The Bullet Animation – Animating

The last post yammered on about how cool Synfig is. For a dude like me who hasn’t the training, the cash or the patience for the professional stuff, it does the job admirably and there’s a whack of stuff in there that I haven’t even had the chance to look at yet.

Enough already!

Alright, alright, I’m getting to it. With my vector images ready to go and a little practice under my belt, I was ready to try and get a scene in motion. I started by importing the svg into Synfig. Go to File > Import and select your file (you can use this to bring in jpg and png images as well). This will make a group layer that contains a bunch of other layers, one for each layer in the original file, and inside each of those is a layer for each path.


If you’ve labeled your layers in Inkscape, they won’t have these labels when imported into Synfig. No worries, just spend a minute to select and re-label those layers – a stitch in time and all of that.

Now, one issue I did come across was that regions that had bits that had been subtracted (I’m talking annuli, doughnuts, holes, cutouts) still had the paths present, but they hadn’t been subtracted, like you can see in the image on the left.

The Worker’s glass and head brace naturally wanted to allow him to be able to see the Bullet as it goes past. Only thing is, the import left the cutout as the same colour and composition style as the rest of the headgear, so I ended up with a blast shield over the lenses.


One workaround for this, I found, was to select the layer that was to be the cutout, and set its composition to subtract the alpha from the underlying region. This will mimic the hole punch effect of one region upon another.

To add a little bit of depth, I also took the opportunity to add in a ‘lens’ layer, merely a circle that colourised everything beneath it, so as to give the skin and eyes an unnatural, soft, blue hue.

So there’s a little bit of tidying up that needs to be done when bringing in your SVGs, but it’s not a killer and it also gives you a chance to get everything prepped, and also, more importantly perhaps, the incentive to fiddle around with the settings to see what flies.

Animate it !

Synfig lets you animate properties of your layers, and these can be done by adding waypoints for these properties. The various styles of your waypoints affect how the engine calculates the resulting points in between your waypoints. Each of these can have a different style for in and out. For example, you can use a ‘Linear’ waypoint (the yellow one) to linearly transition from one state to another. Alternatively, you can choose for a more flowing ‘Clamped’ to give a smoother lead in or out. There’s also TCB which is pretty cool but hard to control.

Synfig5There’s also the step or constant which you can use to instantly transition a state, which comes in handy when you want to make something, say, disappear or reappear or change from one colour to another in the blink of an eye. The best way to figure these out is to muck around with them and get a feel for how they behave.

One of my scenes that I decided upon was to have my characters zooming in from the sides, scaling from little to really big, and fading in from invisible to visible and invisible again. I’ll pick on the Foreman to give you an example. I’ve taken a shot just a frame or two after my first waypoint so you can get a feel for where he starts off: Top left, barely visible and tiny.

With the little man set to green, I prime my layer to be where I want it to be at the start.

Synfig6Then, I click on the green man to turn him red. This means I’m in ‘animating’ mode, and I can create waypoints. Moving the timeline forward to an applicable spot, I can drag the balls on the graphical layer to position it where I want it to be at this time. This will create a waypoint for the position.

You can see these waypoints in the bottom panel. Each will have a graphic for the ‘in’ portion and one for the ‘out’. So you can, for example, linearly transition something in, then apply a constant on the out.

To change a waypoint, you can drag it left or right to set the frame, or right click to alter the type of in/out/both, or duplicate it, remove it, etc. Notice, too, that the waypoints are inline with the properties that they are animating. In the example there, the Amount (think opacity) is animated with clamped points from 0.0 to 1.0 and back down to 0.0 again to fade in and fade out. The Transformation (position, scale, rotation) can have a completely separate set of waypoints to follow.

Synfig7To resize or rotate or move the layer, you can just grab the little balls on the screen, or if you want precise control, you can set the numeric value directly in the property – value window on the bottom left. This is handy if you want to perform precise motion, like the rotation of gears or the path of a conveyor belt.

This is how I got the bulk of my animation covered, but there are still some facets that I’d like to cover, namely animating paths or object within other objects, as independent entities.

Say what? Just bear with me, it’ll make sense in the next post.

The Bullet Animation – Synfig

In my previous post, I showed you how I turned my sketches into vector graphics, ripe for insertion into Synfig.

