The Content-Beam Speech

I wrote about Hot Buttered Bullshit over at Cracked, because when someone uses coffee to be anti-science then they’re the enemy of all humanity.

I was rewarded with this glorious comment
writer wacky

I’m not being sarcastic. I want to thank this commenter for imagining a beautiful world where I can make an entire living on one column a week. Yeah, I just get them to throw each article’s bucket of diamonds into the Jewellery Shed. Or maybe I have a Szalinski Atomic Space Reducer and buy a single shot of whiskey and a bacon sandwich each week, returning to full size only to write the next article and go to the shops.

It’s an amazing piece of writing. Possibly the first amazing piece they’ve ever written, considering how they clearly hate their job, and how their communications strategy with a site that (they think) pays better is to insult their crappy columns. We get so much characterization in so few lines of text. They have to work really hard as a writer, but not so hard that they don’t have time to read columns that they don’t even like. It’s just a tragedy that someone correctly identified the spirit “write hard and get on with it” but uses it in the most miserable possible way.

Then again, I’ve never heard a writer excuse their own work by saying “I was only obeying editors.” That doesn’t sound good. Yeah, we have to write as much as we can, but we still get to choose which pieces we take. I’m just flattered they think I don’t have to scrabble for new clients anymore. I’m always working on new pieces, new copy, new niches, new fun. I’ve had some hilarious jobs. And in the future I’ll have more hilarious jobs, as long as they pay.

I’ve written things you people wouldn’t believe.
Auction text for comics on teen romance in the fifties.
I’ve written motivational copy for server synergies with Virtual FutureTrends(TM).
All this … content … will be lost online, like tears in rain.
Time to write.

More ryting tekneek


The Four Chaos Gods of Writing

When struggling with abstract or existential problems there’s no better life coach than Warhammer 40,000. Because they solve abstract existentialist horrors by sharpening knives and fitting them to chainsaws. It’s a literary universe where the word “rip-roaring” isn’t just a valid description, it’s the subject-object interaction between most of the inhabitants, and everyone is always getting on with it. Which makes them the ideal motivator for most writers.

Their dark pantheon are four Chaos gods which handily represent the four stages of writing.

1. Slaanesh: God of Lust and Sensation

Slaanesh is all about the orgy of indulgence, the adrenaline of exploration, the thrill of sensation and the joy of experience. It represents that glorious first stage of writing where you’re bursting with new ideas and can’t wait to try them all out. But just like (his and her) chaos demons most of these ideas never escape into our world. They’re trapped in an imaginary realm where none will ever truly enjoy anything. And most of those who make it into our plane don’t survive for long, their imaginary impossibilities collapsing under the weight of existence. But those who make it have so much fun. And the one conjuring them always enjoys it.

2. Tzeenntch: God of Chaos and Change

The second stage is the sinuously shifting god of change. Ever-flowing, ever-moving, ever plotting and planning and shifting the stage to better suit its desires. Tzeentch is the power of rewriting. His is the glory of mutation, taking things that thought they were one thing and twisting them into shapes better suited to the new plan. This is the shifting of schemes in react to real problems. This is the glory of random creative chaos suddenly resolving into success, then getting to claim that you were an Architect of Fate all along.

3. Nurgle: God of Death and Decay

The oldest god, a bloated and scabrous thing which claims victory not through strategy, nor strength, but simple rot and neglect. Nurgle is all the articles left unfinished. The stories shelved because they got difficult. The endless bandaged forest of mummified corpses left waiting for inspiration which will never come. Of all the gods, Nurgle is the most powerful. Nurgle is always waiting for you to fall. Nurgle must be defeated.

But you have a powerful ally.

4. Khorne: God of Violence

Khorne is the god of rage and blood. The most savagely simple of the gods. The most despised by amateur writers who fancy themselves apostles of Tzeentch but he is the most vital for their victory. Because Khorne is the god of editing.

You must get in there and finish things. You must chase your pieces down and end them, dispatch them to where they’re going, and that means ripping and tearing and cutting them to the bone. Feel the savage joy of blades separating the rot and bloat, carving away the unnecessary and the ugly. Only the worthy survive.

Of all these inspirations, I most love the idea of Khornate berserkers set loose on the magical Faerie forest of Muses. Blood-drenched barbarians of spiked iron and action chasing down those diaphanous excuses, burning down their sun-dappled copseso f inspiration with the war-fires of immediate assault, dragging the flittering malingerers before their god of editing so that their blades can draw deadlines. Because the god of editing does not care from whom the word count flows.

Only that it flows.

Bonus: He’s not a Khornate, but I conjured my Inner Space Editor long ago, and he still does sterling duty in service of the Typing Throne


If you enjoy the world of 40,000 you might like:

The Voodoo Pen

The pen is a voodoo pin. It allows people to incant their fears and suffering into the world, unleashing their inner demons, binding them onto a page, and sending them off to bother other people.

