She might be the world’s most famous romance writer, nay the highest selling living author bar none, but there’s little room for flowers and chocolates in Danielle Steel’s writing regime. In a recent interview she laughed at the idea of young people insisting on a work-life balance, and has claimed she regularly writes for 20 to 22 hours a day, and sometimes 24. The result: 179 books in under 50 years, selling about 800m copies.
Some aspiring novelists might just have cancelled their entire lives to get on the Steel plan, but many more are probably wondering if it’s time to try something less demanding. We asked four creative writing teachers for their perspective:
Liam Murray Bell, University of Stirling
Steel’s claim reminds me of the thriller writer Edgar Wallace, who was known to write a novel over the course of a long weekend. He’d retire to his study on a Friday evening and not emerge until the Monday morning, dictating his words to a secretary and stopping only for half-hourly cups of tea. Poor secretary.
The only thing I recognise from that brutal regime is the need for copious amounts of tea. For me, a productive day is four hours of writing. Four hours of focused, uninterrupted time at the keyboard. This morning, I wrote for two hours and managed just shy of 1,000 words. Even that is a decent day; a steady day. To wrestle those hours of writing time free, I’m postponing teaching preparation, leaving my marking until the evening, relying on childcare. Most of all, I’m doing my damnedest to ignore emails. When does Steel answer her emails, is what I want to know.
There have been times, on writing retreats or under threat of impending deadline, when I’ve been known to stretch to six or seven hours. No more, though, because then the words stop making sense and the delete key takes a hammering. I start explaining my plot to the mantelpiece and rehearsing lines of dialogue with the cat. Instead, I go and do something else. It’s amazing how often clarity about your writing comes while washing the dishes, trimming the hedge, taking the dog for a walk. The writers I know are full of anecdotes of story ideas scribbled on bus tickets, or pulling over the car to jot down a poem opening by the side of the road.
It’s often when I’m out for a lunchtime run that I find myself reflecting on what I wrote that morning or find the thread for a scene to write the next day. Haruki Murakami talks about the similar feats of concentration and endurance required for long-distance running and for writing a novel; each endeavour requiring the person to turn up day after day for months or even years. At the University of Stirling, we’ve actually formed a research group to look at the links between creative writing and physical activity because so many writers are also keen runners or cyclists or swimmers.
The appeal of Steel’s process, then, seems to be that every day is race day. But you can’t sustain that. Little and often is my mantra, with every day building momentum. If you manage 200 words today then those are 200 words you didn’t have yesterday. That might take you 15 minutes or it might take six hours; either way, it’s progress. The aim isn’t to get as many words on the page as quickly as possible; the aim is to get the right words on the page, however long it takes.
Sarah Corbett, University of Lancaster
I’m sorry to say there isn’t a formula for how to write a novel (so don’t buy those “how to” books) – only hard graft, staying power, blinding self belief (rescued every morning from the teeth of doubt), and the willingness to meet the devil at the crossroads and outwit him. And to write, rewrite, write, rewrite, write, rewrite …
Perhaps this isn’t very helpful to the beginner; and I have to admit that I’m just finishing my own first novel – after five years. But having taught creative writing for almost 20 years across all genres, here are some things I can say from experience:
1) Read other novels. There’s no getting round this: you have to do a lot of reading – passionate, engaged and risky – but also the kind where you start to notice, and then investigate how the writer does things. Read lots of different types of books too: be curious, endlessly;
2) Practice, practice, practice. Write regularly even if you can only spare an hour in the evening or an afternoon at the weekend. Most writers have other jobs, families, pets, households, and you’d be surprised how much writing gets done in the gaps between other things;
3) Work at your technique at every level of detail from sentencing and phrasing to word choice, creating believable characters, immersive settings, dynamic scenes and authentic dialogue;
4) Write what saddens/moves/frightens/turns you on; write with the whole of your self and the whole of your senses;
5) Join a course, start a group;
6) Write because you enjoy it, and you enjoy a challenge;
7) Be prepared to tear it up and start again;
8) Remember that writing is work, the best kind, that transports and enchants you;
9) Keep going…;
10) Write your own rules.
So how did I write my novel? Slowly – I published two poetry collections in the same period, did a lot of teaching and saw my son through his GCSEs and A-levels – and with a lot of gutting and rewriting; begging more experienced friends to read it and give me their toughest, most honest advice, and then acting on it, even when it meant radical cuts and changes.
