another short story. However I never finished writing it. My colleagues asked where the other story was, because that sounded an interesting read too. I had to answer that I never got round to finishing it. Never found the motivation to. They told me they would love to read the next story I wrote.

That got me thinking. Maybe I should start taking writing seriously again.

One recent night, I reopened one of my abandoned crappy stories that I had kept on my computer for years. Despite initially cringing, I was drawn to reading the story till the last word. I had almost forgotten I had even started writing the story at all. But what surprised me was that I liked it. I liked that crappy story. It wasn't so bad after all. I guess I'm not such a bad writer after all?

It was a reaffirmation for myself, that perhaps I can do this writing business after all. That perhaps I don't suck too hard. So now I'm making 2015 the year I take writing seriously once again.

I'm going to write -- and complete -- my short stories. I'm going to write a novel. And I'm going to start resubmitting them to publications again. This is exciting.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

The Kindle Touch: Two Years Later

You may remember (well, okay, you may not) that I bought a Kindle Touch almost two years ago. I was absolutely smitten with it. I loved the the e-ink screen, the touch capabilities, the ability to buy a book and immediately start reading it without ever having to leave the device. It was heaven for a book lover.

But now it's time for me to say goodbye to my beloved Kindle Touch. It was a trusty companion these past couple of years and kept me company for many long work commutes. The e-ink screen was, and still is, a marvelous piece of tech.

But time brings new advancements and now that I own an iPhone 6 Plus, I don't see the point of using a Kindle Touch to read books anymore. You see, paired with the Kindle app the iPhone 6 Plus is the perfect device for reading e-books (well, at least from Amazon).

When I first bought a the Kindle Touch, people claimed that e-ink screens caused less strain for the eyes while reading when compared to LCD screens. While that may be true back when LCD screens had low DPI (or pre-Retina, if we're using Apple's marketing spiel), we now live in an age where ridiculously sharp, high resolution screens make eye strain a trivial matter. The iPhone 6 Plus offers a really great Retina display which makes text display beautifully. And this helps while reading e-books on the Kindle app.

Another problem with the Kindle Touch that I had was lighting. It did not come with a backlight, so I bought the overpriced leather cover that included an LED light. It worked well and lit the e-ink screen adequately, however the bright white light eventually gave me eye strain and if I was reading in complete darkness, I would also get headaches. I know the more recent Kindle Paperwhite solves the problem with a built-in sidelight but... well, that just brings me to my next problem.

And that would be the problem of... colour!

This is what my Kindle Touch home screen looks like:



Now compare that to the Kindle for iOS app on my iPhone 6 Plus:


Some of you will be saying, "So what? Text isn't in colour and that's where we'll be spending most of our time anyway!"

And you would be right. But I like vibrant exciting screens. It makes it more fun to scroll through my library of awesome books.

When the Kindle Touch first launched it had more features that the iOS app, one of which was the really useful Kindle X-Ray. Nowadays even the iOS app has it, so there's not really much going for the Kindle Touch for me anymore. About the only thing the Kindle Touch has over the iOS app is a built-in book store and browser that allows instant book buying from within the Kindle Touch itself. But on an iPhone 6 Plus, I don't really need it since I can just swap over to Safari and go to the Amazon site myself.

With that, I bid to you, my beloved and trustworthy Kindle Touch, adieu and farewell. Thanks for all the fish.

Thursday, 24 April 2014