That’s why we can read about so many older men suddenly throwing away their older lives for thrills and adventure (“can”, not “should”). So many writers writing about writers thinking about writing, living in worlds where exciting things come from the world into them instead of the other way round, so many badass unstoppable supercool rogues who were hated and feared instead of the truly terrifying fate of not being noticed.

Worries? Fears? Give them to someone else! Create a golem to fill with everything you don’t want in your own head and send them shambling off. The only difference is the amount of writing: not just a few symbols on their forehead, you have to write their forehead (furrowed), the rest of their head, their body, the lot.

Of course, voodoo and monsters are guaranteed to turn back on their creators. That’s what they do.

Using your own experience is a great way to give your characters depth, but you have to use the technique properly. You can’t just vomit your current thoughts directly onto the page. People don’t like picking through someone else’s vomit: it’s unpleasant, it’s mostly unprocessed, and most damningly of all it’s someone else’s problem. You have to choke down your own issues and process them. This process will reveal that the bulk of it turns to shit, but bits will be extracted, integrated, added to your sum total and become something you can usefully use.

At which point you could no more take them out of yourself than you could give your character your toes. Instead you have to climb into their head and steer them yourself.

More ryting tekneek:


I grew up poking at BASIC, so I know X is the ultimate variable. The automatic anything. It marks the spot on every imaginable map, the treasure inconstant but always available. Sure, we’d loop around i’s, and be induced to iterate n, but back in those childish days before it was definitely horizontal, our x could be anything.

Now its function, for x ample, is to defend me from the entire internet.

The internet! The greatest research tool ever assembled and one you absolutely must not use it when writing. Use it when researching. Use it when scribbling and plotting. But when you’re writing it’s all too eager to ask you to come into its parlour, said the spider to the idiot who should be writing. It doesn’t matter what you think you need to check: that factoid is the fresh chunk of cheese in a mousetrap that will chop an entire hour off your life.

Which is when X’s variable powers save me.

X has saved me XOUSANDS of times, over XAYS, XONTHs, ever since XEAR. I don’t have to look up XAME or their XADDRESS or spoken XANGUAGE. I can’t count the XILLIONS of unwasted hours saved by blasting right through momentary fragments of fact instead of surrendering the momentum of movement for a few seconds of flicking around the internet. Eight points in Scrabble and even more valuable in other word work. Never stop writing. The facts and figures will still be there when your head is broken, your hours are aching, and you’re editing a piece instead of invoking it. Cross out the unknown and just keep going.

Thank you, X.

More ryting tekneek

Writing Tips

  • Make your lions and tigers fight cyber-octopii while your bears invite bulls to romantic dinners in an attempt to create a race of grizzly centaurs who’ll exterminate capitalism and bullfighting.
  • Invent an small sewing antigravity system to prevent pins from ever hitting the ground.
  • Make millions by inventing a fad health drink of mixed spilled milk and optical saline.
  • Engineer a sticky towel to blinding victorious opponents, allowing you to escape after throwing it at them.
  • Dress to kill by inventing power armor and strapping a chainsaw to your wrist.
  • If looks could kill, develop a response to the mutant-hunting Sentinel program.

Do all this and more, whatever it takes to avoid clichés. Some writers use phrases they’ve seen before because they think it looks like writing. If it looks like writing, it isn’t good writing, or worse, it’s someone else’s writing that you’re using instead of anything you’ve invented yourself. Writing is a medium for getting your ideas into other people’s brains, the same way air is a medium for getting oxygen into their brains: if they can feel the stuff pushing its way in then something is going horribly wrong.

New Life From Zombies

Zombies! The plaguehorde of unoriginality. Their very definition is “take something which already existed and keep it going long after it should have stopped”. They’ve died twice over: the first time to create themselves, the second time as the internet ran them further into the ground than the six feet deep they started at. Every zombie horse is now a two-dimensional tartare picture, that’s how hard they’ve been beaten, but I’ll always have a necrotizing soft spot for them. Because they gave me an amazing new life as a writer.

Back in 2007 I was screwing around in a laser physics lab and spent a stupid amount of time making a Zombie Safety Poster.


It was fun, it was stupid, and I base my behavior on both so I slung it up on MySpace (I did tell you this was a long time ago) and forgot about it. And then an editor contacted me and asked if I wanted to write for money.


I wasn’t a popular author. I had no online friends. My page had about two visitors, counting me and Tom, but somehow a search had thrown up and this guy looking for writers for the new Cracked magazine wanted to know if I could write something for them, as long as it wasn’t about bloody zombies, because even back in 2007, Jesus Christ, even Jesus Christ was sick of things coming back from the dead and that was his entire deal.

The magazine folded before I could get paid, so they decided to run with the website idea instead, I made a list of internet safety signs and the rest is life-changing history. I even got to use one of the zombie posters in an article, and that article was being paid to nerd out about zombie plan weaponry. I never even dreamed this job because my dreams wouldn’t have believed this. And wouldn’t have paid me to watch my favorite terrible movies of all time.