Mine is a literary novel – about family, home and shame – but with a psychological twist. The character and her story came to me all in one go on the train home from Manchester after an unsettling encounter in Waterstones, and since then it’s been a process of excavation, as if the novel already existed somewhere in the world, and I just had to keep uncovering it, slowly, layer by layer. I’m still adding scenes, taking others away, fine tuning every line. I’m still working out the best way to tell the story, but I know I’m nearly ready to let it go because the next one has already arrived.
Edward Hogan, Open University
For his 2016 book Rest, the writer and Silicon Valley consultant Alex Soojung-Kim Pang collected the routines of creative people throughout history. From the habits of writers such as Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, and Alice Munro, he concluded that four hours a day is optimum, and you need to wake up early. Trollope rose at 5am each morning (a servant brought him coffee at half past), and wrote until 8.30am, before going to his job at the post office. On that schedule, he published over 40 novels.
As a writer with a family and a full-time job, I currently follow the 5am method, though I make my own coffee. In theory, this “little and often” approach seems straightforward: if you write 500 words a day, you’ll have a first draft in months. But it isn’t that simple. My first novel took eight years, but my third was pretty much done in 40 days. Writing requires two states of mind: you need the researcher’s brain, the clear-thinking editor’s, but you must be open to the dark mess of creation, too. My routine changes, because I haven’t figured out how to do it yet. When I do, I’ll probably quit.
I’m interested in Steel’s way of working. That sort of immersion, favoured by Kasuo Ishiguro, and Jesse Ball – who claims to write his novels in as little as six days – allows them to retain the vitality of the initial idea.
Paul Sheldon, the author and narrator of Stephen King’s Misery, describes “falling through a hole in the page” when writing. Maybe that’s the sort of compulsion that Steel experiences, and it’s refreshing to hear her address the physicality of the process. Writers are reluctant to talk about the (rare) sensation of extreme focus that results when they become possessed by their work. Rambling about raised heart-rates, losing track of time, and being “in the zone”, can make writing sound like a cross between yoga and golf.
The writer’s routine is where practical concerns meet the more ephemeral subject of inspiration. You have to decide what kind of writer you want to be. Jenny Colgan produces two books a year, and this involves hitting deadlines so that her novels appear around Mother’s Day and the Christmas season. Writing is work, the daily pursuit of a word count. For Hilary Mantel, that sort of regularity is alien. She talks about“flow days” when she has no idea what she’s written until she reads it back. But both writers are at their desks, daily.
The act of writing can be exhilarating, but it’s mostly quite difficult. Then again, it’s not like going down the pit. So if you want to write a novel, and find Steel’s method unappealing, let me refer you to the celebrated and prolific children’s author Jacqueline Wilson, who writes for about half-an-hour a day. In bed.
David Bishop, Edinburgh Napier University
Steel’s regime sounds extreme, but if that works for her – so be it. Every writer has their own unique sweet spot, a time and place where they can produce words that will be ready for reading one day. The trick is finding your personal approach, and also recognising it might not suit every project.
Some people say you must write every day to be a writer. Perhaps, but writing is not simply the act of typing words on paper or screen. There is so much more that goes into creating narratives from your imagination. Reading widely is often the sign of a voracious writer, though there is always the danger of a project being infected by the style or substance of whatever you happen to be reading at the time.
It’s also a myth that you need to write a certain number of words in a session. Some writers do benefit from a daily or weekly target, but others prefer to devote a fixed amount of time to writing, and trust that the words will come. Feeling guilty for not matching another writer’s productivity is certainly not good for your mental health. Besides, quantity is no measure of quality. I once had 600,000 words published in one calendar year, but they certainly weren’t my best work.
The act of not writing is just as important as writing. Never underestimate the importance of staring out of a window or going for a walk. All too often the knottiest story problems can only be untangled by getting away from the desk. If all else fails, try going to sleep and letting your subconscious do the heavy lifting. It’s amazing how often the resting mind can resolve a problem your active thoughts couldn’t fix.
For most writers, finding the best way to write a novel is trial and error: experimenting with different systems until they discover one that chimes. Some writers craft detailed plot outlines as a narrative safety net; others prefer a journey of discovery that could mean wholesale rewrites later. Some work in total silence; others needs background sounds such as music. An idea to spark your imagination is necessary, along with a trajectory to follow – but what happens next is up to you.
Steel has a sign in her office that reads: “There are no miracles. There is only discipline.” To be a writer does not require 22 hours at a desk each day, but Steel is right that there are no miracles, either. If you want to be a writer, you have to write – however you do it. That much is inescapable.
Last December, the world ushered in a new era of popular music: human and artificial intelligence (AI) collaboration.
