the elements of style

After having heard many recommendations, I finally purchased and read Strunk and White’s book, The Elements of Style.

If you write at all, in any capacity, this is a must-read.

Not only is it incredibly short, clever, and to the point, it also has some insightful thoughts on writing itself—some of which impacted me greatly.

Sure, it’s not the final word on proper writing and even I disagreed with some of the points (this from a rather agreeable guy), but it’s a great overview of the essentials. I expect I’ll return to it often.

Allow me to share just a few excerpts that I found striking:


“Writing, to be effective, must follow closely the thoughts of the writer, but not necessarily in the order in which those thoughts occur. … The first principle of composition, therefore, is to force or determine the shape of what is to come and pursue that shape. … The more clearly the writer perceives the shape, the better are the chances of success.”

 

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”

“All writers, by the way they use the language, reveal something of their spirits, their habits, their capacities, and their biases. This is inevitable as well as enjoyable. All writing is communication; creative writing is communication through revelation—it is Self escaping into the open. No writer long remains incognito.”

“Writing is, for most, laborious and slow. The mind travels faster than the pen; consequently, writing becomes a question of learning to make occasional wing shots, bringing down the bird of thought as it flashes by.”

“A careful and honest writer does not need to worry about style. As you become proficient in the use of language, your style will emerge, because you yourself will emerge, and when this happens you will find it incredibly easy to break through the barriers that separate you from other minds, other hearts—which is, of course, the purpose of writing, as well as its principal reward. Fortunately, the act of composition, or creation, disciplines the mind; writing is one way to go about thinking, and the practice and habit of writing not only drain the mind but supply it, too.” 

mediocre

Have you ever felt like your hobbies weren’t good enough? Or maybe you considered starting a new hobby but never began because the bar for excellence seemed way out of reach.

If so, it’s a downright shame.

Personally, I’ve taken on many-a hobby over the years, some to a greater extent than others, but I’ve found all of them rewarding in their own ways. 

I dove into the fine craft of painting miniatures just so I could have nice figures for a board game that a friend had given me. It’s not something I plan to do again, but I was happy with the outcome and glad to have a deeper understanding of the process.

Lately, I’ve been trying my hand at piano. As is often the case for a skill with a broad spectrum of talent, I began thinking, “hey, I’m not too bad at this!” and quickly shifted to, “oh, this is super hard, I don’t know if I’ll ever get very good.”

But you know what? I still enjoy hitting those keys and making some kind of sound that isn’t totally terrible. Right now, I’m just happy if I can go through one full scale, back to front, without messing up the fingering.

All this to say, you should check out this article by Tim Wu 

In Praise of Mediocrity

In it, he makes a strong case for not only having a hobby, but also enjoying it regardless of your skill level.

I tend to agree; it takes a lot of the pressure off and makes things more fun that way. After all isn’t that what a hobby should be all about?

Stan Lee

Even if you haven’t heard of Stan Lee, or Stanley Martin Lieber, you’re probably familiar with his work. He was the creative force behind many of Marvel’s iconic superheroes, including Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Hulk, and Black Panther (to name just a few).

Sadly, he passed recently at the age of 95, but not without leaving behind a legacy. Stan was a man of charisma and humor who breathed a new sort of life into the fiction characters he worked on. Unlike some comic writers, who focused more on the incredible powers of their superheroes, Stan chose instead to highlight their human side, letting their weaknesses and faults stand out as their defining characteristic.

I had the pleasure of meeting Stan at my work some years ago and he was as friendly and energetic as ever. Even though the project we were working on with him didn’t end up going anywhere, he showed a good deal of enthusiasm for it. I got the impression he brought that same excitement to all of his creative undertakings. As a side note: I always thought that he and my grandpa looked alike, though they had dissimilar personalities.

Stan has been known to make cameo appearances (usually humorous in nature) in most of the recent Marvel films. I appreciated that he always seemed to be having fun and loved what he was doing. He didn’t take himself too seriously, but he was serious about his work.

An editor friend of mine sent me an article with some quotes from Stan. It seemed like a good final word from the man himself and a great representation of his outlook on life. Most of his advice could be applied to any creative field.

I hope you enjoy these 17 nuggets of wisdom from Mr. Excelsior himself.

17 Must-Read Screenwriting Lessons From Stan Lee

As You Were Saying

Here’s some exciting news: I just launched a podcast with a friend of mine, Gordon Burroughs.

Just in case you couldn’t tell from the title and image, the name of the podcast is:

As You Were Saying

And you can click the name above to find it in iTunes.

Throughout the show, Gordon and I will discuss a wide range of topics including, but not limited to, culture, technology, entertainment, and faith. We also have a jolly good time responding to feedback and surprising one another with ridiculous questions. You can listen to the introductory episode 0 if you’d like to find out more.

Creating the podcast has been a learning experience to be sure. We recorded three (or was it four?) practice episodes and have experimented with a few different software and hardware setups. Our first attempt at an official episode went, how shall I say it, a bit sideways. So we canned it and tried again.

But now we’re up and rolling. It’s been a growing experience. I’m learning to be less self-conscious about everything I say and worry less about how my voice sounds (it seems way better in my head than on the recording).

The podcast isn’t specifically about creativity, though it is certainly one of my creative endeavors, and a fun one at that. It’s actually being hosted from this site and, for the time being, you can find it right here.

I’m looking forward to finding out where it goes from here and hope you give it a listen and maybe even a review.

success secrets

It’s not hard to find a ten-step list leading to almost guaranteed success in just about any field. While these lists don’t always have exactly ten steps, they’re pretty common nowadays.