When I first opened Synfig Studio, I didn’t know where to start. There were panels and boxes and buttons and, yeah, no idea. I went online and looked up a tutorial on getting started. It covers the basics and a few gotchas, so it’s worthwhile sitting back and absorbing the info, even if it’s just to get the general idea of it all. Don’t skip any bits, even if it seems obvious, because you might miss out on an important detail.

Like what?

Synfig1For example, you’ll notice that there is a little green man in the bottom right of the main panel which, when clicked, turns red. It also highlights the main panel in a thick, red border to reinforce the message. This defines the static versus dynamic state, and is fundamental when animating waypoints and keyframes.

It’s mentioned in the tutorial, so I won’t go over it here, but know that if something ain’t working for you, check to make sure what mode you’re in. Once I figured out what that was all about, one of many Aha! moments, things became a whole lot easier.

The next thing to know is that Synfig works a lot with Layers. You can group layers together with a Group Layer (fancy that), and you can specify the height of one layer with respect to another. For example, if you wanted to create a layer that held your character and give it a speech bubble, you could add a Layer to hold the character and all of its paths, and a Layer to hold the speech bubble with the text in a layer above that.

But Synfig has more cool features than just that. It can also provide Blurs, radial and motion and Gaussian, to give a sense of movement or depth of field. Just add in the layer above the layers you wish to blur, adjust the amount, and you’re ready to rock.

Animating Properties, not Pixels

A groovy thing that took me a good while to get me head around was the ability to animate the various properties of a layer over time. My original concept was that I would need to move things about manually, doing it all frame by frame like claymation. Not so. In fact, a lot of the hard work is removed once one figures out how to use waypoints to define the path of a property.

For example, you could change the starting angle of a conical gradient layer in a smooth sweep by setting waypoints, and letting the Synfig engine do the math to smoothly map between the points on a frame by frame basis, which is called tweening. In fact, almost any property of a layer that is numeric can be gracefully animated, including the starting and ending colour of a gradient, or the rotation or scale of a set of points, even the opacity!

Not only this, you can also set the Blend Method for your layers, allowing you to apply the layer as a screen to the underlying layers, or add/subtract/multiply/divide, or burn or dodge or colourise.

One of the features you might be interested in before you get started is that many of the value Types can be converted. For example, you can change from a real to a random or an integer, or change a vector to a radial composite. Oh yay, maths again. It’s kind of inescapable, but it does allow you to do some very interesting things, especially when you tie one variable to another variable. If you are interested, go and have a look at some of the examples posted by Synfig gurus.

So why did I go to all the trouble of converting my Synfig2 sketches to vector graphics? Because Synfig plays very nicely with vectors and paths, allowing you to animate any of the path features easily. I’ll get into how I imported my characters in the next post.

There are a few features that I wish I’d learnt about before I finished up, as one might expect. These include the use of bones to aid complex motion, onion skins and Time Loop layers. There is even the option to have multiple canvases with independent animation within a project, which, I reckon, would be way cool for things like lip-synching, twitches, eye movements, gestures, etc. If I’m ever given enough time to make another animation again, I’m going to be looking very carefully at these features.

Lastly, you don’t have to work only with vector graphics. You can import pngs and jpgs to help give you backgrounds and al of that, and they play nicely with the whole layering concept. There’s even the ability to add a sound layer so you can insert noises or music over the top of your animation! What more do you need? (Professional animators, please don’t answer that).

What can you take away from all of this? With Synfig studio under your control, the world is your oyster.

In my next posts, I’ll show you how I composed a scene, including where I think I went wrong, where I know I went wrong, and where I could do it better.

The Bullet Animation – Vector Graphics

In my previous post, I showed you how I sketched up my characters to bring them into a digital format.

The problem is that they were still unsuited for animation in Synfig. I had to convert them from raster images into vectors. But how? Enter Inkscape stage left ( I had downloaded this on a previous occasion, toyed around with it and put it away because I had more pressing, important issues to attend to. Work is like that. Anyway, I’m happy I revisited it because it’s the bee’s knees. It can convert bitmap images into regions for you, it can apply paths in layers, it can fill with gradients and stroke with different styles, and you can even muck about with opacity and geometric shapes and…

Awesome, so…

So, I inserted the image into Inkscape as a layer, with the result as shown. Yeah, it looks scrappy, but it does get better. Working over the lines into paths, I traced over the top of the lines. Then I noticed that Inkscape has a layering facility. A bright idea struck me (I still have the mark) and I worked at breaking up the image into logical parts.