Musical eras are often defined by their dominant modes of production — analog, electronic, digital — each bringing about new styles and ways of listening. This era is marked by the release of the first AI-human collaborated album, Hello World, by the music collaborative Skygge. Skygge, led by composer and producer Benoît Carré and musician and tech researcher François Pachet, translates to “shadow” in Danish and was inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen story of the same name.
We now know that algorithms can learn human bias, but can they also create highly creative and emotionally engaging music?
Although AI algorithms lack back stories and a creative process — the very things that often draw us into a piece of pop music — they make up for it with their ability to generate the unfamiliar and novel.
Instead of finding inspiration in the social and musical experiences of one person’s life, AI draws on the outputs of thousands of lives. AI interprets these outputs as data, and can offer new melodies, instrumentations and other musical elements, based on statistical probabilities in a data-set.
Skygge was not the first to produce AI pop music. Dadabots (led by producer Zack Zukowski and technologist CJ Carr), released an album for the heavy metal band, Krallice, last year. The result, Coditany of Timeness, was the first neural-network-created heavy metal album.
AI music has existed in classical music styles for much longer. For example, researcher and musician David Cope explored algorithmic composition in the 1980s with the creation of his Experiments in Musical Intelligence (EMI) program. Others have been exploring using AI to “compose Bach” since 1958.
In 1993, Cope released the Bach-inspired Bach by Design album using EMI. EMI’s music has mostly been appreciated on technical instead of artistic merit. At that point, it seemed AI music functioned best with predictable parameters, like the predominantly rules-based music format of Bach’s fugues.
Because of Cope’s pioneering experiments, AI has had success producing fugues that can pass as human-created, but that could partly be explained by a lack of familiarity with Bach’s music by those who are tasked with identifying the human vs. computer creator.
But Skygge is the first pop music collaboration between human and AI producers.
Challenges exist when using AI technologies to create both classical and pop music styles. The mainstream familiarity of pop music, however, means that it is more difficult to “fool” listeners. The success of most pop artists relies not only on their musical talents but also their ability to craft stories and make connections with their listeners on a personal level.
Listeners become invested in the storytelling, and the extra musical elements that make pop music “pop.” Statistical models generally lack these features, even though the music itself is created from preexisting, human-created works.
For Hello World, each contributing Skygge artist and producer interpreted the Hans Christian Andersen fable within a chosen genre and worked in conjunction with the AI technology. Skygge was funded by a European Research Council grant to explore AI in pop music production. To do so, they used Sony’s Flow-Machines tools.
Instead of using neural networks, as done in Google DeepMind’s Deep Dream Generator, Flow Machines uses a probability equation, known as Markov chains to create catchy tracks. Neural networks require a substantial amount of information to produce an outcome, while Markov chains have the advantage of being able to produce statistical models from much smaller databases.
Based on the information imputed and based on previously recorded music, Flow-Machines suggests melodies, accompaniments and instrumentation. Producers can accept, reject and alter these suggestions to create their AI-human collaboration.
Using AI as a pop music collaborator has the potential to push the boundaries of familiarity into new territories. Novelty is often what shifts a song from being merely popular to genre-defining.
The unfamiliar is easy to find on Skygge. Pop-singer Kiesza, one of the contributors to Hello World, created the melody for her track “Hello Shadow” using Flow-Machines. Kiesza said: “This melody sounded different from anything that I’d actually ever heard…I loved it from the beginning….Even though it’s still really haunting…it’s still really catchy.”
Similarly, the eeriness of “In the House of Poetry” is undeniable, and enhanced by the ethereal voice of Kyrie Kristmanson. Flow-Machines took the familiar and translated it into something on the edges of the uncanny. Yet, at the same time, it is catchy. Skygge says they specialize in earworms —songs that stick in your head, becoming undeniably familiar, in spite of their initial unfamiliarity.
As AI-collaborated pop music becomes more commonplace, it will challenge us as producers and listeners. The question will become much less about whether AI will take the jobs of musicians but more about how, or if, our tastes will evolve as quickly as the production technologies develop.
Technologies such as Auto-Tune challenged many people’s definitions of authenticity and humanity in music. Debates surrounding computational creativity, including AI music, take this a step further to challenge the assumption that creativity and music are something inherently “human.”
AI will create a new era of music production, or at the very least, new musical styles. Skygge co-producer Carré said: “At the beginning, a lot of people were afraid that the pianist and the drummers will be replaced, but it never happens this way…It’s humans that find the ways to use [tech] to make interesting things.”