I’ll admit, they can be helpful in breaking down an otherwise complicated process to its bare essentials, but such guides often do not lead to the success they promise—at least not immediately.

Here’s the problem: there usually isn’t just one formula that works all the time for everyone. Otherwise we’d all be rich, famous, bestselling authors with amazing six-pack abs.

There are just too many factors and too many complications to know for sure that the same course of action will yield predictable results for everyone.

Like it or not, most of our long-term goals will take a good amount of time and dedicated effort. Those promised shortcuts may exist, but they’re few and far between.

That said, I got a lot out of this article from Paul Kilduff-Taylor on The 10 Secrets to Indie Game Success (and Why They Do Not Exist)

Even though I’m not an indie game designer, I discovered some great insights that could be applied to creative design in general.

To entice you, here are a couple quotes from the article that I quite liked:

Your sojourn on this plane of reality is incredibly short and your perception of time accelerates as you get older — you will not have the hours, or the mental space, to work on everything that matters to you in your lifetime. If you can, spend your time creating a legacy that you will be proud of. 

 

Confidence, rather than arrogance, comes from being able to see the true value in yourself and in your work. You can be polite and humble but still have high self-confidence: in fact, these traits often go hand in hand. You do not have to become an all-singing all-dancing extrovert, but if you have issues in this area then you do owe it to yourself and others to work on them: the rewards will extend well beyond game development.

Death Cloud

In case you haven't noticed, I like to share other creative projects from time to time, usually ones completed by friends of mine.

This week, I present the super ominous, super cool Death Cloud. It's a novel by my buddy RJ Batla from his Senturians of Terraunum fantasy series.

He's trying something new this time and running a Kickstarter campaign. Naturally, I've backed it.

If you're interested, you can check it out right here!

 

And hey, if you've got some cool creative project you're ready to share with the world, let me know about it. You never know, I might just check it out and post something.

AlphaMystica

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So, what’s the deal with AI these days?

What do they know? What are they capable of? What do they want from us? And how do they feel when we abandon them in the woods with their sad little faces staring longingly into our swiftly departing rearview mirrors?

You’ll find out all that and more from this article.

Designer Diary: The Search for AlphaMystica

Alright, I confess, it’s not really about that stuff I said before. But it is about AI and boardgames. 

Tysen Streib, an AI developer for games shares his insights and struggles as he works on an AI for a digital version of the game Terra Mystica.

I’ll admit, the article gets very technical by the end—even for a genius like me (yes, I still have to look up how to spell the word ”genius”), but the beginning part is especially interesting. It turns out that not only can AI beat the best chess player, they can also beat the best Go player.

First, there was AlphaGo, which learned by studying human games, then came AlphaZero, which was completely self-taught and markedly better than AlphaGo. It’s kinda freaky when you think about it too much (which I do), especially if you’re really into boardgames (which I am).

What other areas of life will AI develop complete mastery over their human competitors?

Well, I have yet to meet one able to make a better quesadilla than I can, so we’re still safe for the time being. But when that day comes ... be afraid, be very afraid.

Planecrafters

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Every now and then someone I know makes something awesome. In this case, it’s a board game (well, technically a card game) by my buddy Michael Patience.

And the name of the game is

Planecrafters

It’s up on Kickstarter right now and if you’re into card or board games I recommend you get it.

In Planecrafters, you build a task force of specialized workers in order assemble airplanes out of any spare parts available. Based on the workers you hire and the planes you build, you get shiny coins.

I have played the game in a nearly finished state and my wife and I loved it. It has all things I enjoy in a casual game: easy to learn, many roads to victory, player interaction, great art, unique theme, and, most of all, fun!

So fire up your engines, propel yourself over to Kickstarter and nab a copy.*

*I was not in any way paid or even asked to promote this game, I honestly enjoyed it and hope it sells well (I’ve already backed it myself).

Good Book, Good Animation

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As you probably know already, I’m a Christ follower. It’s not a big secret or anything, but I also try not to be too forward about it either. It’s who I am, it’s an important part of my life, and if you get to know me, you’ll find out about it one way or another.

Since I’m a Christ follower, reading the Bible is something I do pretty regularly. Believe it or not, I actually love reading it. It’s not a chore for me (though it’s not always easy). I could go on about why I think the “Good Book” is so great, but hey, if you really want to know, just ask me some time.

But this post is not about Bible reading, it’s about Bible watching.

Say what?

If you like animation and have even the remotest interest in what the Bible is about, you definitely need to check out...

The Bible Project

This may sound surprising (it does to me), but I think I’ve learned more about the central themes of the Bible from The Bible Project than I have from listening to sermons or even my own reading time.

They do a great job of breaking things down into simple ideas and explaining a lot of stuff that is typically misunderstood about the collection of ancient texts known as the Bible. And that’s pretty nice because the Bible can be super confusing and daunting. Have you seen the size of that thing? It's huge!

Besides, let’s be honest here, no one has ever accused me of being too smart or too Biblical. Not once. But I’ll wager even if you have suffered such fiery accusations, you’ll learn a thing or two watching The Bible Project. Plus, the animations are top notch (this, from a professional animator).

space & sound

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Two fun audio/visual links for you today, both brought to you by APOD, which I've mentioned before.

 

First, a galactically packed image where each galaxy has a sound based on its distance:

The Hubble Ultra-Deep Field in Light and Sound

 

Next, a cross-section of Saturn's rings, which can be played in both major and minor keys.

Play Saturn's Rings Like a Harp

 

Safe travels (mind the tribbles and the treble clef) as you enjoy you voyage through space and sound!