AssassinVector1After a couple of faces, I got into a pattern of figuring out all the different layers and regions of the eventual picture and added each of these as a separate layer. So, in the example of the Assassin here, there’s the hat, the glasses and his coat, along with the scarf. Furthermore, he has skin and hair and, on the skin, he will have skin in shadow and skin in light (Think old school, silver salt photography).AssassinVector2

The skin will appear underneath the hair and the hair underneath the hat. Get the idea?

With each of these as layers, it was then only a matter of sketching out the relevant outlines over the top of the picture to create paths. These can then be drawn and/or filled however you wish. To make life easier, I set the opacity of each layer as 50% so I could still continue to use to the underlying sketch as a guide.

I recently discovered that I could achieve the same thing if I locked the sketch layer, placed it at the top, and set the opacity of that layer to 30%. Eh, Pot-ay-to, Pot-ah-to. Got there in the end.

I chose not to have an outline on the regions, preferring instead to let the colours do the work of definition. I like line art, but after a bit of experimentation having lines on and off and with different thicknesses, I opted to go for fill only.

Darn it, now that I look at that partially coloured sketch, I kind of like the scruffy black-lines and washed up colours. Kind of like water colours. Storing that one in the back of my head for next time.

AssassinVector3Continuing on, filling in layer by layer, I ended up with the images that I could then use within Synfig. I reckon I could’ve spent longer but I had time limits imposed on my venture. After all, I’m supposed to be writing Hampton Court Ghost.

These images can be exported as .svg files, and can be used as scalable vectors in a bunch of programs. InkScape has a bundle of really cool features that I haven’t had a chance to play with yet. I was going to get all fancy with some of the plugins I did get to play with (there are some really cool plugins!) only when I tried to import the resulting svg file into Synfig, there were some issues. For example, importing regions that had bits knocked out them, like doughnuts, came in as filled.

I’m not overly sure, yet I think there’s a slight disparity in Synfig when importing SVG files in the current iteration, but it’s not a show stopper. I’ll get onto the topic of importing into Synfig in a later post.

Neat, huh?

ForemanVector1There you have it. I repeated the process for my various characters,  even for the Tester (who didn’t make it into the reel) and ended up with the pieces that I needed, ready to go. This really was a neat way to get my faces ready for animation:

Oh, whoops! I made the Foreman’s hair too dark. That’s OK, just select the hair and change the fill, adjust the hue, the lightness, the saturation.

Drat! I made him too small! Not a problem, being a vector, it’ll scale up or down without any loss in quality.

Blast! I needed a larger chin, the hat’s too short, the eyes are all wrong, I want scruffier hair. All good, just grab the path tool and add, remove or tweak the points until you’ve got it the way you want it.

That’s one of the beautiful things about this: You can add more layers to add more detail, add more points to define a better edge or, conversely, remove points and layers to simplify and posterise. I got into a rhythm of defining small paths, using the union option to join the regions together, then simplifying the path to get to a more cartoon-like style.

Creating the slug and the shell of the Bullet was the easiest of the lot. Being geometric in nature, Inkscape’s path tools made short work of it. I added another layer for the casing, and created a couple of ‘shines’ but left the gradients to be added after I imported it into Synfig Studio.

In my next few posts I’ll go through how I approached animating the scenes, you know, the ones I did way back then, and some of the problems I came across.

The Bullet Animation – Artwork

In my previous post I spoke about how I was making an animation as a promotional video for The Bullet and I got as far as laying out the scenes and getting the timing right.

For each scene I needed to get something to animate. Pictures, right? Right. Back in the old days (did I just say that?) I used to use some software that came with the Genius Mouse that allowed one to draw, fill, cut, etc. With this I could sketch an outline on the screen using a bunch of connected lines, then apply a fill and, presto! Art! I could save them in PCX format and, well, that was about it.

Enough Reminiscing!