We live in a culture of storytelling, not just in the lyrics and music, but also through the artists themselves. The production of these stories may change, but our engagement with them will not.
Totally cool, there is hope for the species.
May 11, 2018
A restaurant in China is offering patrons free food, but there’s a catch. They have to be able to fit through the smallest opening of the gate.
This will probably upset and offend those who meltdown over the most inane issues, so if you’re easily offended, perhaps stop reading now. But the owner of an eatery in East China obviously doesn’t care who is offended. Zhao Long is asking patrons to try to squeeze through different sizes of gaps between bars and offering discounts for those who get through the narrowest spaces.
His restaurant in Jinan City offers customers free food and free beer, as long as they can fit through a 15cm (almost 6 inches) gap. Now, 15cm wide isn’t all that wide, and some say it’s too “skinny.” However, most people would have a go at it if they thought it meant free food and beer for everyone, and it does.
Zhao means well, reported the LAD Bible. He wants to present a new way of making people mindful of the amount they eat and drink. He said: “So many people have told me that they’ve failed losing weight – just because they can’t quit drinking beer. Maybe this could serve as a reminder to them to keep an eye on their diet.”
Here’s the nitty-gritty of how his system works. If you get through the smallest gap, you get free food and your entire table gets free beer. The next step up is an 18 cm (just over 7 inches) gap. If you get through that you win 5 beers – which is nothing to thumb one’s nose at, unless you dislike beer. The third increment is 25 cm (9.84 inches) and you get a free beer, which is still a good deal if you get through there. After that, it goes up to 30 cm. At 30cm (11.8 inches, almost a foot) you get no discount but are told: “your figure is just average – you shouldn’t ask for more.”
Zhao also says that at least one person gets through the smallest gap each day earning them the largest reward. He was also rather quick to add that all of them are female. He also said many still get through the second smallest gap, which still gets them 5 free beers.
He’s not the only one with an odd marketing tool for his business in the city, either. One restaurant nearby had the idea of offering discounts to women in short skirts. They get 90% off their bill if the skirt was 33 cm (13 inches) above the knee.
Delivered by The Daily Sheeple
This week, during an event at SXSW in Austin, a startup called ICON unveiled an amazing project, a house that could be 3-D printed for just $4,000. With the new method that the company has developed, they are able to print a 650-square-foot house out of cement in less than 24 hours. In contrast, it could take a human roughly 20 days to complete the same project.
ICON’s first project is to build 100 homes for a community in El Salvador next year. To complete this goal, ICON is teaming up with New Story, a nonprofit that focuses on finding homes for people across the world who have inadequate shelter.
“We have been building homes for communities in Haiti, El Salvador, and Bolivia,” Alexandria Lafci, co-founder of New Story, told The Verge.
New story CEO Brett Hagler said that their main goal is to help provide housing for the poorest billion people on the earth.
“We thought, okay, what if the bottom billion weren’t the last ones to get this, but the first ones to get this? It made sense for us to try to leapfrog what’s happening domestically because our homes are so simple,” Hagler said.
“Ideally we can move from thousands of people to millions of people around the world by allowing other nonprofits and governments to use this technology. That’s the big goal because our goal is impacting the most families possible,” he added.
ICON will be producing the materials with a Vulcan 3D printer and the team said that they could make houses as large as 800 square feet, which is about the size of the average apartment in New York City.
“The big difference, between a developed world and developing world context is you have a much more limited set of materials to work with. Number one, just because of access, you want to restrict your material mix to things that you could find very ubiquitously around the globe. And you also want to avoid expensive materials,” Jason Ballard of ICON said.
“There are fundamental problems with conventional stick-building that 3D printing solves, besides affordability. You get a high thermal mass, thermal envelope, which makes it far more energy-efficient. It’s far more resilient. There are a few other companies that have printed homes and structures, but they are printed in a warehouse, or they look like Yoda huts. For this venture to succeed, they have to be the best houses,” he added.
Ballard said that eventually these technologies can even be used to build housing in space.
“One of the big challenges is how are we going to create habitats in space. You’re not going to open a two by four and open screws. It’s one of the more promising potential habitat technologies,” Ballard said.
In 2015, a Chinese construction company named WinSun 3D printed a huge five-story apartment building and an 11,840 square foot mansion. Both of the new projects are located side by side in Suzhou Industrial Park. Each project was constructed with a unique type of pre-mixed concrete which is made from “construction waste” according to Cnet.
Motorist buzzes through a quiet lovely small German town at 300km/h