I come from a funny family

Or at least I think so – there is a high degree of probability that we may only be funny to other Webbs (I think I can hear at least one long time friend of the family yelling “Sing it to the mountain brother” at this point). But the funniest of all, king of the comedy hill, is my brother Phil.He has dabbled in a lot of different media and forums – from Triple J Raw Comedy finalist to a huge pile of funny stories, scripts and assorted bits and pieces.

His latest endeavour is two blogs.

http://justanotherfather.com/ is a blog about fatherhood and parenting in general. Very funny, with enough of a core of truth to be slightly disturbing at times.

http://beyondinteresting.com/ contains a whole bunch of material – some from his stand up comedy days, other stuff that he has written particularly for the blog.

It’s good stuff. Go and read it – you know you want to.


My reading complacency zone

One of the best things about starting to write speculative fiction is that I’ve started to read much more widely than I have in years. When I started to look around to see where speculative fiction was being published, I realised that there was a whole world that I’d been missing – especially Australian authors and the shorter forms of fiction (novellas, short stories, flash fiction etc).

It is funny how life creeps around you, slowly shifting you away from the things you used to love. As my career obligations and desire for family time have grown over the years I’ve had less and less time for reading. What I realised this year was that I’d got to the point where I was pretty much only reading new books by a shrinking pool of authors that I was already familiar with and who weren’t dead yet. So yes, I was keeping up with my Terry Pratchett, William Gibson and Neal Stephenson but I was not reading anything by anyone new.

(My one exception to this rule is pulp fiction based around universes created in TV series. I’m not too proud to say that I do go through quite a few Star Trek and Star Wars books each year. Always easy reading, sometimes good and worthwhile for the times where they are both. I come across new authors a fair bit through those books. However, I don’t think I could claim that I’m stretching my understanding of the speculative fiction genre by that particular reading trend – I’m mostly retreading already well trodden ground. Don’t get me wrong, I love ’em – but they are “I’ve had a crappy week and I just want to lose myself in a familiar but different universe” territory, not “I want a new, interesting and thought provoking perspective on the human condition with a twist that will have me thinking for weeks afterwards”. That characterisation is probably best supported by the fact that I almost never go on to read any of those author’s other work – more a sad commentary on me than any reflection on their work).

It’s been very interesting coming to grips with a new set of stories over the last twelve months. It’s also been interesting to actively consider where my fiction is coming from and whether I’m reading from a diverse enough range of authors. I’ve never really given a lot of thought to things like gender of authors, country of origin etc. But listening to some podcasts (see the podcasts page for my favourites) and you get a sense of the value of seeking out stories beyond your reading complacency zone. One of the things I most love about speculative fiction is its ability to show people and issues from different perspectives. Reading more broadly has certainly helped me recapture some of that.

So I’m still very time poor but I am reading more widely now and will continue to do so. I’m also paying more attention to issues in the speculative fiction community, like representation of gender and cultural groups in the field. It makes for more interesting reading and having a better idea of what is out there is definitely good for my writing as well.

If you are reading this and like me you’ve been stuck on the big name merry-go-round but you want to start reading more Australian content, I found Australian SF magazinespodcasts and publishers are a good place to start looking.

Kindle magazine subscriptions

I recently subscribed to Asimov’s Science Fiction on the Kindle – the first time I have tried such a thing. It’s interesting to read a set of shorter stories put together into a single package on the actual Kindle device.

Let me start by saying I’m a fan of the Kindle/e-Readers in general. It has had a big impact on my reading (although my “to be read” pile has never been bigger which is a bit of a pain – it gangs up with the massive pile of unwatched DVDs in my lounge room to provide a constant reminder of my poor purchasing habits). However I’m not sure it works as well for this style of publication as it does for a novel. They have tried to make it easier to read – the ability to quickly skip through stories using the five way controller for instance is quite handy. But it doesn’t replicate the layout of the magazines well and the lack of the pictures etc detract from the experience. And to be frank my physical copies of Analog, Aurealis and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine tend to drift towards the bathroom, where individual stories are consumed when M dismisses my active involvement in giving her a bath so she can play with the bath toys without adult interference. I’m not 100% sure about the compatibility of that much water and an electronic reading device. All in all I find myself gravitating towards the physical collections in the house rather than the virtual.