My first thought, when approaching the task of drawing, was to open up Paint and do pretty much the same thing. Paint has come a long way from its 3.1 days (unlike Notepad, but then Notepad++ fills that glaring void) so I wasn’t too worried that I’d be able to get something knocked up. After a couple of strokes, though, I realised that it wasn’t quite suitable for my purposes.

Why not? Because drawing a picture as a bunch of pixels doesn’t lend itself to scaling or rotating or shearing without a lot of pixelation or tearing. Not only that, I freestyle draw a whole lot better with a pen or a pencil than I do with a mouse. So I made a plan that I would draw my characters freehand, take a picture of them with my phone then convert them into some appropriate format. Which format?

Well it turns out that the format I chose influenced the style of drawing. After reading up on Synfig’s tutorials, vector graphics (as opposed to raster) is ideal for 2D animation since the images are a bunch of instructions rather than a bunch of pixels. Without getting all techo, the image can be rotated or scaled or pinched or whatever and it won’t suffer the same fate as a bitmap image. The other really cool thing about vector graphics is that they behave a lot like the old painting program I used to use: The image can be built up from a set of outlines or shapes (paths, I think the lingo is), give it a stroke and a fill and away you go.

So I put the mouse down and picked up my pencil, sat down at the kitchen table and drew the characters I was after.


I had to search through a few books and online to find the right kind of face for the job. Then is was a matter of sketching it onto some paper, rubbing and scrawling and positioning the eyes until I got what I was after.ForemanRawSmall

I started with the Foreman, the dude with the cap and moustache, then went onto the Tester, the Courier (neither of which ended up in the final feature) and the Boss.

Before getting too far into it, I took a copy with my phone’s camera, transferred it over to the computer and opened it up in GIMP ( to make it suitable. I desaturated it, increased the contrast and fiddled with the levels to get it into the form you see here.

So that meant I had a rough, digital sketch on my box. Yippee. Doesn’t look much, does it? It needs colour, of course, and refinement, and a solid tidying up. The chin isn’t a strong as I would like, the cap bulge isn’t in the right spot.

MerchantRawSmallThis is where the whole business of turning the image into a vector affects the drawing style. Why? Because I’m not sketching to perfection, I’m sketching to get an outline. I didn’t need to colour in the picture. I could have left the moustache unshaded, even though it helped visually, since, when I make the moustache as a region, I can colour it any way I want. As you can see from the sketch, the hat has some rough shading, the chin is darkened, the hair is filled, all unnecessary.AssassinRawSmall

So when I got back to making the others, I concentrated more upon the outlines of the elements within the image, and the region of shades.

The Merchant, the bald guy with the awesome chops, has his features marked out like the Foreman does, but there’s a line running from his chin, weaving up past his nose and around the left side of his head, marking a region of shadow or darker skin. I shaded his chops to help out with the visuals for later, but, again, this was unnecessary.

ClientRawSmallThis is even more pronounced in the Assassin, with the glasses and stovepipe hat. You can see his hat just has a rectangle marked out for the ‘shine’, and his scarf and collar are outlines only.

By the time we get to the Client, it’s all outlines and regions. No facial hair for him. Just a warm cloak and a decent hat. That’s the kind of guy he is.

So, to wrap up, I sketched out the characters that I wanted on paper, photographed them, downloaded to my machine, stripped the colour and increased the contrast to get a set of outlines that I could use for the next step.

Stick with me. In my next post I’ll go over how I converted these images into vector graphics that I could then use in the animator.

The Bullet Animation – Conception

I realized only a few months ago that, whether I like it or not, promotion is a part of being an independent author. Like the saying goes, if you don’t blow your own trumpet, no one else will do it for you. So this next series of posts could also be titled, “How I learned to blow a trumpet”.

A big shout-out and thank you to Erman for giving me the inspiration to make a video for The Bullet. His suggestion to make an animation sparked in me a memory of a former interest. I had, back in the days of bulletin board systems (BBS’s, remember those?), 2400 bps modems and 5 1/4″ floppy drives, dabbled in animation and music, but my experience was frustrated by the poor interfaces (ASCII based), slow 286 CPUs, no sound card and a small hard drive.

