Mixing up Writing Sessions

Hi, everyone. I have been having fun with another writing-exercise analogy.

Getting back into the exercise after the usual excesses of the Christmas and New Year break, I found myself musing on the best ways to develop body strength. For years I would just attack workouts, pushing myself to the point of exhaustion. That’s great for stamina (and weight loss), but if you really want to increase your strength the key is actually taking your time. The secret to increasing strength is the strategic use of repetitions interspersed with breaks long enough to allow the muscles to recover. The best programs seem to mix things up. Some days there will be 8-9 sets of low reps, other days perhaps a lower number of sets where you push closer to ultimate exhaustion (and take longer breaks). Yet the key is always adequate recovery time between the sets.

Chewing through all of this while I was in the Brisbane Botanic Gardens getting blood to my brain and watching the Ibis’s walk around made me realise I never do this with my writing.

There seems to be a real cultural push toward a static work program. Write so many pages, so may thousands of words. Then get up tomorrow and do it all again, and again. Check back in ten years for result.

But this flies in the face of what I was considering. To use the same analogy, you really should give yourself adequate recovery time between the workouts. And if you really want to improve, you need to mix up the program.

I guess the mechanics of muscle development are a pretty much the same for everyone, whereas there are as many approaches to developing a finished story as there are writers, but still. . .

So how would it translate? Many shorter writing sessions across a day, broken up with deliberate intake of inspiring material? I’m going to contradict myself and say that would probably drive me nuts. It usually takes me 15-20min to break the ice, and I’d be doing it each time. Maybe varying the goal?

Or is writing more like meditation, where consistency of place and time is the key?

Anyone got any ideas?

Re-establishing the Flow

Frustrated_Writer_PicSo. The beginning of the year again. I’m still getting used to writing 2013 dates. They seem supremely weird for some reason. Perhaps I have been unsettled by the odd number. I guess the ‘3’ rather than the ‘1’ or ‘2’ really means this decade is going to scroll away like the others.

In any case, it’s time to get back into my Urban Fantasy manuscript. Having told all and sundry about it through the Next Big Thing, I guess I better deliver!

I had hoped to get a first draft completed by the end of last year, but factors conspired to keep me away from the desk. I even did NaNoWriMo for the first time, but posted a pretty pathetic effort somewhere upward of 20k. Usually I am pretty consistent, but last November turned into the worst writing month of the entire year.

So I’m back, trying to build up a head of steam. As usual, my experience of starting on a manuscript is like pulling teeth without anaesthetic. All the various story elements I had managed to keep in my mind at the same time, and the feel of the prose, have all vanished away. Disappeared with all the reindeer back to the North Pole.

Right now I’m looking to find my way back into the story. As usual I need to try the back doors, which date from an early era and are prone to be left latched, rather than deadlocked.

I spent a few days trawling through my journals and found the entries where I first toyed with the ideas for the world, the history and magic. Then I found other entries with notes from books on New York history. These had helped me – along with a visit in 2009 – to get the feel of the place. Then it was back to my story notes, and my character backgrounds.

I’m not quite there yet, but I am starting to feel the right creative energies building again. The path is starting to open up. [Not that I wouldn’t opt for the round-the-world trip if I won the lottery right now, but then again I’ve never needed much encouragement to look for the nearest escape hatch.]

How do you find your way back into your manuscript after a break?

Slingshots and Cosmic Coincidences

It’s easy to get dizzy thinking of humanity reaching out into the Universe. Especially if you have a head full of space opera with FTL drives, wormholes and other ‘standard’ transportation techniques.

No wonder it feels disappointing in the extreme to watch the progress of us Earth-dwellers into the local space.

Our first steps into the solar system will be much along the lines of what has gone before. Chemical propulsion will likely remain the standard for planetary lift-off for some time to come. If we are lucky, perhaps we can satisfy the EPA and use Nuclear Thermal Rockets, which might double the available impulse. Reentry will remain much more economical with technology used since the space race – i.e. heat shields and parachutes – while space vehicles of the like of the Shuttle will retire to museums.

When it comes to getting around the solar system, again we will probably be relying on chemical propulsion – all the currently proposed manned Mars missions are based on this. Again NTR rockets may offer potential in the future if the safety concerns can be addressed. For missions where time is not no much of an issue, electric rockets (ion drives) with their highly respectable exit velocity of 30 kilometers per second are capable of bringing spacecraft to high interplanetary velocities (but their low thrust means they will never get us to orbit).

Here’s where the slingshot manoeuvres come in. These have been used to great success in the early interplanetary probes such as the Voyagers. Basically, these rely on the principle of conservation of momentum. The same principle as slamming a cue ball into a billiard ball to get the billiard ball in the pocket. The momentum is transferred from the cue ball into the billiard ball but the momentum of the whole system stays the same. In this case it is the angular momentum of the two bodies movement around the sun that is conserved. The tiny spaceship takes a low trajectory over a big planet like Jupiter, and is shot out of the planet’s gravitational field at ninety degrees to its original direction of travel. The spaceship is now on a new trajectory that does not centre on the sun, and its angular velocity has increased by the same amount as Jupiter’s Sun-orbital velocity of 13 kilometers per second (while Jupiter’s angular momentum decreases by a minuscule amount).

Voyager 1 used a gravity slingshot manoeuvre to get to its present velocity of 17 kilometers per second. (Try not to think about the fact that it would take 70,000 years at this speed to reach our closest stellar neighbours.)

If a spaceship can apply thrust during a slingshot manoeuvre it can capitalise on the orbital mechanics even further. If a probe approaches the sun within 1.5 million kilometers along a parabolic solar orbit, then increases its velocity by 2 kilometers per second, it will leave the Solar System at an impressive 41 kilometers per second.

NASA’s Mariner 10, which performed flybys of Mercury in 1974 and 1975 relied on Venus gravity-assist manoeuvres to get it into position.

The Messenger probe to Mercury – the first probe to visit the planet in 30 years – went into orbit around Mercury on the 18th March 2011. It was the first space craft ever to do so. So far its found significant water in the planet’s exosphere, evidence of past volanic activity and evidence for a liquid planetary core. To get some idea of the crazy orbital scheme required to get it there, here is a diagram of its journey since launch.

Messenger Since Launch
Talking about cosmic coincidences, has anyone noticed that the gravity of both Mars and Mercury is 38% of Earth standard? I had to check that twice. Given the fact that Mercury may have water in its dark side craters (its tidally locked), it makes you think of the possibilities.

The other one that always gets me is that both the Moon and the Sun are exactly the same angular size in the sky.

What other cosmic coincidences have you noticed?