(I should say that the Kindle application on the iPad works better, if only M would stop stealing it to watch Peppa Pig. I should also say that I am using a second generation Kindle and as of last week the fourth generation Kindle/Kindle Touch/Kindle Fire were announced. Perhaps magazines are dealt with better in the more recent devices, especially the Kindle Fire)

Still, for international subscriptions the Kindle has at least one major advantage – the vagaries of international post makes getting physical magazines sent over to Australia an interesting exercise in anticipation and disappointed expectations. The Kindle version turns up promptly over the ether without a single missing issue.

Writing process – getting started

A lot of people seem to ask writers about the process they use to write. My first piece of advice about the writing process would be to seek out the advice of people that have been published and are generally successful. For instance, Richard Harland has published a whole website on writing tips, any page of which is going to be more useful than anything I can tell you.

If you’re still reading, the one thing I thought might be useful is a brief discussion about getting started. Most authors who write about writing have a certain level of success already. They have a writing process that has been proven, that works for them. They reflect on the end result of their writing evolution. But all of that isn’t necessarily helpful when you’re attempting to get started. Especially if you’re also working full time in an unrelated career.

After I decided I wanted to do some writing, I faffed about for a long time doing not very much writing at all. I thought about stories. I did a bit of planning, trying to outline structures. I read some books on writing. In short, I danced around the writing process without actually putting finger to keyboard. At the time of penning this post I’m about 55,000 words into the first draft of a novel and have written a few short stories. Nothing I hasten to add that is good enough quality for publishing. And that I guess is part of my point. This post isn’t about producing good quality writing or publishable material. It is about producing anything at all! You can’t even start the journey to publication if you haven’t written a word.

So what changed? How did I go from virtually no output to at least making progress. There were a few key points that made the difference for me.

  • Realising that any writing was good writing

I’ve heard others say this as well so it is not a particularly unique insight, but one major revelation for me was realising that what I wrote in the first instance didn’t have to be encumbered by little things like talent or quality. Any time I would start writing I’d get a couple of paragraphs in and I’d start to worry about whether it was any good. I’d wordsmith, rework, craft and shape trying to turn those couple of paragraphs into something “worthy”. And weeks would slip by. When you’re working full time and are balancing the other aspects of having a life, you don’t actually have much time to write. The loss of momentum created by that kind of fiddling creates huge problems with actually feeling like you are getting anything done (this is very related to the design vs build section below).

So, giving myself permission to write a piece of crap first draft was a big turning point for me. Suddenly I didn’t have to worry about using too many cliched phrases or whether my plot was too derivative. I didn’t have to worry about whether my dialog was too stilted or I was doing too much telling instead of showing. I just had to worry about writing and actually getting things down on page. And that was incredibly freeing.

  • Do it your way

After a career spent typing on a keyboard I’m not a great freehand writer. I find I can’t keep up with my thought processes when I write with a pen and paper. Also while I carried around a notebook and pen with me as much as possible, I found that at times when I might have found 1/2 hour or an hour to write I often didn’t have writing materials to hand. And then when I used scraps of paper etc, I found myself not really collating them or putting them together into anything coherent. All that is a long way of saying that I wasn’t comfortable with the way I was writing and that put road blocks up for me actually producing output.

For me a big change has come with the recent significant increase in the portability of computers. I’ve always like the concept of the laptop but never found the reality lived up to the promise. When the laptop weights a few kilograms and you have to carry it plus a bulky power cord, mouse etc around, it is not realistic to assume you’ll take your computer with you most of the time.