It’s 2015, and we’ve come a long way, so, I considered, maybe I’ll give it another crack. I put my digital pen down and started poking around on the net for ideas and software. Good thing I had a decent supply of coffee! From low level to high, I considered my options. Not wishing to delve into 3-D modelling, nor draw every frame / cell by hand like I did back in the good ol’ days, I skirted past those options and settled on Synfig ( A couple of demo videos on YouTube later and I was convinced.

The next problem was figuring out which book I was going to pick on. Almost immediately I decided upon The Bullet, since it gave itself nicely to 2-D animation, what with the old-skool Steampunk thing going on, and a couple of scenes jumped straight into my head.

Inspired, I got cracking.

Of course, there’s more to it than that. My next few posts will relate the process I took to get from an idea to the screen.

After playing around with Synfig for a bit, getting a feel for how it operates, I turned my machine off and picked up a piece of paper and a real pen. I’m a big fan of pen and paper for ideas. I’ve tried using tablets and styluses and finger scrawls but, in the end, I just end up frustrated. There’s just something about the freedom that nice paper and a good pen affords.

Anyway, although it sounds obvious, I had to take a step or three back and decide what it was that I actually wanted from the video, what the message was, how it was to appear, how long it would be, how the viewer was to see it. Important stuff. Boring stuff. Stuff that was getting in the way of actually making something. Yet I knew that it would be fruitless if I didn’t plan properly.

I had these grand ideas whirling around in my head, some stupendous, others just stupid. A full-blown twenty-something minute video just wasn’t feasible. What was this video for, anyway? Telling the entire story? No. Reading out a slab or two? No.

It was to be a short promotional video, enough to give a feel for the book without giving too much away.

To this end, I opted to keep it simple.

I’m not a fan of videos that go on and on, or have a massive lead-in time, so, doing a virtual demo inside my head, I whittled the scenes down to four or five to fit within a self-imposed timelines of roughly a minute. To visualise the scenes and test the timing, I scrawled out a timeline on some paper, complete with markers to indicate where things happened, and worked at it (scrapping some unnecessary scenes) until I got it down to a concise flow.

The end result is fairly consistent with what I ended up with and I think that this planning stage was crucial to getting this thing off the ground. Of course, a video isn’t really a video if there isn’t sound included. I marked out a few key sounds that needed to be included, pointed out roughly where they needed to go on the timeline, and put them on the back burner. But I’ll get onto the sound and the music in a later post.

There was a lot of squeezing here and poking there, to make sure that each scene was given a fair go. In the end, I used the conceptual stages of the book, rather than the chapters as I had originally planned, to create the scenes. A great deal of emphasis is placed upon just the creation of the Bullet, so this would naturally require a lot of detail, thus the first three scenes are devoted to the genesis and refinement of the Bullet.

The confusion and chaos on its journey was going to be almost a minute long but, in the end, I got it down to twenty odd seconds. Why? Because this wasn’t a movie; each detail of the Bullet’s journey didn’t need to be exactly plotted. Instead, the feel of the story was what was needed. So players like the Boss, the Courier and the Tester aren’t shown, but this isn’t really an issue, in fact, I think it was necessary. Too much detail can be as bad, if not worse, than not enough.

Finally, the realisation of the Bullet’s destiny, and its relationship between the Assassin and the Target, was to be the climax. Of course, there is no mention of who exactly the Target is, since that would be skewing the reader’s opinion, so I had to be careful not to put too much emphasis on the character’s visuals outside of what might be gleaned from the book.

In the end, I wound up with a bundle of pages, the first and neatest of which is shown below. The others look a lot like this, only there’s a lot more furious scribbling, crossing out, annotations, arrows (lots and lots of arrows) and times.


In my next post, I’ll show you how I got my characters onto the screen with the aid of pencil and paper.

Finding a time and place to write

The Problem

Imagine sitting down in a cafe, ordering a fresh brew, finding a decent table somewhere away from the grinder and taking out your quill in preparation for your muse to begin her inspiration. You’ve got a billion ideas whizzing around inside your head, you’re ready to release them onto paper. The chatter of the happy people and the clinking of plates makes a welcome distraction from pure silence and there’s nothing to prevent the flow of words from the brain to the paper. Now pick up that imagined scene, fold it nicely with a perfect crease along the edge and file it under ‘F’ for ‘Fanciful’. Better yet, make that ‘N’ for ‘Not going to happen’! If you’re like me, there simply aren’t enough hours in a day to get the essentials done, let alone making time to sit down and get into that ‘zone’. One of the biggest sources of frustration I find comes in the form of interruptions. These can be technological, environmental, work or home related or, most commonly, they come from those around you.