And just like any internet creator, oh holy shit has it been ripped off more than the face of someone slower than shambling zombies.


My favorite theft has to be the Zazzle print.


That makes me feel so good. Looking over your own writing from seven years ago is like finding your own corpse from seven years ago — crawling with disgusting horrors and the awful knowledge that your younger self somehow did something impossibly wrong — but this makes me feel like Shakespeare. That’s like a schoolkid squeezing Wikipedia through a thesaurus and destroying every single joke in the process. I wouldn’t call myself a master prosodologist, because people would think I wanted to stick my fingers up their ass, but that text has less rhythm than a dead Dalek. And Zazzle put in more work just to destroy things.

So what’s the most important part for anyone who wants to write online? The stupid part. Specifically, the “stupid amount of time” part. I spent an appalling amount of time on that first poster back when I thought it would only be seen by ten people, half of whom wouldn’t care. I matched the colors to the existing posters, I wrote and rewrote the text, I spent ages sucking at drawing (in fact I’ve spent years sucking at drawing and foresee many more) but kept at it until I had something I was happy with. And I’ve never stopped. It’s not about how much you’re paid, it’s about how good the piece is. Especially when you’re being paid nothing, because it’s your only reward. Make it great. Then put it somewhere and get on with the next.

I overanalyse for living! Keep going with Pink Alert on the Starship Enterprise and How Terminator: Salvation Should Have ended.

The Murder

The filthy neon light flickered, harsh flashes across stinking trash in the dead-end alley. The panicked figure desperately searched the unforgiving bricks for an impossible exit. The chromed hammer clicked back. One fat bullet tore through a defenseless male chest. Stricken, staggering, scarlet, the slight figure fell, rich red blood pooling around the shuddering, struggling body, then one last long drawn-out, rattling, desperate, delaying, lingering, faltering, fading, ending breath.

The shooter checked the corpse, holstered her gun, and turned to leave. Getting him out of the way saved time. Verb smiled.

Adjective was dead.

Natural Selection of Science-Fiction Victims

Monsters shouldn’t have cheerleaders. Understanding the opponents is a sign of excellent science fiction, but cheering for the monster is a symptom of awful storytelling, an undeveloped bad guy rampaging around only because that’s what bad guys do, and you still prefer it to every other idiot involved.

My quest to catch up with Doctor Who has hit a temporal speedbump in an episode so stupid I can only watch five minutes at a time. A spaceship crew bring an unconscious man into the sickbay: he went crazy, he violently attacked them, it took three of them to hold him down and the bioscan says he’s now completely alien on the inside. Do they tie him down? Do they bollocks. They leave him sleeping peacefully and split up to stand around the ship with their backs turned to every entranceway, hoping he’ll rise refreshed to continue his corridor-based murder spree. Spoiler: he totally does. They’re playing a game of Pac-man and volunteering to be the dots. But are less rounded as characters.

The doctor is actually standing over his unconscious, helpless body while reading the scans which say “THIS THING IS GOING TO KILL YOU, IDIOT”, and has the sheer gall to act surprised when that happens. Another of his victims is holding a steel pipe while he very gradually murders her, but confuses herself for Black Canary and decides to scream instead. A big guy whose only job is wielding large power tools wedges himself underneath an entire starship engine as if it was a Vauxhall Astra, just so that he can mistake the approaching alien for a crewmember and be pulled out by his feet for murder. And when someone finally kicks the alien in the gut, it totally works! They could have piled on and beaten it to death at any time! An alien isn’t compelling when it can be defeated by a closing-time curbstomp.

I understand the screenwriting logic of not restraining the obvious alien murderer to save time, but it’s the same logic as shitting in the sitting room to save time: offensively lazy and no-one wants to watch TV any more. The screenwriter thinks “Everyone knows it’s going to get loose so there’s no point restraining it“, but the instant a writer thinks “Everyone knows” they should ball up the script and throw it away. The only entertainment potential in that script is scoring a wastebasket three-pointer. Just show us the series title, scribble “Stupid idiots picked off one by one” underneath, and let us get on with our lives without wasting fifty minutes. Cliches are how writers announce they just want their job over with.

The last time the one-by-one worked was Alien. Because it was on an unprecedented scale, because they had horrors behind “Actor with makeup” (note: this Doctor episode didn’t even bother with that and just handed him a helmet), and because the crew did everything in their power to defend themselves. They went at their alien with nets, tazers, flamethrowers, and the thermonuclear detonation of their entire ship. We were absolutely on their side even though they were otherwise total jerks, because they weren’t actively conspiring with the alien to get themselves killed. No-one wants to watch an idiot group suicide. If they can’t be bothered to take the most obvious steps to defend themselves, then we can’t be bothered to watch them die.

It’s natural selection in science-fiction. Stupid characters get killed off one by one, and stupid shows which do that stop being watched.