Enter the recent “ultrabook” trend that started with the Macbook Air. I bought an Air a little over a year ago and it has made a massive difference to my writing productivity. With 7 hours worth of battery and weighing not much more than a kilogram, it is entirely feasible for me to take the Air with me to work every day. On those days when I have time to take a lunch break, I take the Air down with me to a cafe and get 1/2 hour writing in. I can’t always predict which days I’ll get to write but now I don’t have to. It has made a huge difference.

(I got a Macbook Air partly because it was the only ultra light laptop around at the time and partly because I really like the Scrivener writing program which is only available on the Mac – although I believe a Windows version is close to coming out. Most manufacturers have been playing catchup and there are a series of ultrabooks with similar weight/size characteristics coming out now if you prefer Windows)

Of course computers aren’t everyones preferred method of writing first drafts. I guess my general point is that you need to find a way of making writing time available to you more often in a form that works for you. Like the “any writing is good writing” point above, it is about creating momentum in your work.

  • What a difference a week makes

Most of the podcasts that I listen to and articles/books that I’ve read by successful published authors talk about having daily word targets. I tried that for a little while, but I found it incredibly frustrating. Life doesn’t always let you sit down and write every day. It would be nice if it could. Perhaps if I was single or at least didn’t have kids it would be different, but I found that even setting a very modest daily target (say 200 words) just wouldn’t happen. And then I’d get discouraged and feel that I wasn’t living up to my goals.

I wish I could remember which podcast I was listening to (it was one of the Sydney Writer’s Centre podcasts on writers and writing), but it was one of the rare ones where the author in question was discussing juggling full time work and writing. And they said “set a weekly word count target”. A simple adjustment but it made all the difference in the world. I set a 2,000 words target per week, to be achieved by Sunday night each week. I started keeping a little log each week listing my word target and the actual word count I achieved. I reviewed the targets each month and if I was ahead of schedule I’d reset my targets to prevent coasting.

It made a huge difference. Sure, some weeks I don’t get there and I have to do some catchup work the next week. I’ve had to do some creative things to find time to work, sometimes working a lunchtime, sometimes locking myself in the study for a few hours on the weekend to make up for lost time. But generally I’ve stuck to the 2,000 word target and it has created some real momentum in my work. Having a week as my basic unit of time rather than a day has created some much needed flexibility in my schedule, and now I feel good about my progress as opposed to always feeling guilty about not measuring up.

  • Design vs build

In my early career I wrote a lot of software. I’d see fellow programmers get stuck in what we’d call “analysis paralysis” where they would rehash the design of their software system over and over again trying to get it perfect. And like any plan, it wouldn’t survive 5 seconds of actually being used. No matter how much time was spent on the design, once you tried to build the software you would have to go back and revise.

In the software world I gravitated towards design methodologies which essentially had you do an 80% design in a very short period of time and get started writing code as soon as possible. This worked as long as you scheduled in time to put your head up and revisit that design during the course of your work to make sure everything was still hanging together.

I have found myself taking a similar approach to writing. I do my “80% structure” up front, but get writing as quickly as possible then rework the structure as I go. I make sure I take time on a regular basis to take a step back and revisit the overall structure. Applying this approach helped me break out of some initial “analysis paralysis” and actually get writing.

And even if your first draft has structure holes, well that is what a second draft is for.


Look, this was just a few of the hurdles I had to getting started writing and how I overcame them. Your issues will probably be different. I’ll add to this post as I think of more things and try to keep it up to date. Leave comments below about your own experiences – I’d love to hear about them. And don’t forget, this isn’t about getting published or writing award winning work. This is just about writing anything at all!



Welcome to Mark Webb’s author website. At this point the site is rather sparse – I’ve only recently started writing and there isn’t a lot to show for it right now. You can check out my biography, see what I’m working on at the moment, see what I’m reading and watching or look at some links to other website that I’ve found useful as a writer getting started. You can leave some comments on any posts or over at the contact page.