It’s sunny outside, your muse is getting twitchy, so you take your laptop outside and sit in the warmth while your pen your masterpiece. Sounds like a good idea? I thought so. And I persisted with it through Spring and Summer, until I realised that I was getting less and less written. When the Sun wasn’t baking my neck and turning it red, it was glaring off the screen, making it hard to read what I had written. Moving to the shade didn’t help all that much, either. I’d get too cold, or too warm (and start to doze) and the reflection on the screen showed up in contrasts so I’d be constantly shifting the angle of view. I’ve tried parks, busy roadways, quiet backstreets, even the beach. All seemed perfect to begin with, commanding a lovely view, a comfortable bench to sit on, a light breeze. They provided inspiration, yes, but inspiration alone is not enough. In the end, none of these outdoor settings were suitable for the serious business of writing. Offices are built for a reason. The lighting is consistent, the temperature is comfortable, there are power points and running water. These buildings, although often sterile and boring, are actually the perfect place for getting stuff done. ‘Stuff’ being ‘words’ and ‘done’ being ‘written’. After all, a book isn’t a book until it’s successfully out of your head and onto a piece of paper (or a hard drive, as the case may be). So while an office may not be the most inspirational of places to write, it does encourage serious progress on your book if, and it’s a big if, you can avoid the distractions that reside within.

Work and Home

When I get to work, I generally perform a solid amount of administration, answer emails, figure out what I’m going to be doing for the day, put out any spot-fires and attend the daily Scrum in order to sync with the team. Once this is done, and the path is free, I’m designing, coding, testing, debugging, cursing under my breath at a dodgy third party API… and then lunch time is upon me. At this point in the day, the body craves exercise and the brain craves rest. I’d prefer to go for a long walk to stretch my legs and get some fresh air, but I’ve got ideas that are pushing their way out and require my immediate attention. If it’s all you’ve got to work with, then using half an hour of your lunch to write isn’t as bad as it sounds: The change of task, in itself, can be refreshing enough. Still, a candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long and, from my personal experience, writing through lunch day in, day out, takes a mental and physical toll. One way around this, I’ve discovered, is by moving the period from lunch to before work: You’re still in the office, with all the benefits (and coffee, hopefully) that you need, but you’ve not got the exhaustion creeping up on you. If writing after work suits you, go right ahead, only be warned that you run a greater risk of your peers bugging you (more on this later). Writing at home would seem to be without the pitfalls mentioned here, and why not? It’s comfortable, familiar, it has everything you need in terms of resources. The problems faced here a more subtle. They are temptations and interruptions.


Which leads me to talk about technology and how it can prevent you from reaching your potential. Indeed, my laptop enables me to churn out words, rearrange paragraphs, jot down ideas, poke about for the right phrase, without the need to rub out pencil scrawls or tear off bits of paper. It saves trees, it saves time, it is essential. However, and here’s the catch, it also enables me to waste time looking at You Tube videos, read emails, check on the up-coming Sprint. It’s a double edged sword. It requires discipline to master the urge to ‘quickly check something’ which can easily lead to slabs of time wasted on frivolous, non-productive tasks. This goes the same for the telephone. And the television. And the radio. And anything else that your brain wants to play with. If you find yourself watching ‘just one more’ Cat-Playing-A-Piano video, or are checking your Twitter feed every other minute, you’re not concentrating on your work (and it is work). In this case, I would strongly encourage you to pull the battery out of your cell phone, turn off the wireless connection, physically unplug the television or whatever device is sucking your time out, and give yourself a tap on the nose.


The problem, I find, with any artistic pursuit, is that onlookers just don’t get how bloody hard it all is. It may be a case of ignorance, it may be disrespect. I’m still working it out. What I have found, though, is that you’re more inclined to get stuff done if you don’t have: A) Bob discussing last night’s football match with you B) Sally looking over your shoulder critiquing your work as you write C) Joe and Nancy deciding which cat played the piano best while you’re trying to get inside your protagonist’s head. You can politely mention your frustration and this, generally, has a positive effect. I say generally because, from time to time, the mere mention of “Excuse me, but I’m trying to nut out this paragraph…” unwittingly elicits more questions, more discussion, more “Oh, what you should do is…” and, ultimately, more time wasted.

So what to do?

I do not want to end this post with the cliche of, ‘Whatever works for you’. That’s obvious. And unhelpful. What I can tell you is what has worked for me and why.

Form a Habit

There are many online resources to describe how to do this, so I won’t bother with that here (besides, I want to get back to writing), but the main point is that, by discovering the best pattern for your writing and creating a habit out of it, you set yourself up for a regular, productive past-time that you can look forward to. It might be every day, or every other day. It might be several times a day. But if it’s consistent, then even when you come to the inevitable case of writer’s block, you know in the back of your mind that it will be dealt with at the next session. You know that if you have a fantastic idea, it will be flowing out of your fingers soon enough.

Mitigate Fatigue

I mentioned before that the body and the brain both need to exercise and to rest. It’s tempting to flog one’s brain with another cup of coffee in order to squeeze out that last drop of intellectual goodness, and I’m the first one to put my hand up to admit that I’m guilty of this. The problem is, while it works in the short term, caffeine is not a long term solution. Indeed, too much and you’ll wind up jittery, unable to concentrate because you’re too wired. Not only that, but there’s every chance you’re going to crash, whereby your brain simply throw’s it neuronic hands in the air and storms off, leaving you drooling out the side of your mouth while your lament your inability to get a single sentence out. Controlling your physical and mental fatigue to coincide with your writing time is quintessential to maintaining healthy writing hygiene. You can reduce the fatigue in physical ways, too. I sit in front of a computer screen all day. There’s not an hour of the working day that goes past when I’m not looking at some kind of computer generated image. I found that, little by little, my eyes were hurting, my head was aching, and I could barely look at the screen without squinting. I tried application like Lux, with some success, but it got to the point where I was wearing sunglasses by the end of every day. The solution, I found, were Gunnar glasses ( They took a while to get used to, and I nearly tossed them in the bin the first day, but I stuck with them. And boy am I glad I did. While it doesn’t eliminate eye-fatigue, it certainly reduces it to the point where my eyes aren’t like sandpaper when I come on home. Another simple way to avoid the problem of being too tired to write is to switch it up a little. Change from one book to another. Jump out of the current chapter that you’re labouring over and get going on the fun one that you’re aching to do. You know what? Start planning you front cover or writing up the blurb, or even do some creative writing that has nothing to do with anything in particular. While it may not be adding to the word count of your book, it is adding to your portfolio of ideas and creativity.

Be Assertive

People. People. People. Some people get it, some people don’t. Either way, it’s up to you to educate them on when it’s acceptable to bug you (say, during work hours) and when it’s not. If explaining nicely doesn’t work, and your precious writing time is being sapped away, consider being more obvious, less subtle: “Ah, excuse me, I’m trying to write.” “Oh, cool. What are you writing now?” “The same thing I was yesterday when you asked me that same question. Now, if you’ll excuse me…” A little curt, perhaps, but more assertive than engaging in open conversation. Another strategy I have found that works is a visual aid. Try wearing a funny (but comfortable!) hat. Or putting a pineapple on your desk. Something obvious. Something zany. Then, when pressed, you can say, “When I’m wearing this hat / that pineapple is on the desk / the monkey has his hands up / [insert your own zany thing here], I’m writing and I dn’t wish to be disturbed.” Sooner or later people will be actively looking for the monkey with its arms raised.

Eliminate Sensory Interference

Make some noise! No, really. Head on over to and look around. Peace and quiet is grand, and if you can go and write in a library then by all means, do that. If, like me, you simply don’t have the luxury of a great cone of silence, then the next best thing is to eliminate the distraction by making an even greater distraction. More precisely, generate enough noise that you cannot distinguish the pesky noises. Simply broadcasting noise into the air won’t do, not least because it will annoy those nearby. Get a pair of headphones or earphones and crank up the volume. It’s a matter of “Can’t see the forest for the trees”. The really cool thing about this is that you can pop on your earphones wherever you are, be it at your desk, next to the photocopier, in front of a television, wherever, and in half a minute you’re back to being focused on your work. I’ve tried white-noise generators (which really do help), and pink and brown ones, too, but, to be honest, I keep coming back to the MyNoise site to fulfill my sensory needs. Don’t believe me? Try the Cafe Restaurant Noise Generator. I’m using this right now, as I write this, to prevent the television from tearing my attention from the screen. So while you might not be able to live your life in a cafe, armed with the right tools, you’ve got something even better.

Adaptation Part 5 is up for pre-order

Mini Jeztyr LogoWell that was certainly taxing. Using every last scrap of my lunch breaks, all the clusters of minutes between responsibilities, and right down to burning the midnight oil, Adaptation – Part 5 is ready for pre-release. It’s a hard trot reading over the same thing again and again, checking for grammar, looking at spelling, making sure sentences are formed correctly. I’m at the point now where if I never saw another computer monitor in my life, I’d be content. I can only imagine what the drafting, proofing, editing cycle would be like without a keyboard.

I looked up from my screen just now and realised that, come tomorrow, I’m not officially working on a book. It’s an odd sensation, liberating and scary at the same time. It’s like my engine is still gunning hard and I just dropped my foot on the clutch – zzzzing!

Even now I’m itching to think that there might have been a few things I missed in the proof, a couple of points that need emphasising or whatever, and that’s were I’ve gone wrong in the past: I didn’t allow for a cool down time, a bit of a mental break to allow myself to step away from the story, forget what I knew so that I could approach it again with fresh eyes some time later.

And so, to catch the free-wheeling energy that’s zinging around in my skull, and enforce my cool down with respect to Adaptation, I’m going to get cracking on the third installment of the Paranormology series. There are a few other stories that I’m really hoping to get writing on as well, but as I’ve only got two hands, one for each side of the keyboard, a decision has to be made. That is the discipline of a writer, I have come to learn: Jot down your thoughts as they come, expand on them if you need to, if a wild and exciting idea comes bounding your way, but don’t lose focus of getting those words down.

Don’t get me wrong: Letting one’s imagination run rampant is a necessary part of creativity, for sure, in fact I’d argue that without time to bust boundaries and think the un-thought, any creative exercise becomes stifled.

With that in mind, there is a time and a place for all things, a Balance, if you will. For while new, fun stories are great rolling around inside a skull, they simply cannot be realised until they worm their way out of a mouth, or transcribe themselves through a brush or a keyboard. If your mind is anything like mind, there are simply too many stories to play with (think minions) and, sadly, some will be neglected and forgotten. As a consequence, one is impelled to leave the wonderful, amazing and sometimes scary world that exists within one’s skull, and take with them a selection of the flora and fauna to share with the outside world.

This requires, too, respect for the reader. The ability to finish what one starts is an admirable trait, and while I do believe a book should take as long as it should, that mantra cannot be used as an excuse to fluff about on frivolous tasks. It can be so easy, believe you me, to have so many things on the go that even though you’re mentally and physically exhausted, you’ve not actually gotten any one thing completed. Which reminds me of a Scrum training session I visited recently…

Bah! Enough with the introspection! I’m off to celebrate with a well deserved coffee and a sit-down with a good dose of pulp fiction.

Adaptation – Part 5 is coming

The wait is almost over. Adaptation – Part 5 is almost here. It will be another week or so before it’s up for pre-order. Good things take time. Without giving too much away, Ryan and Ottavio’s path cross once more, Brother Janus and Sister Hanifé become separated and someone turns out to be more than they seem. Of special mention is scene involving Jonathan Von Braun in a most hideous situation. In case you are wondering, I did tone it down a little from the original, but it is still quite graphic in nature.

Here’s a sneak peek of the front cover.
Adaptation5Small For those of you taking note, it represents Ottavio’s Neural Processing Unit, demonstrated to the Board by Professor Jung in Part 1.

The expected Pre-Order date is 1 June, 2015 with a release one month after that. Now, I’d better get back to it. This book won’t write itself, you know.